AF Point and AF Mode settings in D90 suitable for Bird and Wildlife

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by srijan_roy_choudhury, Feb 25, 2011.

  1. Hello friends

    Could you please suggest which AF mode and AF-point settings are most suitable for photographing birds and wildlife, including BIF?

    The lens I use is Nikkor 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 VRII IF-ED. I use it both hand held and on a tripod.

    After searching through different threads I think AF-C will be most suitable. Still I would like your confirmation please. Please note that I like the eyes of the birds or wild life at maximum sharpness, and even for Birds in Flight (BIF). Regarding the Focus Point, I am still horribly confused. :(
    I have read through the over 100 page D90 manual a number of times, but honestly, I hardly find the description/explanation inadequate or little ambiguous. I tried the Nikon Digitutor, but it is no better than the manual. Hence it would be great if members here could suggest explain the method and steps to achieve the same in terms of camera settings.
    So please help.
    Thank you
     
  2. The only cross-type sensor (most accurate) is the centre one on a D90, so I would use single area and put turn on the focus lock (the little lever below the multi selector) and use AF-C for birds in flight and maybe switch to AF-A or AF-S for stationary ones.
     
  3. Forgot to add, you might also want to shoot in manual mode with a high shutter speed and an aperture of f/8 or so (for DOF) and set your ISO to 400 (mind you this is all dependent of light condtions at the time). That way something in the background will not effect your exposure.
     
  4. i wouldnt expect great results, except in decent light, from that combo, for one thing. as jay pointed out, the d90 isnt particularly capable for shooting things that move. for maximum sharpness with the 70-300 VR, i would shoot at f/8 which means a dim viewfinder in low light. With a D90, use only the center AF point. AF-C is good for tracking moving subjects. You will also need a fast shutter speed, 1.5/focal length or faster, to freeze motion and prevent blurs. AF will be a little faster if VR is off. i would maybe turn Auto-ISO on, with a limit of, say 800. Everything else is technique.
     
  5. " the d90 isnt particularly capable for shooting things that move" Not only did Jay not point that out, it is simply not even close to being true.
    "shoot at f/8 which means a dim viewfinder in low light" This is also not true. Even if you selected f22 as the aperture, the viewfinder would not dim with the 70-300mm VR lens (or any of the other Nikon 70-300mm lenses, being the G or ED versions).
    The D90 is capable of excellent images at ISO 1600 and gives pretty good results outdoors in decent light at ISO 3200.
    Shooting birds in flight is not easy with any camera. It will take practice. Experiment with the AF modes - while the center AF point is the best one to use (if you are using just one), it is difficult to track small moving objects with one AF point - you might want to try the dynamic AF mode as well as 3D tracking (both of these modes will only work on AF-C mode).
    When shooting stationery birds, shooting if AF-S will probably work best. Place the center focus point (best choice) or whichever AF point you choose over your subject's eye, lock in focus (by pressing the shutter 1/2 way until you hear the beep), then recompose and shoot.
    Depending on the angle of the sun in relation to the bird(s) and the shooting conditions, you will likely have to dial in some exposure compensation.
    Practices makes perfect. Good luck!.
     
  6. elliot, sorry, but i completely disagree. with its 11-pt AF with one cross-type sensor, the d90 just isn't a great sports or action camera. it's not as responsive as a d300s or D3s, and the mirror slap when continuous shooting is worsened by its plastic shell, which transmits much more vibration than a metal body and simply doesn't inspire confidence. if you switch VR on to counter this, you run the risk of slowing AF. also, a dim VF is what you get with a variable f/4-5.6 lens, compared to a constant 2.8 lens. i would think that you would know this.
    not to say you can't get great results with excellent technique with it. but i think one has to be realistic about one's expectations. i like the d90's form factor and it's great for casual shooting, but for a sports or wildlife camera, it leaves much to be desired.
     
  7. If the D90 is all you have, using the center point only, you can shoot things that are moving. Again, if it's all you got, it's all you got...
    It can't compare to a D300 or D700 of course, but I shoot kid sports with that camera and lens. You will get more "misses" than you might want to, but you will get some "hits".
     
