Zooming and the FAST hummingbird wing

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by dohc46, Dec 1, 2005.

  1. dohc46

    dohc46 Guest

    I currently am using a Kodac DC3400 "old" digital camera with a 3X
    optical zoom.
    With my butterfly bushes, yes they attract hummingbirds, I currently
    have to do the following and still get these unsatisfactory results
    (yes I'm hoping for the world).
    1) The hummingbirds flap their wings too fast, I get a blur on the
    2) I have to act like a Special Forces, Delta Force, Navy Seal.....so I
    can carefully sneak up and lie down and wait by the bush for a close up
    (what fun, glad my property doesn't have too many vehicles traveling on

    What i'm wishing for is the following:

    To be able to sit on my deck 50 feet away and take a picture of the
    hummingbirds with the resulting picture: not having blurred wings and
    that it looks like a real close-up.

    Could someone tell me either: the general characteristics that could
    accomplish this or specific cameras....e.g. what determines if
    something fast is a blur or clear; what kind of zoom truly brings
    things up close, clear and personal?
    Also when I look at DSLR lenses I try to relate the zoom to my cheap
    Kodak; meaning my Kokak says 3X optical....I was hoping the DSLR lens
    would say 15X, 30X optical..... instead they always give numbers I
    don't understand (is there a cross reference).

    btw: never understood the digital zoom on my camera (totally blurry
    when I try using, useless to me at least).

    Thanks a lot
    dohc46, Dec 1, 2005
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  2. dohc46

    millereric Guest

    For general tips on Hummingbird Photography, see my website at:


    You've asked several questions and I'll try to answer what I can. First,
    let's look at what you want to do:
    There are several components here, so I'll start with blurred wings. If you
    want the freeze the wings you are going to need a lot of light. This is so
    because you will need a very short exposure time. You can try to accomplish
    this with a fast shutter speed, and you can achieve a measure of success,
    but if you truly want frozen wings, you will almost have to use flash. See
    the following page for an opinionated explanation:


    Fortunately, you can set up a few flash units near your butterfly bush and
    get photos like the ones I took at my butterfly bush:


    A 400mm, f/5.6 lens can accomplish these photos from about 15-20 feet away
    allowing for enough pixes on a Canon 10D for an acceptable 5x7 print from
    the crop.

    50 feet away is long way away from a hummingbird. It would be a lot less
    expensive to move the butterfly bush closer to the deck than to buy the
    glass that will give you the image you want from that distance. Check out
    the following page for a few tips:


    and this page for some more tips:


    What you want to do is possible. However, I suggest that you study up on
    equipment a little more. For example, the reason that your "digital zoom"
    doesn't seem to work is because its just a marketing ploy, it really doesn't
    exist in the sense that the term is a misnomer. What it describes is nothing
    more than cropping with possibly some interpolation to add pixels that
    don't add image detail.

    "Zoom" relates to the ability to change focal length, not necessarily to a
    long "focal length." The longer the focal length, the more "magnification."
    Focal length is expressed in millimeters and the higher the number, the more
    magnification. The numbers used for digital cameras such as 10x or 15x zoom
    mean that the lens referenced can be changed from its shortest focal length
    to a focal length that is 10x longer. The numbers don't necessarily
    correlate to the ability to magnify and can't be compared without knowing
    the focal length equivalents of the lenses being compared. For example, a
    lens that zooms from 3mm to 30mm is a 10x zoom. So is a lens that zooms from
    10mm to 100mm. 100mm will provide much more apparent "magnification" than
    30mm, all other things (read sensor size) being equal. There really isn't
    any substitute for educating yourself on these concepts and others might
    have some good recommendations for beginner photography books for this

    If you just want an equipment recommendation, get the following:

    Canon 20D (DSLR Camera)
    Canon EF 100-400mm f/5.6L IS USM (Lens)
    Canon 580ex (Flash Unit)
    Better Beamer Flash Extender
    A 2gb 80x Compact Flash Card
    Bogen 3216 Monopod and 3232 Swivel Tilt Head

    I only know Canon equipment but I'm sure you can find just as good
    equivalent equip from Nikon, Olympus, Minolta, Pentax and whoever else that
    I forgot to mention.

