Canon 5D Mk 4 – First Thoughts

The Canon 5D Mk 4

Looking at the Canon 5D Mk 4 for Wildlife & Bird Flight Photography.

Part 1 – First Thoughts.

2ppi Canon 5D Mk 4   First Thoughts

The other day Calumet asked if I wanted to test the new Canon 5D Mk 4.  I’d just done an autofocus workshop in Birmingham and had been asked about this camera, so I thought it would be a good idea to take up the offer.

I’ve deliberately stayed well clear of any reviews of this camera while waiting for its delivery – don’t want to unbox it with any preconceived ideas do we??!!

I picked the camera up yesterday from Calumet Manchester, replete with the stunning 500mm f4 LIS Mk 2 lens – “Leanne, where’s the other two spare batteries you promised you’d ordered for me?”

The only Canon DSLRs I’ve used over the past couple of years are the 1DX marks 1 & 2, with the occasional ‘smattering’ of 5DMk3 when I’ve been out with clients – so this new offering from Canon has something of a ‘clean slate’ to start with in my eyes.

So it’s a bit of a shame it got off to a bad start when I pulled it out of its case last night and found that Canon STILL haven’t added a viewfinder blind – a major fault with the 5DMk3 in my opinion.

D4D7453 Edit Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsWhat the heck are they thinking?

D4D7456 Edit Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsThis camera is no 1DX Mk 2, and it’ll be bought by folk who want to shoot landscapes, seascapes, wide-field astro, a bit of studio work perhaps – it won’t be bought by folk like me who shoot big hairy-arsed beasties in zero light at ISO-stupid; yet the 1DX has one!

Come on Canon – think about the little things chaps.

Anyway, here’s the rig Calumet have supplied to me, just to see how far we can penetrate the domain of the 1DX Mk2/Nikon D5…

D4D7448 Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsAll those stupid straps can bugger off for starters – Jesus, they are a recipe for disaster.  But WAIT – if I take the camera strap off I’ve not got my stupid rubber flappy thingy viewfinder blind….

Now imagine I’m using this Canon 5D Mk 4 camera with a wide-angle lens shooting a low light seascape with a 10 stop ND and a 2 minute exposure.  That strap flapping in the wind and rattling on the tripod legs isn’t going to do much for image sharpness is it…it’s pathetic.

As a Nikon shooter the lack of a proper blind irks the heck out of me, but we’ll put it aside as I’m sure older 5D users are well used to the problem by now.

So moving on…

My two main interests in the Canon 5D Mk 4 are autofocus performance first, and ISO/low light performance a close second – being good at both is a prerequisite for wildlife photography, and in my mind this 5D Mk 4 is pitching its tent on the lawn belonging to the Nikon D810, so there’s a benchmark for it!

Setting the Canon 5D Mk 4 to my normal ‘Canon settings’ I nearly came a cropper before I started!

Not being used to the, shall we say ‘cheaper’ Canon DSLRs I pressed the DRIVE AF Mode button and flicked the front dial one click, assuming that this would shift the camera from the ONE SHOT mode the previous user had left it, to AI SERVO:

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D4D7512 Canon 5D Mk 4   First Thoughts

But NO…..WTF is this:

D4D7484 Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsAI FOCUS…..what’s that all about then?  So I did something that pained me greatly – picked up the manual – and wished I hadn’t.

So we hit the internet, and the the first hit in a Google search was:

Screen Shot 2016 10 20 at 15.01.19 Canon 5D Mk 4   First ThoughtsThat sounded so interestingly unreasonable that I tried it – and soon stopped!

Nahh… it’s not for me – unless I’m missing something major!

So just make sure you are in AI SERVO if you or your subject, or both, are moving.

It’s cloudy outside and about 1.5 hours before sunset, but let’s step outside and do my basic ‘car number plate’ AF test in CASE 1, just to see ‘the lay of the land’ with this Canon 5D Mk 4:

Screen Shot 2016 10 20 at 17.19.55 600x313 Canon 5D Mk 4   First Thoughts

If you want to download the full resolution jpegs – 700Mb zip file – please click hereThe file is at my Dropbox, so if this post goes a bit viral then it may take a while to download.

