Northern Shrike Take Off
Bird Photography,  Photo Gear

How to use Olympus’ Pro Capture Mode to Photograph Birds in Flight

One of the best ways to get birds in flight photographs is to take the image right after the bird takes off.  This is especially true for smaller birds that are extremely difficult to photograph in flight.

Olympus’ Pro Capture mode can make taking these “Take Off” pictures a lot easier.  Pro Capture mode starts recording a sequence of images when you half press the shutter button When you fully press the shutter button, it records a predetermined number of images both before and after the shutter is pressed.

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Here’s why this technology is so good for getting a good photo of the bird take off.  Unless you have a lightning shutter finger, by the time you see the bird take off and press the shutter button, the take off has already happened and you missed the shot.  With Pro Capture, it has those missed frames stored in the buffer and they will be written to the SD card once you fully press the shutter button.

Bluebird Take Off. ISO 640, f/6.3, 1/1600
Bluebird Take Off. ISO 640, f/6.3, 1/1600

Pro Capture can also be used for bird landings if you understand where a bird might land.  For example, a branch leading to a bird feeder.

Pro Capture mode is available on the follow Olympus cameras:  OM-D E-M1X, E-M1 Mark III, E-M1 Mark II, E-M5 Mark III, and Tough TG-6.

Continuous Low Settings
Continuous Low Settings

Setting Up Pro Capture Mode

I shoot in Pro Capture Low mode (18 fps) as it focuses between images.  Pro Capture H does not focus between each image but gives you up to 60 frames per second.

Pro Capture Low Settings
Pro Capture Low Settings

To set up Pro Capture mode, in the Cog – C1 – Continuous Low settings menu, make the following settings:

  • Set the max frames to 18fps, the highest available so I don’t miss any action.
  • Pre shutter frames.  These are how many frames will be in the buffer prior to fully pressing the shutter button.  Once the pre shutter frame count is reached, Pro Capture will begin writing over the images in the buffer.  I usually set this to 25.
  • Set the Frame Count Limiter.  This is the total number of frames that will be captured both before and after the shutter button is fully pressed.  I typically set this to 35 which gives me 25 frames prior and 10 frames after the shutter press.
  • You can adjust these settings to your liking and reaction times.  You may want to lower the number of shots if you don’t want to cull through as many images.  Just make sure the majority of your frames are pre shutter.
Super Control Panel set to Pro Capture Low
Super Control Panel set to Pro Capture Low

Pro Capture Low can then be selected in the Drive Mode in the Super Control Panel.

I have my Pro Capture settings mapped to one of my Custom Mode Dial settings so I can switch to it quickly when an opportunity comes up.  Visit my blog on setting the Custom Mode Dials for Bird Photography for more information.

House Finch In Flight
House Finch in Flight, ISO 500, 1/2000 Sec, f/5.6

Pro Capture Tips

  • High shutter speeds are important to freeze the bird’s wings. Raise your ISO to keep your shutter speed high.  I would try to get a shutter speed of at least 1/1600 or 1/2000 of a second.  Smaller birds will require a faster shutter speed. I have included the shutter speed for the photos in this blog to give you an idea of what shutter speeds work.
  • Don’t shoot wide open.  Use a smaller aperture (f/6.3, f/7.1) if you can do so without  having too slow of a shutter speed.  Sometimes the bird will take off outside of the plane of focus and larger depth of field is helpful in getting more of the bird in focus.  f/8 is the smallest aperture you can use in Pro Capture mode.
  • Bring an extra battery. Since you are continually half pressing the shutter, the battery will drain quicker than normal.
  • Leave enough room in your frame for the bird to take off so you can get the in flight photographs.
Northern Shrike in Flight
Northern Shrike in Flight, ISO 640, f/5.6, 1/4000

Pro Capture + Bird Detection AF

Olympus recently released Bird Defection Autofocus in a firmware update for the E-M1X only.  Pro Capture and Bird Defect AF work great together.   Bird Detect AF is an algorithm that will find/track a bird in your viewfinder.  Check out my blog on Bird Detection AF for more information.

In the above photograph, I was using Pro Capture to photograph a Northern Cardinal waiting for him to take off.  A Northern Shrike looking for a meal entered the frame and I pressed the shutter button.  Bird Detection AF switched the focus on the Shrike entering the frame and Pro Capture saved the images of the action.

Written by Martin Belan

Related Blog Posts
Testing Olympus Bird Detection Autofocus on Birds in Flight
Comparing the Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark III and E-M1X for Bird Photography
Using Topaz DeNoise AI for Editing your Bird Photographs

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