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Sony A7RV - Question about camera settings for autofocus tracking of fish


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Hi,

 

I'm looking for any advice on good settings for using subject tracking autofocus on a Sony A7RV that is quite new to me. I have previously used an Olympus OMD EM 1ii where I used small spot auto focus but I don't have experience with subject tracking. My goal is photos of small fast moving fish.

 

Thanks.

 

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Hi John,

 

Alex Mustard put together a couple videos on settings he uses.  (Note: the a1 and a7RV have the same menus.)   It is broken into 2 videos.  I found these very helpful in general, including capturing small subjects.  I am sure others will have specific feedback as well. 
 

One of the biggest adjustments I have done with mine is setting custom buttons and custom menus.  It really helps in the real world to quickly make the setting changes as needed on the fly.
 

Enjoy your new rig!

chip

 

 

 

 

Edited by ChipBPhoto
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Thanks Chris,

 

That is super helpful. I saw tracking is covered a bit by Alex in video 2 around approximately 22 mins onwards.

 

It looks like Alex has his tracking sensitivity on standard (3) (In the AF/MF menu 1 -> AF Tracking Sensitivity) and uses "animal" as the target (AF/MF menu 3). He talks about the "stickiness" of tracking being fine set like that. 

 

I still wonder about the recognition target settings... I am making an assumption that the animal setting is designed for terrestrial animals rather than fish, hence me wondering if moving from the standard settings improves fish tracking. 

 

The specific menu that I am looking at adjusting is the sub-menu after selecting the type of recognition target (i.e. Animal)

 

That is, From AF/MF menu 3 -> Recognition Target -> Animal -> this then leads to five more options that I haven't seen covered elsewhere:

 

Tracking Shift range (can be selected 1 (narrow) to 5 (wide) .... currently on standard (3)

Tracking persistence Level (1 (Not Locked On)to 5 (Locked On) .... currently on standard (3)

Recognition Sensitivity (1 (Low) to 5 (High)) .... currently on standard (3)

Recognition Part (Eye/Head/Body, Eye/Head, Eye) ... currently on Eye/Head

Recog. Part Sel. Settings (Eye/Head/Body, Eye/Head/Eye)  .. currently on Eye/Head

 

I've tried experimenting  but it was inconclusive without really understanding what the camera's algorithms are designed for (cats and dogs !?), and feel the recognition sensitivity could be key... 

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55 minutes ago, John E said:

Thanks Chris,

 

That is super helpful. I saw tracking is covered a bit by Alex in video 2 around approximately 22 mins onwards.

 

It looks like Alex has his tracking sensitivity on standard (3) (In the AF/MF menu 1 -> AF Tracking Sensitivity) and uses "animal" as the target (AF/MF menu 3). He talks about the "stickiness" of tracking being fine set like that. 

 

I still wonder about the recognition target settings... I am making an assumption that the animal setting is designed for terrestrial animals rather than fish, hence me wondering if moving from the standard settings improves fish tracking. 

 

The specific menu that I am looking at adjusting is the sub-menu after selecting the type of recognition target (i.e. Animal)

 

That is, From AF/MF menu 3 -> Recognition Target -> Animal -> this then leads to five more options that I haven't seen covered elsewhere:

 

Tracking Shift range (can be selected 1 (narrow) to 5 (wide) .... currently on standard (3)

Tracking persistence Level (1 (Not Locked On)to 5 (Locked On) .... currently on standard (3)

Recognition Sensitivity (1 (Low) to 5 (High)) .... currently on standard (3)

Recognition Part (Eye/Head/Body, Eye/Head, Eye) ... currently on Eye/Head

Recog. Part Sel. Settings (Eye/Head/Body, Eye/Head/Eye)  .. currently on Eye/Head

 

I've tried experimenting  but it was inconclusive without really understanding what the camera's algorithms are designed for (cats and dogs !?), and feel the recognition sensitivity could be key... 

While Sony does indeed have great AF systems, the documentation is generally woeful and relies upon people spending time with the camera and working how the various choices influence AF behaviour and posting in forums and blogs, YouTube etc. .  Add to this the camera is still sort of new (1 year old), UW photography is a small niche in the scheme of things and chasing skittish fish an even smaller segment, and only a % of UW shooters use Sony, means that you are in somewhat unexplored territory.  Of course as soon as I hit post someone will chime in specific experience!😂

 

A logical approach might be try a couple of different combinations and assign them to a custom set and on a dive swap to the alternate set for part of the dive and make notes once you get back to the surface. 

 

The biggest community of people relying of good AF tracking is likely to be bird shooters and looking up posts about best AF tracking settings for bird photography will produce some hits for sure.  While not directly applicable to your case, they explain how the settings work.  For example:

 

https://mirrorlesscomparison.com/stories/sony-a7r-v-bird-photography/#subject

 

This seems to suggest turning up sensitivity IF the camera is not finding a subject.   Try finding a few more to give you an idea on the consensus of how the settings behave.

 

You might also experiment with birds as the subject - a perched bird is more like a fish than an animal you might argue - streamlined shape with an eye at one to try to lock onto.  Wings and fins are somewhat similar - only different in size.  I see you can select multiple subjects in the menu as well and there is an animal/bird option. 

