This article discusses the importance of reach and buffer when photographing birds-in-flight, and features 24 consecutive handheld images. All photographs were captured using an E-M1X fitted with an M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS and M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter.
The photographs displayed in this article are a part of an AF-C +TR with Bird Detection AI run comprising a total of 33 images. The article begins at frame 9 of that run.
It is important to note that had I not been using the M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS zoom lens in combination with the M.Zuiko MC-14 teleconverter I would not have even bothered to attempt to capture the images in this article. The subject bird would have been too distant to yield decent photographs.
Most of the images in this article were cropped to less than 4000 pixels on the width. This is below my preferred maximum cropping measurement. The fact that I was able to capture any usable images of this distant mallard illustrates the importance of having sufficient reach with our camera gear.
NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.
Due to local COVID-19 restrictions it had been over a month since I was out with my camera gear attempting to photograph birds-in-flight. Suffice to say that I immediately noticed how ‘rusty’ my handheld bird spotting and tracking skills had become. Especially when trying to find a bird in my viewfinder when using an efov of 1120 mm.
My E-M1X estimated the subject mallard in this article to be between 64.5 and 55.9 metres away (~212 to 183 feet) as it flew in from Lake Ontario. It was on a flying angle that brought it slightly closer to me as its altitude decreased.
Once I was able to get the bird in my EVF and start firing off frames, it took a few photographs before I was able to hold it in centre frame as I was panning with it (which is why this article starts at frame 9 of the run). As we can see in the next four frames, the mallard was gliding in towards the harbour.
I often use a number of short continuous auto-focus bursts when photographing birds-in-flight so I can capture the bird’s most interesting wing positions, and to help reduce my work in post. Since I haven’t had much opportunity to use my E-M1X’s Bird Detection AI intelligent subject tracking lately, I tried some longer duration image bursts during this particular outing.
As we can see with the first six photographs in this article, capturing birds-in-flight up against a monochromatic sky in good light, yields some good quality images. Albeit pretty standard fare.
In the next five consecutive photographs as the mallard’s altitude decreased, the background in the images transitions to include some of Lake Ontario, and then some of the ice-filled harbour.
As discussed in a previous article about factors to consider when choosing gear for bird photography, buffer size and speed can be critical when photographing birds-in-flight. Depending on the camera body and how you like to shoot, some camera’s buffers tap out before 20 frames are reached. This means that some of the images you have already viewed in this article would have been missed.
In our next three consecutive photographs from this image run, you’ll notice another bird enter the frame on the right hand side. It is important to stay aware of other birds coming into the frame when shooting a continuous auto-focus run. Often it can be a good idea to adjust your framing and keep shooting if your buffer size allows… even though the transition frames themselves may not be usable.
In the next frame you’ll see that both the male and female mallards are fully in the frame… although positioned at the bottom of it.
I adjusted my framing slightly in the last 9 photographs of the image run to better position both birds. This resulted in a few additional, usable photographs. I ended my C-AF +TR run just as the male mallard was about to touch down. I typically don’t bother capturing frames after a bird has landed as I don’t find them particularly usable for my style of bird photography.
In summary, regardless of the camera format you prefer, choosing camera equipment that provides both good reach and a deep buffer can be important when photographing birds-in-flight.
All of the photographs displayed in this article were from the same C-AF +TR image run, but illustrate the same mallard in three distinctly different situations. Against a clear blue sky. With a transitioning background. And, with another bird landing next to it. Having a camera with a deep buffer can help enable more photographic variety during an image run.
To make the most of your bird-in-flight opportunities, it is also important to consider your gear’s continuous auto-focusing performance, as well as your handheld technique.
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear and technology as noted in the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted as appropriate.
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