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Advice Needed - Photographing Birds in Flight

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Anonymous
September 13, 2005 10:39:39 PM

Archived from groups: rec.photo.digital.slr-systems (More info?)

Hi All,

I've been having a bit of fun with a borrowed 70-200 F2.8L (Non IS) lens
attached to my Canon 20D. I've been trying to get some good photos of birds
in flight, but only managing to get about a 1% success rate at the moment.

I'm shooting a burst of photos ISO 400 (would prefer 200) - F5.6, with
shutter speeds being typically 2000 - 8000. Biggest issue I'm facing is that
although I can get them sharp enough at a distance, I'm not getting the
detail that I want until the bird is flying past, and filling up 70 to 80%
of the screen (from perhaps <10% when I first start focusing) - and at the
end of the day, the focusing system just isn't keeping up. Essentially, the
bird is getting closer and closer to the camera. I've tried 1 shot
auto-focus - AI Servo and Servo - I've tried setting only the centre focus
point, or enabling all 9 and letting the camera choose, but nothing seems to
be working reliably) (By the way, the field of view behind the bird is clear
sky (infinity focus) so the camera isn't locking on to back ground trees or
anything like that).

I'd appreciate any advice others can offer.

Additionally, is the speed of the autofocus mostly in the lens or the
camera, and is it a parameter that can be compared with other cameras (eg
would a 5D or a 1DS II focus faster - or are there faster focusing lenses I
should be looking at?)

Many thanks,

CC
September 13, 2005 10:39:40 PM

Archived from groups: rec.photo.digital.slr-systems (More info?)

Colin

buy Arthur Morris' book on the Art of Bird Photography and subscribe to his
web bulletins (at no cost). You will be amazed by the good advice etc. His
site is:

http://www.birdsasart.com/

I have a 20D and get pretty good result with the larger birds and with small
stuff my technique is improving so my success rate is up. I use mainly the
400 fixed focal F4 on a tripod (ball head) and will move to the type of rig
recommended by Arthur as the bucks become available. Running through the
shots from his site and bulletins will blow you away. His Art of Bird
Photography is the best text I have seen . Another text is "an essential
guide to bird photography" by Steve Young. This is also pretty good but
doesn't carry the same amount of technique hints as Morris.

regards

Don from Down Under

"Cockpit Colin" <spam@nospam.com> wrote in message
news:6ruVe.11035$iM2.998902@news.xtra.co.nz...
> Hi All,
>
> I've been having a bit of fun with a borrowed 70-200 F2.8L (Non IS) lens
> attached to my Canon 20D. I've been trying to get some good photos of
> birds
> in flight, but only managing to get about a 1% success rate at the moment.
>
> I'm shooting a burst of photos ISO 400 (would prefer 200) - F5.6, with
> shutter speeds being typically 2000 - 8000. Biggest issue I'm facing is
> that
> although I can get them sharp enough at a distance, I'm not getting the
> detail that I want until the bird is flying past, and filling up 70 to 80%
> of the screen (from perhaps <10% when I first start focusing) - and at the
> end of the day, the focusing system just isn't keeping up. Essentially,
> the
> bird is getting closer and closer to the camera. I've tried 1 shot
> auto-focus - AI Servo and Servo - I've tried setting only the centre focus
> point, or enabling all 9 and letting the camera choose, but nothing seems
> to
> be working reliably) (By the way, the field of view behind the bird is
> clear
> sky (infinity focus) so the camera isn't locking on to back ground trees
> or
> anything like that).
>
> I'd appreciate any advice others can offer.
>
> Additionally, is the speed of the autofocus mostly in the lens or the
> camera, and is it a parameter that can be compared with other cameras (eg
> would a 5D or a 1DS II focus faster - or are there faster focusing lenses
> I
> should be looking at?)
>
> Many thanks,
>
> CC
>
>
Anonymous
September 13, 2005 10:39:40 PM

Archived from groups: rec.photo.digital.slr-systems (More info?)

Hi CC,

My niece is taking biology at BYU. I loaned her my old Canon Film
Rebel along with a 70-300 lens, and a 500 mm lens. I actually had a
roll of film in the camera, and she was going to try and use that roll
up first. I told her she really should trash that roll, and start over
with fresh film... but being a poor student ... well, I guess they
think saving on a roll of film is a good plan.

Anyway, I have no idea what she has managed to shoot with it yet.

roland
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Anonymous
September 13, 2005 10:39:40 PM

Archived from groups: rec.photo.digital.slr-systems (More info?)

Cockpit Colin wrote:

> I'd appreciate any advice others can offer.

The keep-rate for this sort of thing is low to begin with. Don't
expect miracles.

Use a longer lens. 300mm is probably the minimum, but longer is
preferred. You need further "stand off" distance, since by the time
the bird is close enough for a 200mm, it has a much larger angular
velocity -- hence the lack of focus.

> Additionally, is the speed of the autofocus mostly in the lens or the
> camera, and is it a parameter that can be compared with other cameras (eg
> would a 5D or a 1DS II focus faster - or are there faster focusing lenses I
> should be looking at?)

It's all in the lens. Canon super-telephotos have "range" switches to
reduce the focus travel times. If you have the physique that can
support a 500/4, it makes a nice "flight lens".
Anonymous
September 14, 2005 6:40:51 AM

Archived from groups: rec.photo.digital.slr-systems (More info?)

eawckyegcy@yahoo.com wrote:
> Cockpit Colin wrote:
>
> > I'd appreciate any advice others can offer.
>
> The keep-rate for this sort of thing is low to begin with. Don't
> expect miracles.
>
> Use a longer lens. 300mm is probably the minimum, but longer is
> preferred. You need further "stand off" distance, since by the time
> the bird is close enough for a 200mm, it has a much larger angular
> velocity -- hence the lack of focus.

