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What settings/technique do you use for wildlife photography?

photography settings Nikon

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#1 Gregor

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Posted 27 March 2016 - 11:30 AM

Hi Safaritalkers

 

I thought I would open up this question. I have a pretty good idea what works for me, but it is always interesting to get other views and learn something new.

 

My gear as a background for my thoughts. 

 

I use pro body Nikon cameras, now I only have Nikon D4 (x2), but a D500 will join my bag in the future. I have owned and experienced some Nikon bodys (D90, D300, D7000, D3, D800) now sold for different reasons. I have a Ricoh GR (compact with APS-C sensor and 28 mm lens) for snapshots.

 

I have a almost full set up of lenses (50 mm f/1,4 24-70 f/2,8, 70-200 f/2,8, 300mm f/4 PF, 200 mm Micro AF, 600 mm f/4 and TC-1,4 and 2,0). Only lens i´m considering buying in the future is 14-24 f/2,8. 

 

Anyway, 

 

Auto focus:

 

I always work with "backfocus", AF on the thumb button (AF-ON) and not on the shutter. I move around a lot which focus point it is measuring from according to composition.

 

I always use continous focus. 

 

I almost always use one (singel) focus point. Sometimes I try different focus setting with more helping/active focus points like d21. But to often focus is lost on some pictures because of grass. Only when I photo birds in flight (BIF) I go for all focus points (d51). Obviously landscape I would do with single point AF. 

 

Something I have not experimented with is focus following setting (I use normal - "3"). It would be very interesting with comments and experiences of this. 

 

Mode: I always use manual. And almost always with auto-iso with a maximum setting of 12800 iso. When really dark or when auto iso goes over 6400 I often go to manual iso settings. Obviously shutter times and aperture is on back and front wheel. I always have them preset according to what I expect might happen, but is quick to change when it is action. 

 

Exposure: I use full area exposure measure. I have point measure on the pv button and use it sometimes. But I use exposure compensation all the time. 

 

FN button: On the fn-button I can change to different crop modes, but I never use this. I crop al lot in post.

 

VR: I use it with care. If possible I turn it of. So basically I use it if I have to go to 1/2 of shutter times / lens length. I almost always use a beanbag (when in a car), which helps stability a lot. I do prioritize short enough shutter time before low iso. Be aware that if you have VR on and put the camera on a hard surface (car frame) then the movements of the VR will make the pictures blurred. Handhold it or use a beanbag. Tripod setting for tripods.

 

Lens changing: I try to avoid it. On big reasons for 2 or 3 cameras. But I also do sensor cleaning my self, and normal do that a couple of time on a safari trip. I check for dust spots (zoom in on bright pictures) several times daily. 

 

Flash: I don´t use flash on wildlife or birds. Shooting people i sometimes use it, but I don´t even bring a flash on safari. 

 

Decision making:

 

1) Settings like shutter times and aperture according to what I expect. Focus point center, because of speed and availability to crop in post if necessary.

 

2) I always work to find what I am looking for. Which means I look for good light, good angles and good background. I choose what place/habitat I am in according to this more than chance of finding an animal. Often if I have a good spot and know animals is/might be around I sit and wait for them to come to me and the good photographic spot. 

 

3) Shot away if something interesting pops-up. Hope for the best. 

 

4) If subject is around for more than a sec, I start thinking of optimizing that picture: I change focus point to make a better composition in frame. I change aperture and shutter time, dependent of action of subject, size of subject (depth of field, DOF) and background. I change exposure compensation. I use 10 frames/s and usually take a few bursts. Even with many exposure there is almost always one or a few that is better than other because of the subjects facial expression, eyes etc. 

 

5) Change camera with different lens, to have another perspective. I more and more work to include more habitat, which means shorter lenses. 

 

6) Start changing my position to get better or new angles, backgrounds etc. 

 

7) I sometimes take several pictures in a panoramic fashion with intention to stich them in post. 

