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Photographing birds at a distance and what to expect?

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Old Thursday 29th January 2015, 13:56   #1
TheScrutinizer
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Photographing birds at a distance and what to expect?

Hi!

I have a Canon 70D and a EF 400mm 5.6 lens which is 6 years old.
I bought the lens a few weeks ago. My main goal is to make descent images of all kind of birds.

The EF 400mm 5.6 is known to be one of the sharpest lenses Canon has ever made and that was the main reason why I bought it.

Most of the time the birds are at a distance and I wonder what to expect from this combo. I've attached four images which was taken using my car as a blind, yet the distance is approximately 10m (dove) and 20m (fieldfare). Two versions of each bird showing full frame and 100% crop. All pictures are as they come from the camera except for the cropping and exporting to jpg.
I use Lightroom.

I'm not sure the lens is as sharp as I thought it should be.
Is my expectation too high?

Dove:
1/500 (with some support), 6.3, ISO 320, 2EV. (I know it's too bright.)

Fieldfare:
1/1000 (handheld), 6.3, ISO 1000, 1 2/3 EV.

Please, help me stop wondering.

Tom
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Old Thursday 29th January 2015, 16:26   #2
Roy C
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They do look fairly soft to me but the first shot would not be to bad if it was exposed and processed correctly .If you are going to crop this heavy then everything must be spot-on including the light. To get a worthwhile shot from a 100% crop you really need to shoot in RAW and get the exposure more or less right straight from the Camera, Even then you will need to do some serious processing.
Your main problem here was not getting near enough to the bird.
I assume you are using single point AF. Have you tried testing the lens by shooting at a static target in controlled conditions (tripod, decent light and remote or timed release) also the lens may need some AFMA but could not tell from these pics. I would doubt it very much if there was anything wrong with the lens - it is a very simple design and copy variations are almost non existent in my experience.

Last edited by Roy C : Thursday 29th January 2015 at 21:53.
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Old Thursday 29th January 2015, 16:40   #3
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Looking again at that first full frame it does not look like you were using the single centre AF point to me!!!
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Old Thursday 29th January 2015, 19:03   #4
TheScrutinizer
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Hi Roy!

I always shoot in RAW! And I was using single point AF. The lens has been adjusted with the camera (AFMA). The metering was set to partial. I use back button focusing.

Of course, there might be a problem with my technique...

As mentioned I process my images with Lightroom and might use Photoshop for special needs (I subscribe).
Thereby I know all RAW files have to be processed!

I've attached the dove as a 50% crop after processing, the dove with focus point and another processed image showing a sparrow hawk (1/640, 5.6, ISO 800, 1 2/3 EV, 50% crop).

Tom
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Old Thursday 29th January 2015, 19:45   #5
TheScrutinizer
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Roy,

I've looked at some of your images on Flickr taken with your 400mm 5.6 (I´ve been following you for a while) and I see that my images are way too soft compared to yours.

As you suggest, I think I have to make some test shots with a stationary object to see if I manage to fix the focus.

Tom

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Old Thursday 29th January 2015, 19:55   #6
Roy C
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheScrutinizer View Post
Roy,

I've looked at some of your images on Flickr taken with your 400mm 5.6 (I´ve been following you for a while) and I see that my images are way too soft compared to yours.

As you propose, I think I have to make some test shots with a stationary object to see if I manage to fix the focus.

Tom
You are doing things right then Tom - yes try to do some test shots in good light and a stationary target which should tell if there is a problem. Other than that try upping the shutter speed when hand holding (I try to use 1/1600 sec these days).

Last edited by Roy C : Thursday 29th January 2015 at 19:57.
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Old Wednesday 18th February 2015, 09:29   #7
TheScrutinizer
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Roy C View Post
You are doing things right then Tom - yes try to do some test shots in good light and a stationary target which should tell if there is a problem. Other than that try upping the shutter speed when hand holding (I try to use 1/1600 sec these days).
Hi!

