This article shares some dragonflies in flight test images and discusses various approaches that I used during my recent field test. As regular readers will know, I have one of my E-M1X Custom Modes (C2) set up for use with Cluster Area C-AF. Since I no longer use this setting for any of my bird photography I needed to determine whether to keep this C2 Custom Mode or change it. My dragonflies in flight test was intended to help me make that decision.
My dragonflies in flight test included three different auto focusing modes: Cluster Area C-AF, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, and Bird AI in combination with Pro Capture L.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
I was able to successfully capture dragonflies in flight with all three of these settings. My clear preference was using Cluster Area C-AF in terms of overall functionality, ease-of-use, and consistency of results.
It was much easier to lock auto focus on the dragonflies in flight when using Cluster Area C-AF. This setting held continuous auto focus on the subject dragonfly very well. I was able to capture some runs of 15-20 consecutive photographs using Cluster Area C-AF.
Not only that, Cluster Area C-AF would hold continuous auto focus on a subject dragonfly as I tried to keep it framed in my composition even when it approached the edges. I had a few occasions… as with the photograph above… where the dragonfly was still in focus even though it was situated in an extreme corner of my frame. I didn’t have to worry about moving AF points around. I just let Cluster Area C-AF do its job for me.
I ended up with more potentially usable photographs of dragonflies in flight than I had ever captured in the past than with any other camera system I’ve owned. After processing more than 40 photographs I deleted hundreds of additional images as I simply did not need them. The bulk of these images were captured in less than 25 minutes. I found this to be very productive based on my previous experiences trying to photograph dragonflies in flight.
As noted by Robin Wong in his Cluster Area C-AF YouTube video, Cluster Area C-AF is only available on the higher level Olympus cameras. These cameras include E-M1X, E-M1 Mark III, E-M1 Mark II and E-M5 Mark III. If you own one of these cameras it is definitely worth testing out the Cluster Area C-AF capability.
This continuous auto-focus mode seems almost tailor made for subjects like dragonflies in flight. As long as a photographer chooses an unobstructed, clear shooting angle this C-AF mode should produce excellent results on a consistent basis.
That’s not to say that photographing dragonflies in flight is a piece of cake with Cluster Area C-AF. The biggest challenge is still eye/hand coordination and being able to nail one’s photographs during the split second when a dragonfly hovers.
Before attempting to photograph dragonflies in flight it is important to watch their flight paths and habitual behaviours. Dragonflies will tend to follow the same patterns of flying motion and momentarily hover in the same general areas. Identifying these behaviours allows a photographer to pre-focus their lens and wait for their photographic opportunities to present themselves.
Unfortunately conditions were such that I was mainly presented with back quarter or rear views during my dragonflies in flight test. Since I was primarily interested in comparing continuous auto-focus modes the shooting angle did not concern me.
If you examine the EXIF data you’ll see that I used a range of shutter speeds from 1/1600 up to 1/3200, as well as various focal lengths. In the future I’ll likely only use the MC-14 teleconverter when absolutely needed for this subject matter. As is the case with fast flying small birds, sometimes using a shorter focal length is more effective.
At the end of my dragonflies in flight test, I decided to leave my Custom Mode C2 setting as is with Cluster Area C-AF. I think it is an excellent continuous auto-focusing mode for dragonflies and potentially other flying insects. I still need to refine my technique when photographing dragonflies in flight. I will likely use a minimum shutter speed of 1/2500. I’ll also need to get in tighter so I can avoid aggressive crops. One thing is certain, I will definitely be using Cluster Area C-AF.
Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. This is the 1,033rd article published on this website since its original inception.
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