 

8) I sometimes use bracketing on landscape photography, like 5 exposures with 0,7 exp steps. 

 

I think that is it. Developing in post is a much larger knowledge area. Obviously it reflects on how you take a picture, but that could not be covered here. 

 

Once again, I guess my only active question is about the focus following setting. But i´m interested in any reflection and discussion on this topic.


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#2 Peter Connan

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Posted 27 March 2016 - 12:00 PM

@Gregor, the focus following setting determines how long the camera will wait if focus is lost, before changing focus. It is designed to "protect" focus if the subject passes behind some other object.

For relatively predictable subjects, the standard setting is good.

If trying to shoot a bird taking off from a perch, this setting will almost guarantee failure, and it needs to be either off altogether, or on the shortest possible setting.
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#3 Peter Connan

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Posted 27 March 2016 - 12:26 PM

I also shoot Nikon, but the upper-Prosumer bodies rather than the pro bodies (although I would change to D5 in a heartbeat given the opportunity).

I use a single body because I believe it is more productive spending all the available money on the best possible combination of body and lens, rather than choosing less effective equipment in order to be able to afford more than one set.

My kit is the following:
Nikon D750
Nikkor 500mm f4 G VR
Nikkor 300mm f4 AF-S
Nikkor 24-120mm f4 VR
Tamron 15-30mm f2.8 (@Gregor, you would do well to consider this lens instead of the 14-24. It appears to be sharper at closest end, especially wide-open, is excellently built and the VR can be very useful).
I also have a variety of old Nikkor manual-focus lenses of the AI-S generation, including 24mm f2.8, 50mm f2, 55mm f2.8 Micro (beautiful lens), 105mm f4 micro and 80-200 f5.6, and a Sigma 180mm DG Macro.

I shoot mostly birds (focusing on BIF) and landscape/night landscape/time-lapse, but also general nature when I get the opportunity.

One big advantage of the prosumer Nikkors are the two "User Modes", which can be set up exactly as preferred and will return to the last saved settings if the mode is changed and then changed back.

Like Gregor, I use back-button focus and AF-C exclusively. Other standard settings are quality on 12-bit RAW and white balance on Auto (except at night). Like Gregor, my meter is normally set to wide area and compensation is used often. I like using the new highlight-weighted metering under situations with a high dynamic range.

My two User Modes are set up as follows:

U1 (used for general nature and portrait photography, as well as daytime landscapes):
Aperture priority, manual ISO (standard setting is f5.6 and ISO400, but these will be changed as required).
Single focus point, centre point selected but I too will move this around to improve composition. AF delay setting 3 seconds. Easy-ISO is selected (so that I can change ISO by just rotating the rear control wheel without having to push any buttons). Pv button is set to Pv and Fn button to Artificial Horizon.

U2 (used primarily for birds in flight or situations that can change rapidly):
Manual mode but with Auto-ISO enabled with a ceiling of 12800. Standard shutter speed is 1/2000 and standard aperture is f5.6.
Focus delay set to 0, and nine focus points (I will change this depending on size of object and type of background). Here I Will normally not shift focus points, but crop for composition instead, as subjects are usually actually "too far".



When shooting landscapes off a tripod I will use Live View and manual focus a lot. Live View is set with artificial horizon on and at night I will do everything with the viewfinder covered.

Decision-making is similar to Gregor's, except that currently all PP is done in Lightroom 5 so exposure bracketing for HDR and stitched panos are not an option for me. Hopefully this will change soon.

Edited by Peter Connan, 27 March 2016 - 12:31 PM.

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#4 pomkiwi

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Posted 27 March 2016 - 05:26 PM

I'm not sure that either @Gregor or @Peter Connan you will learn anything from my approach but I present an alternative Nikon DX (crop-sensor) kit.

 

I have just acquired a Nikon D7200 to replace my aged D90 which was my old back-up body. I will take this and my D7100 (which will now become my 'second' body).

