Gregor

What settings/technique do you use for wildlife photography?

75 posts in this topic

@amybatt: Thank you.

 

@@Dave Williams: I entirely agree that a higher F number would have improved the first and a lower number the second photo. However, I was unaware, as mentioned previously, that the camera was operating in this mode. Perhaps I moved the mode dial from "iA" to Aperture priority by mistake (they're next to each other, but I most certainly didn't deliberately rotate the wheel to go between F4.5 and F8.0. I supposed that it was all down to the magic of "iA". Furthermore, I most certainly couldn't have got into landscape mode by accident as it would have demanded too much clumsiness even for me (I would have needed to go to SCN on the mode dial and then to have made further adjustment to select landscape from a list of possible choices.

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@@douglaswise, in all the EXIF data you have posted, I have not once seen "Auto" mode, despite you saying that you use that most of the time.

 

I believe some/most cameras' auto modes work by choosing between other modes, and the mode may be reported as such in the EXIF data. It would be interesting to know if "Auto" is reported in any of your photos?

 

In other words, if the camera is on Auto, it may be that it is evaluating the scene and deciding that it wants to use Aperture Priority or Programme or whatever (although I would not have expected it to report "Landscape" mode, as that is not one of the major modes.

 

It also seems strange that "Landscape" mode would select the fastest possible aperture, as I would assume a landscape mode to do exactly the opposite and tend toward small apertures?

 

Furthermore, I would suggest that, if all the above photos (as it seems to me you are saying) are indeed taken at relatively long or maximum focal lengths, then the cause of un-sharp photos with your nikon (at half the effective focal length and similar shutter speeds) may not be your shaky hands.

 

But this is just my two cent's worth.

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@@Peter Connan,

 

No, I have not ever seen "Auto" in the EXIF data for this camera. I assume, as you do, that the auto mode is actually deciding which other mode to use. As to landscape, perhaps the camera decides that I'm attempting to photograph relatively distant objects and that, in consequence, DOF will be OK even at large apertures?

 

I am a bit puzzled as to the shaky hand issue, particularly as I rarely if ever shoot long focal length pictures with the Nikon at less than 1/1000 sec. Perhaps, my single focal point wobbles off target at the critical moment? If so, would AFA be better than AFC? You may suggest giong back to back button focusing and thus using focus lock.

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Posted (edited)

@@douglaswise

 

After reading and looking again at your photos both here and on Falkland trip report, and based on my own experiences with similar camera and same lens, I think that the main culprit of bad photos is cropping.

 

The hobby lenses are just not good enough to resolve enough detailes at long range, and when the subject is already far away, and thus small on the original photo, at any serious cropping the image just fell apart.

 

I have had taken so many of those photos. When close enough to fill up the frame, results were good, sometimes even excellent. But as soon the subject was small, and I have to crop to 50% or more, there were no more details, bird was looking smudged. I also blamed myself and my handholding technique. But the mistery was solved when I bought the second hand AF-S 300f/4. Suddenly there were fine details even at heavy cropping. I suggest you to hire that lens, or the new version, or even better the 200-500 zoom. Plus another D3200 body. Just for one weekend. Go out and take same photos, once with one camera once with second one. Put both on P mode, don't worry about, camera will know what to do. Take shots at closer range, and then those further away. Back home compare results, specially results when subject is far away and heavy cropping was needed.

 

I know every step is important: the focus acquisition, the shutter speed, the f-stop, and each adds its little something to final result. Yet now I am more than assured your main problem lies with using the wrong lens at wrong settings at wrong distances. That 70-300 lens is good one but quality control is only half as rigorouse as for pro lenses, and it has to be used with discretion. Never fully extended to 300mm, never at max aperture (best is stopped down to f/8), never at subjects that are too far away.

 

I have no comments on your bridge camera as I have never used them.

 

Please do the test mentioned above, even if you do not attend to buy new gear. At least you will pinpoint the source of your unsatisfaction.

Edited by xelas
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@@douglaswise, personally I don't like AF-A. Back-button focussing does help here, but I think @@xelas is right.

