Using 60 FPS for BIF

This article discusses using 60 FPS (frames per second) to photograph BIF (birds-in-flight) and shares an extensive collection of handheld images captured a few days ago.

I should apologize in advance for the overall quality of the images in this article. These photographs were captured under very dull, overcast and windy conditions. Not the best for image quality… but very good test conditions if one is inclined to push their camera gear hard as I’m apt to do. 🙂

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-4000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3721 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres

As photographers we can get hung up on various aspects of the auto-focusing performance of various cameras. From time-to-time debates about the relative merits of various camera brands and models can get heated, and sometimes aggressive. All of this is rather pointless and silly. There is a lot more to a camera then how it happens to perform in a particular auto-focusing mode.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3733 pixels on the width, subject distance 23.1 metres

Rather than get fixated about a particular auto-focusing mode it is instructive to ask ourselves what our objective is when we capture a run of photographs, rather than an individual frame.  When it comes to photographing birds-in-flight our basic goal is to capture a variety of wing positions with our image run.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3659 pixels on the width, subject distance 29.6 metres

The auto-focusing function that we happen to choose to accomplish that task is irrelevant, as long as we meet our goal. Many photographers fixate on using continuous auto-focus or continuous auto-focus with tracking for their birds-in-flight photography.

Another good option is to use an auto-focusing mode that provides a very high frame rate… such as 60 FPS (frames-per-second). Many mirrorless cameras offer high frame rates. The challenge is that these very high frame rates typically lock auto-focus and exposure based on the first frame. Sometimes we overlook the benefits of using this type of auto-focusing for birds-in-flight.

All of the photographs featured in this article were captured using Pro Capture H, set to 60 frames-per-second. My Pre-shutter Frames and Frame Count Limiter were both set to 15, which is my standard setting. After using 60 FPS for BIF during this test, I will likely adjust both of these settings to about 8 as that should be adequate for my bird-in-flight needs. This is the first time I did an extensive test using Pro Capture H set to 60 FPS to photograph birds-in-flight.

Let’s look at our first Pro Capture H run of 15 images of a longtail duck in flight. I’m not a birder, but my best guess is this is a female. As you view these images pay specific attention to how many frames it takes for the duck’s wing motion to repeat itself.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3089 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3089 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3089 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3089 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3089 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3090 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3089 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3087 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3087 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3091 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3091 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3091 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3091 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3091 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3089 pixels on the width, subject distance 33.4 metres

Using 60 FPS for BIF enables a photographer to get a good variety of wing positions with a longer repeat cycle. This can help reduce the effects of rhythmic motion. At this fast frame rate a bird doesn’t travel very far before my 15 frames are captured, i.e. 1/4 of a second. This helps reduce the risk of the bird flying out of focus.

Birds flying parallel to the sensor in my camera have the best chance of yielding a successful 60 FPS image run. The most difficult challenge is when a bird is flying directly at the camera, as it will quickly fly out of focus.

Let’s have a look at a set of 12 consecutive images of a longtail duck flying parallel to the sensor of my camera.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3842 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4068 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4157 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4199 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3853 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3917 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3974 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3976 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3924 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4084 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4320 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-5000, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4249 pixels on the width, subject distance 21.3 metres

When using 60 FPS for BIF with Pro Capture H, I use a single, small AF point. This allows me to be more precise when composing an image. This can be critical when capturing a run of images of a subject bird landing in amongst other birds as seen in our next sequence of 15 consecutive images. Given the dull, overcast lighting these images are not ideal, but they do demonstrate the benefit of using 60 FPS for BIF.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3405 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres

The subject bird was about 56.9 metres (~187 feet) away from my shooting position. It was coming into land in amongst three other birds as you can see with the photograph above (note that this image was cropped to 3405 pixels on the width). Using a single, small AF point enabled me to place it on the merganser, acquire focus, and fully depress my shutter release once. This generated 15 consecutive Pro Capture H images. I didn’t have to worry about continuous auto-focus getting confused and jumping to another bird in the area. Let’s look at the other 14 photographs in this run.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3406 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3400 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3402 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3402 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3400 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3400 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3404 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3404 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3404 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3402 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3400 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3402 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3400 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2500, ISO-3200, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3402 pixels on the width, subject distance 56.9 metres

When I was shooting exclusively with my Nikon 1 kit I photographed birds-in-flight at 60 frames-per-second on a regular basis. If your camera offers a fast frame rate I’d encourage you to do some experimentation with it. Using Pro Capture H at 60 FPS is more productive than using the same frame rate with Nikon 1 gear, as the number of frames per burst can be controlled precisely.

I will need to do more testing in the weeks and months ahead, but I anticipate that using a series of Pro Capture H pulse bursts will generate far more usable images when compared to shooting a very long continuous auto-focus run of a bird in flight.

During this test I was able to capture initial image runs of 15 photographs, then reacquire auto-focus up to 3 additional times and fire off more image runs when photographing the same bird. Buffer management is very important when capturing back-to-back image runs.

I’ll need to invest in some faster UHS-II memory cards if I end up using Pro Capture H at 60 FPS for BIF on a more regular basis with my E-M1X. My current cards can write at a maximum of 180 MB/s and I did fill my buffer on a number of occasions. Moving to cards that can write at 250 MB/s or higher would help with buffer management.