So there are 30 images, no processing done to them at all, and they are all either 5000 or 6500 ISO.

Shot hand held, 1/2000th, f6.3, manual exposure with auto ISO and back-button-only focus. Maximum frame rate was not quite 7fps (well it didn’t sound like it anyway), and I tried to shoot bursts of around 5 or 6 frames.  It was only on the last of these that I was concious of shooting in buffer overflow.

Single Point AF was being used, in Case 1 – which isn’t best suited to this particular job.  But it’s my standard test with any Canon, just to see how far off the ball the camera/lens combo is.

Shutter release priority was set to FOCUS for the first frame, and +1 focus priority for the second and subsequent frames.

And I have to say I’m pretty impressed.  It’s done a heck of a sight better than I was expecting in Case 1.

Yes the shots have some noise and it certainly can’t hold a candle to its big brother 1DX Mk2 in that department, but then again its not been designed that way. Neither do I regard the noise as much of a problem either because it’s evenly distributed and not overly present in shadows.

But from an autofocus point of view the biggest percentage of those shots are on the money so to speak, and where it has gone wrong it’s only by a whisker; always slightly behind the target – that’s to be expected with an accelerating subject and Case 1 Accel/decel tracking of ‘0’, using a long telephoto.

A considerable improvement over the 5D Mk 3 in both noise and AF performance in my opinion, neither do I think the Mk 3 would have managed 30 frames in the same amount of time.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting more of my thoughts and findings about the Canon 5D Mk 4.  Tomorrow I’ll do some ISO testing and a bit more on the autofocus if the weather and time permit, so expect another post shortly!

And yes, it’s official, Andy HATES the bloody touch-screen!  Boy am I going to get myself in trouble with that – perhaps I’m too old to cope with such fangled gadgetry!

But that is balanced out by the pleasant surprise that the camera allows exposure compensation in manual mode – up to now a luxury presented to nearly all Nikon users, but only 1DX and 1DX Mk2 Canon owners (to my knowledge anyway) – nice one Canon, it’s about time!

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Canon 5D Mk 4 from £115.96 per month – Click HERE

Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

September 9th to 16th, Norway Musk Ox and Sea Eagles.

DSC 9620 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

Left to Right: Mark Davies, Sigbjorn Frengen (our specialist Musk Ox guide for Dovrefjell), “Some Bearded Fat Git”, Mohamed Al Ashkar, Paul Atkins and Malcolm Clayton.

All four clients have been on numerous trips to Norway before, but for everyone, including myself, it was our first time in the Dovrefjell–Sunndalsfjella National Park and the magnificent Musk Ox that call the place home.

Firstly, I have to say a massive thank you to our specialist guide for the Musk Ox, Sigbjorn Frengen.

He’s a superb guide, the font of all ecological knowledge, has a driving passion for what he does, is as fit as the proverbial Butchers Dog, and is only in his mid 20’s.  He took guiding a bunch of geriatric old farts like us well in his stride; totally oblivious to the fact that we were all mighty jealous of his youth and fitness and secretly wanted to kill him for it!

And yes, I immediately booked him for the Dovrefjell part of my September 2017 workshop!

Musk Ox are animals not to be trifled with – they may look very benign but they weigh in at between 400 and 600 kilograms and can outrun Usain Bolt with very little effort.  They are quick to temper, but the signs of the oncoming rage are subtle and difficult to spot even at 60-70 metres. Subtle head-shaking and snorting are the main give-aways that you are causing some displeasure:

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A lone female Musk Ox snorts her displeasure at the presence of the photographer. She wants to rejoin the herd but the camera is in her way, so she blows mucus out of nose as a sign of annoyance.  Canon 1DX Mk2 + 200-400 @ 560mm 1/2500th sec @ f7.1 and 16,000ISO – YES SIXTEEN THOUSAND!

