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Archive 2012 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight
  
 
JEFFERY Z71
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p.2 #1 · p.2 #1 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


Rear focus and AI servo for me.


Nov 14, 2012 at 03:44 PM
gdanmitchell
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p.2 #2 · p.2 #2 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


rcm123 wrote:
I have an EOS 7D an I would appreciate any input regarding the best auto focus mode to use to capture birds in flight. Using a 500 mm lens and a gimbal head I tried Single Point, but found it too difficult to keep the point on the bird. I tried AF Point Expansion, with a little better luck, but still too many shots out of focus. While I understand that part of the problem may be "operator error," at the end of the day, I wondered whether I should have used Zone Auto Focus (or some other mode)? Thanks.


A couple things. You are on to something very important with your "operator error" comment. Don't feel bad. Photographing birds in flight (or any similar fast-moving object) is more about practice and technique than about gear... though gear and right setting choices are also important.

The hint for me was your "too difficult to keep the point on the bird comment." It is, indeed, difficult. At first, it is nearly impossible. However, with practice you can learn to keep that AF point where you want it. With more practice you can start to be conscious of and even control the position of the bird within the frame, and eventually you can even become conscious of and able to control the placement of the bird relative to background elements. On some shots...

So, a lot of practice is required. If I can make an analogy, if you were hunting and missing the target, the solution wouldn't be a better sight or a longer barrel... it would lie elsewhere, right? That same "elsewhere" applies here, too.

I think that as you do more of this you may also discover that it isn't so much the right setting as it is the best setting for the particular circumstances. For example, if there is any sort of complex pattern behind the bird, you will almost certainly be better off with a single focus point - otherwise a single point over the background can cause the camera to AF the background instead of the bird. On the other hand, shooting against the sky might work just find with multiple points - there is nothing for the camera to focus on other than the bird. In a few cases - when the birds follow a known trajectory, for example - it is even possible that pre-focusing and turning of AF can work.

The simple answer for me is that I'm most likely to use AI servo with a single AF point. I put the camera in burst mode most often, but most of the time I don't hold the shutter down long enough to actually burst.

Good luck!

Dan



Nov 14, 2012 at 03:55 PM
Imagemaster
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p.2 #3 · p.2 #3 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


Thanks, everyone. Double-crested Cormorant.

Tony



Nov 14, 2012 at 04:04 PM
BluesWest
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p.2 #4 · p.2 #4 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


you should make sure your are set up for back button AF

To the OP: Don't fall for some of the myths perpetrated by certain forum methods, such as "back-button AF is the way the pros do it". You can try this arrangement and see if it suits you, but it is certainly not necessary. Using the shutter button works just fine, for BIF and every other type of photography.

John



Nov 14, 2012 at 04:16 PM
PetKal
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p.2 #5 · p.2 #5 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


BluesWest wrote:
To the OP: Don't fall for some of the myths perpetrated by certain forum methods, such as "back-button AF is the way the pros do it". You can try this arrangement and see if it suits you, but it is certainly not necessary. Using the shutter button works just fine, for BIF and every other type of photography.

John


Right on, John. That rear button AF thing falls in the same basket as: pros have camo lenscoat on their big lenses, pros don't shoot JPG, pros do not have protective filters on their lenses, pros clean their lenses with a corner of their shirt, pros shoot in M exposure mode only, etc.



Nov 14, 2012 at 06:29 PM
Tim Kuhn
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p.2 #6 · p.2 #6 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


As mentioned there is no ONE way to shoot bif, we all have our preferences. The biggest thing is practice, practice, practice. Start with big slow birds to pick up the technique and move on to smaller faster birds as you get better.

Here is a fast guy for you

Tim




  Canon EOS-1D Mark IV    EF500mm f/4L IS USM lens    500mm    f/5.0    1/4000s    800 ISO    0.0 EV  




Nov 14, 2012 at 07:06 PM
PaulB
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p.2 #7 · p.2 #7 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


PetKal wrote:
Right on, John. That rear button AF thing falls in the same basket as: pros have camo lenscoat on their big lenses, pros don't shoot JPG, pros do not have protective filters on their lenses, pros clean their lenses with a corner of their shirt, pros shoot in M exposure mode only, etc.


Now I know what I've been doing wrong all these years!
Everything on that list I've never done - except cleaning the lens maybe.



Nov 14, 2012 at 09:02 PM
Thang
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p.2 #8 · p.2 #8 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


BluesWest wrote:
To the OP: Don't fall for some of the myths perpetrated by certain forum methods, such as "back-button AF is the way the pros do it". You can try this arrangement and see if it suits you, but it is certainly not necessary. Using the shutter button works just fine, for BIF and every other type of photography.

John


+1



Nov 15, 2012 at 12:46 AM
rcm123
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p.2 #9 · p.2 #9 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


Dan, thanks much for the advice. I think you summed up the approach to shooting birds in flight pretty well.


Nov 15, 2012 at 03:38 PM
 

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robinlee
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p.2 #10 · p.2 #10 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


Love this thread, keep on posting difficult shots of BiF people

Also Gary's 5D3 BiF tips is super useful, something to read for this weekend bird day out with a local Nat Geo photographer.



Nov 15, 2012 at 04:46 PM
buggz2k
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p.2 #11 · p.2 #11 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight



Wow, and with a super busy foreground AND background.

Tim Kuhn wrote:
As mentioned there is no ONE way to shoot bif, we all have our preferences. The biggest thing is practice, practice, practice. Start with big slow birds to pick up the technique and move on to smaller faster birds as you get better.

