Slowly recovering from the shock of losing lens function at the end of 2015, I started 2016 on a completely new page. I had twiddled my thumbs enough. I had put my camera away expecting the problem to magically disappear. It didn’t. Eventually, I decided to plug in my 1.4x extender and see what happened. Miraculously, I was able to take a picture. It’s a give and take, right? I gained some extra focal length (now shooting at 560mm), but at the same time lost some light (maximum aperture f/8) and, perhaps most critically, the ability to autofocus. Ever thankful for small mercies, I decided to bring in the new year with a dabble in the hit or miss art of creating sharp images of tiny, moving subjects without relying on advanced electronics. After all, it’s been done for many years, and on film too, at least I had the advantage of being able to review in the field, as well as throw away hundreds of out of focus files.
Bigger birds were definitely easier to see in the viewfinder, such as this Purple Gallinule.
Small birds like the tiny Spotted Tody-flycatcher were a little more difficult. These little bundles of energy allow for a close approach though, so fortunately I was able to see well enough to focus properly.
Most times, however, it was very much hit or miss, with the misses far outweighing the hits. Ever so often I’d get lucky, and have a shot that was in focus. This White-headed Marsh Tyrant provided enough contrast against the golden backlight for me to see him in the viewfinder. I tweaked my focussing ring, and of course the wind picked up. Blowing the bird back and forth. This was going to be great, I knew it. Finally, the stars aligned.
Migratory Barn Swallows were everywhere that day, I remember them vividly. The thought of me getting a photo of any of the birds in flight evaporated within seconds, even though they were literally all around us. I did manage to notice their habits, though. Each bird will have its preferred perch, from which it’d launch an all out attack on any insect flying close enough and slow enough. All I had to do was pick out my preferred perch, lock my focus, and wait. And voila.
Some time aback, I shared a photo of a flock of Dickcissels. As dramatic as they are as a flock, individually they are even more striking. They look painted almost, and there is a reasonable degree of variation among individual birds. My newfound manual focus habits turned out to be advantageous in this situation, as the countless wafting reeds would’ve driven any autofocus system up a wall. Perhaps I was warming up to it…