  8. Srijan,
    I have usually used AF-S for photographing birds in flight, single sensor, but I should really experiment with AF-C. In theory, it should be better. I try to focus on the eye that is closest to me, but it's difficult. You have to keep trying, and have some luck. You can look at the image I posted, and also at the ones I linked to, taken with a D50, which is much less capable than the D90. I just happen to have had more time with the D50.
    Eric, you're providing bad advice, and really really bad information:
    i would shoot at f/8 which means a dim viewfinder in low light
    For at least forty years, single-lens reflex cameras have had automatic diaphragms, which close down to shooting aperture only at the moment of making the exposure. The diaphragm is at maximum aperture for viewing unless the depth-of-field preview button is pressed (on cameras that have them.) All DSLRs have automatic diaphragms, so the viewfinder doesn't go dim when you manually set the aperture at less than maximum.
    There are cameras that can focus more quickly than the D90, but so what? There are plenty of wonderful bird in flight photos taken with it and the 70-300mm VR. I've even taken many with than lens and a D50, for example here and here. But in case those images make you think that Srijan should throw out his D90 and buy an old D50, I'll post one taken with the D90, even though I've posted it before (I just can't find where at the moment.)
    00YI6D-335481584.jpg
     
  9. if it's all you got, it's all you got...​
    Peter, I believe that is unfair. The combination that Srijan has is in some ways ideal. There is a huge advantage for photographing birds to having a lightweight setup that you hand-hold for long periods while waiting, and then swing around quickly to a flying bird when one appears. I also happen to own a 300mm f/4 AF-S and a 1.4 TC for it, but I can't hand-hold that combination for nearly as long a time, and it doesn't come around as fast.
     
  10. Hi Srijan,
    I don't photograph birds, but I do photograph bicycle races, and the cyclists definitely move so AF is a challenge. I use a D90. I started out using the 70-300 f4.5-5.6 lens and the 300 f4, but I had trouble getting sharp images.
    With a combination of practice and upgrading my lens to the 70-200 f2.8 VR2, I am now getting consistently sharp images.
    I use AF-A. It is a combination of AF-S and AF-C and doesn't seem to have any downsides to me.
    I use single point mode. The auto point selection mode works very badly for me. It does seem like the center AF point, which is cross-type, is more dependable than the others, but I get good results with the others, too, and I often need to focus off-center.
    A fast lens makes a huge difference. The 70-300 f4.5-5.6 just doesn't acquire focus fast enough. The 300 f4 should be faster because is has a wider aperture, but mine is screwdrive and it just doesn't focus fast enough. The 70-200 f2.8 VR2 is a wonderful tool.
    I do plan to upgrade to a pro camera, but I'm waiting on the D800/D4 introductions and I'm not ready to spend the money right now anyway. I'm not convinced that the D90 is incapable. Sure, a D300/D7000/D700/D3 would be better, but I can get the job done with what I have.
    Allan
     
  11. Thanks very much everyone for your replies.
    Humbly, I would like to correct Eric as Hector did already. I am new to bird photography and to a DSLR but I have used AF Nikon SLRs for very long time, till last December (I started with Zenit 122, then Vivitar and ultimately Nikon F601), and I know quite well that the VF will never dim unless I press the DOF button. :)
    I had a quite a ling discussion in this forum few days back before buying this lens. And it appears to be quite sharp, has an excellent bokeh and features a VR2, quite satisfactory. I agree its not that sharp, but theoretically VR2 should give me a 4 stop advantage and practical tests in one of the sites showed that at least 3 stop advantage is obtained.
    Now coming back to the main topic. The only problem with AF-C mode is that focus never locks in this mode. Elliot, half pressing D90's shutter does not lock focus, at least the manual does not point out anything like that, I can customize it to be AE-Lock. I need to press the AF-L/AE-L button to lock focus. I need to keep the eyes in focus and that's very important. As I can not lock focus in the AF-C mode,how will it can be ensured that in Dynamic area mode or in 3D tracking mode the eyes of the subject will remain in focus? I wish Nikon was more clear on this part. :(
    Thanks again for all your responses and helps. And Hector, your shots are excellent (I checked the other thread too). Still, no matter what, you can never tempt me to throw my D90 away and buy a D50 :lol: :D
     
  12. just to clarify (again): the VF will be (relatively) dim because of the slow max aperture of the lens, i.e. 5.6 @300mm, which is 2 full stops dimmer than what you would see with a 2.8 lens. i said this already but apparently no one read that part. sorry i wasnt more clear earlier.
     