 

The Nikon D7200 will be paired with a Nikon 80-400 mm lens and the D7100 with a Nikon 16-85mm lens.

 

I do not change lenses 'in the field' and this combination covers everything from landscapes to almost all mammal sightings (and I am not a particularly commited birder).

 

So far I have been (and will be again in May) on safaris in South Africa in open vehicles. There is no eay way to use a bean-bag so I mainly shoot hand-held (my preference) or with the aid of a monopod. I have got a Manfroto clamp this year and may see if this can be rigged on one of the vehicle grab bars with a tripod head but doubt I will use it much.

 

I will use the two user settings to give identical settings on both cameras. This is mainly to give me a consistent and appropriate starting setting for early mornings (when I might be more vulnerable to forgetting to check) - thus U1 will be set to ISO 1600, aperture wide open. AF C (continuous) with either spot or small area (d9) focus.  U2 is set to daylight with ISO down to 200 and aperture f/8 or similar.  In practice I will change settings to match the situation once we are up and running.

 

I have tended to use single shots but may set the 7200 to shoot in bursts at times on the next trip.

 

I try and avoid too much post-processing (although the cloudy conditions on my last trip has led me to do more than usual). I am appy to crop a little for composition purposes.


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#5 Gregor

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Posted 27 March 2016 - 06:26 PM

@ Peter Connan

 

Thanks for your input. I will try out "0" for focus delay. Interesting.

For lenses the Tamron 15-30 might be a very good or even better option than nikon 14-24.

 

@ pomkiwi When I was in Zambia I had an open vehicle. And opted most of the time to sit at front passenger seat. There I had good possibilities to use bean bags. 

 

I have never got used to different preset settings / U mode. I had my D7000 just 2 weeks. It´s small buffer just didn´t work for me. (Durability, I think is a small factor between consumer and pro bodys, as I am not a professional photographer) I could possible imaging having one setting for animals and one for BIF. Everything else, there is plenty of time to change settings according to the situation. Since I'm more for animals then birds, I mostly have my camera on something like f/5,6 and 1/2000 s when there is much light. But I´m always prepared to wheel my thumb for a shorter shutter time if a BIF shows up and a fast exposure compensation for + 1,3 or something. But then, is it not faster doing this changes with the right hand (I´m right handed) than start changing U mode on the left hand upper mode wheel? My left hand is usually holding the lens. 


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#6 pomkiwi

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Posted 27 March 2016 - 06:33 PM

@Gregor I have tried sitting in the front passenger seat but found it quite restrictive in terms of all around views. I have been fortunate in most of my drives so far that as a lone traveller in the company of couples I have almost always had a full row to myself with the ability to move from side to side and even lie flat on occasion!

 

As said I don't use the user settings much and since the mode wheel has a lock to prevent unintended movement it is difficult to use one handed anyway.


Edited by pomkiwi, 27 March 2016 - 07:21 PM.

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#7 xelas

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Posted 27 March 2016 - 07:10 PM

Let me join the ranks!

 

Nikon shooter (that is, Zvezda is, but by now you are all well aware of this fact  :) )

 

D610

D7100 (to be upgraded to D7200 soon)

 

AF-S 20 f/1.8G ED

AF-S 24-120 f/4G ED VR

AF-S 70-200 f/4G ED VR

AF-S 300 f/4D IF-ED

AF-S 200-500 f/5.6E ED VR

TC-E14II, TC-E17II

 

U1/landscape: aperture priority, AF-S Single point, ISO100, shutter button AF

U2/wildlife: manual, AF-C Single point, AutoISO, back-button AF

 

sRGB (going to Adobe), AutoWB, EasyISO, that is what we mostly use. Oh, yes, for JPEG it is Vivid PC.

 

VR is one when shooting hand held (too old, too lousy technique, too good of a VR, ...). Zvezda loves P-CL filters! We try to avoid changing lenses. PP using ViewNX-i, trying to master the Capture NX-D.

