I finally got a chance to sit on the beach and play with the Canon R5’s autofocus. At heart, I’m a bird photographer. How would this new camera function on fast moving birds? My DSLR is a Canon 1Dx. I hoped the new mirrorless had autofocus equal to or better than that camera.
Can the autofocus on the Canon R5 separate one bird flying from a flock of birds? I took 14 frames of this black skimmer flying into a group of birds roosting on the beach. Below you can see the first seven frames plus bloopers.
The R5 fires 14 frames a second so the above is only 1/2-second of shooting. What happens next?
Settings on the above: Aperture Priority, ISO 640, Shutter speed 2000, f/10, spot meter, Servo, Large Zone AF Horizontal, AF-2, 100-500mm lens at 500mm with 1.4x teleconverter.
Conclusion — the Canon R5’s autofocus system is equal to – if not better – than the Canon D1x’s system.
What’s been your experience with the R5? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
I headed out with the Canon R5 in hand attached to the new 100-500mm lens and 1.4x extender. This would be my first time to try action photography with the R5 and first outing for the 100-500mm.
I decided to work with hummingbirds. These little gems are a challenge for any action photographer. Right now, we’re in the middle of hummingbird migration on the Upper Texas Coast so I knew there would be plenty of subject.
Kleb Woods Nature Park in Tomball, Texas, has 15+ hummingbird feeders this time of year and usually attracts lots of hummers. I wasn’t disappointed. From 12:30 to 2:30 pm on a warm Saturday afternoon I shot 1326 photos. After basic editing in Adobe, I had 494 keepers. I was super happy with 110 of my photos. Not bad for two hours of work.
Overall, I was very pleased with the R5 and 100-500mm lens.
In one feeding series, I shot 49 images as a ruby-throated hummingbird flew in and out to the feeder. The ruby-throat flew in, took a drink from the feeder, hovered, took another drink, hovered, took a drink, hovered , drank, hovered, drank, hovered, drank. Six sips of nectar with hovering in-between. I kept 39 photos out of that session. 39 out of 49, or 80%, is not a bad success rate with hummingbirds.
In another series, I took 90 photos as a hummer visited the feeder. That group had 23 shots that were worth keeping because they were sharp and in focus. That 25.5% or a quarter keepers.
Within about an hour, I figured out settings with the new camera and got into the groove of photographing hummingbirds in flight. I’ve photographed hummingbirds like this hundreds of times, but this was the first time I let the camera take the lead.
I set the R5’s auto-focus and then I let it do the work.
I found the greatest success with (1) Servo, (2) Subject to Detect: Animals, (3) Servo AF 2, (4) Large Zone Horizontal AF. Yes, this last one is a big change for me. (I’ve always been a single-point autofocus person.)
An hour into the shoot, I fired off 22 shots of a male ruby-throated hummingbird during one feeding session. That series lasted less than a minute and I threw away two. Keeper ratio 22 out of 24.
An auto-focus system should be able to do a pretty good job when there are only two objects in a frame: feeder and hummingbird. What happens when the hummingbird is at a bush with foliage in every direction?
I stepped over to a hamelia bush to continue testing the Canon R5’s autofocus capabilities. When a hummingbird flew down to a flower, I took 36 shots and kept 6. That’s only 16% keepers but several of those were tossed in the trash because the bird had its back to the camera.
When a hummer came in to feed on the hamelia and there was a clean background, my keeper rate was 100%. The Canon R5 kept the bird in focus the entire time it visited the flower — and I kept the camera on the bird.
What happened when there were several items in the frame?
In one series of photos, I had a feeder with three hummers hovering around the feeder. The Canon R5 kept focus on the hummer in the center of the frame. It’s autofocus system didn’t get distracted by the hummer on the right edge of the frame or the one on the left.
Through the viewfinder of the R5, we see tiny blue dots flashing on the subject to let us know that the camera’s found the subject and is in focus. These dots are similar to the red dots we see on the Canon 5D Mark IV or the D1X. Nice confirmations to let us know the camera is doing its job.
My husband and I have been taking birding/photography groups to Costa Rica since 2004. We’ve used Strabo Tours for each of these as well as a local Costa Rican tour company and our local guide, Willy Alfaro. The same operators and guides for every trip. We change the locations and time of year, and that changes the birds. Each trip is the same but each is different.
Our March 2020 trip was to the northern reaches of Costa Rica. We began in Liberia in the state of Guanacaste and ended in San Jose in the center of the country.
Our first lodge was in the hills of the Rincón de la Vieja volcano. The habitat was officially dry forest but the grounds were lush and filled with birds. Temps were in the 80s but we were plagued by misty rain. This gave us amazing rainbows but made photography a challenge.
Birds on the grounds included crested guan, white-throated magpie-jay, black-headed trogon, Garter trogon, keel-billed toucan, and turquoise-browed motmot. Those were the big, colorful birds. We didn’t overlook social flycatcher, summer tanager, western tanager, and other small but important birds.
