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Birds in Flight for beginners...

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Old Saturday 20th October 2018, 17:33   #1
Apodidae49
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Birds in Flight for beginners...

I’ve touched on this in camera and lens threads and had varying degrees of advice so I thought it needed a thread of its own.

I have a Nikon D5600 and the AF 70-300 DX VR and, notwithstanding the reservations of some regarding that lens for birding, I’d like to get the optimum performance when photographing BIF.

I watched a YouTube video comparing the Nikon D3300 with the D5300 and it mentioned that the 3300 only has one active focus point, right in the centre of the array but that the 5300 (and by deduction, the 5600) has 9 active points in the centre of the viewfinder. So my first question is should 9 points be chosen when trying to capture BIF?

Question 2 should the AF mode be set to AF-S as this is what the book says is the setting for tracking and where does 3D come into the equation?

Being a graduate of bridge cameras I usually tend to use the Program setting but I think that having a good camera with good AF should enable me to be more flexible and/or creative.

Is there a button or setting on the camera whereby I can store all of the best settings for BIF and just access it when needed?

Will having the camera on optimum settings for BIF enable good still shots to be made if the opportunity presents itself?

I’m sure I’ll think of more questions but those will do for now.

Last edited by Apodidae49 : Saturday 20th October 2018 at 18:31.
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Old Sunday 21st October 2018, 00:39   #2
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So my first question is should 9 points be chosen when trying to capture BIF?

Question 2 should the AF mode be set to AF-S as this is what the book says is the setting for tracking and where does 3D come into the equation?

Is there a button or setting on the camera whereby I can store all of the best settings for BIF and just access it when needed?
D500 or D850 owners love the "group area mode" for BIF, using 5 active points in the center. But Dynamic 9 AF mode (which the D5600 has) is also good for BIF.

95% or more BIFs are shot the good old way, active center points plus AF-C. The shooter needs to keep the active points on the bird. 3D tracking can be easily confused, I'd suggest to leave that for another day (be ready for some frustration). - The D5600 does not have an option to store specific settings.
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Old Monday 22nd October 2018, 08:27   #3
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D500 or D850 owners love the "group area mode" for BIF, using 5 active points in the center. But Dynamic 9 AF mode (which the D5600 has) is also good for BIF.

95% or more BIFs are shot the good old way, active center points plus AF-C. The shooter needs to keep the active points on the bird. 3D tracking can be easily confused, I'd suggest to leave that for another day (be ready for some frustration). - The D5600 does not have an option to store specific settings.
Does AF-C mean continuous shooting? So I can set Continuous shutter with AF-S and 9 point focus for good results?
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Old Monday 22nd October 2018, 10:11   #4
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Does AF-C mean continuous shooting? So I can set Continuous shutter with AF-S and 9 point focus for good results?
On my Nikon V2, AF-C is continuous autofocus and typically used for anything in motion, e.g. birds in flight. AF-S is used for static objects. I just assume it is the same on a Nikon DSLR. Hopefully an expert will correct me, if I am wrong.

Finding the best settings on a DSLR isn't easy, as there are so many options. The Nikon V2 is simple in comparison.

Continuous shooting, here is a hint:

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Then, set the release mode (Menu > Shooting Menu > Release mode on page two) to Continuous High for up to 5 frames-per-second continuous shooting. For the final step, push the "i" button, and change the AF mode to AF-C (Continuous-servo AF) so the autofocus tracks your subject once you half-press the shutter button to tell the D5600 what you want to focus on.

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Old Monday 22nd October 2018, 12:12   #5
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On my Nikon V2, AF-C is continuous autofocus and typically used for anything in motion, e.g. birds in flight. AF-S is used for static objects. I just assume it is the same on a Nikon DSLR. Hopefully an expert will correct me, if I am wrong.

Finding the best settings on a DSLR isn't easy, as there are so many options. The Nikon V2 is simple in comparison.

Continuous shooting, here is a hint:
Thanks for your help. It may well be that I am wrong about AF-S and it is, in fact, AF-C. Im not at home at the moment but will check camera and manual later.
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Old Monday 22nd October 2018, 16:42   #6
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In general, on most cameras, AF-S means 'single focus', in that the camera will try to achieve focus once, lock it, and never focus again until you half-press again. So it wouldn't be the mode to use for BIFs most of the time, unless you have a much older camera that is so poor at continuous focus tracking that you're better off with single. Most of the time, you want 'AF-C', for 'continuous focus...this will allow the camera to continue to adjust the focus as long as you have the shutter half- or fully- pressed. This is different from the drive mode - continuous.