 

Unfortunatley there really are reasons some lenses are more expensive than others, but there are now some pretty good reasonable-cost options, and the lenses he mentions are probably the best of them.

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AF-C + back button is the way to go for wildlife photography, without a hint of a doubt. Whenever the camera offers such option, either by direct button or by reprogramming the AF-L one.

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I'd like to know what the advantage of back button is.

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I'd like to repeat my thanks. Reluctantly, I am beginning to believe that @@xelas and @@Peter Connan are correct in suggesting that I won't get good results at long focal lengths, particularly if cropping, with my existing lens. However, it is said that a good workman doesn't blame his tools, but I suppose @@xelas is actually saying that the tool is OK and that I am trying to push it beyond its design capability. I was lucky in the Falklands to find the wildlife so confiding that maximum focal lengths were rarely required. However, on the occasions when they were, it would seem that the cheap bridge camera outperformed the mid-priced DSLR, both in terms of IQ and magnification. Do I need to get better images when I'm only going to put the great majority into photobooks, printed at no more the 7 x 5? I'm reluctant, at my age, to spend more on photographic equipment, particularly when the lenses suggested are going to be much bulkier and heavier. Notwithstanding, you have made me so intellectually curious that I'll not only do the trial suggested by @@Peter Connan with the existing lens, but will seriously consider @@xelas' lens comparison test as well.

 

@@Dave Williams asks what the advantage of the back button is. I, too, would like to know. As I understand it, if I focus with my thumb on the back button and then remove it, the focus will stay locked on the initial target. If I leave my thumb on said button, the focus will continue to track the target even if it moves. From my perspective, my focus point can easily wobble off target, but, if I remove my thumb at a moment when I'm on target, it will lock and, hopefully, I'll be able to take a sharp photo even though the focal point may no longer be on target when I fully depress the front button. This theory will only work if my target is stationary. Is my understanding correct?

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The camera will continue to track the subject only if you are using more than one focus point and for the majority of the time I only use one to more accurately focus on what I want not what the camera might think I want. For example a big bird in flight I want the head and body not the nearest wing tip.

 

Using back button you still have to take your finger off to re-focus from what I have found which means it's no different to the front shutter button. I would love to know why it's the preferred option of so many. There has to be a good reason otherwise the back button wouldn't be there!

When I have used back button I haven't isolated the front button to just taking shots, does that make a difference to performance?

 

My biggest problem is that I still haven't figured out how to return the focus point to the centre of my shot when using all the focus points (which I rarely do) , the camera simply picks up where it thinks you want to focus.

 

@ douglaswise As for the 70-300 lens, a friend has just recently returned from The Gambia and he has a great portfolio taken with a D5200 which you can see here

https://www.flickr.com/photos/8327273@N08/with/30691062244/

 

Maybe over ambitious crops are indeed the main culprit to your shots ? I think I mentioned in an earlier post if you look at the pictures posted you can see parts that look sharper and they are not the parts that you probably wanted to be, the less you crop the less evident they will be and the more in focus everything will appear.

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I can see that there might be an advantage with some bodies but not all. I'll give it another try.

What happens if you leave the shutter button to focus as well ? Does one override the other ? I do use the back button to acquire focus quite often but then let the shutter button take over. If I'm set at continuous AF shouldn't that work?

Interesting subject!

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Posted (edited)

@@douglaswise, you are basically correct. If the back button is depressed, the camera will try to focus on whatever is under the active focus point(s). When you leave the button, it stops focussing (it doesn't lock though, it just stops where it is).

 

@@Dave Williams, on my camera, it starts focusing whatever other buttons are pressed or not pressed, so I am not sure whether there is something wrong, or if some other setting isaffecting your results. On Nikon (I know very little about using the other brands). The front button is thus used for both metering and shutter activation.

 

The advantage is that, in operation, you have access to AF-C (when pressing the button) and AF-S (when you let go of the button). Thus, if the subject is stationary, you can focus and then let the button go. You can then change the composition (either on purpose or by accident) without losing focus.