We spent two nights at this location, then packed and drove past the Miravalles Volcano to the Rio Celeste. A stop along the way at Celeste Mountain Lodge gave us a chance to eat lunch and photograph birds at the feeders. Yellow-throated euphonia, scarlet-rumped tanagers, palm tanagers, and others gave the group new birds.
Our lodging in this area put the group in an unexpectedly luxurious eco-lodge. My room had a private outdoor terrace, a private outdoor shower on the other end, an indoor shower big enough for a football team, luxurious bathroom, and amazingly comfortable beds.
Bird feeders on the grounds attracted buff-throated saltator, Montezuma oropendola, and others. Overhead, we photographed swallow-tailed kites during a morning walk. After a nice mid-morning hike, we got to photograph the turquoise-colored Rio Celeste.
After two night, we packed-up and drove to the Arenal volcano area. Along the way we stopped at Danaus Nature Center to photograph two-toed sloth, white-nosed coati, boat-billed heron, and other things. The group was not ready to leave but our hotel for the night held lots of photo opportunities.
We maximized our time in the Arenal area but packed again to drive to Maquenque Eco-lodge near the Nicaraguan border.
Maquenque is a destination that nearly overwhelmed the group. Feeders near the dining room attracted many birds we’d already photographed but then there were new birds. Brown-headed parrot was the star and a lifer for me. All three honeycreepers — red-legged, green, and sparkling — came into the feeders frequently. Amazon kingfisher, great egret, purple gallinule and northern jacana frequented the property’s marshy pond.
After two nights, the tour headed a bit south to the Sarapiqui area. This is a favorite location for bird photography and our main stop was Dave & Dave’s Nature Park. Dave and Dave (father and son) have built a location where birds land on natural perches to feed on native fruits. The photo opportunities are amazing.
Two visits to Dave & Dave’s gave us a chance to photograph different perching birds plus several hummingbirds. The group was exhausted but still managed to eat amazing TexMex food before heading across the mountains to San Jose.
We gave the group one last stop while driving through the mountains. A small roadside coffee shop has a balcony overlooking a lush tropical valley. Feeders attracted mountain birds including Emerald toucanet, black guan, and a little Tennessee warbler. Hummingbirds feeders let us photograph green hermit, coppery-headed emerald, and violet saberwing.
As we cruised into San Jose for our last night in Costa Rica, the group was happy but a bit anxious. Corona Virus was in the news back in the United States. We’d experienced great bird and wonderful lodges. Our memories will always be enhanced thanks to the 500 or so pictures we took each day.
We’ll do this route again in March 2021. Details are on the Strabo Photo Tour website.
NANPA is the North American Nature Photography Association. It’s a leading organization for nature photographers. NANPA events should not be missed.
I’ll be leading the birds track at NANPA’s Nature Photography Celebration in Asheville, NC, April 19-21.
Join me and my colleagues in bird photography, night photography, landscapes, flowers, fine art, and conservation for an unprecedented amount of field time with other photographers as well as classroom sessions and opportunities to share images.
Tanagers are one of my favorite families of birds in the tropics. They are colorful, rather large, somewhat slow, and plentiful. The Ecuador birding field guide lists about 66 species with tanager in their name. We didn’t photograph that many during our Strabo Photo Tour Collections trip in March but we got a lot.
We found a nice variety of birds along the way. These are all from the Mindo Valley of Ecuador on the western slope of the Andes Mountains.
Here are a couple more hummingbirds from the last day of the trip. The birds in Ecuador are amazing.
Hummingbirds are on the agenda for anyone taking a bird photography or bird watching trip to Ecuador. Gary and I planned our photo tour in March to see as many hummingbirds as possible during our 10-day stay in the country.
Ecuador has more than 132 hummingbird species. That’s more species than any other country and 40% of all hummingbird species in the world.
Lucky for us, hummingbird feeders are a common sight around Ecuador. We chose our stops during this trip based on hummingbird feeding location so we could maximize our photo and viewing opportunities.
First stop was Guango Lodge on the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains. Guango is great for photography with a new hummingbird “Pavilion” by the bus parking area. There are natural perches by each feeder. This gave us an opportunity to photograph the hummers as they rested between visits to the feeders.
We used flashes to bring out the sparkle in the hummingbird’s feathers. Everyone used a diffuser of some sort to soften the light so the flash wasn’t so obvious. I used the Lumiquest Softbox. Someone else used the Rogue FlashBender 2. No need for a flash extender since the hummers were 6-10 feet away most of the time.
Our guide, Nelson Apolo Jaramillo, suggested that we leave Guango in the afternoon and visit a friend’s lodge about 45-minutes past Guango. We all agreed and drove down to Rio Quijos Eco-lodge on Hwy 45. The lower elevation gave us some new species.
Our hummingbird photography continued a couple of days later as we moved across Quito to the Yanacocha Reserve. The reserve headquarters has a nice café, restrooms, and trails. These are situated near a covered hummingbird photography area. Lots of natural perches around the hummingbird feeders.
The target species here was the sword-billed hummingbird.
