Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens

Started May 23, 2013 | Discussions
solarider
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Re: While on the subject of Gimbals
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 25, 2013

Lensmaster looks to be an interesting product for the money.

some of the feedback: http://www.lensmaster.co.uk/what_others_say.htm

OT from Lensmaster, I noted one of the links had mentioned a Wimberley copy made in India, and he thought it had held up well. Throwing this out there as I've not heard of it, has anyone else?

Regards

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Greyser
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 25, 2013

I shoot 500/4.5 handheld exclusively. The lens is heavy for the prolonged holding indeed. For the quick rapid shots, while on the go, it is not difficult to hold it. However, the trick is to give yourself as much rest between the shots as you can. I always have a monopod with a sidekick gimbal like setup with me. However, I rarely use it: only when I need to hold the lens for the long time waiting for the shot.

I use very forgiving CarrySpeed two contact points shoulder strap. However, I connect it differently than suggested. Also my lens collar is rotated by 90 degrees clockwise (to quickly adapt the rig to the sidekick   of my monopod). I added a soft pad to the front protruding lip of the collar's tripod mount. I usually place my palm in between the padded front piece and lens body, also supporting the lens with my thumb. It may sound very unusual, but helps a lot to quickly draw the lens when needed. The palm is naturally in the hook when I walk having my camera on the left side of my body, and the rig is immediately ready for action.

There is some other things what works for me, shooting the 500/4.5:

  • Always RAW
  • SR on. When you expect some shooting don't forget to wake up the camera and SR half pressing the shutter button.
  • Av or TAv. The latter is more suitable for the BIF shots. However, you have to watch out for Ev compensation: The metering in TAv is strange sometimes leading to overexposure.
  • Shutter 1/800-1/1000 at least
  • Aperture generally is set to 6.3-7.1. Sometimes I use F5.6 and F8
  • Center point AF and metering
  • ISO up to 800
  • AF.S (AF.C has never worked well for me. Also my K-5 starts flopping the mirror uncontrollably after using AF.C)
  • Continuous 7fps machinegunning as I call it. There is nothing even close to the properly composed fine art of photography, I know, but it works.

Don't hesitate to ask questions. I may remember something else

BTW: congratulations on the lens! It is a BIG step forward.

Regards,

SG

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Nicols
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to Greyser, May 25, 2013

Greyser wrote:

I shoot 500/4.5 handheld exclusively.

Great results.

My congrats.

Cheers - Klaus

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Barry Pearson
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to Greyser, May 26, 2013

Greyser wrote:

I shoot 500/4.5 handheld exclusively. The lens is heavy for the prolonged holding indeed. For the quick rapid shots, while on the go, it is not difficult to hold it.

I do find it difficult, but my main problem is target acquisition rather than shooting. It takes too long to get the subject in the view finder and this prolongs the time it is held in a tiring position. (As a result of responses in this thread, I am experimenting with aids for aiming and for hand-holding the lens, so I may change my views a bit).

I use very forgiving CarrySpeed two contact points shoulder strap. However, I connect it differently than suggested.

Walking around with this lens ready for use is something I haven't yet addressed! I must do so.

Years ago for comfort reasons I stopped carrying photo equipment over my somewhat narrow and bony shoulders and switched to using a photo vest. This proved to be one of the best photographic decisions I've made! If necessary I supplement this with a standard padded-strap hiking back-pack, and currently sometimes use this to carry a light-weight tripod and gimbal head and my lunch.

Except for this lens, I normally carry my currently-selected camera+lens in my right hand. (I wrap the shoulder strap twice round my right wrist, spin the camera once clockwise, looking from above, and this converts it to a hand-strap. Perhaps I'll get a proper hand-strap sometime!) I shoot like this too when hand-holding.

But I haven't got an adequate plan for walking with this lens! I don't think it will involve hanging it from my shoulders.

