One of my limiting factors to getting small songbird inflight action shots was my reaction time. Over the years I got reasonably good at anticipating when a songbird was going to take off from its perch (taking a poop being a key one). I would set up the shot and start a long burst. If I was lucky the bird took off and I got a keeper inflight shot. Lucky being the operative word. Most of the time, I was a split second (or more) too late. I captured 20-30 empty limb shots to delete in post.

Red-winged Blackbird Inflight Closeup
Red-winged Blackbird

Reaction time was a limiting factor to keeper inflight songbird shots. Many others remain, but the Pro Capture Mode in my Olympus OMD EM1x and OMD E1 Mark III has defied my aging and returned my reaction time to my youth. In honesty, a way better reaction time than in my youth, or any other age for that matter. (EM1 Mark II, EM5 Mark III, and Tough 6 also have Pro Capture)

Eastern Bluebird Extreme Inflight Closeup
Eastern Bluebird

Below is an overly simple explanation of how Pro Capture works. Here is a solid explanation.

When the camera is in Pro Capture, and you half press the shutter button, the camera will start buffering a preset (menu selection) number of frames. It creates a loop – it continually adds the newest frame and drops the oldest frame within the preset number. When the decisive moment happens, e.g., the bird takes off from the limb, or more accurately, the split second after you see the decisive moment you excitedly fully press the shutter button. The camera then commits the buffered frames to your card and takes a preset number of frames in real-time that are also committed to the card.

Ruby-crowned Kinglet Straight Down Dive For A Flying Insect
Ruby-crowned Kinglet Straight Down Dive For A Flying Insect

The result – you have a number of frames before the decisive moment, the decisive moment, and a number of frames after the decisive moment. For example, you have frames of the bird on the perch, frames as the bird is getting ready and leaving the perch, and frames of the bird just after leaving the perch. If everything went well, most importantly the bird leaving in the right direction for focus and lighting – all things that you still have to think about and anticipate with exposure and starting focus point – one of the latter frames might just have the right head position with the eye in focus and catch light, the wings either up or down, and no distracting background. Of course, the bird could just drop off the limb, fly into the shade, fly further into the tree ….  In other words, Pro Capture is not a magic solution, just a very, very useful tool.

I have a Custom Mode (C1) set with my most used Pro Capture settings: Shutter priority at 3200th, Auto ISO with 6400 upper limit, single large focus point. For small hyperactive birds Pro Capture High, 60 fps, 10 frames preshutter, 25 frames total, AF will automatically be SAF. For larger slower birds (e.g., wading birds, gulls, perched raptors, etc.) Pro Capture Low, 18 fps 10 frames preshutter, 30 frames total, CAF+tracking with Bird AI on.  All other settings are the same as my preferred birds-in-flight and think it best that each individual use the ones that work best for them.

As always, these are personal choices and recommend that anyone interested in using Pro Capture read the available sites of Olympus users and then have fun experimenting to dial in their own personal preferences.

I have set up this gallery for some Pro Capture captured favorites and intend to keep it fresh.

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