 

Conversely, if you are tracking a moving subject, and you see it is about to move behind some other object (or you can't track it well enough and you see it is about to move out from under the active focus points), you can simply let the button go.

 

Speaking for myself, this last is about the biggest advantage for me. Little birds move far too fast for me to keep track of, so in situations where I can expect the bird to return to a specific place (birds building a nest or feeding chicks for example), I can focus on the nest and the let the button go, but if a different opportunity comes along I haven't shot myself in the foot by having to change to AF-S.

 

@@Dave Williams, I don't know what camera you use, but on Nikons (at least the better models) there are a number of settings that can change the behaviour of how the camera chooses what focus point to use, but in most cases, the "OK" button (in the middle of the multi-selector button) can be programmed to make the centre point the active one.

 

@@douglaswise, if the bridge camera give you results that you are happy with, why not stay with just that? Or maybe use that for birds and wildlife, and the Nikon for landscapes and such? If you have a system that works for you, there is no need to have a second one for the same job?

 

Oh, and I have a theory about the saying about tradesmen and tools: I believe that good tradesmen who don't blame their tools, it is because they have, over time, collected the right tools for the jobs they are doing, and learnt how to use them too. After all, they didn't become good on their first day on the job. And they don't borrow other people's tools either.

Edited by Peter Connan

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Overall I didn't think I have a problem as far as I was aware by using the shutter button to both focus and shoot. I do always have the camera set to AF-C or as my Canon 1DX2 calls it, AF-servo. I assume the camera re-focusses when the shutter button is continually depressed as it is when you are taking multiple exposures. However if the back button is more effective in doing so I will give it a try.

There is a focus lock button next to the AF button on most Canon bodies so that can be used to the same effect as taking your finger off the button when using the former to focus.

When you are using a single focus point, which is my usual preference, I can move it around the frame using a joy stick and return it to the centre by simply depressing the same stick. My problem comes when I'm using all the focus points and the camera decides to use the wrong ones to track something. It might pick up on the wrong part of a body for example. What I'd like to do is to stop it and get it to start from the point I have chosen usually back in the middle of the frame. That's where I get stuck as it doesn't seem to happen.

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Posted (edited)

@@Dave Williams. You are referring to Automatic focus mode for Canon? If so you cannot return to a particular focus point as you didn't select it in the first place. Generally speaking the camera selected the nearest object with sufficient detail and will continue to do this whether you like it or not. It is intended for situations where you cannot follow the subject - which can be for a variety of reasons from inexperience to restricted space to very fast movement to temporary blindness (not ioking e.g. Shooting a silhouette into the sun or underwater and your mask is steaming up. Talking of glasses steaming up, it is also often the mode of choice for taking candid snaps of women (or men) without their knowledge .... or fslightly more reputably, or any number of paparazzi shots and "from the hip" street-shooting.

Sometimes it can be useful for action when your whole subject is in focus (so you don't mind if the camer focuses on a shoulder rather than an eye) and you are confident the subject will be the closest object with enough contrast. I almost never use it so I can't comment too much on effectiveness.

Is that what you mean?

If so you need to change focus mode to get control back or lay completely off he focus button and then let the camera acquire focus again. To get it to focus in the center, move the center of the camera over the subject before pressing focus again. Another focus mode would be a better solution though, for me.

But I could be missing your point completely here. Autofocus systems are not the same in each generation of camera and so you may be referring to a mode I don't have or I may just be reading incorrectly.

Note (not really relevant): some cameras now have an effective eye-focus mode (not like the ones on your old compact) and the wide, leave-it-to-the-camera mode can apparently be very effective for sports, kids playing etc leaving you free to focus on composition.

Edited by pault
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Posted (edited)

And not for Dave (since I am still not sure I understood him correctly) but related for others who think back button focus is for advanced users only.