There is some other things what works for me, shooting the 500/4.5:

  • Always RAW
  • SR on. When you expect some shooting don't forget to wake up the camera and SR half pressing the shutter button.
  • Av or TAv. The latter is more suitable for the BIF shots. However, you have to watch out for Ev compensation: The metering in TAv is strange sometimes leading to overexposure.
  • Shutter 1/800-1/1000 at least
  • Aperture generally is set to 6.3-7.1. Sometimes I use F5.6 and F8
  • Center point AF and metering
  • ISO up to 800
  • AF.S (AF.C has never worked well for me. Also my K-5 starts flopping the mirror uncontrollably after using AF.C)
  • Continuous 7fps machinegunning as I call it. There is nothing even close to the properly composed fine art of photography, I know, but it works.

I use TAv a lot, probably for the same reasons you do. But increasingly I find the exposure too variable, even with center-weighted rather than matrix metering. (For example, airplane against trees versus airplane against sky). I guess this is why you use center point metering. So I've begun to use full manual exposure, periodically taking a shot then examining the histogram. (I started 35mm photography without possessing an exposure meter. I'm still a bit "old school"). Perhaps I'll try center point metering once I can get the aiming right - but not until then.

My tests with this lens show f/5.6 is "OK", f/6.7 (I use half-stops) is nearly at its best, and f/8 is about its best. So I agree with your apertures.

My experience is that at 7 fps (which I use all the time for this sort of thing) AF-C works better for me than AF-S. I'm currently using "focus priority" rather than "fps priority". (I don't have mirror flopping! Sounds nasty).

Don't hesitate to ask questions. I may remember something else

Thanks for such a comprehensive response! And super photos! They are the sort I'm after.

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Barry Pearson
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Re: monopod?
In reply to miles green, May 26, 2013

miles green wrote:

I'm surprised nobody has mentionned a monopod yet. I don't have one, but might get one soon to try.

I see people happily shooting motor sports using a monopod. I guess it is OK for supporting the weight and for panning horizontally. With a gimbal head it might be good for other things too. (Perhaps I'll experiment).

My reasons for not using my monopod is that it doesn't appear to offer anything significant compared with a light-weight tripod. (Perhaps I bought the wrong one). And it has the down-side that you can't walk away from it, leaving it set up ready to go, while you have a chat or lunch.

You may become one of the happy users!

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brandrx
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Barry...
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 26, 2013

Hi Barry,

I just received a Pentax K-5 II yesterday and it sure looks like the Expanded Area Auto Focus is the way to go when tracking birds in flight. I havn't actually tried it against birds yet but a couple of tests I made indicate to me that it should work like a charm. I think it tells about it on page 115 of the K-5 II manual. I don't know if the page number would be the same for the K-5 IIs though.

I am looking forward to giving mine a go against some BIFs soon.

Cheers.

Ron

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Greyser
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Ron...
In reply to brandrx, May 26, 2013

brandrx wrote:

Hi Barry,

I just received a Pentax K-5 II yesterday and it sure looks like the Expanded Area Auto Focus is the way to go when tracking birds in flight. I havn't actually tried it against birds yet but a couple of tests I made indicate to me that it should work like a charm. I think it tells about it on page 115 of the K-5 II manual. I don't know if the page number would be the same for the K-5 IIs though.

I am looking forward to giving mine a go against some BIFs soon.

Please keep us posted! I decided do not go with II or IIs after Mike posted nasty respond about Sigma 500/4.5 hunting.

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brandrx
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Greyser...
In reply to Greyser, May 26, 2013

Greyser wrote:

brandrx wrote:

Hi Barry,

I just received a Pentax K-5 II yesterday and it sure looks like the Expanded Area Auto Focus is the way to go when tracking birds in flight. I havn't actually tried it against birds yet but a couple of tests I made indicate to me that it should work like a charm. I think it tells about it on page 115 of the K-5 II manual. I don't know if the page number would be the same for the K-5 IIs though.

I am looking forward to giving mine a go against some BIFs soon.

