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Archive 2013 · Question on Focus at 400m
  
 
Kathy White
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p.1 #1 · Question on Focus at 400m


I;ve been doing lots of practice on BIF. Maybe this is a stupid question, but.... anyway, It seems often when shooting BIF with my 7D and 100 400 I have to zoom out to about 200 to get it to focus on the bird far away, then I zoom back to 400 to follow and take the picture. I have been seriously considering the 400 prime. My question is, on BIF far away, does it just focus better since I would no longer have the option to zoom out.


Mar 22, 2013 at 02:16 PM
JohnBrose
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p.1 #2 · Question on Focus at 400m


Which 400 prime? Most will probably focus better than with the 100-400, but if you need to zoom wider to find you subject, your not going to have very good luck with a straight 400. What focusing set-up are you using in the 7d? Have you tried the different options?


Mar 22, 2013 at 02:42 PM
mitesh
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p.1 #3 · Question on Focus at 400m


Hi Katherine,

Like John said above, it sounds a bit like you're having a focus acquisition issue, as opposed to an issue with the camera/lens finding or keeping focus. Can you elaborate to confirm?

Mitesh



Mar 22, 2013 at 03:06 PM
PetKal
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p.1 #4 · Question on Focus at 400m


Dear Kathy, a couple of suggestions for BIF photography:

(1) Try not to change FL for initial AF lock. Zooming back and forth with 100-400 will tend to destabilize your lenshold, and you will lose AF on your target. Stay put on 400mm or 300mm, whatever is appropriate, establish a steady lens hold, and concentrate on tracking the bird, AF-ing and firing.
(2) If you really get into it big time, you may wish to consider acquiring equipment which IMO is more suitable for BIF photography, such as:
*1D series camera, even if it is 1DMkIIN.
*400 f/5.6 prime.



Mar 22, 2013 at 03:07 PM
abqnmusa
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p.1 #5 · Question on Focus at 400m


sometimes you just have to be closer to the bird. If it is so small the focus point covers it up you are just too far away. With only a 400mm lens we have to figure out ways to get closer. Sometimes pick a good vantage point hidden by brush or in the shade and wait for birds to come. Such as a pond, or dead tree they like to land on.

I never saw those focus issues using a 7D and 400mm F5.6.
with birds you are at 400mm focal length 99.9% of the time so I think the prime is the better option. The 400mm F5.6 is sharp wide open, and focus is fast
I do not believe IS actually helps as you have to wait for IS to sync up.
Make sure IS is set for "Mode 2" for BIF if you have it enabled (panning mode)

I have the best luck with focusing set to single point with the 4 assist points
focusing mode "AI Servo"
on the 7D it is called "Auto Focus Point Expansion"

These links may help out:

http://www.deepgreenphotography.com/2009/12/setting-up-your-new-canon-7d/

http://www.garyluhm.net/bio/tips_0310.html


I switched to a 5D III and still use the 400mm F5.6
The 5D III was a big improvement in focusing reliability




Edited on Mar 22, 2013 at 03:59 PM · View previous versions



Mar 22, 2013 at 03:39 PM
uz2work
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p.1 #6 · Question on Focus at 400m


PCKit wrote:
I;ve been doing lots of practice on BIF. Maybe this is a stupid question, but.... anyway, It seems often when shooting BIF with my 7D and 100 400 I have to zoom out to about 200 to get it to focus on the bird far away, then I zoom back to 400 to follow and take the picture. I have been seriously considering the 400 prime. My question is, on BIF far away, does it just focus better since I would no longer have the option to zoom out.


I suspect that the reason why you are finding it easier to lock in focus when you start at 200 mm than when you are at 400 mm is because, at 200 mm, with a wider field of view, initially finding the subject in the viewfinder is easier than it is at 400 mm, and, also because, at 400 mm, the bird is moving through the field of view, relatively speaking, faster than it is at 200 mm. Thus, you need to have a higher level of eye to hand coordination and quicker ability to react with the narrower field of view at 400 mm.