 

One thing I have noticed last trip is that D7100 and D610 gave different WB results; I might think of "equalising" these two cameras using the grey card.

Also, D610 tends to ETTR compared to D7100.


Edited by xelas, 27 March 2016 - 07:13 PM.

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#8 Peter Connan

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Posted 27 March 2016 - 08:30 PM

@Gregor i find it easy to move the mode dial one notch by reaching over the camera with my right hand.

The reason i prefer to do it this way is that it's not only the sbutter speed but also a numder of other settings such as af area and time delay that need to change.
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#9 Geoff

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Posted 27 March 2016 - 10:24 PM

@Gregor @Peter Connan   Do both of you use back button focus for BIF? I find it counter-productive.


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#10 Peter Connan

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Posted 28 March 2016 - 10:37 AM

I use it for everything. But it takes a fair amount of practice to get used to it.
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#11 AndyH1000

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Posted 29 March 2016 - 07:56 AM

I also use back button auto focus, in combination with AI focus enabling continuous refocussing independent of the shutter.

 

I like landscape photography so also use exposure lock and shoot overlapping frames and stitch later. Exposure lock in combination with back button focus means that both focal distance and exposure settings remain consistent across the stitch.


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#12 KaingU Lodge

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Posted 18 April 2016 - 10:59 AM

Canon shooter here,

 

My camera lives 90% of its time on Tv (so shutter priority), Servo focus, back button focus and ISO set to auto. central single focus point.  This is a sort of 'run and gun' setting for grabbing shots while out on a vehicle or boat or if someone shouts into the office that something is happening.  This is with (invariably) a 100-400 f4.5 - 5.6 zoom.  To be really honest half the time I can't remember or care what IS (VR) setting is on.  The 100-400II is pretty good at working out what is going on. 

 

These settings are basically assuming that action is happening and it could be anything from a slow elephant next to a tent or a lightning fast turraco in the trees.  With the relatively slow aperture and super sharpness of the 100-400 (at any f-stop), what the camera decides on for aperture is almost irrelevant for me with this lens.  For this the camera is pretty much always left set to capture RAW and cloudy WB.

 

As soon as the situation and lens and shooting style changes then so do my settings.  Which invariably go to full manual or Av, manual ISO and single shot focus. 

 

My camera is rarely off the high speed drive setting (10fps).  

 

Like Gregor if the subject is around then I think about things more closely.  But for birds that is rare! 

 

Back button I cannot live without, but if I forget to switch to single shot (from servo) and mount my old Sigma 30mm f1.4 then literally not one single shot will be sharp, whereas the 100-400 seems not to matter. 


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#13 Nicole

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Posted 01 May 2016 - 11:23 AM

My settings are similar to those of @Gregor @Peter Connan

 

I also always use back button focus button AF,  manual mode and auto ISO (generally ISO 5000 as a max on a D4(S). I prefer using the single autofocus point.  

 

As my Sigma 50-500 costed 650 EUR to get  repaired for the fourth time and 4 weeks to get a quote for the repair from Sigma, I told Sigma to keep the lens and won't be buying any more Sigma lenses in the future . 

 

For Botswana at Easter I had packed the Nikon 200-400 mm f.4 (first model), the new 200-500  mm  f4-5. 5.6 and the new 300mm f4 plus the 1.4  (iii) teleconverter.   I got good images with all three lenses so there is not one clear winning combination for me.  


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#14 Dave Williams

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Posted 20 October 2016 - 07:54 PM

Interesting that the majority seem to be Nikon users ( although the sample isn't very big).

I used to have a Nikon set up and swopped to Canon as I had an offer I couldn't refuse on a 600mm MK1. It was breaking the owners back... as it did threaten mine eventually... and as it was now my biggest and best lens I had to get a decent body to go with it. I bought a used 1D1V.

