Canon EOS 7D Mark II Auto Focus Guide – Basics of Bird in Flight Photography

Canon EOS 7D Mark II Auto Focus Guide – Basics of Bird in Flight Photography

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[Music] Hi. My name is Danny and I’m a Canon
Technical Support Representative. Birds in flight can be one of the most
challenging subjects to photograph. In this video, you’ll gain a basic
understanding of how to set up the Canon EOS 7D Mark II digital SLR camera to
capture birds in flight. Even with the best camera and lens, it can be difficult
to get photos that are in focus 100% of the time. With this video, we hope to
increase that success rate. Let’s start with the camera settings. First, I recommend using TV mode or shutter priority to make sure you have a fast
enough shutter speed. Evaluative metering usually does a great job occasionally
for a light-colored bird against a dark background, spot metering will work best.
Use an ISO setting that you’re comfortable with. I personally use ISO
200 most of the time but with current camera technology you can go much higher
and still get great pictures with minimal noise. Setting up an auto ISO range can also facilitate quick automatic ISO setting changes. I also
recommend a shutter speed of at least 1/2000 to make sure you’re freezing the action in your frame. Next, the auto focus mode should be set to AI servo. Press the Drive AF button and turn the main dial to select AI Servo. Pressing the shutter
button halfway will auto focus. You can also use the back button focusing method
to take away auto focus from the shutter button. To do this go to the Custom
Controls menu, then go to the display and operations section. Select custom
controls and press the Set button. Select the shutter button icon, and press Set. Then select Metering Start to remove auto focus from the shutter button. Now
only the AF-ON button will trigger auto focus. Just hold the AF-ON button to keep
your subject in focus. Your shutter button is free to take the shot without
accidentally refocusing on another part of your composition. After setting the
focus mode to AI Servo, let’s make sure that the camera is set to continuous
high-speed shooting. Press the Drive-AF button and then turn the quick
until you see the high-speed shooting icon. Silent continuous shooting is also
an option if you’re close to your subject. Now, let’s set the AF area
selection mode to Expand AF Area Surround. A quick way to do this is to
press the Info button until the shooting information is displayed on the LCD screen. Then press the AF point select button.
Use the multi-function button labeled M-Fn near the shutter button, or the AF area selection lever around the multi-controller to select the AF mode. Expand AF Area Surround lets you use eight supporting focus points around one
primary focus point. Now, let’s move to the AF configuration tool in the AF menu and pick a case that matches the bird’s behavior. Case 1 is the default case
and work well in many situations as long as the bird is at a constant speed. For
birds that are accelerating and decelerating case four is recommended.
For example: ducks taking off and landing. Case 5 is recommended for birds that
quickly change direction. Swallows are a good example. Another setting is Safety
Shift located in the first custom function menu. This setting allows the
camera to automatically change your set shutter speed, aperture, or ISO. The
Shutter Speed/Aperture option will lower your shutter speed when there’s not
enough light for good exposure at your chosen shutter speed. The ISO speed
option will increase ISO as needed. There are so much to keep track of
during bird in flight photography and Safety Shift can help ensure accurate
exposure. Once you have your camera set up, I recommend saving the settings as a
Custom Shooting Mode. To do this, go to the wrench menu in the Set Up 4
section and select Custom shooting mode. Select Register settings and assign your
custom shooting mode to one of the three available options. C1, C2, or C3. Let’s say you previously saved your bird
in flight settings to C1. You’re photographing a landscape and all of a
sudden you see a bird flying towards you. You can quickly revert to the settings
you saved by turning the mode dial to C1. Now that we have the camera
set up, let’s give it a try. As you can see I’m using the canon EOS 7D Mark II
camera with the Canon EF 100-400mm L IS version 2 lens on a monopod. If you’re using a larger lens you might need a sturdier
setup like a tripod and a gimbal head. Make sure that the lens you’re using is
set to Auto Focus. If you’re on a sturdy tripod you can turn off the Image
Stabilizer. It takes a lot of practice to keep a focus point on a bird in flight.
Using Expand AF Area: Surround helps a lot but again, practice makes perfect. I also recommend
keeping the Sun behind you so your subject is well lit. Once you spot your
bird in flight, keep the center focus point on the bird and press the focus
button to acquire and maintain focus. Press the shutter button to take short
continuous bursts instead of long ones. High-speed continuous shooting can fill
up your memory card quickly. Check your images occasionally to make sure that everything is properly exposed and in focus. Also this is a good time to make
sure that your settings are still where you want them. These techniques are a
good starting point for bird in flight photography. There are many other ways to
photograph birds depending on the situation. The techniques we covered will
help you develop your own methods for photographing birds. Continue to hone
your skills and create your own style. It takes practice, patience, and perseverance.
For more how-to videos please visit our YouTube channel. Thanks for watching!

31 thoughts on “Canon EOS 7D Mark II Auto Focus Guide – Basics of Bird in Flight Photography

  • Patrick Conlon Post author

    Nice video! Excellent info, keep them coming! Thanks

  • Joseph Karpinski Post author

    Nice video. Wonder why you do not recommend using all 65 AF points for BIF? For busy backgrounds the three single AF pints are really good, especially single AF spot and single AF enhanced, when using the Canon 1.4x extender iii. When shooting rapidly changing light/dark environments outdoors or birds like an adult bald eagle, exposure compensation bracketing across 3-5 settings can help over/under exposure issues.

  • Kurt ove Leland Post author


  • Mark Harris Post author

    I’ve had my 7DII for about three years and thanks to Arthur Morris most of my setting are as you advised. However, I have never edited my safety shift, thank you. I’ll be honest, I love my 7DII so much I can’t see any reason to upgrade to the new 7DIII when it comes out. Great video.

