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Can't get sharp shot with EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II

jgro002
Occasional Contributor

Hi everyone,

 

I'm hoping to get some advice on why I cannot get any sharp shots with the above lens.

 

I have tried everything i can think of to improve my chances including spending a lot of time trying to improve my technique while using it handheld, using it with a tripod, using it with the IS, increasing the ISO to make sure i can get fast shutter speeds etc. I have also had the lens calibrated by Canon. No matter what I try i just can't get critically sharp shots. If I compare the shots I get with this lens to my 100mm macro lens the difference is night and day. Photos with the 100-400 lens just look fuzzy.

 

Just FYI I have tried using the lens with both a 6D body and an 80D body. 

 

When I booked the lens in for calibration with Canon I asked for them to check if they believed the lens was actually functioning correctly or not but noone ever got back to me on this, the customer service was absolutely terrible but since I've already gone down that route I can't really get any advice from a Canon tech on whetehr or not this lens is as sharp as it should be.

 

Below is an example of an unedited, uncropped shot that feels so close to being good but just not quite there. Settings used were f7.1, iso 1000, shutter 1/1600, handheld at 400mm, manual focus, taken with the 80D.

 

I'm feeling like there's no point going out to take photos now because I am getting zero keepers, so any advice would be much appreciated.

 

Thanks

Jeremy

 

IMG_2689 (1).jpg

 

 

22 REPLIES 22


@jgro002 wrote:

Hi cicopo,

 

I wondered if the shot of the dragonfly in flight might kind of confuse the topic a bit since you are correct it is a very difficult subject. The point is everything i shoot just looks fuzzy whether it is staitonary or not - see this shot of a dragonfly at rest, this was using the autofocus but it is so far off from being crisp...

 

I appreciate your thoughts tho!

 

 


 

I think your shot is not focused on the dragonfly.  It seems to be focused behind it.  I cropped your image so that it can be seen.

 

EA168901-E868-4F12-A88B-083C708B3FE8.jpeg

 

This does not mean the camera/lens combination [is] back focusing.  This is another tough shooting scenario. So, it might not be the best example, either.  Picking out a subject from among surrounding branches and leaves is TRICKY. 

 

I have no idea where you locked focus for this shot.  Some of the leaves and stalks in parts of the image seem to be pretty sharp.  However, all of the focused areas seem to be behind the intended subject, the dragonfly.  

 

I think this shot is most likely simply missed focus, and not a back focus issue.  Believe in the hardware, because more times than not, it is working properly.  Again, this is one the trickiest shooting scenarios a nature photographer may encounter.

 

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I would approach this scenario using One Shot mode with the just the center AF point.  I would also use BBF, so that once I achieved focus on the dragonfly, then the lens does not try to refocus when I press the shutter.  I have this combination of settings saved as a Custom Shooting mode, which i think of as “Brid on a Tree Branch” mode.  I also have my custom shooting modes set to not to automatically update themselves.

 

 

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"Doctor told me to get out and walk, so I bought a Canon."

These are the Image Priority settings that I described earlier.  This screenshot is from the 80D instruction manual.

 

EFB57575-998D-4FCA-B0B9-C428295DF52B.jpeg

 

These settings are only in effect in AI Servo mode.  The assumption is made that the camera is in Continuous Drive shooting mode.  I recommend setting both functions to “Focus Priority”.  While your FPS may take a hit with Focus Priority, what is the point of a high FPS when the shots are not focused?  Besides, you lens focuses fast enough that you may not even notice a difference.  The 6D has a similar function setting.

 

With the 80D, you can set the camera to “track” subjects in AI Servo mode.  Tracking can always begin with your selected AF point, or the camera can pick a starting point on its’ own.  Most people select the Center AF point as the starting point.  The camera can be set so that you can see which AF points are “active” as the AF system tracks a subject.  

Understanding the AF system and how it tracks subjects is easier to understand with the 80D than a 6D, because of its’ real time AF tracking display.  The 6D AF system operates in a similar fashion.  You just do not see it.  Because of its’ higher number of AF points, the 80D has more advanced AF Assist tracking features, which the 6D has in a less sophisticated form.