That is why it is much more difficult to shoot birds in flight with, say, an 800 mm lens than it is with a 400 or 500 mm lens. The longer the lens, the higher the level of challenge with regard to initial acquisition of the subject and locking in focus. I'd suggest that the solution is merely lots of practice. While I know that there are some who do, with the 100-400, successfully acquire focus at a shorter focal lengths and then zoom in once focus is acquired, using that technique brings with it its own set of challenges.

Les



Mar 22, 2013 at 03:55 PM
Imagemaster
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p.1 #7 · Question on Focus at 400m


Ditto to what Les said. Since you are actually considering a 400 prime, stop acquiring focus at 200mm and try doing it at 400mm and see if your success rate increases. You should not have to zoom back from 400 to 200 to acquire focus in the first place. The problem could be the AF settings on your 7D or your technique.


Mar 22, 2013 at 04:27 PM
Monito
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p.1 #8 · Question on Focus at 400m


Acquiring focus is only part of the story; maintaining focus is the rest of the story.

Shoot at 400 mm, in AI servo mode, and acquire focus as early as possible while tracking the bird from the earliest moment. Learn the species behaviour and anticipate the action. Others here will have lots more information about the fine points of focus mode settings and tunings, depending on what is available on the 7D by way of custom functions, etc.

Get the focus approximately manually and then use the AF to fine tune it.

Consider moving the AF on to the back of the camera so that you are not trying to hold a shutter button half-pressed (distracting to have to be that delicate while tracking action). Then you can mash and hold the back button down hard with your thumb and leave the shutter finger poised but untensed.

If you are shooting handheld, consider getting a gimbal tripod mount. You may be able to track the bird more steadily that way.

I had good success focusing manually with my 100-400 plus TC on an old crop factor camera (small viewfinder dimmer than 7D) but in bright sunshine (and luckily with good visual acuity). I was on a ballhead on tripod; gimbal is better.

The 100-400 is parfocal, as you probably know, but zooming in to 400 mm after focusing is the opposite of how the parfocal feature is usually exploited, since higher accuracy is required at longer focal lengths.



Mar 22, 2013 at 04:30 PM
Imagemaster
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p.1 #9 · Question on Focus at 400m


Monito wrote:
Acquiring focus is only part of the story; maintaining focus is the rest of the story.


But maintaining focus is not any part of the story if you have not acquired focus first.

Consider moving the AF on to the back of the camera so that you are not trying to hold a shutter button half-pressed (distracting to have to be that delicate while tracking action). Then you can mash and hold the back button down hard with your thumb and leave the shutter finger poised but untensed.

As recently pointed out on another thread, many photographers do not like that method.

Make sure focus-limiter is set to distant range.



Mar 22, 2013 at 04:44 PM
 

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Kathy White
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p.1 #10 · Question on Focus at 400m


Thanks for all the responses and I will try to answer all the questions and comments.
400 f/5.6 prime is the one I am thinking about. I actually have a list for the summer of additions or changes I want in equipment. I already have the 5DIII as well as the 7D and agree wholeheartedly that it gets much better focusing results and IQ, but was using the 7D for the reach. Hopefully this summer I will be selling the 7D and replacing with the 1DIV.
I have made cheat sheets, and tried all the different recommendations for settings. It has improved my results, but BIF, for me anyway, is not easy. I keep trying.
To be more specific, it would seem I could see the dark blur at times but could not always get the focus to acquire. At times, only with zooming out and then back could I get it to do so. This was not all the time and seemed to be when the distance was greater. But with a bird flying towards me at an angle I wanted to start tracking it at the distance and follow it in. My 100 400 should be working properly because it was just returned from Canon for a clean and check.
I have found a good place to practice and am going to go several times a week but maybe not on such a cold day again as yesterday. It was quite uncomfortable but too stubborn to stop and go home because it just so happened there were pelicans all over the place and I didn't want to miss the opportunity. You can count on seagulls, geese and usually bluebirds if you watch closely, but the pelicans were unusual.
It appears the consensus is the 400 f/5.6 prime would greatly improve my results. For reach would it paired with my 5DIII and a 1.4 be a better choice than the 7D with a 400 mm for at the amount of reach it would give me?

