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mmeyer

Play Ball!!!

34 posts in this topic

Got some pics the other night at my son's baseball game. Not the best technically but it was fun none the less.

Can't seem to keep his eyes open when he's hitting the ball. Is this normal?? grin

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No, he's got it right--eyes closed, mouth open. Works every time. Cute little guy!

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Sweet shots, Mike. I'm with Sarah. Kids tend to close their eyes and open their mouths at the crucial moment. smilesmile

As an aside, your camera/lens locked focus behind the batter. Note that the sharpest part of the image is the clay dirt behind the batter, and even the backstop is more sharp than the batter. With the boy poised and ready in the infield, also note the region just behind the boy is sharper than the boy himself. Not sure what body/lens combo you are using now (and there are many variables in technique that can play into things), but there may be some back-focusing issues going on. There's enough contrast in the face of the subject so your focus point should easily have been able to lock onto his face.

It's also possible you were on continual focus mode (not sure what that is for Nikonians, but it's ai servo for Canonites) and you focused on the player, then recomposed before tripping the shutter, and your camera refocused after you shifted your composition, grabbing the background instead of the player.

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Thanks guys for the comments!

Steve, I was using my D80 with the Sigma 170-500mm lens that gives me focusing issues constantly. You may be on to something with the back focusing. I hadn't thought of that. I think I may have to bite the bullet and send it to Sigma and see what can be done. It's very very frustrating. It worked great with my older D50 but with the D80 it doesn't. My other lenses work fine though so it has to be the lens.

Thanks again!!

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Mike, Sigma has a great customer service reputation. Their quality control appears to be a bit uneven, as you hear fairly frequently about focusing issues, but I've only ever heard excellent feedback about their service. Even if the lens is out of warranty, you may get the lens serviced for not much money.

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I had that problem shooting danceline photos. Thanks for the explanation, Steve.

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Thanks everyone! The helmet shot is my favorite also.

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I'm wondering a bit about the shots Mike. Are these cropped at all? What focus points are you using? As Steve pointed out the focus is quite a bit behind the batter but to me it is way to far back to think back focus. You are working with a lens that doesn't have stellar focus speed (think in terms of sports shooting), and if you pre-focus than I would wonder a bit about a lens issue.

The problem is this, when you press the shutter to time your batting shot and take the picture, and the picture is framed the way you posted it guess what happens. The focus is going to be moving toward the fence because your subject is no longer in the center of the photo. I looks like your lens and camera are doing what they are supposed to, you press the shutter button and the lens begins to focus...behind the batter.

With Canon this is when splitting your focus off the shutter button works like a charm. I believe you can do the same with Nikon? I would do a simple focus test with the lens before you send in for repair.

I can also tell you have one of the worst set of conditions for your autofocus. The dark uniforms with little to no contrast will throw off even a fast focusing lens. You will have a number of throw aways even if your equipment and you do eveything correctly.

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I was moving the focus point around all game so I think I was probably using the one on the left. The problem I am having with the lens is that when it locks on to something, it's not always in focus. It will be just out of focus. If I do get it to lock on and the subject moves it doesn't change focus even when I'm on continuous. I'll have to focus on something far away fro the subject then move back to it and it will focus then. Your comment about the dark uniform makes sense. I was also shooting my son's friend with an orange uniform and it worked great. Do you think that is related to my problem?

Thanks for the help!!

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Mike, if you're locking focus on the unis, then Dan is right. Not much contrast on that dark one, and I can see why your focus performance improves with the orange uni.

With these images, which are pretty static in sports terms, I'd have locked on the faces, which are bright and full of contrast and easier for the autofocus to grab. In many action sports situations, the face is just too small and moving too fast, and it's best to use the upper body/uni.

I don't know about the D80, but with the Canon consumer/prosumer bodies, the center focus point offers more precision/speed/accuracy of auotofocus performance than choosing any of the peripheral focus points.

With my prosumer equipment, I'd have selected the center focus point and locked focus on the boy's face just before he got ready to swing and then recomposed, triggering the burst as he began swinging. This only would work in "one shot" focus mode in Canonspeak. If using continual focus mode (Canon calls it Ai servo) you can't lock focus and recompose because the focus point remains active any time autofocus is engaged, and it'll continually refocus on whatever the focus point covers. I will say that the times I've used lenses that weren't excellent focus performers, Ai servo mode offered more challenges than one shot mode.