For a while I imagined that I could run with both systems but you can't. Not financially practical and besides the systems differ and you want your set up to be second nature not having to remember how to change this and that depending on which brand you happen to be using. All the Nikon gear went and I replaced it with Canon.

Which is best ? Both have their advantages and I don't think either win overall, however, as my hobby has grown so has my investment in Canon gear so now there is no going back.

In terms of set up, I'm very much as Gregor is but I don't use back focus.

Since Canon introduced exposure compensation in manual settings ( used to be only in aperture and shutter priority ) I use it all the time. I also use auto-iso all the time. I only tend to alter the EV if I am taking flight shots or it's particularly bright or dark. I watch the ISO through the viewfinder and if I think I'm pushing it too far I adjust something to lower it if I think that's a viable option.

Always shoot in RAW as I usually need to alter something in PP... my mistakes.

I'm one of those numpty's that think buying the best will improve my photography and to a certain extent it does but I am not in the same league as lots of folk who don't have nearly as expensive  a kit as I do.

Currently I have a 1DX2 and 5D3, both full frame bodies and for lenses I have a 24-105f4, 70-200f2.8, 100-400 Mk2 ( which I swopped for my 300mm f2.8 Mk1 plus a cash adjustment) plus a 500mm f4Mk2 and a 600mm f4 Mk2. Yes I know having both the last two is crazy but the 500mm came first when I sold my 600mm Mk1 but having gone full frame I missed the reach so bought the new 600 too.I keep the 500 because a) it's very handhold able and has replaced the 300 for BIF and B) some charter planes have such a small hand luggage allowance I would struggle to take a 600mm with me, especially if I don't have my other half travelling with me so I don't get her allowance.

Of course it doesn't stop there either, you have to buy the bags, tripod,head, TC's , CF cards you name it. it is just one big money drain!

I sometimes look back and think I should have stuck with my Nikon D300s and 300mm f2.8 . A cracking set up. There again........ you can't take it with you so you might as well enjoy you're hard earned while you can!


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#15 ZaminOz

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Posted 21 October 2016 - 09:03 AM

Pentax (Currently K5 II)

 

So:

(Day time) - Tav mode (quick front and back dial adjustments of aperture and shutter speed to suit situation - with camera selecting appropriate ISO) - Sigma 50-500 HSM OS

 

(Night drive) - Av mode @ f2.8, ISO 6400, exposure comp -2.5 (to reduce spotlight glare). Auto focus generally, but often have to switch to manual if there is grass/foliage in between me and the subject that is picking up the beam of the spotlight - Sigma 70-200 f 2.8 II HSM.


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#16 amybatt

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Posted 16 December 2016 - 03:26 PM

Jumping into this for a somewhat-newbie question, so my apologies if this is very basic.  I just took a photography refresher to learn how to use my new camera.  The guy at the photo shop who was teaching the class made a big deal about ISO and showed lots of examples, including landscape and wildlife that would be appropriate to me for safari, that was shot at ISO 100 or 200. His point was to keep it that low and not use the Auto-ISO. Since that class, I've again started to pay attention to the image details when I look at safari photos online (on Facebook, "Africa through my lens" is a great group to follow for this as well as a guy I met on safari, "Arnfinn Johnansen wildlife photography") and I notice no one shooting at ISO that low.  One I saw this morning was 1-500 sec at f5.6, ISO 2000 and the photo appeared to be in broad daylight, but I've seen them as high as 64000 for daylight!?  My questions are two:  what were the conditions that required that the ISO needs to be that high?  And how is it that the image doesn't have a lot of the noise I'd expect at high ISO?



#17 TonyQ

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Posted 16 December 2016 - 03:57 PM

@amybatt

I am not a photography expert, but It is always a balancing act. For wildlife, you often need a fairly high shutter speed so that the image does not have movement blur (unless of course you want it!). If you have unwanted blur, there is nothing you can do about it in post-processing. With the Aperture (f-number) you may want a slightly smaller aperture to give you a bit more depth of field so that more of the subject is in focus. (Light is often fairly low at the beginning and end of the day which also has an impact.)