Peter, With my gkids in sports and request to shoot sports pics and teams, it won't be the only thing I shoot, but I do love it and now that I have found a pretty good practice place only 12 miles away, I intend to get as good as I can get on my limited equipment and capabilities. It is just for pure enjoyment and maybe just a little of the challenge they provide in searching them out and getting a decent shot. I do frame and hang quite a few of my shots and my family enjoys them as well.



Mar 22, 2013 at 04:50 PM
Monito
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p.1 #11 · Question on Focus at 400m


Imagemaster wrote:
But maintaining focus is not any part of the story if you have not acquired focus first.


Of course, which is why I spent most of the post talking about acquiring focus. Further, with AI servo, you track as if you have focus and the camera refines it even if the initial focus is less than perfect.

Consider moving the AF on to the back of the camera so that you are not trying to hold a shutter button half-pressed (distracting to have to be that delicate while tracking action). Then you can mash and hold the back button down hard with your thumb and leave the shutter finger poised but untensed.

Imagemaster wrote:
As recently pointed out on another thread, many photographers do not like that method.


Sure, but: Many haven't tried it (perhaps the OP?) And many haven't given it a good try. I didn't like it until I gave it a proper try. Now it is second nature and much better for me.

Don't expect to instantly decide on it after 30 seconds of trying. You have to train yourself a little and get a little used to it, maybe during a day of non-critical shooting.

It really is better once you learn it because it clearly gives you more control. Another alternative is some of the settings that set the back button to turn AF off, but I am convinced that having AF on demand is better than AF off.

Imagemaster wrote:
Make sure focus-limiter is set to distant range.


Good advice, as expected.



Mar 22, 2013 at 04:53 PM
PetKal
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p.1 #12 · Question on Focus at 400m


PCKit wrote:
Peter, With my gkids in sports and request to shoot sports pics and teams, it won't be the only thing I shoot, but I do love it and now that I have found a pretty good practice place only 12 miles away, I intend to get as good as I can get on my limited equipment and capabilities. It is just for pure enjoyment and maybe just a little of the challenge they provide in searching them out and getting a decent shot. I do frame and hang quite a few of my shots and my family enjoys them as
...Show more

Kathy, that fast object tracking thing is largely hand-eye coordination based, and therefore, with a bit of practice, it becomes easier very quickly. I would just suggest that you do not become picky when it comes to birds you'd like to shoot. One should practice on anything that moves or is airborne in your area, and a variety of birds helps too.



Mar 22, 2013 at 05:09 PM
Kathy White
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p.1 #13 · Question on Focus at 400m


I do use and prefer Back Button Focus and rarely use it otherwise any more. It was damp and freezing cold and I was changing settings alot as birds came into the lake and out, and then, between their flights, I was shooting geese up close, so I could have easily had some problems caused by my not getting everything set back properly, as I was changing my focus points as well and my hands were frozen. My fault for not dressing for the weather, but I drove over there just to check for Eagles at a bluff by there and then spotted the pelicans.

Thanks, I will try using the manual focus instead of the zoom when I have trouble. I have gotten accustomed to zooming in and out when I shoot due to using it with sports.



Mar 22, 2013 at 05:22 PM
Kathy White
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p.1 #14 · Question on Focus at 400m


PetKal wrote:
Kathy, that fast object tracking thing is largely hand-eye coordination based, and therefore, with a bit of practice, it becomes easier very quickly. I would just suggest that you do not become picky when it comes to birds you'd like to shoot. One should practice on anything that moves or is airborne in your area, and a variety of birds helps too.


Peter, I am slowly improving, and it is getting easier each time. So far, just no where near the improvement I want or its becoming second nature. I have been going to the lake and shooting seagulls over and over. I have hundreds of pics of seagulls. They are plentiful down there and one does not have to wait very long for another to come along. I agree I would be happier with a different camera, the 5dIII has ruined me on focus expectations, so I am thinking my priority will be the 1DIV then a 400 prime. I wish talk had not started about a new 7DII coming along but I recall waiting and waiting for the 24 70 II and having to give up finally and buy the Tamron, so I don't want to even go there again. I think I would be more than happy with the 1DIV and since I shoot alot of kids sports, it would make a good backup for that as well.