 

With the 6D, you will not see a tracking display.  Instead, you will see constant display of where the AF points are located.  You simply need to keep your subject within that center area of the frame.  Without a real-time AF tracking display, you do not have visual confirmation of tracking, nor when you lose tracking on the subject.  

 

The 6D is good at tracking subjects that fill the frame (humans playing sports), and less so for smaller subjects (small birds) that do not.  The more AF points that you can put on a subject, the better AF system can track its’ movements.

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"Doctor told me to get out and walk, so I bought a Canon."

jgro002
Occasional Contributor

Waddizzle, thank you so much for your thorough and thoughtful replies, I really appreciate it!

 

I think you're likely correct that the sticks etc in the background of the second shot made focusing more difficult. Maybe part of my struggles have indeed been subject matter and lack of skill on my part...I'll keep practicing.

 

Below are two shots I took in the last 24 hours (unedited) both handheld at 400mm with autofocus on the 80D. The moon photo in particular looks pretty sharp to me and the bird is probably acceptable too, although I admit with no prior experience in this kind of wildlife photography I'm not even sure exactly how sharp is sharp enough!

 

Thanks again for your help.

 

IMG_2814.jpg

 

IMG_2901.jpg


@jgro002 wrote:

Waddizzle, thank you so much for your thorough and thoughtful replies, I really appreciate it!

 

I think you're likely correct that the sticks etc in the background of the second shot made focusing more difficult. Maybe part of my struggles have indeed been subject matter and lack of skill on my part...I'll keep practicing.

 

Below are two shots I took in the last 24 hours (unedited) both handheld at 400mm with autofocus on the 80D. The moon photo in particular looks pretty sharp to me and the bird is probably acceptable too, although I admit with no prior experience in this kind of wildlife photography I'm not even sure exactly how sharp is sharp enough!

 

Thanks again for your help.


Both of those shots look better than your previous shots.  Now we are getting somewhere.  As I suspected, it looks like your focusing issues are not hardware related.  Operator error is quicker and cheaper to fix than a bad lens or camera.  I suspect lens switch settings are the culprit, BTW.

 

The pigeon(?) shot looks a little soft, though.  The focusing range switch can make a big difference, as can the camera settings that I pointed out earlier.  I cannot read AF mode or Drive mode in the EXIF with my iPAD software, either, Lightroom CC.  

 

The IS mode lens switch setting can make a big difference, too.  I would use Mode 1 for either of these shots.  For the Moon photo, I would have definitely turned off the IS because I would have the camera on a tripod.  But, shooting handheld means you probably would want to use IS Mode 1, because your subject is stationary.  Use Mode 2 for moving subjects.  Mode 3 is a little more subtle.  It disables IS until you actually fire the shutter.  I rarely use it.

 

You used a 1/1000 shutter speed af f/8, and ISO 400, for the bird.  I think that is the minimum shutter that i would want to use with that camera lens combo.  The rule of thumb says to use a minimum SS of 1/FL, where FL is the focal length in use.  But that applies to a full frame camera body.  

 

For an APS-C body, the rule of thumb says to use a minimum SS of 1/(2*FL), or twice the focal length.  This works out to 1/800 shutter for the 80D.  I would like to use at least 1/1600 for subjects that size with my 6D, which is 1/(4*FL).  This would work out to roughly 1/3200 on the 80D.

But, you also used an f/8 aperture.  Normally, using f/8 would be a good rule of thumb.  In my experience with this lens, I can get way with shooting wide open with it, and it is still razor sharp.  Adjust the lens to a 100mm focal length, and then dial in the minimum aperture of f/4.5.  The camera will stop down the aperture as you adjust the focal length.

Do I think your shutter speed is an issue?  No, but it could be if you are shooting handheld.  I began shooting with a monopod, and the sharpness in my photos suddenly jumped upwards when my SS was close to 1/FL for stationary shots like the bird.  

 

Experimenting with faster shutter speeds, and lens switch settings, taught me the best settings to use for different scenarios.  Many times I did not wait for an opportunity to photograph a bird sitting on a branch.  I would photograph squirrels, too.  Even an apple hanging in a tree.  I would take several versions of the same shot, but with small changes to my camera and lens settings.

