Back focus on birds

I mentioned recently that I was switching how I focus with my 2 main Canon bodies. I went out to Nam Sang Wai this morning to give it a go. It is odd after so many years of using one method to suddenly switch to another but strangely I found the change relatively smooth. I took about 300 images and here are the 5 keepers. I thought about posting them one at a time but why? Here they are all together.

Number 1 is the 9.50 from NSW Park,  the Avocet Derby and its the far bird winning by a head.


Next is a beautiful Black-faced spoonbill checking its reflection – just perfect, Spoony.


And here is Spoony having a jolly good slurp. Manners!!


A little egret in close up showing off its beautiful plumage. Beats a Norwegian Blue, I reckon.


And finally a SpotShank, banking to land. I just liked the feather detail in this.


The birds can come quite close at Nam Sang Wai – within kicking distance on occasions although this is officially frowned upon and considered bad form. Some stay a bit distant. I had an 800mm lens mounted on my 5D3 and a 400mm lens mounted on my 1D4. The 400mm was far more use and the 5D3 just doesn’t have the grunt to fire off 10fps with the 800mm – in fairness its claim is only 6fps but the 1D4 blasts through the frames and I found the focus pretty much spot on all the time. Who needs a 1DX??? (I do!) So in Antarctica I shall keep the 5D3 for penguins waddling around at slow speed (not unlike me I suspect) and the 1D4 will be for birds in flight from the deck of the ship.  I do recommend disabling the shutter for AF and switching to the back button for focus. It was a revelation.



17 thoughts on “Back focus on birds

  1. Very nice set of shots. All well above the “keeper” bar. Wonder if I can switch to the same focus on my Nikon and give it a try. These are all spot on for the focus. Good job.

  2. Really beautiful captures and images. I’m jealous. LOL. How far would you estimate that you were from the birds — what sort of lens are you using on those shots?

    • David, thanks for commenting. Except for the flying stilts (sounds like a circus act) all would have been within 25m and some within 10m. I had two set ups as described in yesterday’s post – an 800mm with a full frame sensor (5D3) and a handheld 400mm on a 1.3x crop factor 1D4. Most of these are taken with the 400mm including the flying stilts, which is a biggish crop. The 5D3 just won’t fire fast enough for birds in flight with an 800mm attached. Nam Sang Wai is one of the very few places I know of in HK where you can get close to the birds like this.

  3. Well, it looks as if I an the only female in a male dominated derby of bird and nature photrographers that are commenting here. All of these are very good, in fact in my non-pro eye these are excellent and I think the bird in flight is the best one. It looks sharp but I can not say if it is tack sharp since I need new glasses. The feather detail of the wings of the spotshank is beautiful. So all of these photos prove that you (are not) a slouch as a nature photographer.

    • Haha, Yvonne, I am sure your female comments are worth a multiple of the males 🙂 Not a slouch maybe but not yet anywhere near the level of some of my pals here in HK. Do check out John Holmes recent post (link to blog below) for his excellent shots of Red-rumped swallows in flight. He assures me they are wild and not on a string or radio-controlled 🙂

    • I think it is worth trying. It may not be everybody’s preference but nothing ventured nothing gained. I did a follow up today 🙂
      Thanks for commenting. Much appreciated.

  4. I did have a play with ‘back button focus’ a few months back, after I discovered the facility in the manual. I thought ‘This is neat’ but switched it back again, realising I needed to think about it a bit more, or at least have a proper session to determine which would work better for me.
    (Egret for me.)

  5. Your results are good evidence that your new method is your now natural response. All are delightful images. Picking a favorite is difficult but I am partial to the Avocet Derby.

    • Thanks Steve. I have found one or two others that I think may also be keepers but they must wait until tomorrow. I am also a big Avocet fan and have an even nicer one taken today but only posted on Flickr so far.

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