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I rented a Tamron 150-600mm f/5-6.3 G1 to test it before buying. I want it for bird and wildlife photography. My camera is Nikon D5600.

While testing today on few birds sitting on a distant branch, I noticed that if camera is set to AF-A and if I using single-point or 3D, the camera first focuses but as I try to click the shutter, the focus keeps shifting back and forth and the image comes out-of-focus.

Since the camera is heavy, I tried with some more photos by keeping a support so that there is no shake. But then also the focus is not locked on the subject. Rather, it keeps moving back and forth.

Two photos came out quite better. First one is dark because of low-light outside and also I didn't want to raise the ISO. The second one is of a leaf to check the sharpness.

enter image description here

enter image description here

Is it not a good option to use 150-600 with a D5600 ? If not then first I need to invest in a used D850, which is also available before buying this lens.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Which version did you try? The G1 [which isn't marked on the lens] or the G2 [which is] Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD … G2. Next time, try something that fills more of the lens to not confuse the camera. In both of those shots it can see more bush than bird [or leaf]. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    May 26, 2023 at 14:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ "If not then first I need to invest in a used D850, which is also available before buying this lens." The camera is not the weak link here, the lens is. Yes, the D850 will focus marginally better than the D5600 with the same lens, but a better lens on the D5600 will show more improvement than the same lens on a D850. If you want better performance, consider a better lens. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    May 26, 2023 at 15:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ One pure speculation: camera can't autofocus on f6,3. From what I found D5600 can for sure autofocus on f5,6. \$\endgroup\$ May 26, 2023 at 15:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RKh Your second question has already been well-covered here at Does autofocus work better with f/2.8 lenses vs f/4 or slower? \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    May 26, 2023 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have found that AF is biased toward the closest thing within the area of interest. Both of your examples seem to show this as they are focused closer than you would like. In these cases you could improve things by swinging the view upward, half pressing the shutter button to lock focus, then swinging down again. That won't help when birds are in brush. Then you need manual focus or luck. I find in some cases that the focus shifts from one frame to another, so just shoot a few (six or eight) and hope one comes out right. Manual focus works well when available and the bird doesn't move. \$\endgroup\$ May 27, 2023 at 3:08

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Quite simply, you're using a poor combination of tools for what you want to achieve.

  • The D5600 doesn't have a very fast autofocus system. It lags in low-light and low-contrast situations.
  • The Tamron 150–600mm (version 1) performs worst at the 600 mm end of the zoom range, especially under low light and low contrast situations.

There were reports that some Nikon shooters had spotty results with the lens shortly after it was released. Tamron issued a firmware update that apparently resolved most of those issues. It's possible that your lens copy didn't have the updated firmware. From what I can tell, updating the firmware on the version 1 lens cannot be done by the user; it has to be sent to Tamron to update it.

In general, if you want to do birding, especially birds in flight (BIF), you'd be best off upgrading your camera body. You'll have faster continuous shooting and a larger frame buffer to capture several quick shots in a row, and it will focus and track better.

You don't have to upgrade far. When the lens was released, it combined with D800 and D7200 bodies generated great wildlife shots. Today, your options in the used market are really good. The D8xx series is great. The D500 is an amazing camera. The D7200 and D7500 are also very good. Any of these bodies will work great with the Tamron 150–600 mm (version 1) for birding and wildlife.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Upgrading the body or lens while using the same AF settings and technique will just result in more accurately and more consistently focused unintended targets like the high contrast leaves in the OP's first example. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    May 28, 2023 at 2:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @scottbb You are right. D5600 does not have fast auto-focus required for bird photography. I struggled with the rented Lens (150-600). Though the lens performs well if the animal or bird is stationary. I also noticed, even if the bird is stationary and you try to use Single Point Focus, the view initially was wavy as if some waves are coming from left to right and distorting the view. After sometimes, this settled. \$\endgroup\$
    – RKh
    May 28, 2023 at 14:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ The biggest drawback of D5600 is the body is not weather-resistant and poor low-light performance. I can't blame the camera but my choice. When I purchased D5600, D7200 was already in the market and other brands were available with weather-resistant body. Didn't get advice like this before investing. \$\endgroup\$
    – RKh
    May 28, 2023 at 14:11
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Rkh It's difficult. There's always newer and better gear coming out, and we make the best choices we can given our constraints. The minor beauty in all that product churn, is that if you're not one who has to have the latest and greatest, the used market is a great way to buy gear inexpensively. \$\endgroup\$
    – scottbb
    May 29, 2023 at 15:19
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If not then first I need to invest in a used D850, which is also available before buying this lens.

Equipment wise, the camera is not the weak link here, the lens is. Yes, the D850 will focus marginally better than the D5600 with the same lens, but a better lens on the D5600 will show more improvement than the less capable lens on a D850. If you want better performance, consider a better lens. But before you go chasing better photos by buying expensive gear, be sure you're getting the most out of what you're currently using!

Whether you upgrade a body, a lens, or both, as long as you use the same general settings and shooting techniques you're only going to improve how accurately and consistently from shot-to-shot the high contrast leaves are focused in situations like the first example.

The first image is focused on the area of highest contrast in the scene. That's not the bird near the center of the frame.

enter image description here

I'm guessing you were using some form of area focus or single point with surrounding assist "points"? Either that or the scene was so dim that the AF focused on anything it could find that had enough contrast for it to function.