Continuous drive mode, or burst, just means how many shots the camera will take when the shutter button is pressed...but it's unrelated to the focus mode chosen.

The third factor is 'focus area' - which is where you choose the spot focus to use one focus point, the central area to use any focus points near the middle, or the 'wide' focus areas which use all available focus points your camera has. As different cameras have different numbers of focus points covering larger or smaller parts of the frame, there's no universal mode that works best on all cameras. But most of the time with BIF, it's hard enough learning to pan the camera to follow the moving bird and keeping it somewhere in the frame, let alone trying to keep a single focus point on the moving bird as you pan. So 'wide' focus area is often the mode to use, as it gives you the most focus points in the frame to help focus on the moving subject. If the bird is large and predictable, you can use center or sometimes spot focus, once you've gotten good enough in your panning technique...but even excellent and skilled birders would be challenged keeping a swallow or martin in the frame at 500mm and full speed, with their tiny size, fast flight, and erratic random directional changes...so the more points you have the better.

With your camera, you have to keep at least some part of the bird on those 9 focus points clustered around the middle of the frame - you may have the bird in the viewfinder down to the left corner, and even though you're panning along with him, the focus points aren't centered over him and can't detect him. That's the first problem. Even once you get better at panning, and can keep part of the bird somewhere under your focus points, it still may end up giving you shots focused on the end of the wing, but leaving the eye and head out of focus...so then you need to get better at judging where the focus points are on the bird, and also what aperture you're using so you know if you have sufficient depth of field to cover most of the bird in focus. Not as much a problem at 300mm with a small tern, but a great blue heron might be 3 feet from the tip of the wing to the eye, and that DOF may be too much to get the eyes in focus if the focus settled on the wingtip.

BIF shooting is a skill you get better at with practice - it's generally a good idea to start with learning to pan effectively with birds going across the frame, left to right or vice versa - and starting with larger, slower, or more predictable birds like herons, egrets, gulls, pelicans, etc. Once you are getting pretty good with panning, then you can start to experiment with birds closing on you - coming at the camera. This will be more dependent on the camera's continuous focus ability and speed - and also much more important to keep the focus points dead on the bird, preferably centered. Then, when you really are getting the hang of it, you can start to go with more erratic, faster, smaller birds. You may at some point begin to hit the limits of the camera's AF system or the lens if too slow...that generally won't be an issue until you get to the small, fast birds.
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Old Monday 22nd October 2018, 16:50   #7
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Great reply, Zackiedawg, thanks.
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Old Sunday 28th October 2018, 08:57   #8
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I’m off, with camera, to WWT Martin Mere tomorrow to try it out. As there is a wildfowl collection there, I should be able to mess about photographing birds that aren’t skittish.

On the BIF scene I should either have the camera on 9 point and AF-C or on 3D tracking, both with continuous shutter H? Anyway, I’ll try out both and see what the results are, hopefully a few slow-flappers or soarers like herons or buzzards will be around, although at this time time of year the Pink Footeds will be filling the sky. Bound to get some frustration at the start but practice makes perfect.

Looking forward to it immensely.
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Old Monday 29th October 2018, 16:45   #9
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First attempts...

So I took the camera along to WWT Martin Mere and faffed about taking photos in the wildfowl collection. After lunch I set about trying to get some BIF.

I set the camera to Shutter Priority mode and selected 1/1250th sec, Continuous H release, AF-C, 3D Tracking and 800 ISO (couldn't find an ISO Auto setting so its back to the manual for me!)

Shot a variety of birds and deleted loads of shots but the following crops aren't too bad and give me some crumbs of hope for the future!

Edit: I was using the Nikon D5600 with the 70-300 f/4.5-6.3G DX VR lens
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Old Tuesday 30th October 2018, 08:57   #10
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Tumbleweed blowing through this thread!

Anyone care to comment on the photos/camera settings/technique in order to help me progress?
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Old Tuesday 30th October 2018, 11:17   #11
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I set the camera to Shutter Priority mode and selected 1/1250th sec, Continuous H release, AF-C, 3D Tracking and 800 ISO (couldn't find an ISO Auto setting so its back to the manual for me!)
Congratulations, it seems you are doing well. The third photo is nice. When I recommended to look for swans I meant mute swans, of course. Your whooper swans are a much "better" bird! Actually I prefer to stand on a bridge when a swan flies along the river. Theoretically I know I have to zoom out as the bird comes closer. Strangely I always forget and end up clipping the wings.

