Get up to speed
Think your camera isn’t fast enough to capture the action? You may want to think again…
When it comes to picture quality, the difference in performance between a beginner D-SLR and a pro-spec model isn’t as cavernous as you might suppose. Even in terms of raw resolution, newcomer-friendly Nikons such as the D3400 and D5600 outstrip the pro-spec D500 and D5. But, of course, there are plenty of reasons why the D5 commands a price tag that’s around 13 times higher than that of the D3400. Chief of these are build quality and performance. High-end Nikons are equipped with bomb-proof bodies, and professional-grade autofocus and drive modes.
The D5, for instance, boasts a total of 153 AF points, 99 of which are the more precise cross-type AF points; it can shoot at up to 14 frames per second (fps); and, when it’s fitted with a fast XQD memory card, it can record up to 200 high-quality 14-bit RAW files before it starts to slow. Compare this with the D3400: 11 AF points, just one of which is a cross-type, a frame rate of 5fps and a burst rate of 17 RAW files before it slows.
While you can’t expect a beginner-level Nikon to keep up with a pro model when shooting fast-paced action, there are steps you can take to increase the speed at which a D-SLR such as the D3400 focuses on fastmoving subjects. For a start, you can manually select just the centre AF point rather than the whole array; not only does the centre spot offer the most precision, but reducing the options for the camera in this way can help it acquire focus faster.
You can also help reduce the amount of ‘hunting’ for the subject that the autofocus system has to do by pre-focusing the lens at the approximate distance that you anticipate the subject will be at when you take the shot – although this isn’t always convenient. Alternatively, if you’re dealing with a repetitive, predictable subject – such as cars or bikes doing laps of a track – then you can pre-focus the lens at a specific point and switch the lens to manual focus to lock the setting in. Not having to drive the autofocus system means that the camera’s reaction time is improved.
There are ways around the thin spread of AF points in an entry-level D-SLR too. With moving subjects, you’ll need to keep the subject in the centre of the viewfinder to track it with continuous-servo AF and, if needed, crop the shot later to improve the composition. With stationary subjects you can use the focus-and-recompose technique if the position of the subject doesn’t correspond with any of the AF points: with single-servo AF selected, manually select the centre AF point and aim it at the subject; half-press the shutter release to activate autofocus and, once it’s achieved focus, keep the button pressed halfway to lock the setting in as you reframe the shot.
And when it comes to frame rate, the best way to capture the decisive moment is to anticipate the peak of the action, rather than just ‘spray and pray’ – whether you’re shooting at 5 or 14fps.
For fast, course-based races, pre-focus on the track, then switch the lens to manual focus to lock this distance in