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Introduction - shooting Nikon D500 and Sigma 500mm f4 (1 Viewer)

SpeedyB

Member
Hey all, first post here.

I've had a love for birds since I was a kid (namely eagles) and embarked on a bird photography journey late last year. Started with a Nikon D3500 and added a Tamron 150-600 in December. Realized I needed more firepower so in March upgraded to a D500. The beginning of April I ordered the Sigma 500mm f4, after extensive research, and glad I did.

Here are a few photos I captured recently. Although I have been studying and practicing extensively, I do have some specific questions and hope you can help.

1. For those of you who are the birds-in-flight photo pros (the elite exist in every forum, you know who you are), what is your keeper capture rate for birds in flight? For instance, you are shooting waterfowl (let's say teal and mallards) and you rip off a 10 shot clip with a bank or series of trees behind. How many would you say are in focus - and I mean even if you miss the eye, at least some part is in focus?

I feel like I'm not getting but 2-3/10 right now. Many are just slightly off; definitely not near tack sharp eyes, but it's not like I'm getting a wing or tail feathers in focus either. Nor is the bird grossly out of focus... it's just slightly, making me feel like I didn't miss completely (you can tell when you miss as the subject looks like a blurry blob).

With large raptors, I will probably get 6/10 or 7/10 manageable and 4-5 are tack sharp in the eye in decent light.

I feel like maybe I need to calibrate AF or change a couple settings, but I don't know how. I hear people talk about back focus and calibrating lenses to the body, but not sure how.

CURRENT SETTINGS:

Using back-button AF with AF-C.

AF-ON button (3D - tried this out yesterday, worked decent in certain contrast situations but had to use single point first to acquire a focus), PV button (single point - I use this often for raptors and larger, slower birds), Fn1 (group AF - use this sparingly but thinking I should more).

Matrix metering
Auto white balance
Manual mode, auto ISO

- Shutter button does not need focus to release
- Tracking set on moderate (not erratic usually) and set on 3/5 for refocusing

2. For those who shoot faster moving subjects, are you using dynamic 21 pt or group AF with greater success?

3. If you are acquiring focus on an object already in flight after it catches your eye, which AF button or setting are you using to acquire a lock most rapidly?

4. When you have multiple subjects in the frame (i.e. several birds in the water ranging in depth of approx 2 ft variation in focal distance) how do you get them all in focus? I am using a 500mm lens and I know this compresses the image greatly, but do I need to get up to f9 or f11 to spread the dof enough? More?

BTW, I am using a watermark in my images - not because I want to be a poser. I just found people sharing my pictures all over social media so I thought it may be prudent. I've also started selling work so perhaps it was a natural requisite.
 

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Hauksen

Forum member
Hi SpeedyB,

I feel like maybe I need to calibrate AF or change a couple settings, but I don't know how. I hear people talk about back focus and calibrating lenses to the body, but not sure how.

Not that I'm an expert, but it's worth keeping in mind that lack of sharpness is not necessarily the result of the autofocus not achieving focus, but it can also be the result of motion blur resulting from a mismatch of tracking rate and object motion.

I noticed that when tracking a Swift at close range and taking photographs in burst mode, usually the sharpest pictures in the bursts were those where the bird was farthest off centre. That dampened my enthusiasm for full-frame pictures of birds in flight a bit. (The explanation for that was that I was consistently over-swinging in an oscillating manner, so when the bird was in the centre of the frame, the tracking speed mismatch was the greatest, and thus the picture had the most motion blur.)

One setting you might want to change at least experimentally is "Shutter button does not need focus to release". If you change it to "does need", then when you push the button and the camera doesn't release, you know the autofocus felt it wasn't in focus at that instant. You'll miss a shot, but if the autofocus was right, you'll only miss an out-of-focus picture.

Regards,

Henning
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
You did not mention which shutter speed you were using for the BIF?

Niels
 

SpeedyB

Member
You did not mention which shutter speed you were using for the BIF?

Niels

Great question. I generally try to keep shutter speed above 1/650, but often at or above 1/1250. I understand these may be low for some BIF, but the issues I'm experiencing I do not believe are motion blur.

