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I've been challenged with the following scenario: I'm shooting a stationary bird with a Sony A77M2 and 300mm lens. Eventually the bird takes flight. How should I configure and use the body's autofocus features to maximize my odds of getting sharp photos of the bird in flight?

The number of autofocus options and functions are overwhelming. (And I don't have enough opportunities to do good A/B tests of this scenario.)

Among the autofocus options in the menus:

  • Focus Area
  • AF-A vs DMF
  • AF drive speed
  • AF Track Duration
  • Center Lock-on AF

Then there's focus limiting ("AF range control").

And there are additional features that depend on the Focus Area setting.

And, I think, the camera has some capacity to identify the subject (e.g., the bird) and AF-track it as it moves.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ On my Nikon P1000 the subject ID is great. It seems to find eyes whenever they are present and focus on them, so I would use that. It depends a bit on whether you want the photo of the bird taking off or one in flight. If you want the bird taking off you can just use the previous focus, so lock it down. In flight it will move too much toward or away from you for that. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 4:15

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Stationary and in flight are two rather different problems... For stationary birds your main problem is focusing on the bird and not on a nearby leaf. For birds in flight it is just focusing...

I don't know your camera, but on my Canon I enable as many focus points as possible and use the "AF tracking" modes. The thing that you have which could be very useful is the focus range limiting. Very often you momentarily lose the bird, your camera starts hunting for focus, and since it only sees an empty sky it goes to the extremes of the range. At that point if the bird comes back in the view you won't see it because it will be out of focus, and the camera won't see it either. With focus limiting you could limit focus hunting to a range where the bird will always be visible (even if blurry) and this will let the camera refocus quickly when you get the bird again.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Another feature in Canons (apart from the least expensive Canon cameras): change the custom functions settings to prevent lens drive when AF is impossible. So if the camera doesn't know how to focus, it stops hunting for focus. Useful for example on lenses that lack focus limiter. \$\endgroup\$
    – juhist
    Commented Jan 18, 2022 at 17:37

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