Photographing a gull taking off at 60fps

I went out yesterday for about a half an hour to do an experiment photographing a gull taking off at 60fps with my Nikon 1 V2.

As Nikon 1 owners know, when shooting at 30fps or 60fps AF-C is not possible. At these high frame rates the focus of the first frame will lock in the focus on all remaining frames in the burst.

Typically when photographing moving subjects most folks will shoot their Nikon 1 gear in AF-C with subject tracking. This means a frame rate of 15fps with a V2 and 20fps with a V3. Compared to many other cameras these frame rates are excellent, but what if a photographer was trying to capture a very precise moment? Would shooting at 60fps yield images that would otherwise be almost impossible to capture?

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Let’s have a look at the results of my quick experiment from yesterday. What follows are 19 consecutive images shot hand-held at 60fps. This means that all of the images in this burst happened in less than 1/3 of a second.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Note the position of the gull’s left foot in the image above.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Now we see some subtle movement of the left foot.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

The gull’s left foot is now lifted off of the cement pier.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

More movement forward with the left foot.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Forward step of the left foot in progress.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Left foot further extended…gull is beginning to run as noted by the widening spread between its feet.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Left foot just about to be planted down on the cement pier. Bird’s head is hidden making this an unusable image.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Left foot planted down and right foot moving forward creating a nice moment full of anticipation. Is this the precise moment that a photographer may have had in their mind?

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Movement continues of the right leg.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Right leg swinging forward, gull’s head partially obstructed making this image unusable.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Right foot moving further forward, gull’s head totally obscured making this image unusable.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Right foot well forward, gull’s head still totally obscured making the image unusable.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Right foot about to be planted on cement pier, gull’s head now visible again, wings being raised.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Both feet planted, wings in upright position ready for down-stroke.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Gull is now extending from its toes of both feet readying for take-off.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Gull’s wings begin down-stroke, left foot launches.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

Down-stroke of wings continues, right foot has almost left the cement pier. Is this the precise moment that a photographer was looking to capture? Perhaps…or it could be the very next one…

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

The image shows one toe of the gull’s right foot still barely touching the cement pier just as the gull becomes air borne!

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 84mm, efov 227mm, f/5.6, 1/2000, ISO-320

The gull is now air borne…with the photo now resembling many others that have been routinely captured as it lacks the intimacy of ‘the precise moment’.

I will be doing a bit more experimentation over the next little while to see how effective shooting at 60fps can be with birds in flight.

Stay tuned for future articles which will show more image examples and discuss using 60fps for birds-in-flight as well as some technique considerations when using this type of high frame rate.

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7 thoughts on “Photographing a gull taking off at 60fps”

  1. Panasonic announced GH4 4k Photo mode as new big deal and here good old V2 already has it!

    1. Hi Stanislaw,

      I’m not sure if the Panasonic GH4 is an apples-to-apples feature. The Nikon 1 V2 will capture 15fps in AF-C with the ability to capture full resolution images i.e. 14MP. Other Nikon 1 Cameras like the V3 and J5 will do this at 20fps, both at their native full resolutions of 18MP (V3, J4) and 20.8MP (J5). The Panasonic GH4 will capture 8MP images at either 25 or 30fps but I think that is with AF-C. If my memory serves the GH4 has a 16MP sensor so this AF-C feature is limited to 1/2 of native resolution. With a Nikon 1 body the AF-C runs can be done while shooting in RAW + jpeg fine. I’m not sure what the GH4 does is limited to jpegs only or if it will shoot at that rate with RAW + jpegs.

      When it comes to higher frame rates like 30fps or the 60fps I used for the images in this article, a Nikon 1 camera does not offer AF-C…only the first frame will auto-focus, then the balance of the frames will be based on the AF of the first frame. This reduces the functionality of these higher frame rates, but they can still be useful if applied for the right types of moving subjects. The buffer of a V-series camera is about 40 images and about 20 images with a J-series. I don’t know the buffer size of the GH4. Another potential issue is how quickly the buffer clears. The J-series cameras are much slower than a V-series.

      Tom

  2. Thanks, Tom for another informative article. I bought a V2 and 70-300 CX lens after seeing the incredible images you are getting. Works great for BIF with very comparable IQ to my big DSLR and lens combo. Nikon should give you a commission on their Nikon 1 series sales to the birding community!

  3. As always your eloquence, guidance and help are invaluable to the subject at hand. For the keen observer the Thomas Stirr Method can be employed in improving one’s own photography for any fast moving subject be it sports or the current avant garde street gendre. Actually, owning two V2’s, have found them to be a sweet gear spot for lots of my own work. Three cheers, Sir!

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