 

The above image shows brilliantly my other main task for the week – testing the Canon 1DX mark 2.

Most people know me as a Nikon shooter, and that I have a love-hate relationship with Canon – yes, I’m a troubled person!

I’ve waxed lyrical about the Canon 200-400 f4 many times on this blog and elsewhere, and the fact that I consider the Canon 61 point Reticular AF System to be the best on the planet.

You will also know that I loathe the sensor output of the original 1DX, and Canons daft refusal to give us the Uncompressed RAW Recording capability – spoilt see, Nikon user!!

I managed to get a couple of hours on the Canon 1DX Mk2 back in July and promptly set about testing the improved AF algorithms – by jingo was I impressed.  I was getting 40% less dropped shots on the Canon 1DX Mk2 at 10 frames per second than I was used to at 6 frames per second on the Mk1.

And as for the sensor output in general, the shadows adjustment latitude and high ISO performance – well, it was a revelation.

The Musk Ox above (click the image to view the full rez) has virtually ZERO noise reduction on it – none in post, and LOW on the in-camera High ISO NR menu setting.

11I3358 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

A baby Musk Ox lying by its mothers side on a soft bed of lichen, Erica and rare alpine plants. ISO 2500, 200-400 @ 560mm, 1/2500@f7.1

Why use such a high shutter speed Andy?

It’s brain-in-gear time folks – breezy conditions, lowish light levels, hair on the subject that’s over 1metre long, and wispy grass stems – all these move way faster than the bulky Musk Ox itself – under peaceful circumstances of course!. If these little tiny details suffer with motion blur it ruins the image – provided you have a sensor that can ‘deliver the goods’ at the resultant ISO-stupid.

I’m also shooting hand-held off the knee, with and effective 560mm angle of view on a 20Meg+ sensor, so I’ll need at least 1/1600th to combat the shakes, and I am indeed ‘testing’ a camera, so shooting at sub 1600ISO is not doing the job.

I’m using ‘spot AF’ and partial metering, and my AF point is bang in the middle of the point pattern.

This all neatly brings me to my first problem with the Canon 1DX Mk2 – or at least the one I was using – look at this image from a few frames before:

11I3352 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

A baby Musk Ox lying by its mothers side on a soft bed of lichen, Ericas and rare alpine plants.

If you examine the two shots closely you see something odd.

At this distance, around 70 metres, the f7.1 aperture should be generating around 1 metre of DoF.

In the first shot the AF pont was pretty much on babys head, but the DoF run-out is a lot greater beyond that distance than it is closer to the camera.  If the shot had been taken wide open at f5.6 then the subject would not be as sharp as it is.  More of babys body should be sharp, and less foreground sharpness.

In the second shot I’ve wavered slightly right, so now the focus point is on mums ass. This SHOULD push the plain of focus further back – and thus that 1 metre DoF.  And it does – a bit! There is still too much foreground DoF.

The point is this, the focus tends to ‘bounce a little’ rather like the fault with the Nikon D4. This was caused, in the D4, by ‘mirror bounce’. But in the Canon 1DX Mk2 I get the feeling that it’s due to a nano-second miss timing between the AF sensor and the mirror starting to move for the next frame.

Why do I think this?  Because if I drop the frame rate from 10fps to 7fps the ‘AF bounce’ disappears completely.

I could put more images up to illustrate my point further but that would be pointless as it could be a fault unique to the camera I was using.  Having said that, there was another Canon 1DX Mk2 with a 200-400 shooting right next to me, and that showed exactly the same characteristics!!

But there is ONE thing I truly loathe on the Canon 1DX Mk2 – and the D5 and D500 come to that – the rear screen resolutions.

They are all too high in resolution.

I understand WHY they have such high resolutions, but when you are shooting stills at long distance, where focus placement is super-critical, they CAN lull you into something of a ‘false sense of security’ when you use them to check fine focus tolerances at 1:1.