One could also go to manual focus in a situation like this and lock on the ball stand, then bump the focus ring just a touch farther out. Especially if you stopped down to f8 or f11, you'd have enough DOF to get the shot. And in conditions this bright, if you were at, say, iso400, you'd have the shutter speed to spare to stop down a bit.

If you're in continual focus mode and the lens is not refocusing as your subject moves toward or away from the camera, that sounds like a lens performance or camera/lens communication issue to me. But as a way to evaluate whether you should send in the lens, you could certainly call Sigma and get a tech on the line and run through your problems. We can make our own guesses here based on our own experiences, but your best feedback on your lens will come from those folks who evaluate and repair those specific lenses for a living.

Not that anyone likes sitting on the phone on permahold. gringringrin

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I am going to give you a bit different advice here. I just rarely use the face for any auto focus. I find it just lacks good contrast to get your auto focus to work consistently and accurately. Look at your belt area, dark uniform top and light pants, the perfect scenario for auto focus especially when you are shooting profile like these shots, DOF is not an issue. Even shooting head on I find DOF to rarely be an issue unless you are shooting VERY tight. Frankly using manual focus for sports is an issue in futility in virtually any situation with the possible exception of the batter shot you have here! I manually focused for 20+ years and the viewfinders and lenses on that equipment gave you a fighting chance. Todays equipment from viewfinders to lens design is not set up for that. But if you learn the ins and outs of your camera/lens combinations you will be able to take advantage of your auto focus. Its tough enough to follow action and capture it at its peak with out worrying about manual focus which I would guess most have never had to practice with. Suddenly getting pictures of your athlete will not be the fun rewarding experience you had hoped for.

As I mentioned in my first post splitting your focus and moving it to a back button is the perfect solution for baseball, softball or most any field sport. I personally don't recommend focus, recompose and fire a burst, it just hasn't worked to get results that are satisfactory for me. Splitting your focus from the shutter button gives you the best of ALL focus modes which is why the vast majority that shoot sports use it. My cameras NEVER are used any other way for any type of shooting. This also saves me the trouble of choosing a different focus mode for a different situation, every situation is covered! Not everyone cares for it but most that give it a try never go back.

I also don't agree that when the subject is moving toward or away from you that it is a camera lens issue. This is the most difficult situation for ANY camera lens combination, especially when you are tracking a low contrast subject and you are back lit. The Mark IIN with a 300/2.8 will give you problems under these conditions. Your remark that it worked fine with orange uniforms with no doubt white or black letters made the lens perform again makes me think you are looking at a slow focusing lens with low contrast subject and throw in a little back lighting and you have a recipe for focus difficulty.

If you are looking to help give yourself some nice bokeh with sports shooting you need to keep yourself at close to minimum aperture, normally f5.0 or less. Just as many try to give themselves nice smooth, clean backgrounds shooting wildlife, I try the same thing with sports. The other thing that does for you is keep a higher shutter speed. Even with young players like you photographed I would be looking at 1/1500s minimum to help nearly stop motion and to help eliminate camera shake with a longer lens.

I am not ruling out a lens issue but I would be doing more testing before I didn't rule out just plain tough focus situations, equipment limitations and honestly some operator accuracy.

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Thanks Steve and Dan. Ok, Dan, can you tell me more about this splitting the focus to the back button? Why does it perform differently than if you press the shutter halfway down? I'm interested in trying this out. I am severely frustrated with this lens/body combo. It all worked fine with my D50 but when I upgraded it went to pot. I tried my buddies lens on it and had the same issue and my lens worked fine on his D50. So I'm thinking after this discussion, that I may have a little work ahead of me.

Thanks again for your help. You guys are great!!

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Mike, on Canon cameras there's an option that allows you to use a smaller button on the upper right-hand back of the camera body to focus. You use your right thumb to push the button, which leaves your right forefinger free to spin the dial that adjusts aperture/shutter speed, as well as instant forefinger access to a series of buttons that controls AF, white balance, iso burst rate and other options. For people who have memorized those control options, using the thumb to focus on the back of the camera and freeing up the forefinger (which typically is used to depress the shutter button half way to acquire focus) can be a big advantage, because you don't have to look away from the viewfinder and remove your gaze from the action in order to change settings. That's partly because you've memorized which button does what, but also because you've got your forefinger free until you need to take the picture.