If you are using a wide focus and letting the camera choose where to focus (and this will likely be the default mode of your camera) and shooting action you will follow the camera manual and use the continuos focus/ AI Servo or whatever.mode. Things start to go wrong and you see the focus point selected is way off to the side now - maybe not even on your subject anymore. But this is a critical moment - the cheetah is just about to trip the gazelle. What to do? If you stop shooting and move the camera so you can acquire focus on your subject again you might miss the shot!! So you just keep shooting and 9 times out of 10 all the shots are out of focus. (Well, you'd be a lucky person to have been in this situation 10 times, but Iit is a hypothetical situation so my 9 out of 10 number is hypothetically correct).

 

But if you are using back button focus you can take your thumb off the button to stop focus, move the camera slightly to get the cheetah where you want it in the frame (and get the gazelle back in too) and then press the back button again to refocus on teh cheetah (hopefully, unless your camera decides a tree is your intended target :D) and all the while you can be shooting away (well as long as you buffer doesn't fill up :o).

Of course in practice you will completely forget to do this (or panic and end up taking your finger off the shutter while contiunuing to press focus) but it's still an interesting example I think.

Edited by pault
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@@Peter Connan Can you please prepare to explain again what I have just said - you always put these things much more clearly than I do. :lol:

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Posted (edited)

@@Dave Williams, the AF system on that camera is perhaps the most complex in the world, and I don't really know much about it.

 

The only thing I know about it that might in any way be helpful is that, at the highest setting for frame rate, it does not focues between shots during continuous shooting.

 

Regarding focus point selection, I tend to use all the focus points only when trying for things like swallows (and sometimes aerobatics aircraft) in flight, against a clear sky kackground. Anytime where there is a cluttered background I will reduce the number of focus points, with my most common settings being one or 9 (out of 51. you have nearly twice as many). As for getting an eye or a wingtop, I think that's what depth of field is for? IE, select an aperture sufficient to get the whole bird sharp, and if you really like blurry wingtips, it's perhaps safer to achieve that by using a lower shutter speed?

 

Focus lock can be used to get similar results to back-button (although it is of course the opposite in operation), except for one thing: I often wait at a nest for half an hour at a time, usually sitting back comfortably with the remote release in my hand...

 

@@pault, I doubt I can explain it any better than that.

Edited by Peter Connan
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Posted (edited)

@@Peter Connan Yes, I should probably use the "wide/ audtomatic" modes more often - not using them is just a habit picked up from the old Minolta and then Sony AF system, that never really worked very reliably left to its own devices. Now I have good, reliable AF systems (on both my Sony and Canon cameras) I should probably use them, rather than continuing to "help" the camera so much, even when it's not necessary.

 

And yes, I think I was coherent this time -I'm surprised! But I really enjoy the way you explain stuff - you have the knack.

Edited by pault
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@@Dave Williams, the AF system on that camera is perhaps the most complex in the world, and I don't really know much about it.

 

The only thing I know about it that might in any way be helpful is that, at the highest setting for frame rate, it does not focues between shots during continuous shooting.

 

Regarding focus point selection, I tend to use all the focus points only when trying for things like swallows (and sometimes aerobatics aircraft) in flight, against a clear sky kackground. Anytime where there is a cluttered background I will reduce the number of focus points, with my most common settings being one or 9 (out of 51. you have nearly twice as many). As for getting an eye or a wingtop, I think that's what depth of field is for? IE, select an aperture sufficient to get the whole bird sharp, and if you really like blurry wingtips, it's perhaps safer to achieve that by using a lower shutter speed?

 

Focus lock can be used to get similar results to back-button (although it is of course the opposite in operation), except for one thing: I often wait at a nest for half an hour at a time, usually sitting back comfortably with the remote release in my hand...

 

@@pault, I doubt I can explain it any better than that.

 

@@pault @@Peter Connan Thanks both for your input. Much appreciated you have taken the time and I have learnt something as a result.

 

Like you describe Peter, I only use all the focus points in situations such as with the Swallow. Otherwise I limit it at most to expanded centre point, a cluster of 5 AF points, and that isn't usual either. I am usually on fine centre point.