><snip>
> Canon super-telephotos have "range" switches to
> reduce the focus travel times. If you have the physique that can
> support a 500/4, it makes a nice "flight lens".

An alternative: If your physique - or your pocketbook - can't stand a
500/4, or if it is impractical to shoot the birds you want to shoot
with a tripod setup, is to get a good superzoom P&S, like the Panasonic
FZ20. The autofocus certainly is't good enough to try autofocussing in
mid-flight with high angular and radial velocity, the way you try to do
with your 20D -but then, this doesn't seem to work with the 20D either,
so there...

Howvever, because of the small actual focal length, you can do it quite
differently in the FZ20. I usually stop down maximally, focus manually
beforehand at my desired distance of shooting, keep the focus that way,
and shoot as soon as you get the bird at the desired size in your
viewfinder. If the desired distance is 15 m, I have a DOF going from
12,5 to 18 m, which more than enough for me to be able to tell when I
can get a sharp picture from the size of the bird in the viewfinder.

Maybe you could try to do a simliar trick with your setup. Stop down
three stops to f16, by raising ISO and lowering the shutter speed. At
least ISO 800 is decent in the 20D, and besides, you say you
essentially don't get your shots as of now, so a noisy shot is better
than no shot, right. Also, your shutter speeds can be slowed down
somewhat, at least in the higher range. (If 1/2000 is too slow to get a
sharp bird, then I daresay the bird is moving so fast that you will
never react fast enough to frame it properly anyway. Birds ar not like
racing cars, running at an almost predictable speed, and in a very
predictable direction...) If you do, you will get a DOF similar to mine
at full zoom.

You won't have the same reach as I have, though. My FZ20 has a 35mm
focal equivalent of 432 mm at full zoom, your setup will only have 320.
And even 432 is a bit short for most bird photography, as Don points
out in his post. Avid bird photogs who use a superzoom P&S purchase a
teleconverter with it. I got myself a Raynox DSC-2020, which multiplies
focal length by 2.2x, giving me an focal length equivalent of 950 mm.
I'm not certain that I want to recommend it - not with an FZ20, anyway
- though. Reasonably sharp stopped down, but an ugly vignetting, low
contrast and considerable CA. People say much nicer things about the
Olympus TCON-17, which has a multiplier of 1,7x or Minolta's ACT-100,
which is 1.5x. I was probably too greedy for focal length :-).

Why this OT info about how you shoot birds with a superzoom P&S? Well,
put it this way: An FZ20 (or perhaps an FZ30, these days) with a good
1.7x teleconverter costs at least six times less, and weighs at least
three times less than the telephoto lens alone that would allow you to
shoot the same frame with a 20D. Even if money wouldn't be an issue,
flexibility and portability might. Sure, the heavy expensive Canon lens
would get you much nicer bird pictures on your 20D than anything I can
get with my Panny. (Panasonic's line strategy seems to be to make
really nice cameras with class-leading optics, and lots of nice and
practical features, and then stick crummiest possible sensor into it.)
But would you actually have the occasion too shoot them? Would you
really bring this setup with you every time you go out for a walk in
the countryside, the way I bring my FZ20?

And most of my good bird shots have been impromptu shots as the
occasion arose, not shots taken when explicitely out to shoot birds.

The way I see it, if one really wants to go into bird shooting, a good
superzoom P&S is an almost necessary complement to one's DSLR.

Jan Böhme
Anonymous
September 14, 2005 8:30:33 PM

Archived from groups: rec.photo.digital.slr-systems (More info?)

<eawckyegcy@yahoo.com> wrote in message
news:1126650325.299321.149430@z14g2000cwz.googlegroups.com...

> It's all in the lens. Canon super-telephotos have "range" switches to
> reduce the focus travel times. If you have the physique that can
> support a 500/4, it makes a nice "flight lens".

Thanks for that. I always thought it was fighter pilots and elite athletes
who had to work out the most - guess we need to add photographers to that
list! :) 
Anonymous
September 14, 2005 8:32:13 PM

Archived from groups: rec.photo.digital.slr-systems (More info?)

"Don" <mackie.don@bigpond.com> wrote in message
news:ijzVe.42173$FA3.4536@news-server.bigpond.net.au...
> Colin
>
> buy Arthur Morris' book on the Art of Bird Photography and subscribe to
his
> web bulletins (at no cost). You will be amazed by the good advice etc.
His
> site is:
>
> http://www.birdsasart.com/
>

Thanks Don - I've ordered a couple of Arthur's books from Amazon this
morning - looks like he knows more than just a think or two about the
topic!!!
Anonymous
September 14, 2005 8:33:36 PM

Archived from groups: rec.photo.digital.slr-systems (More info?)

"piperut" <rbehunin@alumni.weber.edu> wrote in message
news:1126641213.072099.92020@f14g2000cwb.googlegroups.com...
> Hi CC,
>
> My niece is taking biology at BYU. I loaned her my old Canon Film
> Rebel along with a 70-300 lens, and a 500 mm lens. I actually had a
> roll of film in the camera, and she was going to try and use that roll
> up first. I told her she really should trash that roll, and start over
> with fresh film... but being a poor student ... well, I guess they
> think saving on a roll of film is a good plan.
>
> Anyway, I have no idea what she has managed to shoot with it yet.
>
> roland
>

Thank you Roland for your interesting diversion into your nieces film
purchasing habits!
!