In the attached pics at top:

Hooded Merganser:
ISO 100
f/4
1/800*

Mallard Drake in flight:
ISO 200
f/4
1/800

Snowy Egret:
ISO 100
f/4
1/1250*

Woodhouse's Scrub Jays:
ISO 900
f/7.1
1/2000*
 

SpeedyB

Member
Hi SpeedyB,



Not that I'm an expert, but it's worth keeping in mind that lack of sharpness is not necessarily the result of the autofocus not achieving focus, but it can also be the result of motion blur resulting from a mismatch of tracking rate and object motion.

I noticed that when tracking a Swift at close range and taking photographs in burst mode, usually the sharpest pictures in the bursts were those where the bird was farthest off centre. That dampened my enthusiasm for full-frame pictures of birds in flight a bit. (The explanation for that was that I was consistently over-swinging in an oscillating manner, so when the bird was in the centre of the frame, the tracking speed mismatch was the greatest, and thus the picture had the most motion blur.)

One setting you might want to change at least experimentally is "Shutter button does not need focus to release". If you change it to "does need", then when you push the button and the camera doesn't release, you know the autofocus felt it wasn't in focus at that instant. You'll miss a shot, but if the autofocus was right, you'll only miss an out-of-focus picture.

Regards,

Henning

Henning, thanks for the thoughts.

I can usually tell when I am experiencing motion blur, versus a focus issue. That said, I would love to keep the shutter release settings as they are so as to not have to rely on the camera to miss shots when it thinks they're not focused, when in reality they are.
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
I never go below 1/800 for BIF and I do see motion blur at that shutter speed. I would be surprised if you could handle 1/800 without having that be an issue.

Niels
 

njlarsen

Gallery Moderator
Opus Editor
Supporter
Barbados
I may not have made my meaning clear: I did not say you had to have motion blur on every image but I believe you will have a significant proportion that do show motion blur at that shutter speed. Easy experiment: on next outing shoot at 1/1600 to see if you have the same percentage of dissatisfying images.

Niels
 

SpeedyB

Member
I may not have made my meaning clear: I did not say you had to have motion blur on every image but I believe you will have a significant proportion that do show motion blur at that shutter speed. Easy experiment: on next outing shoot at 1/1600 to see if you have the same percentage of dissatisfying images.

Niels

I understand. Just so we're clear, I set the shutter speed such that I have an acceptable amount of ISO (noise). So, in lower light I resolve that I may not be able to avoid motion blur if I am at 1/650 or 1/800. However, as the sunlight increases, I increase shutter speed and often hit 1/1600 or 1/2000 and will stay there while I can.

I will add a post to this thread with some example images representing the non-focused images I am referring to.
 

SpeedyB

Member
Here is an example of an image that represents how many of mine end up. You can see, in the same sequence (burst) some hit and some don't.

The first one is the same Teal pair just TWO FRAMES prior to the second image. You can see the first is OOF and the second is pretty well in focus.

AF - 3D
ISO 320
F/13
1/1250

NOTE - I have noticed at times when a subject changes backgrounds, the focus can change. Is this normal?
 

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Hauksen

Forum member
Hi SpeedyB,

Here is an example of an image that represents how many of mine end up. You can see, in the same sequence (burst) some hit and some don't.

It's my impression that there is no reliable way to discern between unsharpness that results from being out of focus and unsharpness that results from inaccurate tracking rates, at least if we're talking about "slight" unsharpness.

One experiment you could try would be to use manual focus for birds in flight (which will only work if they fly at right angles to you, like the teals in your example pictures), and see if the sharpness of the pictures is consistent then, or if it fluctuates as well.

As you'd have ruled out the auto focus as a source of error that way, any remaining inconsistencies would have to be the result of inaccurate tracking.

Regards,

Henning
 

Chosun Juan

Given to Fly
Australia - Aboriginal
Well, not the expert opinion you are looking for by any means - but I will just offer a few observations.

Your rig is at quite a high level - it should provide sharp photos - so provided it is ok, any problems should not come from there.

1. I would try and aim for 1/1600th sec shutter speed minimum to isolate subject movement, more if the light allows, or the birdies are flying fast /erratically.

2. Definitely go through the micro AF process. It shouldn't be that difficult with a methodical approach, and there should be plenty of good tutorials on YouTube.

3. Always make sure the light is illuminating from the right direction (unless going for an effect). This often makes a difference between photos even using the same settings.

A combination of these 3 should see sharper pictures.

4. Use an appropriate f-stop - depending on the effect you are after /subject distance /size ..... and be aware where your focus point is on the subject and where the depth of field in either direction (forward <-> behind) limits are then for that situation.

