Canon R5 Mirrorless — Autofocus on Hummingbirds

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.

Ruby-throated hummingbird; photographed with the Canon R5 and 100-500mm lens

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.

Check back for my review of the R5’s ISO.

Moving Toward Mirrorless — Hummingbirds

Thanks to the nice folks at Olympus and Hunt’s Photo & Video I got to test the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II and a 300mm lens with a 1.4x extender. My regular camera is a Canon 1DX with the Canon 300mm f/4 and a 1.4x extender.

So what would happen if I shot the cameras side-by-side?

I went to my friend Lee Hoy‘s house in Ft. Davis Texas. Lee had some hummingbird feeders that were pretty active thanks to fall migration. Hummingbirds were buzzing the feeders like crazy.

My test was to set both cameras on the most fancy fast focusing settings. Lee knows Olympus so he double-checked all my setting on that camera. I know Canon so had everything set on that camera.

Both cameras were set to f/7.1, aperture priority, at ISO 500, continuous auto-focus, and rapid release.

I picked-up one camera and fired. Then I put it down and picked-up the next camera. This went on for a little over an hour. Canon then Olympus then Canon then Olympus until I was exhausted.

In the end, I took 267 photos with the Olympus and 159 with the Canon. The Olympus has a higher frames-per-second rate so there will be more photos to edit. More opportunities to capture the precise moment of action, too. That’s the plan anyway.

Both cameras held and maintained focus on the hummingbirds. I was pleased to see that the Olympus kept-up with the Canon. Both cameras also failed to focus on a hummingbird about the same rate usually thanks to operator error.

Winner? Not one over the other. They Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark II held in there against the Canon 1D X Mark II. That should be good news for any bird photographers looking to buy the Olympus system.

Hummingbirds — Ecuador Photo Tour

Long-tailed slyph hummingbird; Ecuador.; Guango Lodge

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.

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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.

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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.

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The target species here was the sword-billed hummingbird.

Septimo Paraiso; Mindo, EcuadorOur 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.

Booted racket-tail hummingbird; Ecuador.; Septimo ParaisoI 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.

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Come back tomorrow for news about tanagers and other perching birds.