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!
May 8, 2017
May 5, 2017
Apr 22, 2017
Apr 18, 2017
|Fangorn Forest by cand1d|
|Yosemite Falls with Moonbow by Jonathan Shapiro|
from Best Landscape of the Week 4
The new stuff should have better red hues, improved sensitivity and finer grain - but don't worry - will still shift blues to green, greens to purple and yellows to pink.
Ricoh has introduced a new rugged compact camera with a 16MP CMOS sensor, 28-140mm lens, 2.7" LCD and built-in LED macro lights. Read more
This compact drone can shoot HD video using a 2-axis stabilized 12MP camera. Read more
The new Prynt Pocket can print a photo directly from their iPhone simply by inserting the phone into the printer, then snapping a photo. Each print will cost about 50 cents. Read more
Updates for Adobe Camera Raw and Lightroom CC bring support for the Sony A9 and Panasonic ZS70/TZ90, along with bug fixes.
The Triggertrap remote camera control system is no longer sold due to the company folding, but now users will be able to build their own. Read more
The Magic Format Converter comes with internal optics that expand the image circle of full-frame DSLR lenses for use on the Fuji medium format camera. Read more
The usually Apple-exclusive MacPhun software developer has announced that it will introduce PC versions of two of its most popular applications. Both Aurora HDR and Luminar should be available for the Windows operating system by the autumn of this year. Read more
Sony's newest G Master telephoto zoom, announced alongside the a9, is the first of the company's FE lenses to reach 400mm natively. We had one in California and photographed horses, portraits, and landscapes - check out how it did. Read more
Garmin has entered the 360-camera market with the VIRB, which captures 5.7K video at 30p as well as 15MP stills. Read more
German media reports that the founders of the company behind the Panono 360-degree ball camera have filed for bankruptcy at a court in Berlin. Read more
With a claimed 800 new custom parts, Microsoft's updated Surface Pro comes with the latest Kaby Lake processors, better battery life, a new hinge, plus the Surface Pen is updated as well. Read more
DW Photo is attempting to resurrect the Hy6 medium format camera, though the legal tangles of its development may stop it being branded Rolleiflex.
The Kodak EKTRA, the company's 'camera first' smartphone, is now available to purchase in the United States. Read more
Apple and Nokia have settled their years-old patent dispute. Apple will make an undisclosed payment to Nokia and sign a licensing agreement related to digital health products with the Finnish company.
David Gibson, one of Britain's best known street shooters, shares all.
Photographers from the SKYGLOW project travelled 150k miles and took 3 million photos in increasingly rare locations: those without light pollution.
The world's fastest 200mm was produced for 16 years. In that time, only 8000 were made.
Photokina, the biennial photo industry trade show in Cologne, Germany, has announced that it will become an annual event beginning in 2018, and expand its focus to additional areas of imaging technology. Read more
No mic socket? No problem. In this video, Daniel Peters at Photo Gear News shows you how to make a lapel microphone using just a smartphone and a pair of earbuds.
How does the iPhone 7 Plus stack up against the Arri Alexa cinema camera? Watch this short video to find out.
Canon Australia's video series "The Lab" is designed to make photographers experiment and think outside the box. In the latest video a group of photographers create images based on their sense of taste.
The GH5 is expected to get a firmware update this summer to support 400Mbps internal recording. NewsShooter explores what memory cards you'll need to make it work.
Microsoft's new Surface Pro offers Intel's latest processor generation and improved battery life.
Riding a mountain bike downhill is dangerous enough in daylight, but potentially lethal at night. Which is where drones come in.
Rumors abound that Canon (and maybe Nikon) may produce a mirrorless camera based using their existing DSLR mount. Does this guarantee immediate great lens choice or a perpetually second-rate experience? Read more
According to rumors, the next camera from Nest will be able to capture 4K video, though that resolution will be only used for 'virtual' pan and tilt functions.
Boundary's Prima 'fully modular' backpack is expandable to 30L and has a removable camera case and tablet sleeve. Early Kickstarter backers can get one for $189.
Stanley Greene captured 'brutally honest' photographs in the war zones of the Middle East, Chechnya and Georgia. He was also one of the few African-American photographers working internationally.
Owners of Leica M cameras that suffer from peeling CCDs will be able to claim a free repair in the future so long as the camera was purchased within five years of the fault becoming apparent, the company has announced. Read more