    This will get you to 20 feet away. I f you really want to get closer, move
    that butterfly bush closer to the deck or get a good feeder.

    Eric Miller
    millereric, Dec 1, 2005
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  3. dohc46

    C Wright Guest

    3X or 5X optical zoom says very little about how close, or how much
    telephoto effect, that you will get. These are just relative terms that
    describe the difference between the widest angle and longest telephoto
    effect that your camera will produce. For example a lens that has a 35mm
    wide-angle setting that is described as a 3X zoom would have a telephoto end
    of 105mm.
    DSLR lens' are not described that way at all. These lens' will be described
    purely in millimeters. A wide-angle lens would be something less than 50mm,
    24mm for example. A lens classified as telephoto would start at about 135mm
    and upward (some may argue that a tele lens starts at less than that).
    Wildlife photographers will typically use a lens of 300, 400, 500, 600 mm or
    sometimes even longer.
    Now the bad news! You want to take hummingbird pictures at 50 feet. Going
    all the way up to a 600mm lens (a very expensive lens let alone the cost of
    the camera) your field of view is narrowed down to a little more than 4
    degrees. While I really don't know how many degrees a hummingbird occupies
    at 50 feet I would guess, based on their extreme small size, that they
    occupy less than 1 degree. So at 50 feet, even with a 600mm lens, the bird
    would be considerably less than frame filling.
    As far as imaging the bird so as to minimize wing flap very fast shutter
    speeds are required. By very fast I am talking about 1/6000 or 1/8000 of a
    C Wright, Dec 1, 2005
  4. dohc46

    Frank ess Guest

    You've come to the right place: there are a few _very_ accomplished
    (understatement) hummingbird photographers here. We can only aspire to
    their skills, talent, and product.

    For my part, I keep trying. Here are a couple from a Canon 20D,
    70-300mm DO IS combination, distance about 20 feet. Both are crops,
    the first more aggressive than the second:

    Both lack tack-sharp focus, but the 1/1600 and 1/800 did stop the
    motion, mostly. These are almost good, and from a 200-image hour of
    sitting and clicking.

    Here's one with the 20D and a 70-200mm 2.8L USM IS with 2X convertor:

    Better in a few ways, but still a crop, pretty far from a full-frame.
    This was a long session made even longer by the weight of the
    camera/lens combo.

    Lessons to be learned are: 300 or 400mm is not long enough; expensive
    equipment is OK in good hands, only becoming excellent in trained,
    gifted hands; pleasuring oneself is easier, if not more rewarding,
    than meeting stringent - even unrealistic - standards; even a blind
    pig finds an acorn from time to time, I devoutly hope.

    In reality, money won't do it, dedication won't do it; money _and_
    dedication, _and_ application of generous gobs of time and organized
    learning might disguise a certain deficit in the talent department and
    yield a few "Ooohs and Aaahs".

    To summarize: If one doesn't take great pleasure in the process (and
    it seems to me you do), one must very shortly abandon the effort as a
    vain exercise.
    Frank ess, Dec 1, 2005
  5. dohc46

    c Guest

    Thanks for the great info Eric. My mother adores hummingbirds and never
    could get decent pics. I will forward your page to her.

    c, Dec 1, 2005
  6. dohc46

    Paul Rubin Guest

    You don't have to be that sneaky. Get a hummingbird feeder that you
    put sugar water into. You can walk right up to them when they're
    Forget it. Get in real close and use a powerful flash to freeze the
    Paul Rubin, Dec 1, 2005
  7. dohc46

    RobG Guest

    I'm sure that some of the roolytruly nature photo guys who frequent this den
    of misinformation (!) will have other replies for you, possibly with more
    useful details, but here's my contribution.

    I'm no expert on the hummingbird (never even seen one; I'm no expert on
    native Aussie birds either), but a little brief research (!!)
    (www.googleisyourfriend)showed me that the hummingbird's wings flap at approx
    80 beats/sec. That means that to get the wings frozen in motion you'll need a
    real camera, with a seriously fast shutter speed, and to zoom in close you'll
    need a real lens - at least 300mm, I would guess, with a good f-number too.
    Or, build yourself a hide and wait patiently, just like a roolytruly nature
    photographer has to. I don't think the Kodak has much chance of capturng any
    sort of useful image. In the immortal words of Bob Heinlein - There ain't no
    such thing as a free lunch.

