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Thread: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

  1. #1
    terrib's Avatar
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    So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Over the last few days I've captured several images that I'm really excited about because they are the best bird in flight pics to date. But I've reached a point where I'm unable to identify what to change to get them really sharp. I don't know if it is the noise (high ISO), faulty focusing, camera shake, too low a shutter speed or a scary combination of any of these.

    Below are 2 pictures along with the camera and shooting information. (I'm sure there are improvements to be made in PP but I've just purchased training videos on Lightroom so we can set aside those issues for now. ) I've also included the OOC shots with no processing except whatever Lightroom does automatically to convert from RAW.

    Any help you can give me on getting sharper focus is greatly appreciated. Thanks!

    #1 1/1250, F 5.6, ISO 1600, 370mm resting loosely on the tripod with ISO off. I was in Shutter Priority and auto ISO with AI Servo. (F5.6 is the largest aperture available at that focal length on this lens)

    So close but not quite sharp.  Please help me identify the issue.

    #1 Out of Camera

    So close but not quite sharp.  Please help me identify the issue.

    #2 1/1000, F5.6, ISO 1600, 400mm resting loosely on the tripod with ISO mode 2 on. I was tracking this bird (or trying anyway ). I was in Shutter Priority and Auto ISO with AI Servo.

    So close but not quite sharp.  Please help me identify the issue.

    #2 Out of Camera

    So close but not quite sharp.  Please help me identify the issue.

  2. #2
    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Did you shoot multiple frames per image?

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    terrib's Avatar
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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Quote Originally Posted by Shadowman View Post
    Did you shoot multiple frames per image?
    I didn't. I've not gotten myself used to doing that. I did change the setting on my camera from low speed to high speed continuous yesterday afternoon after that last shot because it's near impossible to forget with it being so sensitive.

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Hi Terri. I am not the best person to help you, but I will try to provoque some thoughts:

    First, make sure the focus is accurate. Try shooting a static subject at about the same distance and make a similar crop, so you can compare the results and conclude. Flying distant birds are quite difficult to focus. If it is not the focus, I would think about the following:

    1 - Resting on tripod: I´m a Nikon user and Nikon recommends to turn the VR (Vibration reduction) OFF when using a tripod. Canon has the IS (Image stabilization), so I wonder if this applies to Canon system; (You mention ISO Off; is it IS Off?)

    2 - 1/1250 and 1/1000 looks quite a high speed, but you have to consider you are shooting at 370~400mm of focal length. That "potentize" the shake, so maybe it would be worth to try a higher speed with this long lens;

    3 - Crops - The crops seem a bit agressive, and that always cause a loss in details;

    4 - ISO - According to Snapsort (http://snapsort.com/cameras/Canon/EOS_7D), the 7D starts having Noise at ISO 854. So, maybe the 1600 is being part of the problem.

    Conclusion: I agree with you that there is a possibilitity of a combination of factors.

    As I said, these are just to give you some thoughts about the issue. I am sure you will overcome this though, with practice and persistency!

    Cheers...
    Last edited by Otavio; 3rd March 2013 at 02:12 PM.

  5. #5
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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Hi Terri Think I can help you with the flight pictures !!

    First thing is getting the bird larger in frame, cropping that much will magnify any little error. Best to pre-focus and as the bird starts to fill the frame start shooting. Highest frame rater you have and follow through.

    Speed wise I start feeling comfortable at 1/2500 sec It always will be a compromise but noise beats unsharpness any day. I think your shutter speed was more than reasonable.

    Any auto setting will give you trouble for flight. No need to ever go to shutter priority unless you are doing special effects. Aperture would be better .... but manual best. The bird will be in the same light but the bg changes, so you will be underexposing and overexposing the bird as it moves. Any underexposure will ruin the image.

    With a mid tele lens I would not use a tripod, difficult to follow the action unless you are very good.

    Would set the ISO to the desired level and not go auto ISO. You need to control the settings. For low light shoot wide open, max the ISO to a comfortable level and see what shutter speed you get. With the Mk4 I'm comfortable to 1600 .. or more.

    For making razor sharp images you need a little contrast for the AF to work its best, on totally flat days it does struggle. Also birds coming at you will be the most difficult for the AF, left to right best.

    Would keep the IS off since it will give ever so slightly advantage, just make sure to put it back on ... mode 2...

    btw I do like the top very much without cropping. Wish the bird was on the other side moving into the frame but would not crop. Pleasing image !!

    al

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    The main culprit would be shutter speed.

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Terri, you cannot ignore post processing. I downloaded your image and in about 10 seconds, using Lightroom 4, made your eagle very sharp at your focus point.

