Killdeer In Flight

This article shares a collection of six consecutive photographs of a killdeer in flight at Hendrie Valley, captured with an E-M1X. All images were captured handheld using the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking.

During a recent visit to Hendrie Valley I found myself on the bridge that overlooks the ponds. I heard the call of a killdeer… quickly glanced to my right… and noticed the bird flying against a busy background of trees. The killdeer in flight was approximately 35 metres away (~115 feet).

All I had time to do was bring my E-M1X up to my eye and quickly find the killdeer in my viewfinder. The E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking immediately drew a white box around the killdeer.

Without waiting to half depress my shutter release to formally acquire auto focus on the killdeer, I fully depressed my shutter release and fired off a short burst of images.

My E-M1X did a good job acquiring auto-focus on the killdeer in flight and all of my 6 ‘quick grab’ photographs were usable for the web, although all of them were subject to very severe crops.

Here is a full frame capture (resized for web use) of the entire scene so readers can get a better sense of the photographic scenario.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 370 mm, efov 740 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, subject distance 34.6 metres, full frame capture

I’ve been using the E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking for the vast majority of my bird photography for a number of months now. During this period I’ve captured over 35,000 photographs and have been slowly learning about what to expect from this technology under different shooting scenarios.

I would usually half-depress my shutter release and wait for the ‘green box’ confirmation of acquiring auto-focus. However, in this type of ‘quick grab’ scenario I’m not shy about immediately firing off a burst of images once my E-M1X has drawn a white box around the target, like this killdeer in flight.

To do this successfully I need to make an instant decision about the clarity of the bird in my viewfinder. If it looks sharp when Bird AI draws a white box around it, I fire away. More often than not my E-M1X will still produce usable photographs… even though I haven’t completely followed proper technique.

Here are the 6 consecutive photographs from my ‘quick grab’ image run. All have been severely cropped to about 2000 pixels on the width, then resized for web use.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 370 mm, efov 740 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2001 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 370 mm, efov 740 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2001 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 370 mm, efov 740 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2002 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 370 mm, efov 740 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2001 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 370 mm, efov 740 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2001 pixels on the width
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS with M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter @ 370 mm, efov 740 mm, f/8.7, 1/1600, ISO-1000, Bird Detection AI Subject Tracking, cropped to 2000 pixels on the width

The takeaway from this article is not to be shy about pushing our camera gear and breaking a few rules to see what it can do for us. There will be times when an image run may fail… but there will be others when our camera equipment will perform well under challenging scenarios. And, may even surprise us! Either way, there is good learning available.

Technical Note

Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops of the original images are indicated where appropriate.

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4 thoughts on “Killdeer In Flight”

  1. Hi Thomas,

    Don’t think I ever saw this one here in Belgium or southern Netherlands but know his local cousins can be pretty fast – some great shots, Thomas, one more time …

    I am also amazed (although delighted) that our modern cameras can deliver so far beyond expectations and what can be found in manuals but there probably are as many scenarios and possible settings mixtures as there are photographers, because each and every one of us, not only has different skills levels, combos and customized buttons layouts, available potential targets, illumination and shooting situations, not to mention, shooting style and health condition, etc … which might explain “why makers don’t supply detailed instructions about how to set up our AF for this or that” – one possible path might be “try, try, and try again”

    I think that you have C-AF Priority set to Off, and see with pleasure that it is working for you, but I often have been left with camera not even confirming focus on a single image with sudden and short action, or even grant me with some Oof ones although was supposed “not to fire if not in focus”, , with both MkII and M1X

    I read, and could experience, that our cameras are really focusing extremely fast BUT that focus confirmation may be relatively slow, even in decent light and target size/detail and I therefore rather have gone for C-AF Priority set to On.

    So is the green box showing focus point when viewing pictures in the camera, pressing “info” button to get small image box with full detail

    For long, I have been puzzled to see quite a lot of images with the green focus confirmation “bang” on the bird, sometimes even on the head, although the image was def. out of focus, and also lot of images with the green box being all around the frame – or even with NO green box, but the bird was sharp – go figure.

    I enjoy seeing focus confirmation box tracking the bird indeed but that’s why I all the same slowly developed my “clay pigeon” shooting style, which for the time being is working for me – will see next week …

    One small thing I’d like to better, apart from refraining myself from chimping (@#| !!! missed a take off, again) is to systematically reset focus to a distance at which I expect next action to explode (and bring focal length in mid range position, in case of a zoom) making both framing and target acquisition much easier and quicker.

    Always pleased to read you posts and see your pictures
    Keep safe
    Vic

    1. Hi Vic,

      Thanks for taking the time to post your detailed comment!

      You are correct that I have my C-AF Release Priority set to OFF. I experience situations where my E-M1X will not allow me to capture an image. And, as your comment points out, there are times when I get the ‘green box’ where I should be getting an in-focus image… but some fall short. Such is technology 🙂 nothing is perfect… but most things can be helpful. Since my Nikon 1 days it has become a bit of a habit for me to pre-focus my lens regularly when I’m out photographing birds-in-flight. This does help my camera acquire auto focus a bit faster.

      I’m not sure why these discrepancies exist between ‘white box’ and ‘green box’ auto focus performance. Rather than fret about them and blame my equipment, my approach is to try to understand how my technique and settings (e.g. shutter speed) may be contributing to ‘green box’ failures. At the end of the day much of this really comes down to a photographer having a first hand feel for how their equipment will perform under various scenarios. As your comment points out, there are so many options and approaches that each of us can use. All that matters is that individual photographers find a combination that works for their particular shooting style.

      I haven’t used the focus limiter settings in my E-M1X yet. Recently I have been studying my distance to subject estimates to help determine what focus limiter setting(s) may work for my shooting style. At some point I’ll do some experimenting to test things in real world scenarios. It makes logical sense to me that using the focus limiter will enhance my camera’s auto-focus performance when shooting birds-in-flight.

      Tom

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