In order to really put the AF system to the test I decided to pick a tough subject, the American Kestrel. This is one of the smallest raptors in north America measuring just 6 inches tall. It flies very fast and erratically and is usually very difficult to approach. My friend Conrad Tan had located a kestrel in Half Moon Bay area which was more approachable. I spent an evening photographing the kestrel, we did not use any calls or baiting. Just before the sunset, Kestrel put up a show for us giving us multiple passes. Given the bird’s erratic nature it is really difficult to make much of an hour’s worth of shooting when there is only one bird in a large field, you only have a few chances and if you miss, the game is over.
The EOS 1DX AF system showed exceptional performance when photographing the kestrel in flight. I immediately noticed an improvement over the EOS 1D Mark IV and despite the limited time I had, I was able to produce many frames that I liked. Grabbing focus on a darting kestrel against a varied background is quite difficult, even when the bird is flying across the frame. I had not been terribly successful with this kind of kestrel flight shots with the EOS 1D Mark IV, especially when a tele-extender was attached. It was possible to lock focus when the bird was hovering as well as immediately after take off or before landing using the pre-focus technique with the EOS 1D MK IV. With the EOS 1DX on the other hand, the servo drive is rapid enough to lock on the kestrel in mid flight. Of course, the photographer needs to acquire and track the kestrel quickly before it exists the frame but if you can center the bird promptly, the AF will lock. More amazing is the fact that the AF remains locked for relatively long period while shooting at 12 fps. This is so fast I could hardly see what was happening through the finder. below are some examples:
Click here to see a 3-frame sequence at 12fps:
I photographed the kestrel against a variety of backgrounds and the AF algorithm was able to pick up the bird against busy patterns and contrast where I had some issues with the EOS 1D Mark IV in the past.