    Karm

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    A couple of things that might also help.

    Use the center focusing dot. (it appears you were not on your target, if you were using the center dot. )

    Turn the focus search to off. You can manually adjust the focus, close to the target, and then the auto focus will take over. If you get a good lock on your target and then move the dot off target, the camera will most likely keep the same focus, without searching for something else. Your focus will lock on quicker, because your getting it close manually.


    Shoot freehand. (i usully leave the IS on as well. I've never noticed a difference either way ) Follow your target by rotating at the waist , and smoothly pressing the shutter. (as if you are shooting skeet with a shotgun)


    Shoot with both eye's open. Bring the camera to your eye ,with both eye's open, and you will pick up your target quicker.


    Give your camera a second or two to lock on, before pressing the shutter. Sometimes if you shoot too quick, you won't have a focus lock.




    Pay attention to the horizon and wait for the bird to clear, above or below. (you don't want a line going through the subject)



    Focus on the head.

  9. #9
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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Just a tip.
    I have no experience with Canon camera setting, I use Nikon cameras, but on Nikon you can switch the shooting priority between focus and release. The second setting is the default mode for continuous shooting. This gives a faster response, so you do not miss the action, albeit with a not perfectly focused (first) shoot. The idea is that it is better to have a shoot, even if not perfect, rather than nothing. The next shoots are usually in focus because the camera has more time to get the correct focus.

    Cheers
    Andrea

  10. #10
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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Some good points made. Just to emphasize: we're not paying for film development here, so let 'er rip with your fastest FPS.

    A matter of some debate, but your IS is probably not helpful at high shutter speeds, and might even be decreasing your IQ.

    NOt certain of Canon's terminology, but crucial to use continuous auto focus as the speed is actually computed to anticipate the location in space (in frame) of the next image.

    Minimize your cropping (fill the frame with your shot) as much as possible. The cropping magnification grossly exaggerates any hint of softness.

    Sony has a "moving object lock- on" feature that has in my hands been useless. Curious if anyone (especially our BIF experts) have found it helpful.

    Keep posting your shots- I'd love to see how this evolves for you. I'd also love to have some owls to chase around. Cardinals and robins get really old.

  11. #11
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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    I REALLY appreciate all the helpful responses here. There is so much that rather than try to answer each of you individually, I will tell you what I did late yesterday and show the results. At that point I had read down through Karm's post #7.

    1. Shooting Mode: Shutter Priority
    For brevity I'll simply say at my skill level, I'll miss these shots in Manual. Opinions seem to be split between our BIF experts on Shutter vs Aperture Priority but since Canon does not allow me to set a minimum shutter speed, I chose Shutter Priority.

    2. Shutter Speed: 2000
    Since Bobo thought my issue was SS, I upped it from 1250 (which I thought I'd read in a previous post on how to shoot BIF) up to 2000 which was a guess since Bobo didn't suggest what it should be. Alfred, I wasn't sure what you were saying on SS as you said mine was more than adequate at 1250 but you also said you were comfortable at 2500? I do realize what's required will vary depending on how fast the bird is flying.

    3. ISO: Auto, max possible 6400
    This one is controversial even in my own mind but I wanted to see what happened. First I left it at Auto partly in conjunction with my decision to shoot Shutter Priority. Since I'm setting an even higher Shutter Speed there will be instances where I'll hit the widest Aperture and then the ISO would have to go up. If I limit it, it's going to be underexposed. If it's underexposed then the noise is harder to clean up so I've not gained anything. This is not a situation where the light is gone and it's really time to pack up and go home. This is me tracking a bird in the sky down in front of the trees where the available light changes dramatically.

    4. AutoFocus Mode: AI Servo (Same as I used before)
    This is Canon's continuous focus. One note on this is that I am also using Back Button Focus.

    5. Tripod: None
    I took the tripod out of the equation. I can add it back later but for now I felt it was in the way more than helping as a few of you suggested.

    6. Focus Point: Center (Same as I used before)
    Rather than sitting around waiting for a hawk to appear I spent my time practicing two things. First was getting an object into frame quickly. With no birds around, I picked various objects within my field of vision and tried to quickly turn and bring the camera up. I found a big flaw in my habit was that as I was bringing the camera up and for some reason I was also lowering my head to meet the camera half way. I also tended to line up my left eye (the one I put to the eyepiece) with the object. So I practiced turning my head and looking at the object with both eyes and then keeping my head still while bringing the camera up and this helped tremendously. Second, I practiced tracking. Everything that moved, I got it in frame and followed it trying to keep that center point on it.