  13. That's alright Eric, it happens :). Now I understand that you meant to point out that its not a fast enough lens. Thankfully, in my country we have sunshine more than we desire for :). So that problem does not occur even as early as 6-30 in the morning (in a well lit day, which is pretty common here through out the year, except in rainy season of 1.5 months), and I can safely photograph till 5-30 in the evening. But as Peter pointed out, this is what I have and I need to use it to its full potential, unfortunately I can not achieve that unless I get to understand this AF Point feature and the associated techniques correctly. :(
     
  14. Srijan, in AF-S mode, pressing the shutter part way down does lock in the focus. Try it. For a subject that is constantly moving, you do not want or need to lock in the focus. But if you want to once focus is achieved, you can simply press and hold the AE/AF button with your thumb.
    @ Eric, dimmer, yes, but dim? I certainly wouldn't say so. Want to see a dim viewfinder? Take the battery out of the camera and take a look through the VF.
    @ Hector - Nice post.
     
  15. You know, Eric, not everybody can have an f/2.8 tele zoom and a D300S. If you find a D90's finder too dim in daylight with an f/5.6 lens, you should find a good ophthalmologist. And in good light a D90 is perfectly capable of tracking moving targets across AF points - you only get in trouble in dim light where the peripheral sensors don't pick things up well.
    Srijan, just experiment to find what works best for your shooting style. The center AF point will get you the quickest track, so one trick that works for me when I want an off center subject is to use the center point with AF tracking turned on, pick up the subject with the center AF point and hold the shutter button halfway down while recomposing. The AF system will track the stationary subject while the camera moves.
     
  16. I agree with Andy. I can't imagine a D90 not being able to track moving targets with the 70-300vr. I've used this lens with a D80 and got great shots of birds in flight including Humers hand held. I now use the D80 with a 80-400vr and sometimes have to limit focus on the lens due to the slow auto focus and hunting. You just have to find what works best for you with the equipment you have. I would suggest taking all of the advise given in this discussion on AF settings and practice different settings on whatever plentifull birds you have available. If you can capture a Sparrow darting from tree to tree than you will be able to capture a souring Hawk with good focus on the eye.
     
  17. I took this with a D40 and 16-85mm the other day, not easy but possible.
    00YID0-335551584.jpg
     
  18. Wayyyy to many dynamics to provide a clear answer for any and all shooting situations.
    AF-S works best for static subjects. Even birds in flight will have a moment where they are static depending on direction of travel (Approaching or receding)
    AF-C: Minimal focus points selected will acquire and track faster.
    A difficulty will arise if you are using AF-C with let's say 9 focus points selected; you have no way of knowing which focus point was used at the instant you took the shot. You're moving, the camera is moving and the bird is moving.
    DOF & Subject size: This is the greatest challenge when shooting birds in flight and attempting to get the eyes sharp.
    DOF: Depending on subject distance and FL (size + DOF), the AF sensor may lock on a area NOT near the eyes.
    Subject size: Try this experiment. Take your 70-300 at 250mm and focus on a squirrel at 20 feet. Nice sharp eyes; right?
    Photograph the same but now at 300 feet. Eyes still sharp? Doubtful.
    Why? The pixel coverage has changed. Less pixels are recording the image at 300 feet.
    Bird photography (moving birds) is only limited by optical physics.
     
  19. Wayyyy to many dynamics to provide a clear answer for any and all shooting situations.
    AF-S works best for static subjects. Even birds in flight will have a moment where they are static depending on direction of travel (Approaching or receding)
    AF-C: Minimal focus points selected will acquire and track faster.
    A difficulty will arise if you are using AF-C with let's say 9 focus points selected; you have no way of knowing which focus point was used at the instant you took the shot. You're moving, the camera is moving and the bird is moving.
    DOF & Subject size: This is the greatest challenge when shooting birds in flight and attempting to get the eyes sharp.
    DOF: Depending on subject distance and FL (size + DOF), the AF sensor may lock on a area NOT near the eyes.
    Subject size: Try this experiment. Take your 70-300 at 250mm and focus on a squirrel at 20 feet. Nice sharp eyes; right?
    Photograph the same but now at 300 feet. Eyes still sharp? Doubtful.
    Why? The pixel coverage has changed. Less pixels are recording the image at 300 feet.
    Bird photography (moving birds) is only limited by optical physics.
     