You check the images on the camera and they look sharp.  You get back to base and offload the images to your storage drives then review them on a 13″ MacBook Pro with a damn 227 dpi Retina display and the still look sharp.  You get home and view them on your 90-odd dpi 24″ Eizo – and some of them look a lot less perfect!

I suppose with use it’s something you’ll get used to, but if you are moving to a Canon 1DX Mk2 from an older Mk1 or 5DMk3 then bare it in mind and check your images VERY carefully if you’re using big glass under critical conditions.

Anyway, back to the stunning Musk Ox again:

11I3397 Edit 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

A solitary bull Musk Ox stands watch over his harem of females under the gloomy light of late afternoon in the Dovrefjell National Park in Norway.

11I2108 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

Stormy skies form a backdrop to a bull Musk Ox standing watch over two females in his harem, ready to chase away any other bull that he may consider a threat to his dominance.

11I2101 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

“Bam-Bam does Lunch”

Lack of Lemmings meant the Arctic Foxes were still up in the high ground, so with that and a very wet forecast for Sunday we elected to leave Dovrefjell a day early and do the 7 hour drive to Lauvsnes in order to gain an extra day with the Eagles.

Monday morning saw us in the boat at just after 6.30am and myself an “Mad” Mark Davies had one shot weighing heavily on our minds – Backlit Eagle!

Over the remaining days I have to say that we were spoilt something rotten with opportunities for this most enigmatic eagle shot, here is a tiny fraction:

11I4606 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

11I5847 Edit 2 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts 11I5845 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughtsThe Canon 1DX Mk2 performed perfectly on this job, no one could have asked it to do more.  Shooting this at 10 frames per second was epic as it captures more of the ‘money shots’ with the spray trails.

Here is a continuous burst of 77 raw files at 10 frames per second, from when the eagle begins its approach to when I can’t basically be bothered any more:

Screen Shot 2016 09 24 at 16.26.31 600x357 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

And they are tack sharp from the first:

11I5833 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

To the last:

11I5899 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

 

I won’t say that by the end of the Thursday session it was getting boring, because I never cease to marvel at these awesome birds – but the hit-rate of the Canon 1DX Mk2 was getting a tad monotonous.

While a ‘crossing’ subject is not so taxing on the AF system as head-on subjects, the huge amounts of lens flare you encounter when shooting the style of image are notorious for playing havoc with auto focus.  When you get to the point of maximum rim lighting neither you or the camera can see very much of anything at all, and most older systems will hunt focus for a frame or two if you are not careful with your settings.

I shot sequences like this using both AF Point Surround and 9 point Zone AF – both of which performed superbly.

I’ll have to add a caveat though – the camera only performs this well if your technique is SOLID.  If you struggle to keep your AF group on target, or are just plain bone-idle, and try Large Zone AF or God forbid Auto, the cameras AF system goes into melt-down doing this sort of shot.

And yet AUTO on the Nikon D5 does a very good job at these sequences – weird!

So after a week of working the Canon 1DX Mk2 quite hard here’s what I think:

First, if you own a Mk1 1DX you NEED to upgrade, if only for the much superior IQ of the sensor.

Canon will probably hate me saying this, but the Canon 1DX Mk2 is ‘a bit of an animal’.  You could ‘wobble around’ a bit on the AF tracking with the Mk1 and get away with it.  But the Mk2 will bite you in the bum for doing the same thing – and when you least expect it.

With head-on targets the AF can both surprise and disappoint, methinks there will be a firmware upgrade at some point that will tidy the systems response to rapidly closing subjects at shortish distances.  That’s what happened with the Mk1.

11I7114 600x400 Workshop Report and Canon 1DX Mk2 first thoughts

There some other settings I need to play with on this beast of a machine before I feel I can formulate a descent opinion, things that I never had a chance to try in Norway, and others that only occur to me when viewing images on a PROPER SCREEN!