Also, if you use the traditional focus button and press a bit too firmly, you take the picture. That doesn't happen when using the rear thumb-focus button. You still have to use your forefinger to depress the shutter and take the picture, but before you do that your forefinger is free to alter a dizzying array of camera settings.

If you have a non-1 series Canon body and buy an add-on battery grip, the buttons are there as well so you don't have to wrap your hand weirdly around the camera to reach the controls shooting vertically, as you do with a non-gripped camera.

A person could write half a book on the comparative advantages/disadvantages of which focus buttons to use, and these are only the points that occur to me off the top of my head.

I don't know the Nikon control conventions, so I don't know if your D80 has this option or, if it does have this focus option, it gains you any of the advantages the Canon bodies do. My guess is "yes" on both points, but it's only a guess. Nikon designers are NOT dummies! gringrin

That being said, and all regard for Dbl, I worked hard with the thumb-focus option on sports for a couple months while I was still shooting sports on a near daily basis and ended up preferring the traditional method. Recently, I was using the 1D mk3 and Canon 70-200 f2.8L IS as one of two shooters at a youth tournament, each of us shooting more than 30 games and 400-600 images per game over the course of three days and amassing many, many thousands of images at the speed of hockey, and I had no trouble gaining and retaining focus, achieving my preferred composition and making on-the-fly adjustments using the traditional method.

That's just my thing, however. Many (I'd actually say almost all) pro Canon sports shooters enable the rear thumb-focus option and never take it off because it offers advantages for them that I can't find in my own style of shooting.

There's no doubt Dan will offer his perspectives on this as well, and it's a method that works wonderfully for him. If your Nikon has that option, and again I've got to assume it does, it is worth a lot of experimentation to see if it works better for you. It's definitely time well spent. It won't necessarily improve any potential communication problems between camera and lens, if those problems indeed exist, nor will it get a slow-focusing lens to focus faster or more accurately, but if you end up feeling more comfortable with the technique it definitely will yield better photographs, because the more ease you feel technically, the more you'll be freed up to exercise your compositional eye and produce pics with panache. And in action sports, pictures with panache happen between the blink of an eye. smilesmile

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Honestly Mike I think this is a lens camera body combination. I really don't think there is anything wrong with your lens. You support that theory by saying it works fine on your D50 and another D50. Could be that the focus is improved on your D80 and the two are not playing well together. You might try changing focus sensitivity on your D80 and see if you can find a good setting to get your lens to work nicer with your camera.

You also will have a learning curve with shooting faster moving sports with a slower focusing lens under different conditions. As mentioned above back lighting is a problem for ANY auto focus system. This lens doesn't focus fast compared say to a prime lens. Couple that with tough focus conditions and you will just plain have some issues. You are noticing it because you have become a very proficient photographer who now is paying attention to little details like why his lens has a low keeper rate! That is the good news, it just plain comes from experience. I shoot around 100,000 sports shots per year on average and trust me when something is even slightly off you will begin to notice it! You also will begin to learn the limitations of your equipment and what conditions will give you issues. You are there now!

So keep experimenting with this combination until you find a combination of settings that will give you a satisfactory number of keepers that can keep you happy!

On to the back focus button or AF-ON in the Nikon world. I am going to quote directly from the Canon Digital Learning Center which has a wonderful article explaining the benefits of splitting your focus away from the exposure. So here goes!

Quote:
First off: why would anyone want to remove AF from the shutter button?

This is a question many users ask when Back-button AF is first explained to them. There are certainly many times where the standard method of operation — press the shutter button half-way down to focus, and then press fully to shoot — works perfectly well. Everything is controlled by one finger, and if you like, you can lock the focus with a stationary subject by holding the shutter button half-way down. Even dedicated supporters of back-button AF will change back to standard camera operation from time to time.

But back-button AF offers some significant advantages, especially for the experienced photographer. Here are some frequently-mentioned ones:

1. Easier to lock focus

If you are shooting something like a series of portraits of a person, and you want them composed off-center, back-button AF makes it super-easy to take as many pictures as you want. Focus on your subject by pressing the rear button (more on which button later in this article). Once in-focus, take your thumb off the rear button. Re-compose the shot to move your subject off-center. Shoot as many pictures as you like.