Here is a fast guy for you

Tim




Nov 15, 2012 at 05:43 PM
Vivek
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p.2 #12 · p.2 #12 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


Tim,

That is a fantastic shot of the Peregrine behavior. Superb!

-- Vivek



Nov 15, 2012 at 07:19 PM
Tim Kuhn
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p.2 #13 · p.2 #13 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


Thank you guys!

Tim



Nov 15, 2012 at 08:26 PM
mark fadely
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p.2 #14 · p.2 #14 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


Great shots Tony and Tim! Love em.


Nov 15, 2012 at 08:59 PM
abqnmusa
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p.2 #15 · p.2 #15 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


bird photography tutorials

http://mikeatkinson.net/tutorials.htm

http://www.digitalbirdphotography.com/contents.html



Nov 15, 2012 at 10:08 PM
rcm123
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p.2 #16 · p.2 #16 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


Thanks abq. I appreciate the links.


Nov 16, 2012 at 03:29 PM
Alan321
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p.2 #17 · p.2 #17 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


With regard to the backfocus button there are three ways to go:
1. use it to control AF and don't let the shutter butter button do it
2. use it to lock AF that is otherwise being controlled with the shutter button
3. ignore it completely

I prefer option 2 because most of the time I only need to press one button (the shutter button) to get a shot. If I need to stop the AF and re-aim then that one button does it. If I need to pause the AF then pressing the back button does it, but that rarely happens. Generally I cannot recompose by locking the AF with the back button because the shooting distance is changing while the AF is locked. Also, some people use it to simulate One Shot mode in AI Servo Mode for static subjects (not all birds are always flying) but that presumes that the AF was right when you tried to lock it and that you responded quickly enough. The trouble is that AI Servo is too often wrong in that situation. What a pity that AI Servo still can't do a decent job on a static subject.


Suggestion: If you do use AF expansion to reduce the effect of your own tracking errors then be very sure that you do not start AF until your chosen AF sensor is on target (whether or not it be the centre one, but it must be the one you've told the camera to use and just the one you wish you'd told it to use). Failure to get this right is common. Even Arthur Morris had it wrong for years. It probably accounts for poor opinions of the benefits of AF expansion.

Some people say that using multiple AF sensors slows the AF down. Perhaps it does, but that would be less evident on the 1-series cameras with superior AF processing power and yet they still only use a single AF sensor.

Suggestion: if it becomes evident that the camera is tracking the wrong subject or the wrong part of the subject (usually because you drifted too far off target) then release the AF, re-aim, and re-start the AF. It's usually far better than waiting for it to self-correct.

Suggestion: Try tracking the subject for say half a second after you start the AF (already on target) before you start shooting. This delay improves the usefulness of the predictive AF data that the camera is gathering from the moment the AF starts (and for which it assumes that the chosen AF sensor is on target so that it knows where the target is).

Suggestion: If you happen to be using IS because it is appropriate or necessary (usually in less than ideal conditions, but it helps you with a better viewfinder image and it helps the AF too) then give it at least half a second to settle before you begin shooting. Make that one full second on the 100-400L because it has a very old IS system.

Suggestion: Identify and learn the right techniques before you do too much practice or you'll have to un-learn bad habits. "Practice makes perfect" should be "The right practice make perfect". I think it is like golf in that great skill and concentration can overcome the limitations of a crappy technique some of the time, but a better technique with the same or even a lower level of skill and concentration will be better and more often because it's less prone to go wrong when you are tired or under pressure.

Suggestion: Get Focal or whatever and do your AF micro-adjustments. It can make a huge difference to your success rate. Even increasing it from a miserable 1% to an almost as miserable 2% makes it twice as good as it was It may do a lot better than that.

Suggestion: Start with the 100-400L to get the technique right in terms of buttons and motion and timing and then go for heavy 500L. Otherwise you'll be too buggered before you the improvements happen and that might undermine any improvement that you have made.

Suggestion: If you have the option then set the camera to frame rate release priority rather than focus release priority because that will best reveal to you how well you and the camera are tracking the subject and focusing.

Suggestion: If you can't seem to get the focus tracking to work then slow the frame rate down. That gives you and the camera more time to see the subject and assess focus between shots. While you can see the subject in the viewfinder the camera AF system also has a chance of seeing it too.

Suggestion: Switch off lens AF search. So long as you can preset the approximate distance before you shoot, the camera will probably do ok. However, if it loses track then it will normally do a lens AF search and that seems to take forever, during which time you too might lose track of the bird and that will cause an even longer delay. It is usually quicker to cancel the AF, re-aim and re-start the AF while the birds are still roughly in focus.

Suggestion: If you normally use Lightroom to review your photos then consider using Canon DPP or another program that can show you where the chosen and/or actually used AF sensors were in relation to the subject. You'll need to be aware of any AF expansion setting that you were using and also exactly what DPP displays for your camera. Knowing where the chosen AF sensor was reveals the accuracy of your tracking, but knowing which AF sensor(s) were being used will reveal how well the camera was tracking the subject - even if you were off target. If nothing shows up then you'll know that the camera had at least temporarily lost the plot when that image was captured. I had a 40D that would focus on the wrong thing even though that thing was nowhere near the one and only active AF sensor.

The key here is that in terms of gear and technique, having a subject in focus when it was not meant to be is not as good as having a subject in focus when it was meant to be.


- Alan



Nov 17, 2012 at 06:21 PM
rcm123
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p.2 #18 · p.2 #18 · Auto Focus for Birds in Flight


Alan, thank you very much for your advice. I appreciate the time you took to respond to my inquiry. Now, I just have to begin to implement your suggestions. Thanks, Rich


Nov 19, 2012 at 08:11 PM
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