Our final image run using 60 FPS for BIF is of a merganser. This set of 15 images was my favourite from my photography test session.

OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3702 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3878 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3836 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3517 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3629 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3679 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3871 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 4045 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3836 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3567 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3560 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3638 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3573 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3433 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres
OM-D E-M1X + M.Zuiko 100-400 mm f/5-6.3 IS @ 400 mm, efov 800 mm, f/6.3, 1/2000, ISO-2500, Pro Capture H, cropped to 3285 pixels on the width, subject distance 25.4 metres

Hopefully you didn’t mind the inclusion of so many photographs with this article. I thought it was important to demonstrate the practicality of using 60 FPS for BIF by showing a number of sample image runs. Using this approach does take patience, practice and some discipline in terms of technique.

Technical Note:

Photographs were captured handheld using camera gear as noted in the EXIF data. All images were created using Pro Capture H at 60 frames-per-second. Images were created from RAW files using my standard process. Crops are noted. This is the 1,094th article published on this website since its original inception.

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6 thoughts on “Using 60 FPS for BIF”

  1. I’m still trying to get my head around the Pro Capture feature. More practice needed! Since you are only capturing 1/8 second’s pictures, you only need to keep the shutter button semi-pressed for a very short amount of time? Otherwise your chance of going out of focus is high. My brain is locked on the idea of waiting for the best moment with the shutter semi-pressed but this means (with ‘Pro H’ mode) the focus is locked in well before pictures are saved. This is unlike Pro ‘L’ mode where (I think) the camera is refocussing between images while the shutter is semi-pressed. Am I understanding correctly?

    1. Hi Colin,

      You are right that with Pro Capture L the camera will use continuous auto-focus and will adjust exposure (depending on how you have your camera settings), while Pro Capture H locks focus and exposure based on the first frame of the image run. The other big difference the available frame rate. Pro Capture L has a maximum frame rate of 18 fps, while Pro Capture H can be used with frame rates as high as 60 fps.

      I half depress the shutter release for as long as I need to do so as I wait for the bird to do the anticipated action that I’m trying to photograph. Often I am spooling images for several minutes when using Pro Capture H, waiting for a bird to take flight. If the bird moves closer to the focal plain of my camera, or further away, I will reacquire focus on the subject bird. For small, active birds that are moving about, this means that I am often reacquiring Pro Capture H focus on them every couple of seconds. I do this to help ensure that the bird will still be in sharp focus when it does actually take flight. If the bird is very active I will often leave my AF point in centre frame, then quickly reacquire focus then recompose as needed. I virtually never use Pro Capture L for perched birds as 18 fps does not provide a sufficient number of images when small birds take flight.

      My standard settings for Pro Capture H are Pre-Shutter Frames and Frame Count Limiter both set to 15 frames with a frame rate of 60 frames-per-second. This means that I have 15 frames that end when I fully depress my shutter release… or 1/4 second of image capturing time. I find that this works very well given my reflexes. Other folks may want to add more frames or reduce them depending on their physical capability. At times I do use Pro Capture H for birds-on-flight in specific situations. For example, I may grab a quick burst when an osprey stalls in mid-air before a dive. Then, capture another shot burst as it hits the water, and additional short bursts as it is exiting the water and begins to fly with its catch. Using short bursts using faster frame rates during critical points in the action gives me a wider selection of potentially useable images.

      With Pro Capture L I pan with an incoming bird-in-flight only during the period of time when I think it may do something unusual (like make an abrupt change in direction, slowing down in mid-air, getting ready to dive, or do a mid-air shake). I have my Pre-Shutter Frames set to 10 with no restrictions on my Frame Count Limiter. This allows me to capture the critical moment and continue capturing images if needed.

      When using either Pro Capture L or Pro Capture H it is important to remember that when you half depress your shutter release the camera stores images in temporary memory. Unless you fully depress your shutter release as soon as you stop half depressing the shutter release all of those images in temporary memory will be discarded.

      Hope this has helped….

      Tom

  2. Hi Tom,
    very fine photos, these mergansers fly so fast. Good to see that a lack of light in the winter is not necessarily spoiling the fun.
    You argue 1/2 second (= 30 frames) is enough, as a bird will leave focus. Meanwhile I need a full second of activity (30 frames at 30 fps), hoping a small bird will fly INTO focus of my Nikon 1V3.
    Best, Stefan

    1. Hi Stefan,

      Thanks for sharing your experiences with Nikon 1. We still have our kit of these pocket rockets! When shooting with my V2 and V3 cameras I used 60 fps rather than 30. I liked having more choices of incremental movement in my images. I know other photographers that use your approach by using 30 fps. It’s just a matter of personal choice.

      My standard Pro Capture H settings are 60 fps with Pre Shutter Frames and Frame Count Limiter both set to 15. So, that gives me 1/4 second to capture my images. I use 15/15 for perched birds taking flight and find this works very well and is very efficient.

      I’m still in the early stages of using Pro Capture H for birds-in-flight. My initial assessment is that I will only need to set my Pre-shutter Frames and Frame Count Limiter both to 8. This will give me about 1/8th of a second of image capturing time. I think this will be very efficient and allow me to better manage my buffer.

      The E-M1X’s low light focusing ability is very good. I’ve captured handheld landscape images before sunrise without any problem at all.

      Tom

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