Wildlife with XF100-400

Started Jun 2, 2018 | Discussions thread
rwbaron Forum Pro • Posts: 14,343
Re: Wildlife with XF100-400

Great shots and thanks for sharing. I'm envious of your puffins as they are such a photogenic bird. I love the owl shots too.

It takes time and practice especially for capturing BiF. Coming from Canon and the 7D and Canon 300 and 400 primes I was initially frustrated with the X-T1 but the X-T2 was a big improvement. I've now fine tuned my tracking AF settings to where I'm getting consistent results that are more to my liking than what I was getting with the Canon setup.


I just realized you're shooting with an X-T20 which I also use but not for shooting birds. The X-T20 doesn't provide the custom AF tracking as in the X-T2 unless the latest firmware changed that (which I've not loaded).

The following comments apply in some cases specifically to the X-T2 but may also be applicable to the X-T20.

If you're interested here's what's working for me. The settings are the same for static birds or tracking when in flight with one exception which is OIS.

Set the camera to "high performance mode". This is critical.

Set the front AF switch to "C".

Set the mode ring under the ISO dial to “CH" and use 8 FPS (more on this later).

In the menu under AF/MF set the AF-C to custom setting with the following parameters;

Tracking sensitivity "2" middle position.

Speed tracking sensitivity to "1" middle position.

Zone area switching to “Center”.

Zone Area Switching is something I’m still playing with but I’ve been getting very good keeper rates with it set to “Center”. The only time the keeper rate drops is when the bird is large and extremely close (within 5 to 10 meters or closer). If the bird is flying perpendicular to your shooting line then it’s not a problem but if the the bird is flying at you the DoF becomes so small that when set on Center the head of the bird might be soft but the body is sharp. Again, I need to play a bit more with this setting to know for sure.

Use zone AF and the 3x3 box. I’ve had some good results too with the middle size "5x5" but have used the 3x3 box most often.

Set the lens AF switch to 5M ~ infinity to start. As your skills improve and you become better at finding and locking on subjects you can experiment with "Full" as I've found several times I've tracked birds closer than 5 meters and lost tracking only because the AF of the lens was limited. The focus will hunt significantly more when set to “Full” and you’ll have more difficulty acquiring initial focus.

TURN OIS OFF. Yes, I know Fuji says it will accommodate panning in the horizontal plane but I've never once gotten what I consider tack sharp images with OIS on. Birds fly in unpredictable flight patterns and having OIS turned on will make you think you’re doing better because it’s easier to track the bird but you’ll find softness in images with OIS on. Following a bird in flight with an effective 600m FoV is not easy and an acquired skill but it can be done and OIS may make it seem easier in the viewfinder but you won't get the best results.

Use manual exposure. Tracking birds using auto exposure is extremely difficult unless the bird is neutral in color and flying against a background of uniform color and brightness. I usually set the lens wide open (f5.6) and the shutter at 1/2000th and then bump the ISO to 400 which on clear sunny days during the golden hours (Sun at low angle) provides a decent raw file to work with. If you're shooting white birds against a blue sky you can get away with ISO 200 but to start you need a minimum shutter speed of at least 1/1000th without OIS to have any chance of a sharp image. As your skills improve you'll find you may still get sharp images in the 1/640th range with larger birds but expect motion blur in the wings and less consistent results.

Use your AF-L back button to focus and the shutter only for capture. Get the bird in the focus square and keep pressing the AF-L button to acquire focus and once the camera does focus keep it pressed and concentrate on following the bird while pressing the shutter in short bursts. If you lose focus keep pressing the AF-L button until focus is again acquired. I have mine set at 8 fps and you'll eat up a lot of frames at that rate and the 280mb/sec card in slot 1 for raw files minimizes buffering problems. Having fine Jpegs on card 2 enables me to load the Jpegs into LR first for quick review of composition, exposure and sharpness and make my "pick" and "delete" selections. I then load the raw images and sort by capture time which groups the Jpegs and raw files together and makes it easy to delete the raw and Jpeg files simultaneously.

I found with the X-T2 that shooting at 11 fps actually dropped my keeper rate and created issues with buffering so I’d advise 8 fps as ideal. My theory is that at 11 fps the servo AF has trouble keeping up which may be due to the amount of blackout time of the sensor. 8 FPS is more than enough to have a nice variety of wing positions to chose from. My understanding is the buffer clears quicker on the X-H1 so this may not be an issue with that camera.

As for holding the rig I’ve found the best results holding the 100-400 by the hood, keeping my arms tucked in and pressing the camera back firmly against my face. Doing so helps a lot when trying to locate and then smoothly track the bird. It takes patience and practice so don’t get discouraged if your results aren’t what you expect on the first few outings. Start with more distant birds first and work up to larger and closer.

For static birds I’ve learned that leaving the camera set up as above works exceptionally well but I switch OIS on. I move the 3x3 focus square with the joystick to cover the birds head and rarely have soft images. I’ll do a 2 to 3 frame burst each time and the AF is still in the servo tracking mode. Fuji’s don’t have the PASM interface and because of that are not easy to configure for quick switching which I initially found to be a problem but having to change just the OIS switch position is no more difficult than changing the command dial setting on my 7D.

Using the above settings and technique I’m able to realize far more keepers than clunkers. I’ve deleted over a thousand images in the past few months because of wing position or it just being a boring bird but rarely due to it not being sharp. It’s typical if I keep the shutter pressed for a full second or longer to have a sequence of 8 to 20 shots with maybe 2, 3 at most not sharp. Many times the bird is so close only part is in the frame yet again, sharp so I’ve become very confident in these settings.

I hope some or all of this is of help. Don't allow yourself to get discouraged as what you've posted here is excellent.


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 rwbaron's gear list:rwbaron's gear list
Fujifilm X-T2 Fujifilm X-T20 Fujifilm XF 18-55mm F2.8-4 R LM OIS Fujifilm XF 55-200mm F3.5-4.8 R LM OIS Fujifilm XF 23mm F1.4 R +8 more
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