Get up to speed

Think your cam­era isn’t fast enough to cap­ture the ac­tion? You may want to think again…

NPhoto - - Feature -

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.

Think fast

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

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