All of it taught me a few things.  Shutter speed can make a world of difference, so do not be afraid to push SS, which pushes the ISO, a little bit. Getting the appropriate lens switch settings for a given shooting scenario is critical.  The focusing distance switch can mean the difference between clear and sharp.  

 

I typically have the lens set to the distant focusing setting, 3 meters to infinity.  Your shot of the bird strongly reminds me of the test shots I take with the lens focusing switch set to full range.  Also, the AF point selection makes a difference, too.  You will get better results with one of the cross-type AF points, like the center AF point, for focusing on still subjects like the bird.

 

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"Doctor told me to get out and walk, so I bought a Canon."

jgro002
Occasional Contributor

Waddizzle, thanks again!

 

You've given me so much useful information. I am going to need to reread through your posts to try to incorporate your tips. I did go out today and try pushing the iso up a bit to try and get the shutter speed up a bit like you had suggested. I missed a lot of shots of kingfishers (still not sure exactly why they are soft) but i got the below two shots which look better to me, would you agree...?

 

The dragonfly shot was focussed manually; the heron shot was auto-focussed to get it mostly there and then tweaked with manual focus.

 

If I was to use the centre autofocus point as you suggested, does that mean focusing and then recomposing? Wouldn't that throw the focus off slighty (eg if you were trying to get a bird's eye completely sharp for instance)?

 

Thanks

Jeremy

 

IMG_3175.jpgIMG_3247.jpg


@jgro002 wrote:

Waddizzle, thanks again!

 

You've given me so much useful information. I am going to need to reread through your posts to try to incorporate your tips. I did go out today and try pushing the iso up a bit to try and get the shutter speed up a bit like you had suggested. I missed a lot of shots of kingfishers (still not sure exactly why they are soft) but i got the below two shots which look better to me, would you agree...?

 

The dragonfly shot was focussed manually; the heron shot was auto-focussed to get it mostly there and then tweaked with manual focus.

 

If I was to use the centre autofocus point as you suggested, does that mean focusing and then recomposing? Wouldn't that throw the focus off slighty (eg if you were trying to get a bird's eye completely sharp for instance)?

 

Thanks

Jeremy

 

 


Using the center AF point as a starting point in AI servo mode does not mean recomposing the shot.  

 

This what AF tracking is all about.  The AF system will track focus on the subject within the frame, for as long as you have the subject covered by enabled AF points.  Use the center AF point as the initial starting point with AF Assist Points enabled.

 

EOS 6D2017_10_221791.jpg

 

EOS 6D2017_10_221791-2.jpg

 

You should be able to capture shots as sharp as these.  The first image is a cropped version of the second.

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"Doctor told me to get out and walk, so I bought a Canon."

"If I was to use the centre autofocus point as you suggested, does that mean focusing and then recomposing? Wouldn't that throw the focus off slighty (eg if you were trying to get a bird's eye completely sharp for instance)?"

 

The camera will hold foucs as long as you half press the shutter button.  Use the center focus point and recompose as necessary.  I don't know what tips you are referring to but in this instance One shot and center focus point (only) is best. Hand holding requires practice so keep doing it.  ISO in the 400 to 1600 should be fine.

 

Your blue heron looks fantastic so we know your gear is OK.  Keep doing that.

EB
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!

jgro002
Occasional Contributor

Thanks again for your help Waddizzle and ebiggs1.

 

I guess I really just didn't appreciate just how hard it is to handhold the lens. I'll just have to keep practicing. I may also have to get used to just setting up on a tripod and waiting for the wildlife to come to me.

 

Thought I'd share one more photo from today to show the progress.

 

Cheers,

JeremyIMG_3373.jpg

NIce Smiley Happy

EB
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!

"I'm not even sure exactly how sharp is sharp enough!"

 

IMHO, neither of the two sample are sharp. They both show camera movement.  That isn't a lens problem.  The 100-400mm is getting good reviews about how sharp it is. I would expect better.  You can fasten it to a good heavy duty tripod and still get camera movement.  You can imagine hand holding can be a real challenge.

 

Keep in mind looking in the wrong place for the problem will not lead to a solution.

EB
EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and several lenses!