My camera's (Canon EOS 70D) AF has been calibrated and here are a couple of images at full size and 100% crop. Due to low light I used my Sigma 150-500 mm as it has IS. I'm pretty amazed by how good these images came out even at 100% crop. Actually, all images within the series where in focus. And the EF 400 mm 5.6 is sharper than the Sigma! I'm looking forward to test the EF again soon.

By the way, the images have been made handheld. I've used LR to adjust light/shadow/constrast and sharpened a little bit. I always use RAW format.

Blue tit
1/400s, F/8.0, ISO 1600, +2 EV, 500 mm

Yellowhammer
1/640s, F/6.3, ISO 1000, +2 EV, 500 mm

Tom
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Old Wednesday 3rd October 2018, 15:07   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TheScrutinizer View Post
My camera's (Canon EOS 70D) AF has been calibrated
What do you mean ? By the service ? Sometimes I suspect that what is sharp in the viewfinder is not necessarily sharp on the sensor.
You can use additionally the cable release, even the camera is handheld.

Last edited by locustella : Wednesday 3rd October 2018 at 15:13.
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Old Wednesday 3rd October 2018, 18:30   #9
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Need to go back to the initial question - are you expecting too much?

Firstly, I don't consider 10m to be a long distance to be taking pictures and I have to honest and say I would expect better images. You can see from all of mine that they are pin sharp - ignore that last statement because I'm struggling to get good images with 750d and a sigma lens. I went through a phase when I was quite happy but they seem to have slipped. Previously, until I lost it, I had a 60d with a cheapy lens and the photos were pretty good.

My friend, who is a great photographer, has this lens but linked to 7d - his photos are amazingly sharp. His worst pictures are my best sort of thing. Anyway, when we photographing Eagle Owl he used remote plus timer maybe even mirror up (if that is even possible - it was beyond my caperbilities and understanding - and he was talking in french) but everything to limit even the tiniest jolt or movement.

My inability comes from lack of patience to get closer and also take hundreds of photos. Another great photographer friend hires a cabin to take pictures of goshawk (they put pigeons out - dead i presume)- her pictures are amazing as well but she does have close to 10,000 pictures of a gos! I haven't taken that many in 4 years.

From my point of view i think there is more of a focus issue - where you aiming? As a starter - the bird in general, the eye? A tip I was given was that you need a speed equivalent or higher to 2 stops above the effective focal length - 500x1.6 (for the crop) = 800mm so you need a minimum of 1250 speed. None of your pictures are in this region - I was also told not to use the stabiliser apart from extreme low light.

I don't know just putting some points out there.

One last one is to be aware or to find the sweet spot of the lens - what I mean by that is the 'f' stop that it works best at and also probably the distance albeit that closer is better - it might be that you have to get within 8m to get the best results and about f8, with a fast speed. Trial and error - I think my sigma works best at f7.1 or f8.
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Old Wednesday 3rd October 2018, 21:48   #10
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As in #9, I'd also look at the f-stop Look at a DoF calculator like http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html.

A 7d with 400mm at f/6.4 will have a DoF of 0.14m (+/- 0.07m) at 10m. So 7cm compared to a 30cm bird is not a lot if your focus point is a little off or not adjusted properly. f/8 would be +/- 9cm, and f/11 is +/- 13cm.

Also, are you using continuous AF or single AF? When doing birds, I always use AF-C with tracking on.

Try using a tripod with manual focus and live view with mirror up and cable release on a static subject. You should be able to get a perfectly sharp foto (as much as the AA filter will allow). If you can't make that work, maybe the lens needs a service. If you can get perfectly sharp under those controlled circumstances, then look at the AF micro adjustment or your technique.
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Old Thursday 4th October 2018, 05:01   #11
Chosun Juan
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All good advice so far ...

Quote:
Originally Posted by rosbifs View Post
Need to go back to the initial question - are you expecting too much?