Please keep us posted! I decided do not go with II or IIs after Mike posted nasty respond about Sigma 500/4.5 hunting.

Hi Greyser,

I suppose you are talking about this post made by MightyMike, huh?

FWIW: Yesterday I focused into some branches at a House Finch. I was not using the Sigma 500/4.5 but rather the Sigma 400mm f5.6 + 1.4X TC and I was using Expanded Area Auto Focus. My K-5 II had no problem locking on the the head of the House Finch. The other thing I noticed about Expanded Area Auto Focus is that once it locks on and you then completely loose the subject out of the focusing area the lens does not hunt. It seems to stay at the same approximate focusing distance until you put the subject back into the focusing area. I tested this against a subject that was completely isolated from anything around it. It was about 200 feet from me. Behind it was a mountain at about 2 miles. I locked on to the subject and then moved the camera in such a way that the subject no longer covered any of the Expanded Area Focus Points. The OOF mountain that was 2 miles in the background covered the focusing area. The lens did not hunt but remained at the approximate focus distance of my original subject. I then placed the subject back into the focus area of the Expanded Focus points and it again was locked onto my original subject. This was just a simple test and of course it will require more testing before I can be sure. I will try to keep you informed.

All that I have written above is dependant on keeping the shutter button half-pressed. Also, when you first begin your focusing it will only use the focus point you choose to aquire and lock focus. Once it does that then the Expanded Area Focus points can then come into play.

As I wrote above, I need to test this more thouroughly before I can say absolutely for sure that it works as I have written.

Cheers.

Ron

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MightyMike
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 26, 2013

Barry Pearson wrote:

Yesterday I found myself way outside my capability. I took delivery of a Sigma 500mm f/4.5 lens on Monday, and yesterday I tried it in the field for the first time at a (UK) bird reserve on my K-5IIs

My "birds in flight" shots are mostly just empty sky! I found it mind-bogglingly hard to switch from seeing birds in flight with my "bare" eyes to getting an eye to the viewfinder and tracking them there. Typically they were out of scope before I had even found them via the viewfinder.

I have little experience of birding, and this is the longest lens I have ever used, so perhaps it is a case of "keep practicing for enough years"! But I wonder if there are any shortcuts? How do other people do this? (Or is this the wrong lens for birds in flight?)

1. Perhaps I can avoid using the viewfinder? I live in England and I've never handled a gun, but perhaps front and rear gun-sights could be used? (Rear sights attached to the flash-shoe, front to the lens-hood).

This is a good idea when using a live view camera, not really necessary with an OVF camera

2. I tried using my O-VF1 optical viewfinder for the Pentax Q on my K-5IIs, but it makes the scene smaller and less clear, and that appears to be the wrong way round. (I suspect it has other possibilities that I haven't thought of yet!)

See above

3. Perhaps I could use a 2-eyed method. Have a frame as a non-optical eye-piece for my left eye to the left of the viewfinder (which I use with my right eye). Then have a frame at the "10 minutes to the hour" position on the lens hood to identify the subject size that will appear on the sensor. (I have hopes for this, but it needs a bit of work before I can try it).

you're over thinking this!!!

4. I found a website for Ikodot, but I think it is addressing a different problem, for example street photography with a Leica. (And I don't know if they are still around).

still over thinking it

I'm mostly OK with motor sports and airplanes in flight at airshows, where I use a 60-250mm zoom or at most a 300mm. But those are much more predictable than birds in flight! Here I'm a beginner.

Please help!

(Yesterday wasn't a complete disaster. I'll reply with a photo that I like).

Stop over thinking it, practice makes perfect, don't expect great results at very close range, even the camera can't keep up at such close range. pace yourself, pick a target in the distance, start with that and slowly work your way to more difficult subjects. if you can track planes at an airshow at 300mm then birds flying at 500mm will come to you with a little practice. again stop over thinking it, get out and shoot, you'll figure out the right technique as you go. also don't stop tracking when you fire the shot(s) you've got to track and shoot simultaneously.