    For your further education, have a look here


    and I'm sure that if you go to www.google.com and type in 'photographing
    hummingbirds', just like I did, you'll find some more references.

    And don't worry about 'digital zoom' - turn it off then zoom in on your
    computer instead - much better picture quality that way. I only use my digi
    zoom setting when I've left my binoculars at home - about all it's good for.


    "dohc46" <> wrote a whole pile of stuff...
    RobG, Dec 1, 2005
  8. dohc46

    Paul Rubin Guest

    I don't remember ever getting any good still shots of hummingbirds
    (not even sure if I tried to take any) but I've shot some nice video
    of them with a cheap camcorder. No frozen wings but it showed the
    birds pretty well.
    Paul Rubin, Dec 1, 2005
  9. dohc46

    Paul Mitchum Guest

    Paul Mitchum, Dec 1, 2005
  10. dohc46

    Paul Mitchum Guest

    I have a suggestion that others haven't made:

    If your camera has a remote control (wireless or otherwise), put it on a
    tripod next to the hummingbird feeder and use the remote to take
    pictures. This way you can sit as far away as the remote allows.

    The way to relate the zoom on your camera to a zoom lens on a DSLR is as
    follows: Open up the manual for your camera, and it will tell you a 35mm
    equivalent focal length for your camera's lens. Google leads me to your
    camera's manual:


    ....which tells us that the focal length for your camera's lens is (and I
    quote): "38 to 76 mm f 8.1 - f 15.3 (35 mm equivalent)"

    So your camera has a lens that can register an angle of view roughly
    equivalent to a 38-76mm zoom lens on a camera using 35mm film.

    The longer the lens, measured in millimeters, the narrower the angle of
    view, so you can compare your 76mm maximum zoom to a 300mm or even 600mm
    lens such as those being discussed in response to your post... It's a
    pretty significant difference.

    And to toot my own horn, inconsequential though it may be, here's an
    image I took with a Tamron SP 80-200mm/2.8 with a 2x teleconverter (an
    extra lens that effectively doubles the focal length of the lens):


    Firing the flash didn't help stop the wings, mostly because I was so far
    away and I was using the on-camera flash. The camera's on a tripod and
    I'm just sitting next to it, waiting for the bird to come back from time
    to time.
    Paul Mitchum, Dec 1, 2005
  11. dohc46

    Eric Miller Guest

    80 beats per second
    Average wing length 3-4 inches (for Rubythroats and others that size)
    Wing tip travel of about 6-8 inches
    This amounts to about 480 - 640 inches per second of wingtip travel

    1/1000 second = about 1/2 inch (a complete blur)
    1/8000 second = about 1/16 inch travel while shutter open

    This varies of couse. The wings actually travel much faster during the flap
    and slow down considerably at either end.

    To use 1/8000 second, you will need a DSLR that has that kind of shutter
    speed and you will likely end up with poor photo quality due to the
    necessity of high ISO's (noise) and tiny depth of field due to wide open
    apertures and long focal lengths. If you want consistent wing detail and you
    want most or all of the bird to actually be in focus, you will have to rely
    on a the flash to freeze the wings and not the shutter speed. Flash can give
    you effective exposure times of 1/20,000-1/30,000 second with even very
    inexpensive equipment (I use Vivitar 283's that go for about $20 each on
    eBay). There are a lot of trade-offs in photographing these little birds.
    Allowing the wings to appear blurred, just as they would to any observer,
    allows a lot more variety in gear and technique and can still result in some
    fantastic shots.

