Subject tracking: Why it matters to us and why it should matter to you
|On many cameras, subject tracking (choosing your subject and letting the camera track as you hold your composition) has gotten very, very good.
Nikon AF-S 24mm F1.8 @ F2.8 | 1/8000 | ISO 320.
Photo by Rishi Sanyal
Digital cameras, and for that matter, film cameras, have offered autofocus for a number of decades now. It's evolved from just one point to many hundreds of points over the years, allowing for varying degrees of control. You can leave the whole focusing process up to the camera and let it choose what it thinks is your subject; you can just use a single point of your choosing; or you can dance in the middle-ground using a zone or group of points that you select and keep over your subject, while the camera attempts to compensate if your subject veers toward the outside of that zone.
Outright subject tracking, though, is something else. You select the subject you want, usually with a single point or a single zone, initiate focus, and the camera does the rest. It will attempt to identify the size, color and distance of your chosen subject and do its best to track that subject around the frame, whether your framing changes or your subject moves.
Many people don't have trust their cameras to do this, and until the last few generations of digital cameras, we wouldn't have recommended it; but manufacturers continue to invest in pushing this technology forward. Established professionals in particular are highly unlikely to shoot this way, because once you've worked one way and can reliably get results you're happy with, why would you change?
But believe us; good subject tracking is really something special, and it's worth your time to give it a go. Frankly, it has the potential to forever change the way you shoot, for the better.
Why does it even matter anyway?
There are cases both for and against using subject tracking. In high speed, peak action sports, an experienced photographer would likely do a fine job (or better job) by using a cluster, group or zone of autofocus points and follow the action his or herself. But for those who are less experienced, or when shooting at longer focal lengths where following the subject can be more difficult, or when just shooting really erratic and unpredictable motion, subject tracking can be a tremendous help. It got me a number of keepers at a rugby match on a Panasonic camera even though it was the first time I'd ever photographed rugby, and the Nikon D5 was great for low-light soccer.
In the above example from a Nikon D5, our tech editor Rishi Sanyal initiated focus on the kayaker, fired a short burst, kept tracking him with the shutter half-pressed, and then fired another burst that kept accurate focus despite the kayaker basically disappearing underwater for a moment. This gave Rishi an abundance of options for editing, allowing him to get just the moment he was after with that may not have been possible without the use of 3D Tracking. Click here to see the final edited photograph.
It's true that most manufacturers, despite constantly improving their tracking algorithms with newer models, somehow still don't recommend subject tracking for these sorts of situations; but in our experience, it still seems to work most of the time anyway.
What other sorts of situations could benefit from using subject tracking? Turns out, a lot.
Events and weddings are great use-cases for subject tracking. You can initiate focus on the bride (or groom) in a scene, and simply keep continuously focusing on them as they move around, dance, interact with guests, and so on. You don't have to take the time to move your focus point around, which could results in missed shots, and you don't have to focus and recompose, which can result in missed focus when shooting at really wide apertures. You can end up with a greater variety of images and more options to choose from when it comes time to edit.
Another use case is candid portraiture. When you can reliably lock focus on a subject's face or eye and are able to move the camera around while it continues to track focus, that allows you to sample multiple compositions really quickly. It also allows you that much more creative freedom to focus on those compositions in the first place instead of constantly having to move your focus point to catch up to what you're seeing in your head. Autofocus point placement becomes just one less thing you have to think about.
The elephant in the article - just give it a try
Now, you may have noticed that most of the examples and references in this article are from high-end Nikon cameras, and the reason is not a personal bias; we've consistently called out this feature for a while now on mid-to-high end Nikons because we find it to be industry-leading.
But if you're not a Nikonian, don't fret! Almost every major consumer camera manufacturer has subject tracking in some form. Panasonic's tracking system works reliably well, in both rugby and in social situations. Sony's Eye AF feature is truly amazing. Olympus' C-AF + Tracking is fairly robust, and Canon's Dual Pixel AF is probably the best face detection and recognition system out there.