If you like to lock focus and re-compose your subjects, you’ll find back-button AF very helpful: Once your focus is set, you can move the camera and take as many shots as you like without AF trying to re-focus on what’s now in the center of your picture.

With focus activation removed from the shutter button, you now can fire any time you like, and remove your index finger from the shutter button after a shot is taken. No matter what, the camera makes no effort to re-focus when you press the shutter button half-way down again.

2. Easier timing of shots

Similar to point number one above, but yet another benefit of pulling focus away from the shutter button is that critical timing becomes simpler to manage. For example, if you were shooting a speaker at a podium, he or she might periodically look up or make a gesture that would be an ideal instant to capture. If you’ve focused with back-button AF, your index finger is free to shoot at the decisive moment. There are no worries about holding your finger half-way down and waiting, waiting, waiting in that position for your subject to do something interesting.

Even with a very animated subject that may be moving around, you can have your camera’s focus set to AI Servo AF (to track any movement), and just keep your right thumb on the back button to keep focus active, while your index finger can be ready to shoot with no worries about also preserving focus.

3. Less risk of focus errors with moving subjects

For sports photographers and others taking action pictures, back-button AF lets you stop focus whenever something might interfere with the moving subject you’re tracking — without requiring you to stop shooting. In sports, for instance, it’s common for a referee or another player to come between the camera and an athlete being photographed. With back-button AF, it’s easy to momentarily pull your thumb off the rear button, and you can still keep shooting by pressing the shutter button fully. The camera instantly stops focusing when your thumb comes off the back button. Once the obstruction is out of your way, you can immediately pick-up your primary subject by pressing your thumb on the back button again.

Sports photographers know how common it is for a referee or another player to momentarily step between you and your subject. With back-button AF, it’s easy to keep shooting and halt AF by just pulling your thumb off the rear button until your view is totally clear again.

4. Easier over-riding of AF with full-time manual focus

More than half of Canon’s lenses have a neat feature called full-time manual focus*. Even if the lens’s AF/MF switch is in the AF position, these lenses allow the shooter to instantly adjust focus manually by simply turning the focus ring on the lens. There’s no need to first move the switch to MF.

With back-button AF, this becomes a nearly foolproof feature. Use the autofocus whenever you like by pressing the rear button with your right thumb. Shoot whenever you like by pressing the shutter button. And if you want to touch-up focus, or totally over-ride what the AF is doing, just pull your thumb off the rear button and turn the ring. No matter how many pictures you shoot, pressing the shutter button will not cause the AF to try to kick-in and re-set the focus you just adjusted manually.

5. Easier macro and close-up focusing

In close-up photography, it’s often necessary to focus manually, because AF tries to make little changes each time you shoot. With back-button AF, you can concentrate on composition, instead of keeping AF locked in place.

Many times, you’ll find that it’s actually easier to get consistently sharp close-up pictures of small objects by pre-focusing, and then moving yourself forward or backward until you see the critical sharp focus appear in your viewfinder. Once again, with back-button AF active, you can use the AF to get within general range (press the rear button with your thumb, then take your thumb off the button), and move a little bit to get things critically sharp. Most important, you can then shoot freely, without AF trying to re-focus each time you touch the shutter button. Finally, touching-up focus with the full-time manual focus feature on certain Canon lenses is simple and quick, and the auto focus never fights you by trying to un-do what you just adjusted.

Summary:

It can take a little practice to get the hang of back-button AF, but we suggest giving it a try if you haven’t done so already. Even if at first its operation seems unorthodox, in fact it can simplify certain types of shooting and allow you to work more quickly with fewer missed shots. Back-button AF was first suggested to Canon back in the late 1980s by sports photographers who saw the need for some way to be able to start and stop AF without interfering with shooting continuous pictures.

As I mentioned in my previous post I use this method for ALL shooting. I have issues with cameras with a very sensitive shutter button just trying to push half-way down and not taking a picture. This method makes life so much easier. You have all the focus modes rolled into one. Nikon I believe uses a AF-ON button to accomplish the same thing.