    Eric Miller
    Eric Miller, Dec 1, 2005
  12. dohc46

    Annika1980 Guest

    I wouldn't be too concerned with freezing a hummingbird's wings. It's
    almost impossible unless you catch the wings as they are slowing to
    flap the other way. Just worry about getting the rest of the bird in
    focus. You can do this using either a long lens or a shorter lens with
    the camera placed neared the bird. I use a remote release cable on
    many of my shots so I can sit inside the house and wait for them. Of
    course, getting them to the spot where you have the camera aimed is the

    Most hummers aren't too shy if you don't move around a lot. But it
    still helps to have a longish lens. And remember, many good shots can
    be taken with a bit of blur in the wings.
    Annika1980, Dec 1, 2005
  13. dohc46

    dohc46 Guest

    I sincerely appreciate ALL of the responses, thanks to all.
    dohc46, Dec 2, 2005
  14. dohc46

    Ron Hunter Guest

    As you have discovered, your current camera is totally inadequate for
    your purposes. Check out the Kodak z740 camera. I believe it will suit
    your needs quite well. Forget digital zoom.
    Ron Hunter, Dec 2, 2005
  15. You've received some excellent suggestions, those in the above post
    are really good, as are several by others.

    I've been doing some such shooting for the past few years, but my
    efforts include lots more than humming birds. But, even though I've
    improved my skills throughout all this time, I still am challenged
    many times. Stopping the motion of hummingbird's wings is something
    I've just about accepted as not an option I'm willing to strive for
    any more. As some have suggested, be content to get the remainder of
    the bird in sharp focus and let the wings be blurred - no big deal.
    Unless you have the resources of the CEO of the DuPont Co. back over
    50 years ago (named Crawford Greenwalt). He published a book of
    humming bird photos he took with film cameras and some VERY elaborate
    high speed, stop motion flashes then, that set the standard for years
    to come.

    Among some of the techniques I use on birds other than hummers, is one
    called digiscoping. This uses a spotting scope with very high quality
    low dispersion glass in the lenses. My setup uses some older Nikon
    digital cameras, which are more easily fitted to the eyepiece of the
    scope. Much of my shots are taken at distances of from 30 to 90 feet,
    but as stated earlier do not include many humming birds with this
    technique. For these shots I don't need any lenses other than the one
    on the camera and the scope. But it does take lots of patience and
    yields many poor shots for every good one.

    Olin McDaniel
    Olin K. McDaniel, Dec 4, 2005
  16. dohc46

    Eric Miller Guest


    The money required to obtain the flashes necessary to stop the wings on a
    hummingbird is a little over $100 for a savvy ebay'er. Here is one such

    4 - Vivitar 283 flash units with pc sync cords - about $20 each.
    1 - Triple outlet PC - Adapter - about $10
    1 - 20 ft. PC cord - About $5
    1 - 4-5 ft. section of 1 inch PVC pipe - about $5
    1 - optical "peanut" slave unit - $10
    3 - hot shoe mounts - about $8
    4 - 3/4 PVC caps (cap for end of pipe)
    4 - 1/4 - 20 x 1" bolts with two washers and one nut each - $1
    4 - straight wooden sticks sharpened on one end.
    4 - paper clips

    Cut the pvc pipe into four sections. Drill a 1/4" hole in the four PVC caps.
    Put the bolts through the PVC caps and tighten the nut down over the washer,
    this should leave about 3/8" of the bolt exposed past the end of the cap.
    Push each cap onto one of the sections of pipe. Drive the sticks into the
    ground near the hummingbird and slide the open end of the PVC pipe over the
    sticks. [Your light stands are now complete]

    For about $25 each, you can buy telescoping, collapsible light stands that
    will save you the trouble of making your own.

    Screw the hot shoe mounts and optical slave onto the exposed bolts atop your
    light stands. Put your flash units into the hot shoes and optical slave.
    Attach the PC leads from the three flashes that are not attached to the
    optical slave to the Triple Outlet PC Adapter. Run the 20' PC cord from the
    Triple Outlet Adapter to your camera.

    Pull the controller off the front of each of the flash units and short out
    the two right-most sockets on all of the flash units with paper clips
    [resulting in the shortest flash duration from each of the units].

    BINGO, you have a flash set up with a 1/20,000 second flash duration.

    You can get photos like the one at the link below with just two of those
    flash units.


    Eric Miller
    Eric Miller, Dec 5, 2005
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