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Photographing Birds in Flight with Canon 5D

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Old Wednesday 31st December 2014, 10:25   #1
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Photographing Birds in Flight with Canon 5D

I am hoping I can get some advice here on photographing birds in flight, using my Canon 5D III with 300 f2.8 lens.
I love photographing birds in flight, but am often disappointed as I cant get the camera/lens focused on the bird in time. Often for things like swifts the initial try will see the lens zoom all the way out not knowing what I am trying to focus on. I then refocus on a tree or other subject matter which is approximately the same distance away as the bird would be and this may help, but doesnt always either.
I guess my big frustration is just getting the lens to focus on the bird quicker and not for it to be searching all over the place.
Any suggestions as to which focal points should be selected for these flight shots, as well as what AF settings to use?
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Old Thursday 15th January 2015, 17:52   #2
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How do you zoom in with a fixed 300/2.8??? That's got me confused. Do you mean change the focus distance?
I suggest AI Servo setting, high speed shutter release, center AF point with surrounding assist points only and manual mode to keep the exposures consistent. Since most birds in flight will be more than 10m away I suggest set the lens focus limiter switch to 10m-infinity as you wont need closer ranges.
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Old Friday 23rd January 2015, 12:54   #3

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I would echo Mr Birdman's comments.
I don't have a 5D3 but, although not exactly the same, the AF system on my 1DX is very similar.
Putting the focus limiter on 6.4 m to infinity will definitely reduce the amount of focus hunting.
Birds like Swifts etc are very difficult subjects an a large dose of luck will help! For what it's worth for medium/large birds I use Servo mode, AF case 5 with center point AF and 4 or 8 assist surrounding AF points. Also I use at least 1/1000 sec shutter speed and a fairly high F Stop (around F5.6 to F8) - if the light allows as it helps with minor tracking errors. Additionally if the bird is going to be against a bright sky you will need to overexpose a bit (in evaluative, center weighted or partial metering) to preserve detail on the underside of the bird - try 1 stop and see how it goes.
Unfortunately using center point + surround AF points means that you need to be VERY accurate in your framing which is more than I can do on small birds! You could try using Zone or Auto AF Point Selection (all AF Points) but this could also lead to your AF system being distracted.
Hope some of that makes sense!
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Old Monday 2nd February 2015, 21:16   #4
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Never use autofocus for this. The in built algorithms for focussing will be too slow for your needs. You'll have a better chance if you use an aperture f4 / f5.6 / f8. That will give you a wider depth of field and allow you to concentrate on framing rather than everything at once. Hope that helps!
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