EDIT:

Oh brother are you using a gimbal head... good luck with that... tracking is so dang freaken easier when hand holding! the only thing a tripod will do for you is keep the weight off your arms at the serious expense of flexibility... its really only good for still subjects or slow linear moving subjects, IMO a waste of money.

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Zablot
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to dane dawg, May 26, 2013

The eagle shots are very nice, but that yellow headed blackbird is fantastic! All are tack sharp with very clean backgrounds.  I also like the head on view of the golden eagle.  Getting birds in flight takes practice.  The limited area covered by the 500 also leads to misses and that takes practice too.  Well done...........................Jim

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Barry Pearson
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Re: Barry...
In reply to brandrx, May 26, 2013

brandrx wrote:

Hi Barry,

I just received a Pentax K-5 II yesterday and it sure looks like the Expanded Area Auto Focus is the way to go when tracking birds in flight. I havn't actually tried it against birds yet but a couple of tests I made indicate to me that it should work like a charm. I think it tells about it on page 115 of the K-5 II manual. I don't know if the page number would be the same for the K-5 IIs though.

I am looking forward to giving mine a go against some BIFs soon.

I just checked. I've currently got my K-5IIs set to "Auto 5" and Expanded Area Auto Focus set to "on". So I think we are on the same wavelength!

But I wonder if "Auto 11" would be better? I guess I'll have to experiment.

Show us your BIF results when you get them!

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Barry Pearson
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to MightyMike, May 26, 2013

MightyMike wrote:

Stop over thinking it, practice makes perfect, don't expect great results at very close range, even the camera can't keep up at such close range. pace yourself, pick a target in the distance, start with that and slowly work your way to more difficult subjects. if you can track planes at an airshow at 300mm then birds flying at 500mm will come to you with a little practice. again stop over thinking it, get out and shoot, you'll figure out the right technique as you go. also don't stop tracking when you fire the shot(s) you've got to track and shoot simultaneously.

It is not as simple as that. My 300mm weighs one kilogram, and is near my personal limit for reliable hand-holding, certainly for any extended period. (I'm 66 - this is not about to change for the better!) The Sigma is three kilograms and beyond my comfort zone, so it is unsteady in my hands. Obviously the field of view is smaller. Birds are smaller, and move unpredictably - I know in advance where the airplane is coming from and mostly where it is going.

I will be able to improve a bit, but I doubt to the extent that I can reliably track a bird in flight as it stands. Hence this thread - in 45 years of using Pentax SLRs, this is the first time I have felt out of my depth and in need of outside expert help just to handle a camera + lens.

EDIT:

Oh brother are you using a gimbal head... good luck with that... tracking is so dang freaken easier when hand holding! the only thing a tripod will do for you is keep the weight off your arms at the serious expense of flexibility... its really only good for still subjects or slow linear moving subjects, IMO a waste of money.

I'm having success with motor sports. The following is just one of many I took at Oulton Park on 18 May with K-5IIs and 300mm f/4 on a gimbal. Linear - yes. Slow moving - no!

Uncropped and unPhotoshopped.

More in a recent gallery.

And this panned downward with my 60-250mm f/4 and K-5IIs on a gimbal:

Cropped but unPhotoshopped.

More in second half of another gallery.

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Re: monopod?
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 26, 2013

The few times I have tried to take pictures of moving animals have taught me it really isn't as easy as it might look.

If you are really accustomed to using a tripod and try a monopod, don't let yourself be distracted by someone calling for you or whatever and respond without thinking.  Wouldn't do to walk away from the monopod.

The bushmaster has a gun stock.  Your proposal was something to rest on top of your shoulder.  If you will make something, why not combine the two.  Something you can snug back against your shoulder and rest on top.  I thought I had an original idea, but now I remember bazooka and other weapons like that.

The expanded area focus point set-up of the newer K5 camera is interesting.  I wasn't aware of that.