  • Efrain Sueldo Post author

    Could you let us know the gimball fluid? above your monopad, thank you

  • Mark Harris Post author

    On your 3 presets I have one specifically for birds in flight f8, 1/2000 auto ISO as I don’t want my aperture to go so low half the bird isn’t in focus. I live in the UK so that limits using TV at 1/2000 as it opens the aperture as wide as possible, hence auto ISO. Please can you tell me if I can limit my ISO to 3200 or less just for C1? Thank you.

  • First Shot Productions Post author

    these are for outside recommendation. Inside a gym iso needs to be well over 6400 to 
    have at least 4oo shutter speed on a 200mm 2.8. Grainy and slight blur still. I shoot sports all the time 3-4 times a week. 7d iso 6400 and above 200mm 2.8 night time and inside a gym. 
    grainy and blur…these cameras cost well over 1000 and the auto focus is off. you focus on the helmet and the focus ends up on the ball or the clothing. for a camera at this price 
    when you focus on something, it should be on focus on the first shot. That simple.
    please more camera less computer…

  • Wendy Cook Post author

    Is the Safety shift only able to be used while in Manual or also on TV or Ap? Great information thank you.

  • usernamemykel Post author

    Thanks for the tutorial, Danny.

    I'd like to be able to see the results of your bird photography, using the settings you demonstrate, as "the proof is in the pudding", so please advise where to access them.
    Thank you!

  • Forster Stewart Post author

    Shoot manually. Forget camera controlled settings. Don't let your camera control you…you are the photographer. Take control and get out there and shoot. For the love of photography.

  • Burkhold St. Rudderberg Post author

    You forgot one important thing: CAMO!
    When I go out for bird photography ( Canon 7D Mark ii with Canon 400mm and Canon extender 1.4x ii ) I always wear camo from head to toe! Even though birds have super vision, I can get a little closer while wearing camo. While in heavy brush with the sun at my back, I can get tight shots. ( I also shoot in manual with back button focusing ! )

  • 007Stalled 7 Post author

    Very useful information.
    However, best not to use shots of a bird wading in the water to demonstrate a "Bird in Flight" video tutorial at about 5:22.

  • Rebecca Livingston Cook Post author

    YAY! I just purchased the 7D Mark 2 and have the same lens I've been using with a smaller camera. This is just what I needed!

  • El Teacher BETO Post author

    Quick question, I too have the 7D mark II along with the 70-200 F4 no IS, see, with the conversion crop factor, I end up with a 112-320 F6.4 (since you also have to multiply the aperture times 1.6x), now, I am planning on getting a 2X teleconverter for my 70-200, but I'm afraid the autofocus won't work due to the crop factor and since the Canon 7D mark II only supports auto focus at a aperture of F8 maximum, did you have any problems with your setup? or do you believe that even if I add the 2X converter I am going to be able to use the auto focus still?

  • magic nala Post author

    Big thanks
    Very very helpful

  • Stefanos NKR Post author

    OK I've learned the basics. Now I need to find 10k to buy the equipment.

  • Richard Post author

    Cant't wait for the mk3 to come out!

    So the mk2 will finally drop in price!

  • Bunong Canada Post author

    Just play with it..keep taking more pic ..u will be expert

  • Deri Klinik Post author

    I am very much thinking to buy this camera for my underwater pictures. Do you have any videos, guides for underwater photography? Thanks in advance

  • Glenn Hill Post author

    Dude…After listening to all the complexities you suggest, menus and settings on top of "more" menus and settings in order to hopefully" but maybe not… get some shots of birds on the wing, if I was a beginning or even an enthusiast photographer having to follow all these manipulations, I'd just give up and throw my camera in the ditch. ( I'd get it later though ) I've been a Canon and Canon only shooter since the film days of 1980, and a digital shooter since 2003, and I've captured super shots "handheld" of birds on the wing using my first generation Canon 7D, shooting in manual mode, panning using high-speed shutter actuation and no fancy focusing fields. You seem quite competent and do a good job of reviewing Canon's cameras, but one might suspect that these reviews are meant more to advertise all the bells and whistles on Canons machines than to teach people to become more proficient at photography. Just my two cents.

  • Craig Hoover Post author

    I just bought this camera and lens combination and this was very helpful as I plan to shoot birds in flight too. I haven't yet seen it.

  • tim green Post author

    Great video ,why do you shut off the IS on the lense ,I know the camera has IS but what is the difference ?

  • LET’S GO Post author


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  • Jane Crothers Post author

    Excellent tips! Thank you!

  • Ducati SupersportS Post author

    Brilliant presentation thank you

  • Andrew Boyt-Cullis Post author

    Great video. One of the things I miss on short photography videos is a .pdf to go through the set up that is mentioned. Such a set up sheet will allow one to follow along with a reference, rather than trying to cram in the information which is being given so fast. Running the video again and pausing at each stage of the set up is ok, but takes a heck of a lot longer in time and can become frustrating. Please consider this idea Canon, it would be a great help. Also, I know it is more work, but maybe, just maybe, you could do a .pdf for various cameras? Such as one for the 80D which has some different settings. It would help new photographers, such as me, become more proficient, more confident, and less frustrated with results.

  • Marie Montalvo Post author

    What lens is that?

  • Abe Ibrahim Post author

    Hi Danny, With all the settings changes one does to the camera especially with C1-C3, one needs to backup them up and maybe transfer them from one camera to another – Does Canon have a way to do that between Canon cameras? is there a gentleman agreement between companies to do that?

  • luckyxu Post author

    Very clear and well explained! Thanks a lot!

  • Dave Butler Post author

    Any specific tips for video settings with BIF? Thanks

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