Test Images of Small Birds Taking Flight at 60 FPS

The more that I’ve been experimenting with shooting at 60 frames per second, the more intrigued I’ve become with how to potentially utilize this capability. This article shares some test images of small birds taking flight at 60 frames per second (FPS).

Many small birds, such as sparrows, are ubiquitous and we often don’t pay any attention to them at all. Anyone who has attempted to photograph small birds in flight can attest to how challenging it can be to even get them in the frame for an image. My test images today focused on trying to capture small birds taking flight. The first short run of 4 consecutive images is of a sparrow taking flight from my backyard deck. These were captured just after high noon.

NOTE: Click on images to enlarge.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/12800, ISO-1800

As is the case with larger birds, it is very important to watch for small birds starting to go into a crouching position, as this is typically the first stage of them taking off.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/12800, ISO-1800

You can see in the image above that the sparrow is beginning to launch itself forward while spreading its wings.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/12800, ISO-1800

Image three captured the sparrow with its wings extended and beginning its first down stroke. Notice how its flight feathers are well spread to capture as much air as possible. The toes on one foot are still touching the deck.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/12800, ISO-1800

In the fourth frame the sparrow is now fully airborne as it completes its first down stroke wing beat. In the next frame the bird was already exiting the frame. I must admit that I was thrilled to capture this small snippet of action today. These four frames were captured in 1/15th of a second during a longer run of 40 images.

As you look at the EXIF data you’ll see that even though this scene was shot in bright sunshine, I used a fairly high ISO of 1800. This was due to my choice of shutter speed, i.e. 1/12800th of a second.  Knowing that small birds have extremely fast wing speeds I used a very fast shutter speed to ‘freeze’ the action. One of the biggest challenges capturing images at 60 frames per second is timing your shutter release. When using a Nikon 1 V2, my 40 shot buffer fills in only 2/3 of a second. I did burn through hundreds of unusable photographs today during my testing because my timing was off by just a hair.

The sparrow images in this article were all cropped to 4000 pixels on the width, then resized for web use.

Now, let’s have a look at 5 consecutive images of a small bird taking flight from the top of a shepherd’s pole which was holding a bird feeder. Since this bird was a bit larger I chose a shutter speed of 1/3200. I’m unsure of the bird species – perhaps a reader can help with identification. You’ll notice in the EXIF data that the ISO is also a bit high at ISO-2000. This is because this image series was captured later in the afternoon at about 4 PM under partially cloudy conditions.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2000

In the frames leading up to this first image above, the bird was standing very erect. As soon as it began its crouch I fired off my run of 40 photographs. The 5 images shown in this article were captured in 1/12th of a second. I did not crop these photographs at all so readers could get an idea of how quickly a small bird moves and the distance it travels.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2000

Frame 2 captured the bird just about to launch forward.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2000

Frame 3 is a good example of how much more of a photograph a bird covers when its wings are extended. It is important to anticipate this when framing your potential images. I really love this photograph as the bird’s toes are still just touching the shepherd’s pole.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2000

The fourth frame in the run isn’t usable due to the bird’s wing position. I wanted to show this frame so you could see how many inches further away from the pole that the bird has propelled itself in just 1/60th of a second.

Nikon 1 V2 + 1 Nikon CX 70-300 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 300 mm, efov 810 mm, f/5.6, 1/3200, ISO-2000

The fifth frame shows the bird in full flight as the first wing beat down stroke is completed. In the next photograph the bird was partially cropped off as it was leaving the frame.

Over the next while, as I work on my technique shooting at 60 frames per second, I will be sharing some additional insights with readers.

What I can tell you is that this specific subject matter, when shot at a very fast frame rate like 60 frames per second, is a real blast! It is certainly challenging, requiring high levels of concentration and split-second shutter release timing.

Another thing that I love about this type of photography is its accessibility. These types of images are possible for virtually anyone who has a camera (most likely mirrorless) that can shoot at fast frame rates. You don’t need a lot of expensive flash gear, special triggers, hours of set-up time, or even a tripod or monopod for that matter. You can just grab your camera body, mount a telephoto lens on it and go outside – photographing even the most common birds in your area – and still have a ton of fun!

It is also a great way to enhance your eye-hand coordination and your shutter release timing.