I finally had to read the thread.  Every time I saw it pop to the top, 'seeking' made me thinking of 'hunting' (colloquially, I will hunt for something rather than seek) and that made me think of failure to lock focus.  I am glad I checked it out.  Learned something about the new K5, there are some pretty nice pictures, and etc.

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brandrx
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Re: Barry...
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 26, 2013

Barry Pearson wrote:

brandrx wrote:

Hi Barry,

I just received a Pentax K-5 II yesterday and it sure looks like the Expanded Area Auto Focus is the way to go when tracking birds in flight. I havn't actually tried it against birds yet but a couple of tests I made indicate to me that it should work like a charm. I think it tells about it on page 115 of the K-5 II manual. I don't know if the page number would be the same for the K-5 IIs though.

I am looking forward to giving mine a go against some BIFs soon.

I just checked. I've currently got my K-5IIs set to "Auto 5" and Expanded Area Auto Focus set to "on". So I think we are on the same wavelength!

But I wonder if "Auto 11" would be better? I guess I'll have to experiment.

Barry,

Auto 11 or Auto 5 does not matter when using Expanded Area AF. It still works the same no matter which you have selected.

Expanded Area AF only works when you have it selected in the menu, you have AF-C selected, and the switching dial is set to SEL. If you have all of those things selected then you can press the Info button once and in the lower right you will see the selected point in red and the expanded points in pink. If you do not see the 4 way arrows then press and hold the OK button for about one second (until you hear the beep). When you see the 4 way arrows you can then use your 4 way controller to select your main focus point (red spot) and the pink spots will be selected automatically as per whatever main focus point you have selected. Right now I just use the center point as my main focus point. I might do some experimenting with other main focus points later on.

Note #1: With the center point used as your main focus point then the number of Expanded Points are eight. One above the main focus point, one below, one to the left, one to the right, one at 45 degrees from the main focus point, one at 135 degrees, one at 225 degrees, and one at 315 degrees.

Note #2: When you see the 4 way arrows you can select the main focus point. Press the OK button for about one second (until you hear the beep) and then the 4 way controller will now be able to select Flash, WB, Shooting Mode, or Natural , Bright, or Etc.

Continue to press the Info button until the screen becomes blank and you are ready to begin shooting. Now, if I have figured right in how the Expanded Area AF works, the autofocus uses only your selected AF point until a target is aquired and locked. After that, if the target strays out of the main point area then the Expanded Points will keep tracking it until you can reposition to the main point again. This only happens if you keep the shutter button half-presed or you are shooting in Continuous Mode and are taking images with the shutter button fully pressed. Once you release the shutter button then the process will start all over again with the selected focus point used to aquire a target, etc.

I hope I have explained that in a way that folks can understand.

Cheers.

Ron

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Barry Pearson
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Red Dot Sight on a K-5IIs
In reply to phil_t, May 28, 2013

phil_t wrote:

I purchased a shoe-mounted red dot sight from brando.com.  Once sighted in, it works well in getting my Q1 + DA 60-260mm aligned (1200+mm equivalent at the long end).

Wildlife Photography with Tactical Four Reticle Sight Product Code: GGMIS001900

As a result of your post (thanks) I've bought one from there too! It just arrived:

K-5IIs plus Sigma 500mm f/4.5 plus Red Dot Sight.

I haven't had a chance to try it seriously yet. But It certainly makes it easier to view the full scene yet know where the center of the camera+lens is pointing.

Perhaps when I use it for real I'll discover that I've wasted $39 (plus shipping)! But I find it hard to believe I won't find this useful in a number of situations with various lenses.

First impressions are that as long as I've sorted out the framing, it will at least be useful on a gimbal (which is what the lens is on above, although this isn't obvious).

I'll post conclusions, good or bad, once I've got some real experience in the field with it.

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paulkienitz
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to MightyMike, May 28, 2013

MightyMike wrote:

Oh brother are you using a gimbal head... good luck with that... tracking is so dang freaken easier when hand holding! the only thing a tripod will do for you is keep the weight off your arms at the serious expense of flexibility... its really only good for still subjects or slow linear moving subjects, IMO a waste of money.