There is more to this ‘box of tricks’ from Canon than meets the eye!

And has anyone noticed just how CRAP the manual is – Jesus, I don’t think I’ve seen such a ‘sketchy’ document since I perused the Nikon D5 manual….sometimes I get the impression that both Nikon and Canon are a little clueless as to how there own gear works!

Makes me smile – and that’s a good thing!  But then again, it’s not my money being spent here – it’s yours.

A big thanks has to go to Paul Smith for supplying his camera and lens for this first evaluation – Cheers Matey!

And as always a big thank you to my clients, Mark, Malcolm, Mohamed & Paul for being such good sports, making a fun group dynamic, and for having a damn good laugh for week – usually at my expense!  Cheers for your continued support guys.

And lastly, Ole Martin – thanks again for yet another great week. Only another 9 months and I’m back for two weeks solid – Christ, won’t that be fun!!!

Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

GX2R2055 Edit 21 Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

My Autofocus Guide for Bird in Flight Photography is finished and available for download in my online store – here, priced £29.00

The download is in the no-frills .pdf format.

Screen Shot 2016 12 10 at 12.20.12 352x400 Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

This is my ‘real world’ guide to Canon & Nikon Autofocus which is specifically aimed at photographers using long lenses for Bird in Flight photography.

I sell my full resolution wildlife and natural history images every day via the various global image libraries to which I am a contributor.  The largest percentage of these sales are Birds in Flight.

Image libraries demand tack sharp, full resolution uploads from their contributors;  even marginal sharpness will result in an image being rejected by Quality Control.

D4D7980 Edit Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

A large male White-tailed eagle, locally known as “Brutus”, carrying a very large Coalfish.

In this guide, I take you right back to the basics of subject speed and distance; and how this impacts on our choice of camera body and lens focal length and working aperture.

D4S6788 Edit Edit Autofocus Guide for Long Lens Bird in Flight Photography

A Red Kite in a fast dive against a blue sky.

You’ll learn how phase detection autofocus works – only by really understanding how your autofocus system works, and what its control settings actually do, will you truly be able to control it in the way you need to for the particular task at hand.

I give you exposure and autofocus control settings for both Canon and Nikon, based on ‘real world’ full resolution images – settings that actually work, and do the job you expect them to do.

We also discover the various ‘tips ‘n tricks’ we need to know to help the autofocus system do the job we are asking it to do.

We also look at the short-comings of both the Nikon and Canon systems, and how to work around them in order to produce tack sharp images of birds in flight – HAND HELD – forget that tripod; you can’t move fast enough with one!

Photographers who have read this guide as it was being written have called it ‘the definitive guide’.  I’m not going to be so big-headed as to promote it as such myself, but I will say that it’s taken a while to produce, is pretty darn thorough, and I have the shots to prove it!

Available for purchase in my online store right now.

Please Note: This document relates to LONG LENS continuous auto focus tracking in Nikon AFC and Canon AI Servo modes in conjunction with continuous shooting modes on Nikon D4/4S and Canon 1Dxbodies with v2 firmware or higher, and is primarily related to capturing Birds in Flight and other fast-paced wildlife action photography.
Canon 5DMk3/7DMk2 users will also find this guide very useful, as will non-wildlife shooters.

Image Sharpness

Image Sharpness

I spent the other afternoon in the Big Tower at Gigrin, in the very pleasant company company of Mr. Jeffrey “Jeffer-Cakes” Young.    Left arm feeling better yet Jeff?

I think I’m fairly safe in saying that once feeding time commenced at 3pm it didn’t take too long before Jeff got a firm understanding of just how damn hard bird flight photography truly is – if you are shooting for true image sharpness at 1:1 resolution.

I’d warned Jeff before-hand that his Canon 5Dmk3 would make his session somewhat more difficult than a 1Dx, due to it’s slightly less tractable autofocus adjustments.  But that with his 300mm f2.8 – even with his 1.4x converter mounted, his equipment was easily up to the job at hand.