 

You haven't mentioned what your experience so far has been.  Have you been diving with it and tried pushing the AF system on the subject in question.  If you have what has been lacking so far?  This may guide you in what questions to ask and settings to play with. 

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Thanks Chris Ross,

 

I have been diving with the Sony 90mm and tried "Animal/Bird" and "Animal" in the settings. I've tried Eye/Head and Eye/Head/Body.  I've also tried changing the "Tracking Persistence" from 3 to 4. But I have found the tracking mainly either locks on some complex part of the background such as a bit of branching coral, or locks on temporarily then looses the fish, giving less predictable results compared to just using spot autofocus without tracking.

 

I'll try your suggestion about birds and note your point about perched birds being more similar to fish. Also, continuing that thought, the background of tree branches could be similar to coral branches. I also will try to be more methodical in figuring out what changes seem to make a difference. So far I've probably been changing too many things at once!

 

This picture was taken using small spot autofocus rather than tracking but I guess tracking should make this sort of picture easier.

untitled-0472.jpg

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According to the link I gave, turning the sensitivity down is the path if it gets false positives, but could prove counter productive if it's struggling to realise it's a fish?  But definitely try one thing at a time, you could try keep your current settings on one custom function and what you want to try out on another so you can try out both and compare back to back.

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Hi John,

 

I am still experimenting with the AF settings on my A7R5 (I also come from EM1II) and use most of the settings recommended by Alex in his videos. I have confused/mixed your post with another post here that is mostly on AF with Sony 90mm macro and have put a post with detailed settings there:

 

Wolfgang

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Thanks Wolfgang,

 

I've noted your settings chart and will experiment a bit more with the animal detailed settings. I have also set the subject recognition on/off toggle to the video record button.

 

For others maybe reading this I also watched a helpful video on AI subject recognition from Mark Galer, a Sony ambassador.

 

Following that for subject recognition and tracking of swimming fish I am inclined to leave subject on "Animal/Bird" and Recognition Part on "Eye/Head/Body". 

 

 

 

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On 1/10/2024 at 1:54 AM, John E said:

Thanks Chris Ross,

 

I have been diving with the Sony 90mm and tried "Animal/Bird" and "Animal" in the settings. I've tried Eye/Head and Eye/Head/Body.  I've also tried changing the "Tracking Persistence" from 3 to 4. But I have found the tracking mainly either locks on some complex part of the background such as a bit of branching coral, or locks on temporarily then looses the fish, giving less predictable results compared to just using spot autofocus without tracking.

 

I'll try your suggestion about birds and note your point about perched birds being more similar to fish. Also, continuing that thought, the background of tree branches could be similar to coral branches. I also will try to be more methodical in figuring out what changes seem to make a difference. So far I've probably been changing too many things at once!

 

This picture was taken using small spot autofocus rather than tracking but I guess tracking should make this sort of picture easier.

untitled-0472.jpg

 

The subject is covering a very small part of the frame and the shape is not clearly identified subject recognition will struggle with anything like this

 

Recognition of subject needs the target to be sufficiently big in the frame so that a shape can be identified and from there the camera starts looking at the eyes

 

Much more likely to work on a shot where the fish is not moving fast but is clearly visible in the frame than one where it goes behind obstacles

 

I believe your expectations are a bit high but it could work if at some point you manage to have clean sight of your target

 

If you read topside wildlife forum you will see that many people have challenges with perched birds. Although the camera does a very good job even with a flying bird if you can follow it and it is clear in the frame once a bird goes behind a branch most camera will not identify as they dont have clear sight

 

your example is like a perched bird moving on the branch so difficulty super high

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14 minutes ago, Interceptor121 said:

 

The subject is covering a very small part of the frame and the shape is not clearly identified subject recognition will struggle with anything like this

 

Recognition of subject needs the target to be sufficiently big in the frame so that a shape can be identified and from there the camera starts looking at the eyes

 

Much more likely to work on a shot where the fish is not moving fast but is clearly visible in the frame than one where it goes behind obstacles

 

I believe your expectations are a bit high but it could work if at some point you manage to have clean sight of your target

 

If you read topside wildlife forum you will see that many people have challenges with perched birds. Although the camera does a very good job even with a flying bird if you can follow it and it is clear in the frame once a bird goes behind a branch most camera will not identify as they dont have clear sight

 

your example is like a perched bird moving on the branch so difficulty super high

I only have experience with the OM-1 it does pretty well on birds in foliage and twigs but it does have a threshold beyond which it won't pick out the subject.  If it can grab the eye it seems to follow the subject reasonably well as long as it can still see the eye - but lose too much of the subject and you are toast.  It's still worth trying things out if only to find what it can't cope with and when to quit and find a new subject.

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4 minutes ago, Chris Ross said:

I only have experience with the OM-1 it does pretty well on birds in foliage and twigs but it does have a threshold beyond which it won't pick out the subject.  If it can grab the eye it seems to follow the subject reasonably well as long as it can still see the eye - but lose too much of the subject and you are toast.  It's still worth trying things out if only to find what it can't cope with and when to quit and find a new subject.

