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Desperate for help with focusing for video

thesun
Apprentice

I have been trying for weeks now to get good video footage of some Piping Plover chicks and their parents on a rock-strewn beach.  These birds are beautifully camoflauged and if the Canon 7D Mark II were a predator it would have starved long ago -- the moment the birds stop, the camera refocuses on the nearest rock, stone, bit of seaweed.  Can't see them at all.  Often, and I don't know why, it selects something in the foreground and in the lower 4th of the frame...rather than staying on the bird which is in the center.  I can see a blurry chick behind the crisp foreground...not at all what I want.

I can only shoot with a 100-400mm lens since the birds are quite shy and stay far away, and their behavior is to dart, stop, dart, stop, dart, stop...incredibly effective, and yet incredibly frustrating for a photographer.  Add to that sunshine that makes it hard to see the video and it really is a challenge to get even a few seconds of usable footage.  Not that I'm blaming the camera -- I've loved nearly every still photo I've taken, the focus is tack sharp, it tracks beautifully and the camera's gone with me everywhere: Tanzania, Indonesia, Guatemala, Japan -- it's NOT the camera's fault.  Just these birds are amazing at what they do.

The best thing, I believe, would be to take steps to add as much depth-of-field as possible to the video.  And somehow I've found that very hard.  One, there's not a lot of depth-of-field when a 400mm lens is extended fully (on the 7D that's a 640mm effective zoom).  Two, I've had to film in the early morning or late evening at times, so I need the most light I can get.  It's hard to stop down much without underexposing the video or still shot.

But I am not an expert at the video side of this and if anyone out there IS a video guru and could walk me through some steps to getting the focus right that would be ideal.  Is it as simple as setting an Av-mode and choosing an aperture that is as high as possible, then switching to video mode?  I've tried that and usually the video is underexposed.  My most effective method thus far is to focus as if taking a still pic, then switch the lens to manual, THEN go (without touching the lens!) into the Live shooting mode and start a video.  This at least prevents the focus from switching when the bird freezes.  But if the bird moves too close or too far away, I've lost the shot...and it's often very difficult to even know for sure if it's unfocused until I'm home, looking at the videos on my computer. 

I know there are technological things that could help -- a camera-mounted LCD, for instance.  But I don't have the resources for that.  If anyone out there is a videographer who understands this issue and the 7Dmii, please reply.  I greatly appreciate your help and suggestions.  Thank you in advance!! 

6 REPLIES 6

Waddizzle
Legend

How far are you from the camera when you are filming the chicks?

 

The 7D Mark II has the first generation of Dual Pixel AF.  It does not track subjects when recording video, but it can autofocus in real time.  This was a major breakthrough when it was introduced.  Since that time, Canon has released camera bodes that improved upon previous DPAF bodies.  I think we are now in the third generation of it

 

I bring this up because the 7D2 requires that you tell it where you want it to focus.  Otherwise, it will simply focus on the nearest thing to the camera.  More recent models that incorporate Bluetooth, allow you to remotely refocus the camera when shooting video.  This works very well with an iPAD.  Just touch the screen, and that's where it focuses.

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"The right mouse button is your friend."

Thank you @Waddizzle for the info.  This may sound dumb but when you say "tell it where to focus" what does that entail?  Manually focusing?  Or adjusting the focus dot while the subject is moving?  (the 61 squares?)  That would be nearly impossible due to the mad zipping of these birds.

It is good to know that's why the camera is focusing on the wrong things.  But I'm right AT the camera.  But pressing the shutter halfway during live shooting never brings the focus into the right spot -- it's always somewhere very close to the bottom of the screen (which like you say, would be the closest thing to the image). 

If you can explain a few things that I should do while I'm at the camera (I'm holding it, or using it with a tripod) that would be fantastic.  And again:  is there any way to simply widen the depth-of-field from 5 feet to maybe 20 or 50?

" This may sound dumb but when you say "tell it where to focus" what does that entail? "

 

By that I mean you have to decide where in the frame you want the active AF point to be.  The camera is not tracking subjects, so you must perform the tracking for it.  