The second image is focused on the area of highest contrast in the scene, which is the leaf at the center of the frame.

enter image description here

The scene also appears to be brighter, which gives the AF system more contrast to work with.

Most cameras, both DSLRs and MILCs, will focus on the area of highest contrast within the active AF areas.

Keep in mind that the little squares you see in the viewfinder are usually significantly smaller than the areas they represent. In reality, with most modern AF systems with high numbers of focus "points", coverage is gapless from many "points" to the next. Sometimes the coverage of two adjacent "points" will even overlap to one degree or another.

Here's a map of the 19-point AF system found in Canon's 7D and 70D APS-C DSLRs. AF systems in other models, even those from other manufacturers, work similarly.¹

enter image description here
Most other PDAF systems with a higher number of AF points are similar. The 7D AF system is a good example to use to illustrate how such AF systems work because with 19 AF points, all of them cross type, it is not so complex as to be unwieldy to diagram.

The diagram at the top shows the points as they appear in the viewfinder, with identifying numbers added to the left of each point. The middle left chart shows which areas of the focus array at middle right apply to each focus point (please note that the light falling on the focus array is directed by multiple sets of micro-lenses when the light enters the focus array, so the physical arrangement of the lines on the PDAF array do not directly correspond to a specific "point" in the viewfinder). The vertical elements for point 1 are a5 and b5. The horizontal elements for point 1 are a2 and b2. The diagram at the bottom shows the actual areas of sensitivity for each of the much smaller points displayed in the viewfinder. When you have the far left point selected (point 1 in the top diagram), the area of sensitivity includes everything in the horizontal and vertical blue rectangles that pass over that point. Notice that the horizontal line for point 1 is shared with point 3 and the area of sensitivity for point 1 extends completely to point 3! Also notice that all of the area of horizontal sensitivity is directly over or to the right of point 1, there is no horizontal sensitivity extending to the left beyond the viewfinder square for point 1.

AF systems with even more "points" often have even more overlap. Here's a simplified map of a 61-point system used by the Canon 1D X Mark II and 5D Mark IV that shows both the squares seen in the viewfinder as well as the coverage areas:¹

enter image description here
The light gray squares are all one sees in the viewfinder, but the darker rectangles show actual areas of sensitivity.

As you can see from these examples, even when a single AF "point" is selected the are that the camera is using to detect contrast is larger than the representation of that area of sensitivity in the viewfinder. If you are using multiple AF points in "zones" or "areas", then there's an even larger part of the frame that the AF system is using to find a high contrast area.

¹ Nixon doesn't publicly publish similarly detailed charts about their PDAF AF systems showing such things as the actual area of sensitivity of each AF "point" or which AF points are sensitive at which apertures, etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Awesome. Thanks for the detailed answer. These are notes worth jotting in my diary. In the first image, I used Single-Point Focus on the bird's head. In the second image, yes, I had set the focus on that leaf on top. \$\endgroup\$
    – RKh
    May 28, 2023 at 13:53
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This answer is speculation (based on what I read about AF of Canon, but IMHO it is valid for Nikon too)

For me the problem is AF module of D5600 can focus when the minimum aperture (wide open) is less than f5,6. Here is one discussion in dpreview about similar things.

In nikonrumors.com I found discussed different AF modules and for D5500 (no info about D5600) is visible there are no focal points when aperture is >f5,6.

enter image description here

You can check if this is the problem by set focal length so the aperture is f5,6 and try to focus on highly contrast object. Then do the same when you see f6,3.

About D850 - I think this camera will focus well on 600mm. But you should be aware you will have with D5600 equivalent focal length of 900mm (maximum) and with D850 "just" 600mm.

P.S. Based on the comments there is also possibility the communication between D5600 and Tamron lens is not very smooth and your camera continue to "hunt" the focus. In such case I am not sure D850 will help much in the direction of focusing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ That NikonRumors article is interesting. So much nitty-gritty inside. I am going to test the lens tomorrow as well. With experiments conducted today, I think lens will perform well in bright light and stationary subject. However the autofocus is not going to work well with birds in motion. \$\endgroup\$
    – RKh
    May 26, 2023 at 17:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ The D5500 [& therefore by extrapolation the newer D5600] can focus perfectly well, and surprisingly rapidly, on a Nikon 18-300mm which is also f/6.3 at the long end. The issue is more than likely the Tamron not the camera. I have a cheaper, slower Tamron 70-300 which hunts like crazy in anything but bright sunlight [& sometimes even then]. It's just very slow to actually move the motor. Takes over a second to focus, by which time it's changed its mind, so it's constantly trying to keep up with itself, and scrolls end to end before finally giving up. [Hence I never use it any more.] \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    May 26, 2023 at 17:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Tetsujin, it's possible. I just try to extrapolate my Canon knowledge :) \$\endgroup\$ May 26, 2023 at 18:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sure. I think that was the biggest gripe with the G1 Tamron, which I hear they tried hard to fix in the G2. I haven't tried either of them myself, so this is all hearsay. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    May 26, 2023 at 18:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've munged that table with its headers. It's still not clear that it's only the cross-points that don't work at f/5.6 - the auto-focus itself clearly does… I use it all the time ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    May 26, 2023 at 19:03

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