Using extension tubes to photograph small birds

Whenever I visit Bird Kingdom in Niagara Falls I try to focus my visit on a particular bird or something new in terms of technique. During our recent reader event I took the opportunity to try using extension tubes to photograph small birds. Anyone who has visited Bird Kingdom can attest to the fact that the small bird aviary can be a challenging place to capture images of small birds as they tend to be fast moving and rather skittish.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-1000
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-1000

During my recent visit I also captured a few reptile images like the turtle above, as well some snake images through the glass partitions of the enclosures, but it was the small birds that I really wanted to focus on.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 94mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-800
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 94mm, f/5.6, 1/30, ISO-800

In the past I’ve only had marginal success getting any usable images so I was determined to try something a bit different with this visit. I decided to use a 16mm Movo extension tube with my Nikon 1 V2 and Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6 zoom lens. This would give me some additional magnification effect while still allowing the lens to focus from a reasonable distance.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-450
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-450

Of course I still missed a ton of shots due to the birds’ erratic behaviours but I did get some usable images.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-900
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-900

I found that if I remained motionless the birds would come back to the tree on which I was concentrating, and if I moved slowly enough I could at least try to capture an image.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-160
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/50, ISO-160

I used single point auto-focus with my Nikon 1 V2 which allowed me to quickly place my focusing point without having to focus and recompose. Using the extension tube did limit my ability to adjust the framing on my subjects so some of them ended up not being ideal.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-500
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/125, ISO-500

As always, the auto-focusing with my Nikon 1 gear was fast and accurate. This allowed me, at times, to capture a few images before my subject bird darted away.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-320
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-320

I even lucked into a bit of a ‘creative’ image…

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-2000
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-2000

Which was created with the help of this little guy…

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-2200
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-2200

Overall, I had pretty decent success using the 16mm Movo extension tube with my Nikon 1 gear and I’ll definitely use this approach with future visits.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-5000
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/40, ISO-5000

I will need to experiment stopping down my lens a tad to see if I can get a bit better depth of field while not losing too much image sharpness and clarity.

Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1250
Nikon 1 V2 + Nikon 1 30-110mm f/3.8-5.6, 110mm, f/5.6, 1/160, ISO-1250

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5 thoughts on “Using extension tubes to photograph small birds”

  1. Tom, we had a very rewarding time at the Bird Kingdom on Saturday. Thanks for hosting this event. These photographs taken in a difficult lighting environment in the small bird aviary are sharp and show how well the combination of the extension tubes and camera do produce great results. However we must not forget that the skill of the photographer is paramount in getting these results!

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