Our next stop was the Mindo Valley lower down the western slope of the Andes. Our lodge in this area was Septimo Paraiso. It truly is Seventh Heaven in so many ways.
We gave everyone a full-day of photography and birding on the grounds of Septimo Paraiso. There are several hummingbird feeding stations as well as fruit feeders for perching birds.
I set-up the hummingbird flashes in the garden under a nice pavilion that was ringed in hummingbird feeders. Once I got the set-up working then we traded out every hour. Each person in the group got to use the flashes. Everyone got at least one nice photo with the multi-flash set-up.
The next two days were devoted to visiting several location in the Mindo area that featured hummingbird feeders and fruit feeders. We went to Alambi Cloud Forest Reserve, San Tadeo, and the Birdwatcher’s House.
Each stop gave us a couple more species of hummingbirds plus more opportunities to photograph familiar species.
Come back tomorrow for news about tanagers and other perching birds.
My husband, Gary Clark, and I got a chance to return to Ecuador earlier this month to lead a Strabo Photo Tours Collection trip. Our trip visited the eastern slope of the Andes Mountains, the western slope, Quito, and the Antisana Reserve.
Antisana is a large tract of undeveloped land surrounding the Antisana Volcano. The reserve protects Quito’s water supply and is prime habitat for the Andean Condor.
The Antisana Ecological Reserve covers 120,000 hectares or 296,000 acres. The Antisana Volcano is 5758 meters or roughly 19,000 above sea level. Most of the reserve is above the tree line and covered in low grasses called paramo. Rolling hills, cliffs, deep valleys, and even a lagoon round out the habitat.
Permits are required to enter the reserve so access is limited. This means it can sometimes feel like you have the place to yourself even on a busy Sunday afternoon
Our first stop was a coffee shop near the entrance to the Antisana Reserve. It’s called Tambo Condor. www.tambocondor.com This is a great place to stop for coffee or a snack but we were there for the hummingbirds. The feeders attracted giant hummingbird (on the right above) and shining sunbeam (on the left.) Andean condors roost on the cliffs across the valley.
On the day we visited, the skies were clear and sunny. Wind was howling, though, but we were prepared and dressed for it.
Gary and I got everyone out of the motor coach when we were high on the paramo for a fun time chasing and photographing carunculated caracaras and Andean lapwings. It was cold, the altitude was killing us, but it was fun.
We ate box lunches at the lagoon. It was too cold and windy to eat outside so we used the coach as a shelter. We got in and out depending on the birds outside.
Gary and our guide Nelson were great spotters. We saw Andean Condors six times during our visit. The last sighting was the best when an adult condor flew right over our heads and gave everyone a perfect opportunity for incredible photos.
January 5th is National Bird Day. It’s a great day to think about bringing birds into our lives.
Backyards big or small can be a haven for birds. Birds will come to a large grassy lot with trees or a balcony with container plants.
Birds are attracted to a space that has three things:
Food is the first big consideration to bringing birds into your yard or balcony. Shelled sunflower seeds are a favorite because the hulls have been removed and no waste falls to the ground to attract mice and rats. Shelled sunflower seed is a bit more expensive but the food goes a long way because there is no waste.
Avoid packaged birdfeed that contains millet, milo, and wheat. Watch for little white seeds common in bird feed that comes from a grocery store. Northern cardinals, blue jays, and Carolina chickadee don’t eat these seeds. Blackbird and grackles do, though.
Birdfeed from area nature stores such as Wild Bird Unlimited, feed stores, and locally owned garden centers is usually fresher than that found in big box stores.
Birds like suet. Suet is a mixture of seeds, nuts, and fruit held together with a peanut butter matrix. Carolina wrens, pine warblers, and red-bellied woodpeckers love suet cakes.
Avoid suet cakes held together with a whitish or fat-based matrix. These are designed for cooler, northern climates and spoil in our heat.
Bird baths are a great way to add water to your habitat. Traditional concrete bird baths are best. Birds only need an inch of water to drink or bath. Concrete bird baths last twenty or more years.
The rough surface of a concrete bird bath gives birds something to grip in the event they need to fly quickly away to avoid a predator. Glass or ceramic bird baths are pretty but the bathing area needs to be rough. Toss in a few handfuls of dirt and let a bit of algae grow. This creates a natural surface that birds prefer.
Shelter is the last item needed to create a bird habitat. Birds need a place to hide when a hawk or cat enters the area.
Place feeders and birdbaths five to ten feet from a tree, shrub, or potted plant. Birds won’t cross a vast open area to feed or bathe. Place plants on two sides to create an ideal habitat.
Consider natives when planting around feeders in a yard or on a balcony. Yaupon and American beautyberry are lovely to look at and provide berries for our birds. Golden dewdrop (Duranta) is a large showy plant with purple flowers in summer and golden berries in fall. This can be grown in a container or in the ground. Porterweed (Stachytarpheta) is another favorite. It’s cold hardy and produces lovely purple blooms from spring to the first frost. Butterflies also like golden dewdrop and Porterweed.