Firstly, I don't consider 10m to be a long distance to be taking pictures and I have to honest and say I would expect better images.
Tom , I would agree with this. Why not go through the gallery and search for the Canon 400 f5.6 L ? At it's best I have seen some amazingly sharp photos.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rosbifs View Post
My friend, who is a great photographer, has this lens but linked to 7d - his photos are amazingly sharp. His worst pictures are my best sort of thing. Anyway, when we photographing Eagle Owl he used remote plus timer maybe even mirror up (if that is even possible - it was beyond my caperbilities and understanding - and he was talking in french) but everything to limit even the tiniest jolt or movement.
I have a friend who does similar. Every little bit seems to help - especially as the distances increase.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rosbifs View Post
My inability comes from lack of patience to get closer and also take hundreds of photos. Another great photographer friend hires a cabin to take pictures of goshawk (they put pigeons out - dead i presume)- her pictures are amazing as well but she does have close to 10,000 pictures of a gos! I haven't taken that many in 4 years.
Maybe it's just me - but I can't stand this sort of thing - baiting, and otherwise affecting natural wild behaviors. No photograph is worth that. Even here on BF some of the photos look suspiciously 'lucky' .... close up raptor BIF's, pin sharp talons out pics from it seems like 2m away of Ospreys, and Sea Eagles etc. It's something I won't do.

Quote:
Originally Posted by rosbifs View Post
From my point of view i think there is more of a focus issue - where you aiming? As a starter - the bird in general, the eye? A tip I was given was that you need a speed equivalent or higher to 2 stops above the effective focal length - 500x1.6 (for the crop) = 800mm so you need a minimum of 1250 speed. None of your pictures are in this region - I was also told not to use the stabiliser apart from extreme low light.

I don't know just putting some points out there.

One last one is to be aware or to find the sweet spot of the lens - what I mean by that is the 'f' stop that it works best at and also probably the distance albeit that closer is better - it might be that you have to get within 8m to get the best results and about f8, with a fast speed. Trial and error - I think my sigma works best at f7.1 or f8.
All good points to consider. I would say that higher shutter speeds still are useful - I try and use 1/2000th sec where possible, but even that can be subject to movement of small geewhizzit type birds whose heads are turning and bodies are constantly flitting one way or another.

There will be some sort of a sweet spot combination which will work better with the vibrational frequencies of, your rig and technique, and focal length, and physical length of your lens.

It's always a balance between Shutter Speed, Aperture, ISO, and Exposure, and Environmental Conditions - try and find a narrow range to mostly operate in that gets the best results from your rig.



Chosun
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Old Thursday 4th October 2018, 08:55   #12
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Hi,

Quote:
Originally Posted by rosbifs View Post
I was also told not to use the stabiliser apart from extreme low light.
It might be worth some experiments to see if using the stabilizer really hurts or actually helps.

Early stabilizers didn't work so well when the camera was set up on a rigid mount, such as a tripod, so I can see where the advice might have originated.

For me at least, the stabilizer is a great help. But I might be shooting under more dubious conditions most of the time, using the camera as an identification aid from much too far away for crisp full-frame photographs.

Regards,

Henning
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Old Friday 5th October 2018, 03:00   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hauksen View Post
It might be worth some experiments to see if using the stabilizer really hurts or actually helps.

Early stabilizers didn't work so well when the camera was set up on a rigid mount, such as a tripod, so I can see where the advice might have originated.

For me at least, the stabilizer is a great help. But I might be shooting under more dubious conditions most of the time, using the camera as an identification aid from much too far away for crisp full-frame photographs.

Regards,

Henning
I agree with this post. IS/VR can nowadays be used with tripods, especially tripods that are not totally still with long lenses. I am usually shooting from monopod or travel tripod -- sometimes in the wind -- and the VR still helps. Even when I have my big gitzo out with mirror up and cable release, I do not notice any issues with leaving VR on with my newish lenses.
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