Mar 22, 2013 at 05:36 PM
Rich Swanner
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p.1 #15 · Question on Focus at 400m


Just get the 400 f/5.6... your focusing will be fine.


Mar 23, 2013 at 06:19 AM
Alan321
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p.1 #16 · Question on Focus at 400m


Katherine, make sure that you did not have the focus limiter set to the close range. If it was then the DOF at 200mm might get closer to attaining initial focus and then 400mm would do it too as the birds got close enough.

If that is not the issue then try focusing on something else at a similar distance before you engage AF on the birds. If nothing else that will make it far easier for you to find the bird in the viewfinder. This is important because you should not engage AF until after you have acquired the intended target - otherwise the AF may track the wrong target or the wrong part of the target. You could combine this with zooming from 200mm to 400mm just to make it easier for you to see where the birds are when you first put the camera up to your eye - but leave the AF for when when you actually reach 400. The action of the 100-400 is great for this quick zooming.

You might also consider disabling lens AF search to prevent those long focus hunts - just do it manually instead.

Also try enabling AF expansion. It will always start at your chosen AF sensor or else default to the centre one if you made no choice, but the extra sensors can help the camera lock on when a single sensor has already drifted off target. That process could speed up focus acquisition.

IS can be helpful too but like the AF tracking it has to be started before you're ready to shoot. A press of the AF button will start both systems and a second press soon after will have the AF lock onto the right target.

If Af tracking is an issue then disable fulltime manual focus so that you can't accidentally muck up the AF.

Sometimes you just need to abandon the AF session by releasing the AF button(s), re-aiming and starting the AF again. However, be aware that even a momentary release of the AF will trash all of the focus tracking info held by the camera.


The prime is a very good lens but not all-wonderful. Some argue that they get as-good or better results in terms of IQ from the zoom. It depends on your luck in terms of how good your specific lens is. The zoom is far more flexible in terms of shooting at closer subjects for those times when you can get close or when you need a wider field of view to allow for unexpected action. In fact, it is partly because the prime has a long minimum focus distance that it does focus quickly. The AF performance with my 100-400 made a great improvement when I switched from using a 20D (some years back) to using a 1D2. The camera is a big part of determining the performance of any AF system. I don't know off hand how good the 7D is supposed to be. Some cameras are better able to grab focus from a given amount of defocus than other cameras are. This reduces the need for lens AF searches.

- Alan



Apr 01, 2013 at 04:57 PM
Kathy White
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p.1 #17 · Question on Focus at 400m


Thanks for the iput Alan. I always have much better results with my 5DIII than with the 7D. In fact, in some instances, I am finding better results using the 5DIII with a 1.4 teleconverter than using the 7D alone with the lens. But, actually for BIF with the birds not terribly far away, the 7D does a decent job for me. At a great distance the 5DIII seems much better, and it doesn't matter how many focus points I have activated on it. But, I readily agree as to how much the camera affects your results. On a blue sky, I have found the focus on BIF does much better for me anyway, using all 19 of the 7D's focus points. Of course, I back off of that on when the background is busy.
Yes, I have found it helps me to first focus on something far away then flip back to the bird so maybe part of it is just thinking I barely can see the unfocused object in the lens and don't really, and am not really in the right location so perhaps, there is nothing to focus on.
With alot of practice, I am getting alot more infocus shots and working less to get them.
I really appreciate all the tips and technique sharing from everyone.



Apr 01, 2013 at 06:02 PM
_SBS_
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p.1 #18 · Question on Focus at 400m


I dont think the prime is going to help you at all. Its all down to technique/skill and that comes with practice and a bit of patience.

I shoot BIF while hiking in my local parks...basically in a forest with always too many twigs and things getting in the way and the birds are tiny things. At first all I got was blurry lines and smudges of something that no one could identify as a bird or, worse, pictures of the woods with no bird in sight. It took a long time and a lot of patience till I started getting bird like objects. Longer still for actual birds.








Apr 03, 2013 at 04:22 AM





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