Back in the film days we had auto-winders that would allow one to shoot a roll of thirty six frames at a rate of a few images per second. In a little over one minute one could go through an entire roll of film. At that time we thought we were fast.
When I moved to shooting digital my first camera shot at 3 frames per second (Rebel xti). Over the course of a few years I saw this increase to 6 frames per second with the 5D mkIII and then drop to 5 frames per second with the 5Dsr.
A little over a year ago I switched to shooting Olympus and these rates went up considerably. With the Olympus OMD-EM1x I was able to shoot at up to 60 frames per second. Now, with the recent aquisition of the OM Systems OM1, I find that I have the ability to shoot at the increadible speed of 120 frames per second.
Yes, you read that correctly. The OM1 can shoot at a rate of 120 frames per second if the focus is locked and at an incredible 50 frames per second with full autofocus functionality. A mind blowing change in capability. But, what does it mean for ones images? What is the advantage of shooting at fast frame rates?
As a landscape photographer, I was quite happy with my 5 frames per second on the 5Dsr. The rocks and trees were not going to be moving/changing enough in a second to need more than that. As a Bird/Wildlife Photographer, however, I often seemed to just miss the shot I wanted. I would shoot a string of images and find that, in every one, the wings were on the down stroke and I wanted a more level position (or the opposite). I would shoot a series of images of my dog running and find that each shot had his front legs down and rear legs up (an odd look). The massive increase in frame rate remidies this type of issue. Suddenly, I have every possible position of a birds wings in a series and Charley’s feet go through a nice progression. It is perfect.
What is the down side? Yes, there is a down side to shooting at these fanatical speeds. It means that instead of 5 images to choose from, I now have to wade through 25, 50 or even 100 nearly identical frames and choose the one I like best (A real first class problem).
On a recent walk I ran into a fellow who was shooting the Sony A1. He told me he never shoots at the 30 frame per second rate that this camera is capable of. He explained that he shoots in single frame because he doesn’t want to have to deal with so many images, that he is a lazy processor. For some this may work but for me, I want to get the image I envision even if it means a little more work. That said, I rarely shoot at 50 frames per second but throttle my camera down a bit and shoot at 20 or 30 frames per second. This feels like a good balance between the two extremes.
Below are a few examples of images to show the variety of options one can end up choosing from. In this case, I choose to shoot bathing Mallard hen and set my frame rate at 50 frames per second just to show the subtle changes even when the subject is moving at an extreme speed. (I must admit that I was a bit surprised at how different each image is). This is a burst of 12 images that took about 1/4 of a second to capture.
While I would be happy with every one of the images, I do have a favorite. My preferance is for the fourth image. I prefer the duck being lower in the frame as in this image. The open wing and even distribution of the spray throughout the entire image is appealing. I do question the drop of water that is in front of her bill. Which is your favorite?