In short, experiment a little, give it a try and happy shooting!
Apple has updated its professional video editing app Final Cut Pro X to version 10.4.6. The update brings full 64-bit support, a new feature that helps convert older formats and much more.
Tonight's episode of NBC's Tonight Show, hosted by Jimmy Fallon, was filmed entirely on Samsung's flagship smartphone the Galaxy S10+.
Camera Bits has released the long-awaited update to its photo ingestion software in the form of Photo Mechanic 6.
SmugMug Films has shared its latest film, Streets in Mind, which takes a look at the life and work of London-based street photographer Alan Schaller.
We were in Japan earlier this month for the annual CP+ show in Yokohama, where we sat down with senior executives from several camera and lens manufacturers, among them Nikon.
Sony has released firmware version 5.0 for its flagship mirrorless camera, the a9. The update brings AI-driven autofocus modes, an improved menu structure and other updates.
Night Sight, Portrait Mode and (surprisingly) wide-angle selfie mode are features that we're currently loving about the Pixel 3's camera.
The Auschwitz Museum has asked visitors to be more respectful after an upsurge of pictures posted on social media showing people posing on the train tracks that lead to the main gate.
This week Chris and Jordan take the new Leica Q2 for a spin, and while most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are welcoming spring, they head even farther north than usual to visit ice castles. Because #Canada.
Harvard is facing a lawsuit over profiting from 19th century daguerreotypes that captured the portrait of a slave and his daughter on a South Carolina plantation.
From the detailed textures in rural landscapes to the incredible lighting inside futuristic buildings, the photorealism of Unreal Engine 4 is blurring the lines between fiction and reality...you know...aside from the spaceship.
Facebook has sent out emails to affected users requesting they change their passwords following a discovery that over 20K Facebook employees had access to 600 million passwords.
We've added Panasonic's new Lumix S1 and S1R full-frame mirrorless cameras to three of our buying guides. If you're looking for a quick summary of each model, then have a read.
YouTube channel Photoshop Cafe has shared a video detailing ten tips and tricks you can do to both fix and speed up Photoshop when it's running slow and sluggish.
It's not going to be the banger of the year, but it'll get a few laughs.
DJI has confirmed its drones won't be affected by the GPS 2019 week rollover.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has teamed up with Kodak to release a beer that's capable of doubling as a film developer.
The Diana Instant Square is a retro-inspired camera with manual controls that's fun to shoot in good light, but largely unpredictable in its operation.
Residents of a Paris street plagued by Instagrammers, selfie takers and music video crews are asking the city government for a weekend and evening ban to give them some peace.
The adapter plugs into the Osmo Pocket's USB Type-C port and features a 3.5mm TRS jack to plug in various external microphones.
Checkout allows Instagram users to select products for purchase and make payments directly in the app.
GauGAN as it's known, can create photorealistic images from basic drawings using the power of artificial intelligence.
The EOS RP is Canon's latest full-frame mirrorless camera, with diminutive dimensions and a diminutive price. Find out how it stacks up and get our thoughts in our early review.
Montana judge Dana L. Christensen has ruled the Republican National Committee did not infringe upon the copyright of photographer Erika Peterman after they took a photo from a Democratic candidate's Facebook page without permission and altered it to use in a derogatory promotional mailer.
Nikon has launched updates for three of its programs to address various bugs and glitches that could cause crashes and unwanted results.
LEE Filters has launched the LEE100, its next-generation filter holder that improves the design and looks in all the right places.
With the arrival of some much-needed sunshine and final production firmware for the Panasonic S1, we've been able to get outside and really start putting the camera through its paces.
Importing, culling and tagging photos is about to get a whole lot faster and look a whole lot better with the impending arrival of Photo Mechanic 6.
On its own, the FTZ adapter retails for $250 and when bundled it dropped the cost to just $150. Now, Nikon is offering it for free with all Z6, Z7 purchases in the United States.
Profoto said it spoke with Godox back at Photokina 2018 and continues to contact Godox in an effort to stop it from marketing its V1 light.