    Another note on this. Once the object is in frame, I'm usually pressing the back button focus once and release and my lens does a pretty good job focusing on the moving object but then I center the object and press the button again to refine focus and hold for continuous focus.

    7. Metering Mode: Spot with +1 exposure compensation (same as before)
    Once I center and focus the subject, I press the shutter halfway to meter and hold. I use the +1 EC because when I don't the Shutter Priority mode almost always underexposes the subject and I'd rather have the sky overexposed than to have the subject underexposed especially since I'm often dealing with higher ISO.

    8. Drive Mode: High Speed Continuous
    I changed this from Low Speed Continuous and practiced actually using it.

    Karm, I'm not trying to ignore PP. I understand how important it is but I was trying to narrow the discussion to shooting. I'd like to start with as sharp an image as possible. But I'd love to see your edit. By the way, the bird in both pictures is a Northern Harrier.

    Steve, Andrea and Kevin, I will study your suggestions today and incorporate them this afternoon if I can get out. I'll have to look up some of the terminology.

    Finally, here is an OOC image and a very aggressive crop. Unfortunately this was as close as anything came to me today but even though it's hard to do a direct comparison with my previous shots, I think this is sharper. I'm sure this is much sharper than anything I've shot at this distance before so I'd say the bump in shutter speed definitely helped.

    1/2000, F6.3, ISO 1250, 400mm
    So close but not quite sharp.  Please help me identify the issue.

    So close but not quite sharp.  Please help me identify the issue.
    Last edited by terrib; 4th March 2013 at 02:59 PM.

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Terri, I don't disagree with your goal of creating a sharp image. I just think it is hard, if not impossible, to know whether you achieve this goal until you process your picture. If your photo has obvious camera shake, you are pretty much done. I think in the picture of your Hawk, where you focused, looks pretty good to me once you process it a bit. In the picture below I just emphasized the Harrier.

    So close but not quite sharp.  Please help me identify the issue.

    Karm

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Well done Terri. that is definitely sharper.

    The reason I did not mention a base speed was that it really depends. 1/1250 as a baseline is usually fine. But when the target is really far off one will get blur due mainly to our own shaking from trying to keep focus on a tiny object. Hence the need to up the SS way beyond what would have been necessary if the object was closer or larger. Try pinpointing a pigeon in flight at 100m with just the centre point!

  14. #14

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Bobo, the image below is Terri's photograph. I cropped and sharpened it just to illustrate something Terri and I were discussing.

    Karm

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Thanks Karm, now I see it is a tight crop of #1. Proper post processing and sharpening does play a big role in the final outcome. Particularly true with RAW which has had no processing done in-camera.
    Last edited by Bobobird; 5th March 2013 at 12:09 AM.

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    I'm not a birding specialist, much less a bird-in-flight specialist, and this thread is showing the difficulties that prove why I'm not about to become one, but I just have to mention this: despite the wonderful post-processing that Karm did in the last version, it really does suffer from the lack of detail that you would expect from using so little of the captured image. So, I applaud Terri for doing everything possible to get it as close to right as possible in the capture.

  17. #17
    terrib's Avatar
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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Tonight's attempt. This one is better. I believe this is a Red Shouldered Hawk and is much smaller than the Harrier I started the thread with. I had an even harder time tracking this one. It's really laughable. I should have come away with multiple great shots but I lost the bird when it got pretty close and then things were happening too fast to recover. I have 3 pictures with really sharp tail feathers sticking into the frame.

    But I thank you guys so much for all the advice. I think now we've narrowed the field of possibilities so I just have to practice, practice, practice on the tracking. I'm also going to change my position so the birds are not flying straight at me.

    Also, I'm getting through the great Lightroom tutorials that Kevin recommended so then we can visit better post processing. This one has been processed with what I know so far. It's been cropped but not as aggresively as the first ones.

    1/2000, F6.3, ISO 800, 400mm
    So close but not quite sharp.  Please help me identify the issue.

  18. #18
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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Terri, this is a very respectable shot -- even though I'm looking at it on an ipod touch, admittedly not the largest of viewing screens. Thanks for starting this thread. I'm more or less at the same stage as you except I need to get outside and actually practice.

  19. #19
    Shadowman's Avatar
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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Very nice update.

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    Re: So close but not quite sharp. Please help me identify the issue.

    Good work there. Don't shy off from heading at you shots. Those will give you some really dramatic shots. Also harder to track as they come in closer and closer but a bit of patience will do it. Just remember to keep focus on the head at all times.

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