Cattle egret (Bubulcus ibis) in flight

Caption: Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis) in flight using slow shutter speed for motion blur effect, Pietermaritzburg, South Africa.

Camera: Canon EOS 1D Mark II; Lens: Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM; Shutter spee: 1/60; Aperture: f/5.6; ISO: 400; Exp Comp: +1 stop.

I recently acquired a Canon EOS 1D Mk II. This is an old model DSLR that first appeared in 2004. It only has an 8-megapixel sensor and the rear screen is the size of a postage stamp.

But it can shoot eight frames a second, is fast focusing, and rugged enough to use in hand-to-hand combat.

Many years ago, long before digital, I owned a professional Canon EOS 1 35mm film camera that I used for Press work. Since those days, all my Canon digital bodies (from 300D to 450D) — while marvels of technology — have nevertheless felt like toys, leaving me hankering for a “pro” camera.

Now I’ve got one and I love it, even though in digital camera terms it’s something of a dinosaur and not nearly as easy to use as my 450D.

I also now have a Canon 400mm f/5.6 telephoto lens — no zoom, no image stabilizer, slow maximum aperture, but it’s compact, light, and fast focusing.

Bird photographers rate this lens highly for birds in flight (BIF) photography, a specialized field that I have no illusions of trying to master as this stage in life.

But I wanted to try out the 1D Mk II’s auto focusing with the 400mm lens, so a couple of days ago went down to a small dam near where I live, hoping to photograph the egrets and ibises that fly in to roost in the lone remaining tree that’s escaped the developers’ chainsaws.

Unfortunately I got there after sunset and the light was already too low for fast shutter speeds, even at 1600 ISO. After a few attempts trying to shoot in these conditions, I switched to 400 ISO and decided instead to have some fun by shooting at slow shutter speeds and panning. I hand-held the camera and tried following the birds as they flew overhead.

Needless to say, virtually all the photos are hopelessly blurred from both subject movement and camera shake, although there are one or two that appeal to me because they look a bit like abstract paintings.

The photo above is one of the few where the body of the bird is reasonably sharp, while the flapping wings have simply morphed into dabs of darker color. Below is an abstract of sacred ibises (Threskiornis aethiopicus) in flight, identifiable by the long, curved bill. Shutter speed here was only 1/8 sec.

Sacred ibises in flight

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