01 July 2022

Using Auto-ISO for Fast Birds in Flight Photography

Canon ISO Settings for Fast  / Small Birds In Flight Photography

Auto ISO Study for Birds in Flight / Fast Action Photography

Record shots: Pied Kingfisher in flight  : Over the Diep River / Woodbridge Island

I am continuously researching the application of Auto-ISO in Birds in Flight photography and would like to share a few images captured with the Canon EOS 70D / EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens - demonstrating the modern DSLR's ability for making ISO changes (when Auto-ISO is enabled).

Note: My own field study is based on the relationship between BIF photography (high shutter speed action shooting / continuous AF tracking) and the modern DSLR's Auto-ISO function and will not (necessarily) apply for static subjects (i.e. perched birds) - although, I use the same settings when shooting perched birds (when out doing Birds in Flight photography in good light).

The Canon EOS 70D (APS-C / crop body) is not really recognized as a Canon-recommended high-end body (in the same way as the EOS 7D Mark II (2014) and higher were at the time of Canon's 2013 Auto-ISO publication) for shooting Auto-ISO in Manual and the Semi-Auto Modes (Av = Aperture Priority / Tv = Shutter Priority Modes).

Nevertheless, I went out with the EOS 70D on Auto-ISO for testing / demonstrating the typical enthusiast camera's ability for auto-adjusting ISO's in a low-light and fast-changing background shooting environment.

Auto-ISO is an auto-application that is by far quicker than what I would have achieved with any fix ISO’s when other exposure objectives / settings are (i) a fix Aperture and (ii) a fix Shutter Speed in Manual Mode.

I keep a close eye on about every Auto-ISO reading in the viewfinder before pressing the shutter, but generally it is very effective – or at least acceptable for editing in post-processing later (even in inclement weather and fast-changing backgrounds).

Each of the 4 consecutive frames exposed at different ISO's as the small / erratic bird moved quickly against a lighter to a darker background:

Image 1
 ISO 1000
Image 2 ISO 1600
Image 3 ISO 2000
Image 4 ISO 2500

Canon Gear

  • Canon EOS 70D
  • Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM Lens

Exposure Settings

  • Manual Mode
  • Aperture: f/5.6
  • ISO: Auto ISO (1000 - 2500)
  • Shutter Speed:1/5000s

Autofocus (AF) Settings
  • AI Servo
  • Continuous Shooting: 7 fps
  • Zone Selection
  • Handheld

Focal Length
: 300mm

Lightroom 6 Post-Processing
Minimal post-processing (+- 50% crop / slight exposure correction / lens profile correction)

Cape Town Location
Pied Kingfisher at the Pump Station Diep River / Woodbridge Island

Shooting Conditions
Low-light / overcast conditions

Poor light and Canon RF fix / small aperture long lenses may want the developing photographer to experiment more. Using i.e. the Canon RF 600 f/11 IS STM lens  /  Canon RF 800 f/11 IS STM lens in poor light (using Auto-ISO) may render somewhat unacceptable high ISO's for bigger / darker birds (depending on the background). Even with the latest EOS R Full Frame cameras the ISO's may be too high to properly correct in post-processing. Just something to keep in mind. I use a fix ISO for these small aperture lenses (as said example above) - by using a fix ISO 640 the in0flight results were acceptable. For apertures between i.e. f/4 - f/6.3 (whatever the weather) I use Auto-ISO (in Manual Mode - and try and keep (tweak) an average Shutter Speed of between 1/2500 - 1/3200 for fast(er) birds (irrespective of the light). Again: all will depend on body / lens / conditions / subjects.

A significant finding is the rapid change in ISO 1000 to 2500 (between the 4 continuous frames) as the camera is attempting an ideal exposure.

There are interesting observations (even from the attached record shots why the Auto-ISO moves from ISO 1000 to ISO 2500 in such rapid succession).

From this stage about 8 years ago I always use Auto-ISO for most of my Birds in Flight photography (also reading extensively about the manufacturer's reasoning and motivation for using Auto-ISO for high-speed action such as Birds in Flight). Some of the only exceptions were while testing the fix aperture (f11) Canon RF 600 / RF 800mm lenses in inclement weather (while evaluating the Canon R6 for Canon SA for Birds in Flight photography)

© Vernon Chalmers Photography

(Click to Enlarge)
Auto ISO Study for Birds in Flight Photography
Image 1: ISO 1000 - Auto-ISO for Birds in Flight Photography (Canon EOS 70D)

Auto ISO Study for Birds in Flight Photography
Image: ISO 1600 - Auto-ISO for Birds in Flight Photography (Canon EOS 70D)

Auto ISO Study for Birds in Flight Photography
Image 3: ISO 2000 - Auto-ISO for Birds in Flight Photography (Canon EOS 70D)

Auto ISO Study for Birds in Flight Photography
Image 4: ISO 2500 - Auto-ISO for Birds in Flight Photography (canon EOS 70D)

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