 

The situation where I can't return to the centre point is when I am using all the AF points. Immediately I re-focus the camera picks up the wrong spot although the manual describes that the camera tracks from the initial focus point. i.e. I start with my target over the centre, the lit up focus points immediately change to another part. I take my finger off the button, put whatever, say the head, in the frame and the camera instead immediately picks up a wing tip. I guess that's where single point and DOF come in to play as you suggest Peter.

I wasn't aware the camera didn't continually focus at a higher frame rate. I'll have to investigate further and discover at what point it stops.

Thinking about the back button , it would indeed be very handy in situations where you don't have a remote control, like the scenario I had in The Gambia trying for Kingfishers landing on a perch. Instead of either switching to MF and then switching back( a pain when the switches are under a lenscoat) or leaving it in AF with the risk of loosing the pre-focused point on the perch when you grab at the tripod mounted camera to hit the shutter button, you have the focus locked. Like it!

Yes, my 1DX2 does indeed have face recognition and it's very effective in video mode. I was amazed at how good but it can get confused with birds which isn't surprising really considering how small their faces often are in the frame. I haven't set it to use that mode in still shooting.

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@@Dave Williams Just for my peace of mind - and I know this is hellishly difficult to talk about when we are all using different cameras with differnt terms and porbably different mode options - when you say "select all the AF points" I think oif the menu setting for how many AF points you want to use - this choice applies regardless of the mode, so if I select e.g. 150 AF points, then I have 150 points when I am manually assigning the focus point (which would usually be a really bad choice for wildlife as it would take 15 clicks to move the point from one side of the frame to the other!) and the wide/automatic AF has 150 points to choose from too. Is that what you mean too, or is this another mode option that you have that I don't have?

 

If so, then the two modes you describe shooting in would be (on my camera):

 

Automatic/wide mode with all AF points selected - and the camera therefore chooses what to focus on, although you can maybe givwe it a bit of a hint by putting what you want in the center -sometimes it listens, sometimes it doesn't, especially when another object is closer.

A "manual" mode (I don't think it is called this in any system but it is easy for everyone to understand) where you select a single AF point or single cluster of AF points. - and you're boss now, telling the camera exactly where to focus.

 

If that's correct, no follow up question or point or anything - just out of curiosity.

If that is not quite correct, what part am I missing?

 

As an example of what these mysterious "other modes" could be, the new Sony cameras there is another mode where you use a single, slightly larger than usual, focus point (anywhere witrhin the frame) which locks the focus to whatever is under it at that point and then tracks that subject, regardless of whether it is the closest object or not. You can then switch back to a single, mnaually-controlled focus point by pressing the center button of the joystick (or other means). So it gives you like a short bust of automatic focus tracking using eye-AF style tracking and then returns to whatever your chosen focus mode is. However, for me, it is not really yet reliable enough in my very limited experience of using it, so I don;t reeally bother with it. - especially since I am such a focus control freak anyway..

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Posted (edited)

You are correct in your assumptions @@pault !

 

The Canon 1DX2 only has 61 focus points and the big frustration still remains that they only cover 30-40% of the frame so it's easy to loose tracking on a faster moving object but relatively easy to toggle the focus point across the screen.

Sony seem to be leading the way in many areas at the moment but they are still lacking in big telephoto lenses from what I can see. Not so much a problem for larger wildlife but a non starter for birds which has to be my priority for wildlife living where I do. It's also a problem when you have committed yourself to one system with a heavy investment in glass.

Edited by Dave Williams
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Definitely - no you are right with Canon for the birds! Don't even think about it for now. Maybe in a couple of years it'll be different.

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For me that is the biggest drawcard of the Nikon D500 (and i presume the 7D2 is the same): nikon seem now to use the same AF module for both crop and full frame cameras. As a result, the D500 has nearly full coverage in term of focus points, whereas in the D5 the focus sensors only cover the crop-frame frame area...

 

@@Dave Williams, as far as i know it's only the very fastest frame rate.

One of the company i work for's directors is a keen BIF photographer who uses the same camera as you. Do you want me to ask him?

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Do you want me to ask him?

 

Why not!

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@@Dave Williams, he says not as far as he is aware.

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