I am not saying he should give up but simply that technology cannot make miracles

Shape recognition needs a shape to be in the frame and a piece of coral in front or a branch is not part of it makes the process harder

Birds perched are actually easier than a fish moving behind a coral there is much more light and they are more stationary until they fly. The image here is also pretty dark imagine what the camera had to deal with

 

If at some point it manages to recognise it then it may start tracking but if it does not recognise it then it will focus on whatever goes around in the frame unless you set it to priority and then it won't shoot at all

 

I always ask myself other than the scientific interest of capturing something you have not seen before how good is a picture of a bird with a twig in front...I ask the same question about a fish behind the coral. You assume eventually it will come out and have a clear shot? 

 

On land most situations of perched birds are more effectively dealt with single AF or with supplement of AF MF unfortunately underwater this is overcomplicated by you not being steady and the conditions are much more complex

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1 hour ago, Interceptor121 said:

I am not saying he should give up but simply that technology cannot make miracles

Shape recognition needs a shape to be in the frame and a piece of coral in front or a branch is not part of it makes the process harder

Birds perched are actually easier than a fish moving behind a coral there is much more light and they are more stationary until they fly. The image here is also pretty dark imagine what the camera had to deal with

 

If at some point it manages to recognise it then it may start tracking but if it does not recognise it then it will focus on whatever goes around in the frame unless you set it to priority and then it won't shoot at all

 

I always ask myself other than the scientific interest of capturing something you have not seen before how good is a picture of a bird with a twig in front...I ask the same question about a fish behind the coral. You assume eventually it will come out and have a clear shot? 

 

On land most situations of perched birds are more effectively dealt with single AF or with supplement of AF MF unfortunately underwater this is overcomplicated by you not being steady and the conditions are much more complex

No doubt the tech has its limits - all I'm saying the only way to really find that limit is with experience.

 

You obviously haven't met some of our small birds over here.  You follow them with focus tracking till they strike a pose.  Many don't readily perch out on  a stick for you.  If you are following them through the lens they are less likely to spook from the sudden movement of lifting the lens to shooting position.  I agree though shadows underwater are way darker. 

 

As for why you would want to shoot in such situations the biggest one would be identification, I can ID a great many Australian birds but a photo helps a great deal with some I'm not so familiar with or recording a rarity for survey work.  Fish are much harder to ID in my experience and having a photo can help a great deal for some  species that can be ID'd from a photo.

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Indeed the photos are mainly for ID purposes.  I am trying to set the camera so subject recognition is as best set up as possible but I also have quick ability to toggle it of and on. Then, like Chris says, get experience of what the limitations are and when to leave it off.

 

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As someone who specialises in fish photography for IDs, and who is busy fooling around with an A7CR (same menus and AF capability as A7RV) while I wait for the housing to arrive, some quick comments:

1. Play around with focusing on the pics in a fish ID book. This will speed up the experience curve, and give you an idea of what the various tracking sensitivity settings do.

2. If you need to turn off (say) animal eye AF tracking, just cycle to human (eg. via Fn menu), and unless a diver pops up, false positive is pretty unlikely. Or customise a button etc.

3. After years of spot focus on various Nikons when I used a 60mm micro 98% of the time, after moving to Sony A6400 and Zeiss 50 I only use tracking with medium spot. I put the spot over the part I want to have focus priority (usually the eye) and let the camera track it as I recompose or the fish moves. You don't need animal eye AF to do this, and my little book tests suggest a very sensitive animal eye AF setting (with the A7CR) may be counterproductive for fish.

 

(Animal eye setting does not work for fish with the 6400, and is best turned off, as it appears to slow down the AF. I leave it on human all the time).

 

4. Pretty sure the focus motors in the 90 limit what you can do. My Zeiss 50 is a bit faster, and I expect to continue to use it in crop mode on the FF camera. Sony 90 may not be the best choice for constantly moving fish like juvenile wrasses and damsels, since it may not keep up or successfully lock on in the first place. 90 could be good choice for fish which perch (like birds), such as gobies. But for the midwater stuff, better to back off and perhaps use a non-macro lens with terrific AF motors.

5. Check how close you are actually getting to the midwater species. They present the greatest challenge, and no harm in shooting from further away and later cropping extensively. If the focus is spot on, you should still be able to get a pic which allows scale or fin counts on some species.

6. Skill, knowledge of fish behaviour and practice are as important as tech advances. After 50 years I'm still learning and dare I say it, improving, aided by advances in AF technology and sensor resolution.

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8 hours ago, dentrock said:

6. Skill, knowledge of fish behaviour and practice are as important as tech advances. After 50 years I'm still learning and dare I say it, improving, aided by advances in AF technology and sensor resolution.

 

Totally agree! I'm still using single spot for macro pics with my D500 focussing, usually, on the eye. It's not often that tracking would be that useful. Anticipation of movement is a technique that takes time but does work.

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Tracking is useful when the eye is not centre frame, and you need to recompose. Locking focus on the eye at the edge of the frame with single spot and recomposing without tracking (or some kind of focus adjustment) is a recipe for slightly out of focus shots (of the eye).

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