Technical Note:
All photographs were captured hand-held in available light using Nikon 1 gear as per the EXIF data. Images were produced from RAW files using my standard process of DxO PhotoLab, CS6 and the Nik Collection.

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12 thoughts on “Test Images of Small Birds Taking Flight at 60 FPS”

  1. Hi Tom,

    What a series of images! I agree with you, sparrows are so common, they’re overlooked. I used to have the same attitude until I had a ledge patch of garden and a small feeder; when they started coming, I realized what I’ve been taking for granted. The first sequence is, hmmm, so poetic, I can almost feel the lift in the wings akin to a plane letting go of the runway and leaping into the air. It’s true that there’s beauty in the “mundane” and everyday occurrences if we just open our eyes and in your case, freeze the moments with your camera.

    Oggie

    1. Thanks for adding your perspectives to the discussion Oggie! It’s rather funny in a way, but shooting at a fast frame rate of 60 FPS is almost like using a macro lens from the perspective that it allows us to see things in ways that we have not experienced before.
      Tom

      1. Tom,

        That is so true — it’s a 1/60th slice of a second that is almost, if not at all, imperceptible to the human eye, frozen in time. It’s one of the reason why I love this hobby of photography. It makes me appreciate the wonders of Nature and creation all the more like how flight feathers and the anatomical configuration of a bird enables it to escape gravity and fly.

        Oggie

  2. Hi Thomas,
    beware this can become addictive!Like you I have done this with small species of birds to herons and the change in wing positions in one second is both astonishing and very interesting.So thank you for sharing your images and proving that the facility offered on the 1 series of cameras is not just a gimmick and I look forward to your future findings
    Regards
    Stuart.

    1. Hi Stuart,
      I agree – this type of photography can become quite addicting! Shooting at high frame rates is one of the capabilities of the Nikon 1 system of which very few people were even aware, and Nikon didn’t promote.
      Tom

      1. Hi Thomas,
        I couldn`t agree more,it beggers belief that such a capable system could be so poorly promoted.I think that the reported pricing of their new range tells us all that we need to know!
        Rgards
        Stuart.

        1. Hi Stuart,
          The rumoured pricing that I read was 4,000 Euros and $4,670 US for the Nikon 45 MP full frame mirrorless camera (likely about $6,225 CDN D850 price differential applies) and 2,500 Euros and $2,900 US for the Nikon 24 MP full frame mirrorless camera (about $3,865 CDN if the D850 price differential applies). Looks like Nikon is going ‘up market’ with these new mirrorless cameras. A lot of people will want to see what kind of capability these cameras have compared to DSLRs to warrant the price premium.
          Tom

  3. Wonderful images once again Mr Stirr. I am inspired to explore similar territory….although I’ve discovered my 70-300 is exhibiting a condition you mentioned in an earlier post…that is, focus chatter at around 280 to 300mm lengths. Was that an easy fix on your copy of the lens? Do you have any more information on the issue? Thanks for the ongoing demonstrations of the versatility of the much maligned Nikon 1.

    1. Hi Philip,
      My lens was repaired under Warranty by Nikon Canada so I don’t know what the cost would be on it should you lens not be covered by warranty. I believe that a VR lens unit was replaced in my lens with its most recent repair. I dropped my lens off on a Wednesday and I was able to pick it up on Friday of the same week so the repair was done on a very timely basis. The warranty repair at Nikon Canada has always been excellent in my experience.
      Tom

    2. Some CX70-300 lenses showing similar symptoms may have a defective FPC ribbon cable. Check the dpreview site for details.

      Thomas Stirr’s series at 60fps are a pleasure to see. I have made similar experiences with the V2 and V3 – not easy to keep a flying sparrow in the frame… Often a bird just hops the first meter, unfolding the wings only when it is out of the frame.

      1. Thanks for adding to the discussion Stefan! I’m not sure if my original CX 70-300 mm has had defective ribbon cables in the past or not. My lens was repaired three times under warranty. I do know that the last time the VR lens unit was replaced. I understand some earlier 1 Nikon lenses like the 10-30 mm non-PD had ribbon cable issues. That might be why Nikon switched to the 10-30 mm PD design.
        Tom

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