  20. Simon, awesome bird shot. I like the high-pass filter or whatever you've used there. I'm not usually a fan of that effect, but here it works wonderfully.
    To the OP: Aside from what the lens itself can and cannot do, your major limitation is going to be one of preperation. If you have a D50 (probably the slowest AF motor on a Nikon DSLR) and a D3s on a bright day and with the same lens, one of the main reasons why the D3s will take a better photo is because the AF system can figure out where to focus, and then get there, much more rapidly and accurately. If you're at f/11, 1/400, and 200 ISO (Sunny 16 rule!), there's absolutely zero reason why the D50 (or any SLR for that matter) can't potentially take a great photo. However, a lesser AF system means that the camera will often try to focus on the blank sky around the bird, causing the lens to rack back and forth searching for focus, rather than just taking the damned picture. But if the camera is prepared to take the photo (read: if you have prepared the camera to take the photo), the only limitation will be what the lens can do.
    If you're somewhere where the bird is staying a similar distance from you - say for sake of argument it's about 50 feet away - you can try focusing on the bird, and then setting the camera body to MF, so it doesn't get confused and lose focus. Unless the bird starts flying toward or away from you, you should be good. That far down the focusing ring, with f/11 or so you should have plenty of depth of field to capture lateral movement with little or no refocusing.
    Now if it's a dim or overcast day, or you're in the shade, you might just be out of luck. Unfortunately the lens you're using has some image sharpness and chromatic aberration issues at wide apertures, and will continue to have them whether you're shooting with your D90 or a D3. Having the VR turned on only makes this worse, albeit only slightly so.
    I guess the moral of my long post is to practice practice practice, and on days with good weather your camera will do just fine, provided YOU do just fine. If photographing birds is something that's important to you, I would definitely recommend upgrading at least your lens, and probably the body too. If it isn't that important to you, I wouldn't bother buying anything for it, unless you find a smoking deal on a 2.8 zoom lens.
     
  21. Thanks again everyone....
    Lets see, at first I'm going to try AF-C with Dynamic Area and lets see how it works. I shall select the Central Focus Point (cross type) in this combination and keep the shutter half pressed. That will make the camera AF to keep the object in focus and I shall have a more chance of getting a good shot. I shall keep the f-stop somewhere around 7 or 8 to get a good DOF but also hoping to throw the background out of focus with a good bokeh.
    Hope I have understood and summarized everything discussed here correctly. If i have not, do correct me please.
    Thanks again :)
     
  22. Another dynamic is luck. Try using center point only in both AF-S and AF-C. Experiment with shutter speed and exposure compensation. BE prepared to take a lot of shoots. The shorter the distance from the subject the better chance of achieving your goal (sharp eyes). It is possible just not consistent.
     
  23. Well Luck...the "Big L"...I agree Mitch and I have a very bad feeling from my past experience that it's something I am rather short of. Still I shall give it a honest try.
    Btw, I shall also try AF-C and 3D tracking combination. :)
     
  24. Btw, how would the 3D Tracking work instead of dynamic area? I was gong through the manual (again!) and trying to imagine the situation. Does not this mode has better chances of keeping the subject in focus (with AF-C) in comparison with Dynamic Area?
     
  25. Is the D7000 any better at shooting birds in flight? I seemed to have done a much better job when I used my D70s and my Tameron lens.
     
  26. Hi Margaret
    For BIF shots, do not use all the sensors, only use the cross-type sensor/s that you have. Switch to AF-C mode. If you have adequate Cross type sensors available, try AF-C Dynamic Area combo, works great. I tried the 3D- Tracking, but found it to be a bit erratic. Though you can surely give that option a try too and see how good it works for a beautiful piece of hardware like D7000 of yours.
    Happy shooting :)
     

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