If it's too heavy to handhold, the choices are limited.

But I wonder if one might do better by just hanging the lens on a string.  Of course, then you need to stand under something.

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Ian Stuart Forsyth
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 29, 2013

Barry Pearson wrote:

MightyMike wrote:

Stop over thinking it, practice makes perfect, don't expect great results at very close range, even the camera can't keep up at such close range. pace yourself, pick a target in the distance, start with that and slowly work your way to more difficult subjects. if you can track planes at an airshow at 300mm then birds flying at 500mm will come to you with a little practice. again stop over thinking it, get out and shoot, you'll figure out the right technique as you go. also don't stop tracking when you fire the shot(s) you've got to track and shoot simultaneously.

It is not as simple as that. My 300mm weighs one kilogram, and is near my personal limit for reliable hand-holding, certainly for any extended period. (I'm 66 - this is not about to change for the better!) The Sigma is three kilograms and beyond my comfort zone, so it is unsteady in my hands. Obviously the field of view is smaller. Birds are smaller, and move unpredictably - I know in advance where the airplane is coming from and mostly where it is going.

I will be able to improve a bit, but I doubt to the extent that I can reliably track a bird in flight as it stands. Hence this thread - in 45 years of using Pentax SLRs, this is the first time I have felt out of my depth and in need of outside expert help just to handle a camera + lens.

EDIT:

Oh brother are you using a gimbal head... good luck with that... tracking is so dang freaken easier when hand holding! the only thing a tripod will do for you is keep the weight off your arms at the serious expense of flexibility... its really only good for still subjects or slow linear moving subjects, IMO a waste of money.

I'm having success with motor sports. The following is just one of many I took at Oulton Park on 18 May with K-5IIs and 300mm f/4 on a gimbal. Linear - yes. Slow moving - no!

Uncropped and unPhotoshopped.

More in a recent gallery.

And this panned downward with my 60-250mm f/4 and K-5IIs on a gimbal:

Cropped but unPhotoshopped.

More in second half of another gallery.

I would recommend you practise with the 300 F4 as it will help aid in learning to track birds. At this time 99% of my BIF photos are taken with ether my  300 F2.8 pentax K5 or 200-400 F4 and Nikon D800

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The hardest part about capturing wildlife is not the photographing portion; it’s getting them to sign a model release
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KentG
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to Barry Pearson, May 29, 2013

With more magnification the panning speed can be slower due to distance, but then image scale is no longer your friend. Plus the reduced FOV makes it hard to keep the subject anywhere in the view screen, much less in the center. You get more keepers with a shorter FL and cropping. Take it from somone who shot motorsports for 40 years that even perfect panning won't help if you have the wrong lens scale. I have found over the years that my panning is more precise and smooth when it requires more speed. In essence being closer with less magnification.

Kent Gittings

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miles green
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to KentG, May 29, 2013

KentG wrote:

With more magnification the panning speed can be slower due to distance, but then image scale is no longer your friend. Plus the reduced FOV makes it hard to keep the subject anywhere in the view screen, much less in the center. You get more keepers with a shorter FL and cropping. Take it from somone who shot motorsports for 40 years that even perfect panning won't help if you have the wrong lens scale. I have found over the years that my panning is more precise and smooth when it requires more speed. In essence being closer with less magnification.

Kent Gittings

That's an interesting observation! The way you put it, it makes sense.

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Tan68
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Re: Seeking ways of tracking birds in flight with 500mm lens
In reply to miles green, May 29, 2013

It is interesting.  What is wrong lens scale, though.  If we have perfect panning, there is a long focal length where things don't work well anyway.  Is this because of the compression effect of the background or what ?

miles green wrote:

KentG wrote:

...even perfect panning won't help if you have the wrong lens scale. ...

That's an interesting observation! The way you put it, it makes sense.

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