I on the other hand was back on the Nikon gear – my 200-400 f4; but using a D4S I’d borrowed from Paul Atkins for some real head-to-head testing against the D4 (there’s a barrow load of Astbury venom headed Nikon’s way shortly I can tell you….watch this space as they say).

Amongst the many topics discussed and pondered upon, I was trying to explain to Jeff the  fundamental difference between ‘perceived’ and ‘real’ image sharpness.

Gigrin is a good place to find vast armies of ‘photographers’ who have ZERO CLUE that such an argument or difference even exists.

As a ‘teacher’ I can easily tell when I’m sharing hide space with folk like this because they develop quizzical frowns and slightly self-righteous smirks as they eavesdrop on the conversation between my client and I.

“THEY” don’t understand that my client is wanting to achieve the same goal as the one I’m always chasing after; and that that goal is as different from their goal as a fillet of oak-smoked Scottish salmon is from a tin of John West mush.

I suppose I’d better start explaining myself at this juncture; so below are two 800 pixel long edge jpeg files that you typically see posted on a nature photography forum, website or blog:

D4S6753 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 1. Red Kite – Nikon D4S+200-400 f4 – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

Click the images to view them properly.

D4S6693 2 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 2. Red Kite – Nikon D4S+200-400 f4 – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

“THEY” would be equally as pleased with either…..!

Both images look pretty sharp, well exposed and have pretty darn good composition from an editorial point of view too – so we’re all golden aren’t we!

Or are we?

Both images would look equally as good in terms of image sharpness at 1200 pixels on the long edge, and because I’m a smart-arse I could easily print both images to A4 – and they’d still look as good as each other.

But, one of them would also readily print to A3+ and in its digital form would get accepted at almost any stock agency on the planet, but the other one would most emphatically NOT pass muster for either purpose.

That’s because one of them has real, true image sharpness, while the other has none; all it’s image sharpness is perceptual and artificially induced through image processing.

Guessed which is which yet?

D4S6753 2 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 1 at 1:1 native resolution – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

Image 1. has true sharpness because it is IN FOCUS.

D4S6693 Edit 2 Image Sharpness

IMAGE 2 at 1:1 native resolution – CLICK IMAGE to view properly.

And you don’t need glasses to see that image 2 is simply OUT OF FOCUS.

The next question is; which image is the cropped one – number 2 ?

Wrong…it’s number 1…

D4S6753 4 Image Sharpness

Image 1 uncropped is 4928 pixels long edge, and cropped is 3565, in other words a 28% crop, which will yield a 15+ inch print without any trouble whatsoever.

Image 2 is NOT cropped – it has just been SHRUNK to around 16% of its original size in the Lightroom export utility with standard screen output sharpening.  So you can make a ‘silk purse from a sows ear’ – and no one would be any the wiser, as long as they never saw anything approaching the full resolution image!

Given that both images were shot at 400mm focal length, it’s obvious that the bird in image 1 (now you know it’s cropped a bit) is FURTHER AWAY than the bird in image 2.

So why is one IN FOCUS and the other not?

The bird in image 1 is ‘crossing’ the frame more than it is ‘closing in’ on the camera.

The bird in image 2 is closer to the camera to begin with, and is getting closer by the millisecond.

These two scenarios impose totally different work-loads on the autofocus system.

The ability of the autofocus system to cope with ANY imposed work-load is totally dependent upon the control parameters you have set in the camera.

The ‘success’ rate of these adjustable autofocus parameter settings is effected by:

  1. Changing spatial relationship between camera and subject during a burst of frames.
  2. Subject-to-camera closing speed
  3. Pre-shot tracking time.
  4. Frame rate.

And a few more things besides…!

The autofocus workloads for images 1 & 2 are poles apart, but the control parameter settings are identical.