These days I regularly visit a place with starling murmurations. When the sky is full with starlings, the focal length of the lens hardly matters. 20 minutes before sunset, low light becomes a factor and shooting at 1/200s requires panning.
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Old Tuesday 30th October 2018, 15:11   #12
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Congratulations, it seems you are doing well. The third photo is nice. When I recommended to look for swans I meant mute swans, of course. Your whooper swans are a much "better" bird! Actually I prefer to stand on a bridge when a swan flies along the river. Theoretically I know I have to zoom out as the bird comes closer. Strangely I always forget and end up clipping the wings.

These days I regularly visit a place with starling murmurations. When the sky is full with starlings, the focal length of the lens hardly matters. 20 minutes before sunset, low light becomes a factor and shooting at 1/200s requires panning.
Thanks HermitIbis. It is a bit hit and miss but once I find out how to set the ISO to Auto in Shutter Priority mode I think it might get better. Sunny day yesterday so I was getting 1/1250th at f/14 on ISO 800 dull weather will be a bit more of a challenge.

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Old Wednesday 31st October 2018, 08:19   #13
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Thanks HermitIbis. It is a bit hit and miss but once I find out how to set the ISO to Auto in Shutter Priority mode I think it might get better. Sunny day yesterday so I was getting 1/1250th at f/14 on ISO 800 dull weather will be a bit more of a challenge.
f/14 - are you sure? There are few cases where f/14 is really needed, e.g. a macro shooter who tries to enlarge a razor-thin depth of field. - When I jumped from a bridge camera to Nikon, there was a lot of stuff that I didn't understand. It took about 3 months before I started to shoot in RAW only, and 18 months to grasp how to dial in exposure compensation for birds in flight correctly.
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Old Wednesday 31st October 2018, 10:35   #14
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..... Sunny day yesterday so I was getting 1/1250th at f/14 on ISO 800 dull weather will be a bit more of a challenge.
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f/14 - are you sure? .....
If you're at the long end of the zoom range, then at f14 you are starting to see the effects of diffraction limitations and are throwing away sharpness (along with potentially lower ISO and higher shutter speeds which will both give additional sharpness benefits on top of that).

In general, a lower (numerically) aperture setting will give better subject isolation which (again, generally) is what you want. This will be helped by getting closer to the subject.

'Opening up' (physically - or at least that's what the camera does anyway) the aperture like this will allow you to have a lower ISO (better DR and IQ) and/or a higher shutter speed (less subject motion blur/ lens movement induced blur -particularly with long focal length lenses) - both desirable things.

Also in general, 'stopping down' a lens (ie. increasing the numerical number) from its 'wide open' setting (or maximum aperture) usually increases sharpness sometimes noticeably but mostly just incrementally. With your lenses' maximum aperture of f6.3, depending on the focal length you are zoomed to, you will get a little better sharpness at f8, maybe a smidge more at f9.5, or f11, but there comes a point where the lens will start to get diffraction limited and show no gains or even soften.

Mostly at f14 you are throwing away light and subject isolation and detail. (An exception might be at midday mid-summer in the Sahara! or something like that :) .......... the sharpness gains above f8, sometimes 9, are mostly outweighed by the drawbacks of higher ISO and/or slow shutter speeds. It is mostly centre sharpness we are concerned with - check the tests of your exact lens to see where the point of diminishing returns lies. Looking at this test shows you may as well shoot that lens wide open (f6.3) at 300mm. https://www.ephotozine.com/article/n...r-review-30569

With that D5600 sensor, I'd be inclined to aim for ISO 400 or less (up to ISO 318 your sensor is as good as that in the pro level D500 with slightly better resolution to boot), 200 would be better, and 100 better again. I'd probably stay at f6.3 or so, and keeping a 1/1250th sec shutter speed minimum should be good.

You want to help the situation as much as possible by shooting in 'softer' light (ie. non-midday) but you also want that light to be as bright as possible. Therefore even at low sun angles try and approach your subject from such an aspect so that the light powers directly onto it.

Beyond this, you can eek out a little extra shutter speed and/or reduced ISO by dialing in a little less (or even negative) exposure compensation - depending on the colour and contrast of your subject - just be aware to keep the histogram past the left hand axis for your subject ...... sometimes losing shadow detail, or conversely blowing highlights of backgrounds doesn't matter so much especially if they will be cropped out.

Let us know how the 3D tracking works out with the D5600, and whether dynamic 9pt is useful for you or ends up with more background mis-focus and hunting versus single centre point.