That leaves you the ISO as the other variable you can control - so it may have to go up. I would want the ISO to be as low as possible while allowing the other 2 variables to take the picture I want. I think modern cameras are better at higher ISO than many older ones, and processing software has got better.

 

I have only recently started using Auto ISO - particularly if I am walking about taking pictures of birds. It allows me to take quick, non-blurred photos when I see a bird.   (I have the shutter speed set). I can adjust the settings if I have time.  I can crop photos more at lower ISO, but it is better to have a usable image at high ISO than a blurred image at low ISO. If I have time at a wildlife sighting, I will try a range of settings -but after I have taken an initial few shots.


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#18 janzin

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Posted 16 December 2016 - 04:36 PM

@amybatt modern cameras are much better at handling higher ISO's then they were even just a couple of years ago, you definitely shouldn't be afraid of using high ISO's. Of course its best to keep it as low as possible BUT as Tony said, better to have a sharp image at high ISO than a blurry one at low ISO. On safari it is a very rare occurrence when you can shoot at ISO 100 or 200, in fact I'd say almost never if you want to be able to use a high enough shutter speed to freeze action! And many of the best photo ops are early or late in the day when light is not strong.

 

If you stick to ISO 100-200 all the time on safari you will end up with lots of blurry shots, I guarantee it. (Now, landscape is a completely different story; for landscape I do use 100 or 200 max when possible.)

 

I've taken to using Auto ISO ALL the time on my Nikon cameras because they use a very intelligent system where you can set maximums, minimum shutter speed, etc so you are completely in control. In fact I now shoot in manual mode with Auto ISO so that I have total control over shutter speed and aperture and the camera will choose the lowest ISO possible with my chosen selections.

 

Of course, some cameras are better than others at higher ISOs. But even the worst camera in this day and age should do OK up to at least ISO 400.

 

Most photographers using very high ISOs are applying noise reduction in post-processing, there are several easy to use programs that will automatically give you very good results.

 

Here's an example of a photo I would not have gotten at lower ISOs. It may look like broad daylight but it was raining and there was very little light or contrast. Also the wind was blowing and the cub was moving and I wanted to maintain a high shutter speed. This is ISO 3600 and in fact, this particular image has no noise reduction applied.

 

Device: Nikon D500
Lens: VR 200-500mm f/5.6E
Focal Length: 200mm
Aperture: f/7.1
Shutter Speed: 1/1000s
ISO: 3600

JZ5_3672a.jpg


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#19 xelas

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Posted 16 December 2016 - 05:04 PM

While using ISO at 100 or 200 or whatever the lowest native figure for a certain camera body is, should be way to go when taking landscape photos from a tripod, it is most probably the shortest way to have blurred photos of almost any wildlife!
AutoISO function always chose the lowest ISO, depending on other three factors: available light, aperture and shutter speed. Of course, noise is a result of pushing the sensor sensitivity (what ISO represents) however, noise is not always all that bad. Remember the grain in film days?! Some photographers were famous for their grainy photographs, specialy b&w. Much worse effect of really pushing the sensor is colours are lost or better said, watered down. Combining modrn sensor with modern software maks miracles even at highest of the native ISO. And as shown above by @janzin photo, there are scenes where noise is much less visible than other.
Thus, by all means do use AutoISO when out photographing any kind of wildlife. Also general nature, like flowers, leaves, tree branches, they are never compeltely still so using faster shutter speeds 1/500 sec and above is recommended. And then there is the factor of handholding ...
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#20 amybatt

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Posted 16 December 2016 - 05:37 PM

Thank you all!  I'm glad I asked or I was going to go blindly on safari set at ISO 200!

 

What you say makes sense and I will start using Auto ISO as I practice in the coming weeks. 

 

@janzin, I just found you on FB, more photos for me to look at over lunch!  Very nice!


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