The Leucistic Red Kite in the shot below is chugging along at roughly the same speed as its non-leucistic cousin in image 2. It’s also at pretty much the same focus distance:

D4S6621 2 600x400 Image Sharpness

Image 3. Leucistic Red Kite – same distance, closing speed and focal length as image 2. CLICK IMAGE to view larger version.

So why is image 3 IN FOCUS when, given a similar scenario, image 2 is out of focus?

Because the autofocus control parameters are set differently – that’s why.

FACT: no single combination of autofocus control parameter settings will be your ‘magic bullet’ and give you nothing but sharp images with no ‘duds’ – unless you use a 12mm fish-eye lens that is!

Problems and focus errors INCREASE in frequency in direct proportion to increasing focal length.

They will also increase in frequency THE INSTANT you switch from a prime lens to a zoom lens, especially if the ‘zoom ratio’ exceeds 3:1.

Then we have to consider the accuracy and speed of the cameras autofocus system AND the speed of the lens autofocus motor – and sadly these criteria generally become more favourable with an increased price tag.

So if you’re using a Nikon D800 with an 80-400, or a Canon 70D with a 100-400 then there are going to be more than a few bumps in your road.  And if you stick to just one set of autofocus control settings all the time then those bumps are going to turn into mountains – some of which are going to kill you off before you make their summit….metaphorically speaking of course!

And God forbid that you try this image 3 ‘head on close up’ malarkey with a Sigma 50-500 – if you want that level of shot quality then you might just as well stay at home and save yourself the hide fees and petrol money !

Things don’t get any easier if you do spend the ‘big bucks’ either.

Fast glass and a pro body ‘speed machine’ will offer you more control adjustments for sure.  But that just means more chances to ‘screw things up’ unless you know EXACTLY how your autofocus system works, exactly what all those different controls actually DO, and you know how to relate those controls to what’s happening in front of you.

Whatever lens and camera body combination any of us use, we have to first of all find, then learn to work within it’s ‘effective envelope of operation’ – and by that I mean the REAL one, which is not necessarily always on a par with what the manufacturer might lead you to believe.

Take my Nikon 200-400 for example.  If I used autofocus on a static subject, let alone a moving one, at much past 50 metres using the venerable old D3 body and 400mm focal length, things in the critical image sharpness department became somewhat sketchy to say the least.  But put it on a D4 or D4S and I can shoot tack sharp focussing targets at 80 to 100 metres all day long……not that I make a habit of this most meaningless of photographic pastimes.

That discrepancy is due to the old D3 autofocus system lacking the ability to accurately  discriminate between precise distances from infinity to much over 50 metres when that particular lens was being used. But swap the lens out for a 400 f2.8 prime and things were far better!

Using the lens on either a D4 or D4S on head-on fast moving/closing subjects such as Mr.Leucistic above, we hit another snag at 400mm – once the subject is less than 20 metres away the autofocus system can’t keep up and the image sharpness effectively drops off the proverbial cliff.  But zoom out to 200mm and that ‘cut-off’ distance will reduce to 10 metres or so. Subjects closing at slower speeds can get much closer to the camera before sharp focus begins to fail.

As far as I’m concerned this problem is more to do with the speed of the autofocus motor inside the lens than anything else.  Nikon brought out an updated version of this lens a few years back – amongst its ‘star qualities’ was a new nano-coating that stopped the lens from flaring.  But does it focus any faster – does it heck!  And my version doesn’t suffer from flare either….!

Getting to know your equipment and how it all works is critical if you want your photography to improve in terms of image sharpness.

Shameless Plug Number 1.

I keep mentioning it – my ebook on Canon & Nikon Autofocus with long glass.

I’ll finish it one day soon – I need the money!

Click the images for larger view

afdoc1 564x400 Image Sharpnessafdoc2 564x400 Image Sharpness

Shameless Plug Number 2.

1 to 1 Tuition Day

Understanding Canon & Nikon Autofocus

for

Bird in Flight Photography

GX2R2055 Edit 2 2 Image Sharpness

Click Image for details.

 

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