 

I am not sure what you mean by "adjusting the focus dots, the 61 squares."  There are 61 squares in the viewfinder for shooting stills.  When you are shooting video, there are hundreds of AF points laid out on 61 x 29 grid.  The joystick is used to move the focus box around the screen.  It is not exactly fast.  

 

Newer cameras have Bluetooth and touch screens, which allow for Touch AF.  My 6D2 is Bluetooth enabled.  I can use my iPAD to select where I want the camera to focus by touching the iPad display.  This works in Live View and Movie Mode.  Bluetooth is much simpler to setup than Wi-Fi.  It is ideal for wireless remote control.  Bluetooth is why I chose the 6D2 over the 5D4, which was given NFC for some reason instead of Bluetooth.  The only 1D body with Bluetooth is the 1Dx Mark III.

 

If you are at the camera and shooting stills, then I would use the viewfinder, instead of the Live View screen.  You will get faster focusing using the 61 AF point system in the viewfinder.  I do not know how much you need to move the camera.  

 

However, if the chicks are scurrying around like energized electrons, then you may want to consider AF tracking in the camera.  You can set the camera to start AF tracking from the center AF point, with all 61 AF points enabled in AI Servo mode.  Once the camera "sees" your subject, it is capable of doing a pretty good job of tracking a moving subject around the viewfinder.

 

As far as increasing DoF from 5 feet to 20 or 50 feet goes, that would be tough to pull off.  You would need to either move back a significant distance, or use a significantly shorter focal length.  Without seeing and knowing more about your shooting conditions, that's the best I can say.

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"The right mouse button is your friend."

Thank you again for taking the time to offer suggestions and help.  I had suspected that the AF techniques I've been familiar with for still photos were not working when I'm doing video.  I had not known that I COULD shoot video through the viewfinder -- that alone would be a huge help as I'm much better able to see the image that way.  (In fact, I just tried and it shuts off the viewfinder whenever I've got the red "movie" icon selected, but I'll go find the manual and figure that out.)

In playing around with it since posting, I see that by selecting "Set" I can choose an AF mode "L" or an AF mode that's a little square.  Do you know what those are called and how they differ?

 

Thank you!


@thesun wrote:

Thank you again for taking the time to offer suggestionsand help.  I had suspected that the AF techniques I've been familiar with for still photos were not working when I'm doing video.  I had not known that I COULD shoot video through the viewfinder -- that alone would be a huge help as I'm much better able to see the image that way.  (In fact, I just tried and it shuts off the viewfinder whenever I've got the red "movie" icon selected, but I'll go find the manual and figure that out.)

In playing around with it since posting, I see that by selecting "Set" I can choose an AF mode "L" or an AF mode that's a little square.  Do you know what those are called and how they differ?

 

Thank you!


Correct!  You cannot shoot video through the viewfinder.  The camera raises the mirror to expose the sensor, which cuts off the reflected image to the viewfinder.

 

69CB8990-E758-43A9-921A-42C4C27188A0.png

 

Here is a crude diagram of how it works in most DSLR cameras.  What is not shown is the AF sensor, which would be directly below the mirror.  The AF sensor would sit between the #2 and #3, approximately.  The metering sensor is at the top of the viewfinder, which is not really shown either.

 

If you do not have a copy of the full User Manual for your camera, then I suggest that you visit the Canon Product Support page for your camera.  This would be the same page where you downloaded software.

 

https://www.usa.canon.com/internet/portal/us/home/support/details/cameras/eos-dslr-and-mirrorless-ca... 

 

Canon also published an Autofocus Guide for the EOS 7D Mark II, but I cannot find a link to it at the moment.

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"The right mouse button is your friend."

Ghastly basic question, but if I want to stop down the video and make the aperture smaller to increase depth of field, am I best off using the Av option?  Or should I use P?  Or is there a better way to do this when shooting video?  If I set the Av will the camera automatically choose a shutter speed that will work?

(I'm fine with Av and P and all the settings if it's a still shot.  It's just video that has me confused.  I assume I can shoot video in any of the settings, yes?  Or does Live View reset itself and use alternate options that are not tied to the dial controls?)

I did a test in Av mode and it seemed like using a f11 or f22 gave me video with a wider depth of field.  Though it was a shorter lens, so I wasn't as constrained for light as I will be with the 100-400mm. 

Thank you again. 

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