Happy birds

Since I’ve been planting annuals on the deck for the hummingbirds, I’ve gotten some decent shots when I go and sit on the couch across from them. This year I tinkered with settings in order to up my keeper rate. I think I’ve hit on a couple of changes that might do just that.

These early shots were done with Animal Detection and AFF which stands for Autofocus Flexible. This means that when no animal or movement is detected it works like Autofocus Single, but uses all 224 focus points. After a week or so I changed to 1-Area and AFS so I could use Focus peaking and adjust the focus on the fly (focus peaking only works with AFS on the G9). Surprisingly it worked fairly well. The shots in this post were done with that method and I liked the results, but I think I may change it up even more.

Probably these are just the same two females over and over again, but since they can’t really introduce themselves, who knows.

I know there are at least two that have nested on opposite sides of the house with these flowers smack in the middle. There are often battles and chases when one discovers the other on “her” flowers. At times the are pretty fierce and will strike each other if one doesn’t give way fast enough. I’ve actually seen and heard this, although I’ve never photographed it. Lately I’ve been playing with high-speed video to see if I can catch it. I’m shooting at 180 frames-per-second so if I can focus and be on the right spot at the right time, you might get to see it someday.

The flowers below are new for us and are similar to the red ones and they will drink from them, but they’re definitely not a favorite. Even if it isn’t a palate winner, it is for the color palette of the photo – much more pleasing and less to compete with the bird for attention. Maybe next year I’ll get a pallet of the red ones despite that. Yeah, I went there.

Not a smooth background like the others, but the camera found her and held focus so I’ve included it as an example of the Custom-multi setting. I hope it helps keep the focus from finding the background as often as it does. The farthest background is a hundred feet away so it’s really annoying when locks on it. Always when the girls do something cute.

 

The bird in these next two looks to be a fledgling male. Like other newbies I’ve watched, he is noticeably slower than his parents and often tires and has to sit on the nearest available perch. A flower, the plant pot or even the deck railing. Like playing puppies he was just too pooped to continue. After a few seconds he was up and at it again.

Another thing I’ve noticed about juveniles is that they are much more apt to sample all the flowers almost every time they visit. Adults basically stick to the red flowers when they come along. At least when other food sources are plentiful.

I think this one might be a juvenile female. There is one young female around, but she looks a lot like the adult so it’s hard for me to remember which photos are of her. The male has dark gorget feathers so he’s easy to spot. The youngsters are also a tad smaller than the adults at this stage.

I love the little peachy patches by her feet!

Aren’t they amazing? Like their larger cousins, Bald Eagles, it doesn’t matter how many times I see them, I’m always enchanted and always stop to watch.

So…I’m experimenting with two methods of focus – Single Area and Custom Multi and have included some screen shots of the G9’s menu system so that you can see what I’m doing and maybe try this on your own G9 or with whatever camera you use. I’m pretty sure that the Animal detection technology is a mirrorless function though and not available on a DSLR.

Go to the AF Mode selection screen and choose Custom Multi – probably the least used method, but one that I think might work pretty well.

What it does is limit the focus point area to the default pattern in central location (the other two default patterns are midlines going horizontally or vertically). Or you can customize this by touching C1, C2 or C3 and then AF Area.

When you do a blank grid will appear and you simply touch to select the focus points you want to turn on in whatever pattern you like. Touch Fn1Set to save it.

The Custom-Multi icon changes to your C# setting (1, 2 or 3 depending on what you selected). To revert to the Central Pattern and Custom mode display, touch Select and Save to see them again. I haven’t found a way to delete one of these.

 

For my purposes it’s easiest to go with the default shape and a centered position so that I always know where the focus area is and I can do my best to keep the bird in the middle where the camera can find and lock onto her.

But, did you notice something weird with the 1-Area focus mode icon up there? What? It had a bird on it instead of a square! That’s because Human/Animal detection is available in single point focus as well as multi. Why didn’t I notice this before?? Big thank you to Marlene Hielema and this video for pointing it out!

Touch the Human/Animal/Off button to switch. One touch is for Human, a second is Animal and a third is Off which will put you back into 1-Area with no detection.

So the Human or Animal detection algorithms are split with 1-Area focus, but combined for Multi which is the far left icon showing a person and a bird. If none of those subjects is in the view, it reverts to multi-point focus which uses the entire field of view and all 200+ points.

 

If I remember correctly, all but the last two photos up there were taken with Custom-Multi focus, but it’s possible some were 1-Area Animal Detect. Each time I change something I update the C3-1 Custom mode settings so they don’t go back to what I originally had and right now it’s set that way. On the next good day to sit on the deck, I’ll go back and forth and see which method comes up with more keepers.

I’ve also set up Back-button focus so that focus points will change automatically as I move the camera or the subject moves in the frame. This will only work with AFC or AFF when movement is detected. So far it works pretty well now that I’ve taken focus off the shutter button. Time will tell if BBF is the way to go for hummingbirds or if I want to put the focus activation back on the shutter. When focus was engaged with either button, the continuous auto focus didn’t work fully and it was not hunting and adjusting all the time. Basically the two buttons were fighting.

The reason is because every time you hit the shutter you are disrupting the camera doing the job of focusing. By using BBF the shutter button’s only job is to fire the shutter, not to engage autofocus. Leaving your thumb pressed on the AF/AE Lock button on the back keeps the camera continuously focusing and it’s not interrupted by releasing the shutter. Why didn’t realize this? Logically it makes a ton of sense and thanks to Andrew Goodall and this video for explaining this and BBF in general if you’re new to it.

As far as I remember the AF/AE Lock button on the back comes turned on, but so does the Shutter AF, so go to the camera operations tools menu (3rd on the list) and into Focus.

I’ll say it again – you have to put all the focus to AF/AE Lock button and remove it from the shutter button completely. If you leave autofocus on the shutter button, true, uninterrupted autofocus isn’t possible because focus function will be shared between two mechanisms and will be stopped by firing the shutter. It’s a bit of a brain-bender, but I finally got it and it seems to work pretty well.

So that’s the focus technique I will be using with either Custom-Multi or 1-Area Animal Detect. The last two shots up there were taken with this method and I think overall it might get me a higher keeper rate, but that remains to be seen. Hummingbird season will wrap up at the start of fall so not much time left.

Oh and if you don’t watch videos with photographers using the gear you have, I recommend starting. I wouldn’t have known about the two features I talked about here if I hadn’t. Even if I am diligent about exploring my camera manual and menus, things slip by me and sometimes I’m just don’t connect the dots between functions I use with how they can be extended to be even more useful. This is especially important when new features come out in firmware (like Human/Animal Detection). I suppose there might be updated user manuals that go along with these, but the one time I tried to get one it was in Japanese and I couldn’t find an English version so I gave up. That means that the finer points about a new feature might elude me for some time – like the 1-Area focus mode having H/A Detect. Doh!

 

 

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