Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens

Started May 23, 2013 | Discussions thread
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Barry Pearson
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Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
May 23, 2013

Yesterday I found myself way outside my capability. I took delivery of a Sigma 500mm f/4.5 lens on Monday, and yesterday I tried it in the field for the first time at a (UK) bird reserve on my K-5IIs

My "birds in flight" shots are mostly just empty sky! I found it mind-bogglingly hard to switch from seeing birds in flight with my "bare" eyes to getting an eye to the viewfinder and tracking them there. Typically they were out of scope before I had even found them via the viewfinder.

I have little experience of birding, and this is the longest lens I have ever used, so perhaps it is a case of "keep practicing for enough years"! But I wonder if there are any shortcuts? How do other people do this? (Or is this the wrong lens for birds in flight?)

1. Perhaps I can avoid using the viewfinder? I live in England and I've never handled a gun, but perhaps front and rear gun-sights could be used? (Rear sights attached to the flash-shoe, front to the lens-hood).

2. I tried using my O-VF1 optical viewfinder for the Pentax Q on my K-5IIs, but it makes the scene smaller and less clear, and that appears to be the wrong way round. (I suspect it has other possibilities that I haven't thought of yet!)

3. Perhaps I could use a 2-eyed method. Have a frame as a non-optical eye-piece for my left eye to the left of the viewfinder (which I use with my right eye). Then have a frame at the "10 minutes to the hour" position on the lens hood to identify the subject size that will appear on the sensor. (I have hopes for this, but it needs a bit of work before I can try it).

4. I found a website for Ikodot, but I think it is addressing a different problem, for example street photography with a Leica. (And I don't know if they are still around).

I'm mostly OK with motor sports and airplanes in flight at airshows, where I use a 60-250mm zoom or at most a 300mm. But those are much more predictable than birds in flight! Here I'm a beginner.

Please help!

(Yesterday wasn't a complete disaster. I'll reply with a photo that I like).

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