Over the last few years we have seen a very obvious trend in cameras being designed to match the needs of different photographic genres.
The most recent examples I can use are Nikon’s D5 and D500, and from Canon, the 7D Mark 2 and 1D X Mark 2. These cameras share common features, fast (rate of) frames per second, incredibly accurate, responsive and versatile autofocus systems and impressive image quality at high ISO settings. Such functionality is aimed at meeting the requirements of photographers engaged in action photography, e.g. sports and wildlife.
During a recent wildlife photography presentation I entered into a discussion on frame rate, often measured in frames per second (FPS). My current ‘workhorse’, the Nikon D500 is capable of 10 FPS for a period of 20 seconds until the buffer fills up and begins to slow down. Inevitably, the question ‘Why?’ always pops up!
It’s a good question, why do we want such a fast frame rate?
As a wildlife photographer I often photograph a lot of action. For example, this could be a bird in flight, a species in conflict or just exhibiting interesting behaviour. We can use fieldcraft to anticipate action, but when it happens it often taken place in fractions of a second. The more photographs we can take in a very short space of time gives us a greater opportunty to capture interesting behaviour.
I am not saying you need a 10 FPS camera to photograph action. I also use a Nikon D800 which is capable of a comparitively pedestrian 4 FPS. But, basic mathematics tells us it can’t give me the same level of choice, opportunity and consistency as my D500 does when photographing action.
As this male lion yawned, I was able to take 6 photographs in just over half a second. This allowed me to capture the moment his jaw was at its widest and this is the photograph with the most impact.
While preening, this male common kingfisher shook vigorously with its nictitating membrane (third eyleid) closed. A rapid frame rate allowed me a greater choice in this moment of behaviour and I chose a shot with the beak at it’s most upright position, wings farthest out and the eyelid visible as the ‘keeper’.
A chameleon can catch its prey in the space of just 20-30 milliseconds. That is 0.02 – 0.03 of a second! Even at 10 FPS, i.e. a frame every 0.1 of a second, this was the only frame where the tongue was visible!
When a common kingfisher dives it lifts its wings and drops incredibly quickly. A rapid FPS increases the chances of capturing moments of action.
Using a high frame rate like this isn’t about random ‘spray and pray machine gunning photography’ and hoping for the best. It is about being able to target a burst of photographs of 5-6 frames in a very short space of time to increase our chances of capturing behaviour that sometimes our own eyes may not even see nor our brain can register.