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Old Wednesday 31st October 2018, 14:42   #15
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f/14 - are you sure? There are few cases where f/14 is really needed, e.g. a macro shooter who tries to enlarge a razor-thin depth of field. - When I jumped from a bridge camera to Nikon, there was a lot of stuff that I didn't understand. It took about 3 months before I started to shoot in RAW only, and 18 months to grasp how to dial in exposure compensation for birds in flight correctly.
Total beginner here remember. f/14 is what the camera was giving me with 1/1250th in Shutter Priority mode and ISO 800. With hindsight lowering the ISO would have helped to open the aperture but hey, every day is a school day!

Thanks for the continuing advice.
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Old Wednesday 31st October 2018, 15:24   #16
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You're right on the Auto ISO and lowering the ISO when higher is not needed to keep the aperture in the sweet range. In your case, setting ISO to 800 forced the camera to adjust the aperture to expose where it had too much light - the shutter couldn't be adjusted since you were in S priority...the ISO was set to 800, so it couldn't adjust that. The only thing left was aperture.

Auto ISO is definitely going to be better for you, as the camera could have pulled back 2-4 stops by lowering the ISO as low as 100, achieving the same shutter speed and allowing the aperture to come down into the F8 ballpark. If you have difficulty setting Auto ISO, or want to keep choosing your own ISO, next time when you see the aperture getting over F10 or so, manually drop down to the next lowest ISO level, or push the shutter speed higher to compensate.

You've got the right drive modes, focus areas, and are getting the hang of the panning - so now it's just dialing in the right settings for exposure, and keeping the aperture and ISO at reasonable levels for maximum sharpness and detail and minimal noise.
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Old Wednesday 31st October 2018, 15:37   #17
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Hi Apodidae49
I just joined yesterday and read your post about camera settings just now. I thought I would respond as Birds in Flight pics are the Holy Grail for me.

I shoot Canon products and am not familiar with Nikon. That said you have made a great choice with Nikon so you are on your way.

I found the autofocus topic very confusing because I surfed the net for advice and found many opinions, many of which were in error. I finally found a sight that offered advice from a fellow who shoots for Canon and by golly, his advice was proven correct through trial. So, the best I can do is point you in his direction.

His name is Arthur Morris and his website is Birds as Art. (birdsasart.com) I would start there.

I hope this helps.

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Old Wednesday 31st October 2018, 17:14   #18
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Thanks all, I think I’ve cracked the Auto ISO as it’s in the Menu settings under ISO Sensitivity and not selectable from the Info screen until it’s been enabled from the Menu settings.
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Old Thursday 1st November 2018, 00:58   #19
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With that D5600 sensor, I'd be inclined to aim for ISO 400 or less (up to ISO 318 your sensor is as good as that in the pro level D500 with slightly better resolution to boot), 200 would be better, and 100 better again. I'd probably stay at f6.3 or so, and keeping a 1/1250th sec shutter speed minimum should be good.
ISO 400 (or even lower) at 1/1250 will only work over here on *really* bright days. and those are few and far between during the autumn and winter months. So you'll have to use higher ISO. Every bird photographer I know over here does just that. And the D5300 and the later models work pretty well up to ISO 1200 or so. In a pinch even ISO 3200 works if you shoot RAW and know what you're doing, although such shots may well require pretty careful processing.

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Old Thursday 1st November 2018, 02:23   #20
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ISO 400 (or even lower) at 1/1250 will only work over here on *really* bright days. and those are few and far between during the autumn and winter months. So you'll have to use higher ISO. Every bird photographer I know over here does just that. And the D5300 and the later models work pretty well up to ISO 1200 or so. In a pinch even ISO 3200 works if you shoot RAW and know what you're doing, although such shots may well require pretty careful processing.

Hermann
Yep, I appreciate that it's all light dependent. That 70-300 AP-F lens can be shot wide open at f6.3 all the time at 300mm without any practical drop off in quality. It makes it a pretty simple lens to shoot, since you can just put it in auto ISO and adjust shutter speed to suit the situation/subject/support. Keeping the light coming from over your shoulder will help a lot too.

At least the f14 stuff will be history! :)



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Old Tuesday 29th January 2019, 12:54   #21
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If I could resurrect an old thread as I couldn't find a recent relevant-ish one..

What do people think is a realistic distance to shoot over to get a good (ie clean and sharp) image with something like a Canon 400mm 5.6L or similar lens in another brand on a mid range DSLR like say a 7D? just wondering how much more something like that would give over a very good bridge camera like the Sony RX10 mk 3 or 4 for targets that are approximately 100m high and maybe 80-100m distant.
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