Give it a try, use it for a while and see if it works for you. You might be surprised with how much control you gain! The advantages are obvious with this method and baseball. Push the back button to focus on the batter, re-compose the shot slightly in front of the batter to allow for the forward step when swinging the bat and just push the shutter button to take the picture. Perfect focus every time! The only problem I've had with this method is occasionally shooting 10,000 frames in a weekend and having a sore thumb!

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Honestly Mike I think this is a lens camera body combination.

It may be partially a lens problem, although if it is, my guess is that it's a lens/camera compatibility or communication issue, as I'd mentioned earlier.

Mike, I think it's still best for you to phone Sigma and run them through the scenario you've been experiencing. I've been told by a handful of clients with older Siggie lenses that, when camera bodies are updated, the lenses occasionally need to be fitted with a new chip so camera/lens communication is improved. This doesn't tend to happen with Nikon bodies/lenses or Canon bodies/lenses, but Siggie (as well as Tamron and Tokina, et al) sometimes has to do a little reverse engineering after new DSLR body upgrades so their lenses work better with the newest bodies. If your zoom was produced before Siggie upgraded its chips following the introduction of the D80, this could easily be the problem.

FWIW, none of these clients had to pay Sigma for the service, though the lenses were out of warranty.

It will take you some time on the phone, unfortunately, but their techs get many phone calls like this, and I expect they'll be able to separate the sheep from the goats better than we can here. There just aren't many in here who know the technical details of interaction between Nikon bodies and Sigma lenses.

Just my IMO and $.02, and like Dan I strongly encourage you to try the alternative focusing technique. smilesmile

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I've been using the back button focus for about a year now and while it did take awhile to get quick with it,I would never go back. I did the double swap and use the grid button and not the AF ON button on the 50D-Dan would know why! grin

A funny side note for Dan-A friend told me about a Canon in a local pawn shop that was cheap,I figured it would be a 1st gen 1D,turned out it was a Mark IIN that wouldn't power up. Some dude traded it in on a garden tiller. I ended up getting it for $225 and sent it right out to Canon as soon as I got home. It'll prolly turn out to be a $225 paper weight,but it's worth the gamble.

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A friend told me about a Canon in a local pawn shop that was cheap,I figured it would be a 1st gen 1D,turned out it was a Mark IIN that wouldn't power up. Some dude traded it in on a garden tiller. I ended up getting it for $225 and sent it right out to Canon as soon as I got home. It'll prolly turn out to be a $225 paper weight,but it's worth the gamble.

At that price, definitely worth the gamble. Hope it works out for you!

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Well, I'm on board! I'm going to try that right away. It really sounds like it would be a good fit for what I do. We'll see I guess.

I'm also going to call Sigma, if for nothing else, than to get piece of mind that I'm not chasing my tail. The more I talk to you guys about it, I don't think there's a "problem" with it but just something that is like Steve mentioned. I know it's got limitations and I'm ok with that because I don't do a lot of sports shooting, just the kids, and I don't do a ton of wildlife shooting either. Although, if I can get this straightened out I would be much more likely to do more of both.

Thanks again to all of you for your extensive help! I will let you know how I'm getting along with the back button focusing.

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Quote:
At that price, definitely worth the gamble. Hope it works out for you!

It won't. grin I'm sure Canon will say it got hit by lighting or something,or the processor looks like a chunk of charcoal. I always expect the worse-haven't been disappointed yet! grin

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I will let you know how I'm getting along with the back button focusing.

Good luck with the new challenge. I tried it once, after Dan showed me how it worked and explained the advantages. I tried it once and missed what could have been a nice bif shot, got annoyed and never tried it again. Of course, just like everything else, it's going to take practice. Now that it's been brought up again, I'm going to give it another shot, and not give up so quickly.

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Good luck MM with the camera, keep the faith! Might be a heck of a deal.

I firmly believe in back focus usage but like Steve said it isn't for everyone. It just has so many advantages though that if you haven't given it a serious try (I know Steve has) it might be worth your time. Couple that with the Focus Preset button found on some lenses and you have one killer combination that will allow you to get shots you could not get any other way!

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The main advantage I can see is that you're not locking in the focus and exposure at the same time. Instead, you're operating them independently of each other. I'm thinking a person could uses the shutter button to lock in exposure and then use the back button to set the focus, which would be real handy if it's an almost white bird in a leafed out tree. You could set the exposure on the green leaves and then focus on the subject. I'm assuming it would work this way.

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