Small Birds Taking Flight

This article shares some photographs of small birds taking flight. All photographs were captured hand-held using the E-M1X Pro Capture H mode (i.e. 60 frames per second) during a two-hour photo session at Hendrie Valley. During my short visit I captured Pro Capture sequences of nine species of birds. Six species are featured in this article.

Click on images to enlarge.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm,, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 3.7 metres

As bird photographers can attest, capturing images of small birds taking flight is a challenge at the best of times. The action happens so quickly that most of us would not be able to react fast enough to capture it.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/3200, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 5.2 metres

One of the technology features that I love with my Olympus OM-D E-M1X is the Pro Capture mode. This allows a photographer to capture subject movements before they fully depress the shutter on their camera.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/7.1, 1/3200, ISO-2000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 6.2 metres

On the morning that all of these images were captured I had two simple objectives. The first was to photograph the sunrise. The second was to use the Pro Capture mode on my E-M1X to specifically capture small birds taking flight.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 300 mm, efov 600 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-640, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 9.5 metres

Hendrie Valley has a couple of areas where small birds tend to be reasonably plentiful this time of year, so it was a great location for my second objective.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 164 mm, efov 328 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 5.2 metres

A number of Olympus cameras, including the recently announced OM-D E-M5 Mark III, have the Pro Capture feature. The amount of customization with camera settings does vary by camera model. Photographers specifically interested in bird photography should certainly investigate the Pro Capture technology to see if it fits their style of shooting.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 164 mm, efov 328 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-1250, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 5.2 metres

Since July I’ve been using Pro Capture on a regular basis and have come to rely on it. I can’t imagine using a camera that didn’t have Pro Capture for my bird photography. It is that good… and that easy to use.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 164 mm, efov 328 mm, f/7.1, 1/3200, ISO-1600, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 5.1 metres

There are a couple of key decisions that a photographer must make when photographing a small bird taking flight. The first is whether the objective is to only capture just the initial stages of the small bird taking flight. If this is the case, the bird can be positioned close to centre frame with a single auto-focus point placed on the bird’s head or body. Auto focus point placement depends on how much the bird is moving about.

The number of pre-shutter frames will likely be set at close to the maximum allowable by the Olympus camera model. The number of post shutter frames will probably be set at a small number.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 164 mm, efov 328 mm, f/8, 1/2000, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 5 metres

On the other hand, a photographer may want to capture the small bird taking flight, as well as some frames of it airborne. If this is the case the bird will be placed on one side of the frame, thus allowing for flight room across the frame.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 134 mm, efov 268 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-640, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 6.7 metres

A good number of pre-shutter frames will be selected, but the number of post shutter frames will need to be increased to allow for the airborne images.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-640, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 5 metres

Small birds taking flight tend to have extremely fast wing movements. This necessitates the use of a fast frame rate in Pro Capture, as well as a fast shutter speed. For example, I use Pro Capture H with my E-M1X… with a frame rate of 60 frames-per-second.

If a photographer wants some wing blur to be visible, a shutter speed of 1/2000 works pretty well. For more ‘frozen’ wing positions a faster shutter speed such as 1/3200 or 1/4000 would be recommended.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 180 mm, efov 360 mm, f/7.1, 1/3200, ISO-2500,Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 5.8 metres

Now that the Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark III has Pro Capture mode, this technology is available to photographers at a more affordable cost. I know that many folks will still focus on sensor size when choosing a new camera. And, for their type of photography buying an APS-C or full frame camera may make absolute sense.

Olympus OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko PRO 40-150 mm f/2.8 with M.Zuiko MC-20 Teleconverter @ 140 mm, efov 280 mm, f/8, 1/2000, ISO-6400, Pro Capture H Mode, subject distance 6.3 metres

For me, being able to consistently and confidently capture unique bird images using Pro Capture mode is more than worth trading off a bit of sensor performance.

Technical Note:
Photographs were captured hand-held using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were produced from RAW files using my standard process.

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6 thoughts on “Small Birds Taking Flight”

    1. Hi Oggie,

      At the moment I have three more articles written that feature photographs captured with the Pro Capture H mode, and in my ‘waiting to publish’ queue. I think you will enjoy all of those articles quite a bit as each one demonstrates a different photographic opportunity. One captures images of birds coming in to land. Another one incorporates panning with a bird after it has taken flight, and the third one shows an interaction between two birds with one bird taking off as a second bird comes into land at the exact same spot.

      Using Pro Capture takes a little bit of practice, but it is quite easy to use. I’ve been using this feature since July and I am still amazed at what it can do. To this point I’ve been using the Pro Capture H mode which locks AF based on the first frame and uses a 60 frame-per-second burst rate. I really like this mode as it allows me to capture very discreet movements of subject birds. Pro Capture L uses an 18 frame-per-second burst rate but uses AF-C. I will likely experiment with this mode next spring when there are more large birds in the area. Based on my shooting style I don’t see too much application using the Pro Capture L mode with small birds.

      So… watch for additional articles that will be appearing!

      Tom

  1. Hi Tom,

    these are all brilliant shots. Pro Capture must be a superb tool for any BIF shooter. Just as impressive was your field test with gulls in bad weather. Incredible how you managed to focus these BIFs in a distance of 5 meters. Apparently the EXIF of the EM1X offers this information – I wished the Nikon1 had it. Small birds are an even harder task, as they often, between wing beats, go into “air torpedo” mode. 2 images with the wings spread, then 7-8 in torpedo mode – which AF-C can handle a tiny target that is changing its shape so fast?

    I am getting my “fair share” of starting small birds with a V3. Not as many as a “Pro Capture” mode would give me, surely. Catching a landing is even more difficult. Can Pro Capture help? Maybe not as much as learning to shoot with both eyes open. It took a while until I learned that trick. It worked with Spotted flycatchers – a bird usually returning to the same twig from where it started! Sadly, other birds are less cooperative.

    Regards,
    Stefan

    1. Hi Stefan,

      I’m glad you enjoyed the images! I do have a number of other articles written, and in the ‘to publish’ queue on my website, that feature more Pro Capture H results. I think you will really enjoy some of the upcoming articles.

      To answer your question, yes Pro Capture can certainly help with birds landing. I actually have an article that will be appearing soon titled “Photographing Incoming Birds”. This article features two different Pro Capture H image runs. The first is a series of 8 images of a nuthatch landing on an outstretched hand. The second run is 7 images of a blue jay landing on the same outstretched hand. Pro Capture H makes capturing this type of image quite easy to do. Of course good technique is required (which you could no doubt master quite quickly) as well as having a bird take flight or land at a 90% angle to the camera.

      I use Microsoft Explorer to store all of my photographic images. The distance information actually comes from that program… although not all cameras reveal such data. None of my Nikon 1 cameras provide this.

      Tom

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