The last time I went and took photos of anything (in some difficult direct glary light), I couldn't tell if I had focus correct at f6.3 or not .... so I upped the depth of field to f8 to f9 on a stationary subject which worked much better for me (background was way distant so it didn't affect the bokeh noticeably).

5. Make sure you have a good steady shooting technique, breathing, etc, and that you are using the appropriate Optical Stabilization settings for each shot.

Probably best to get focus button setup elsewhere, as I shoot that infrequently at the moment that I'm still on shutter button half-depressed method.

Hope that helps a bit.





Chosun :gh:
 

SpeedyB

Member
Well, not the expert opinion you are looking for by any means - but I will just offer a few observations.

Your rig is at quite a high level - it should provide sharp photos - so provided it is ok, any problems should not come from there.

1. I would try and aim for 1/1600th sec shutter speed minimum to isolate subject movement, more if the light allows, or the birdies are flying fast /erratically.

Juan, thank you so much for the thoughtful response!

Curious, if I am shooting at first light and setting shutter at 1/1600 brings ISO up to 2000-3000, should I be concerned? Just plan on reducing noise in post and letting a little bit of feather detail suffer?

2. Definitely go through the micro AF process. It shouldn't be that difficult with a methodical approach, and there should be plenty of good tutorials on YouTube.

Sorry, not familiar with "micro AF process". Would you please elaborate?

3. Always make sure the light is illuminating from the right direction (unless going for an effect). This often makes a difference between photos even using the same settings.

A combination of these 3 should see sharper pictures.

4. Use an appropriate f-stop - depending on the effect you are after /subject distance /size ..... and be aware where your focus point is on the subject and where the depth of field in either direction (forward <-> behind) limits are then for that situation.

The last time I went and took photos of anything (in some difficult direct glary light), I couldn't tell if I had focus correct at f6.3 or not .... so I upped the depth of field to f8 to f9 on a stationary subject which worked much better for me (background was way distant so it didn't affect the bokeh noticeably).

5. Make sure you have a good steady shooting technique, breathing, etc, and that you are using the appropriate Optical Stabilization settings for each shot.

Probably best to get focus button setup elsewhere, as I shoot that infrequently at the moment that I'm still on shutter button half-depressed method.

Hope that helps a bit.

Chosun :gh:
 

Hermann

Well-known member
Curious, if I am shooting at first light and setting shutter at 1/1600 brings ISO up to 2000-3000, should I be concerned? Just plan on reducing noise in post and letting a little bit of feather detail suffer?

Yep. I always set the shtter speed and the apertue manually and use auto ISO. And if the ISO goes up ... Well, it's better to have a sharp photo with some grain. A blurry shot is ruined.

BTW, if you want to check where you focussed, try Nikon NX-D. It helped me to get my technique up to scratch, as I found I often focussed on the neck of a bird rather than the eye ...

Sorry, not familiar with "micro AF process". Would you please elaborate?

Fine tuning your lens and your camera. Check Steve Perry's Youtube channel, he's got a lot of excellent videos, including one on fine tuning the AF (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cHhrWF-pqM&t=10s).

And he's a real wildlife photographer who uses Nikon gear, and not one of the many Youtube clowns.

Hermann
 
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SpeedyB

Member
Yep. I always set the shtter speed and the apertue manually and use auto ISO. And if the ISO goes up ... Well, it's better to have a sharp photo with some grain. A blurry shot is ruined.

BTW, if you want to check where you focussed, try Nikon NX-D. It helped me to get my technique up to scratch, as I found I often focussed on the neck of a bird rather than the eye ...



Fine tuning your lens and your camera. Check Steve Perry's Youtube channel, he's got a lot of excellent videos, including one on fine tuning the AF (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5cHhrWF-pqM&t=10s).

And he's a real wildlife photographer who uses Nikon gear, and not one of the many Youtube clowns.

Hermann

Great suggestion on the NX-D. Do you process everything through it or just upload a shot to see where the focus point was?

I have watched many vids from Steve Perry. I'll watch this one, thanks again!
 

Denis99

New member
Don’t be too afraid of higher noise values.

I have the same setup, D500 with 200-500mm lens.

Try out Topaz De Noise, there is a free trial period to see if you think it’s worth it.

I find it excellent, and to a lesser extent Topaz Sharpen.
 

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