Canon 7D, Setting Up Your Camera for Continuous Shooting and Autofocus

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In order to photograph fast-moving subjects, get several shots at a time, and stay focused on the subject through the entire process, you’ll need to make a few changes to your camera settings. The 7D makes the process simple, but it can be a bit confusing when you fi rst start to work with it. Here, I briefl y explain each of the three areas that are addressed in this section: drive modes, AF (autofocus) modes, and AF areas.

DRIVE MODES

The 7D’s drive mode determines how quickly each photo is taken and how many photos it will take continuously. The drive modes available on your camera include the following:

  • Single shooting: With this setting you will take only one photo each time you press and hold the Shutter button.
  • High-speed continuous shooting: When you press and hold the Shutter button, your camera will continuously take photos very quickly until you release the Shutter button, up to 8 frames per second.
  • Low-speed continuous shooting: When you press and hold the Shutter button, your camera will continuously take photos at a slower pace until you release the Shutter button, up to 3 frames per second. You can also easily take just one shot by quickly pressing and releasing the shutter.
  • 10-sec self-timer: Self-timer mode: the camera waits 10 seconds to take a photo once the Shutter button is pressed.
  • 2-sec self-timer: Self-timer mode: the camera waits 2 seconds to take a photo once the Shutter button is pressed.

For action and sports photography, the best option is High-speed continuous shooting. In this mode you will take several consecutive photos very quickly and are more likely to capture a good image of your fast-moving subject. Keep in mind that taking this many images at a time will fi ll up your memory card much more quickly than taking just one image at a time. The speed of your CF (Compact Flash) card also limits how many images you can take in a row.

Within your camera is a buffer, a feature that processes the image data before it can be written to the CF card. When you take a photo, you’ll see a red light on the back of your camera (the Card Busy indicator)—you usually won’t notice anything is happening because the buffer is big enough to hold data from several photos at a time. When you take a lot of photos in a row with the High-speed continuous drive mode, the buffer fi lls up more quickly—if it completely fi lls up while you are shooting, your camera will “freeze” momentarily while the images are written to the card. If you have a fast memory card, such as a UDMA (Ultra Direct Memory Access), you can often avoid this problem.

One way to stay on top of this while you are shooting is to look inside the viewfi nder—in the lower-right corner you’ll see a number. This number tells you how many photos you can take before the buffer is full (Figure 6.7). In general, it’s a good idea to do short bursts of photos instead of holding the Shutter button down for several seconds. This will help keep the buffer cleared, and the card won’t fi ll up as quickly.

The number on the far-right side of the viewfi nder shows you how many shots you have left (max bursts) before the buffer is full.
FIGURE 6.7 The number on the far-right side of the viewfi nder shows you how many shots you have left (max bursts) before the buffer is full.

USE THE CONTINUOUS MODE TO CAPTURE EXPRESSIONS

Using a fast shutter speed is not just for fast-moving subjects, but also for catching the ever-changing expressions of people, especially small children. This image (Figure 6.8) shows how an expression can go from happy to sad in a matter of seconds. Taking several consecutive shots allowed me to capture each moment as it happened without missing a thing.

This baby changed her expression from a smile to a frown in less than 10 seconds—I was able to capture this change by taking several consecutive photographs.
FIGURE 6.8 This baby changed her expression from a smile to a frown in less than 10 seconds—I was able to capture this change by taking several consecutive photographs.

SELECTING AND SHOOTING IN HIGH-SPEED CONTINUOUS DRIVE MODE

  1. Press the AF • DRIVE button on the top of the camera.
  2. Use your thumb to rotate the Quick Control dial until you see the drive setting that shows an “H.”
  3. Locate and focus on your subject in the viewfi nder, and then press and hold the Shutter button to take several continuous images.

FOCUS MODES

Now that your drive setting is ready to go, let’s move on to focusing. The 7D allows you to shoot in three different modes: One Shot, AI Focus, and AI Servo (AI stands for Artifi cial Intelligence). The One Shot mode is designed for photographing stationary objects, or subjects that don’t move around very much—this setting is typically not very useful with action photography. You will be photographing subjects that move often and quickly, so you’ll need a focus mode that can keep up with them. The AI Servo mode will probably be your best bet. This setting will continue to fi nd focus when you have your Shutter button pressed halfway, allowing you to keep the focus on your moving target.

SELECTING AND SHOOTING IN AI SERVO FOCUS MODE

  1. Press the AF • DRIVE button on the top of the camera.
  2. Use your index fi nger to rotate the Main dial until AI SERVO appears in the top LCD Panel.
  3. Locate your subject in the viewfi nder, then press and hold the Shutter button halfway to activate the focus mechanism. You’ll notice that with this mode you won’t hear a beep when the camera fi nds focus.
  4. The camera will maintain focus on your subject as long as the subject remains within one of the focus points in the viewfi nder, or until you take a picture.

The AI Focus mode is another setting that can be useful when you have a subject that is stationary at fi rst but then starts to move—it’s the “best of both worlds” when it comes to focusing on your subject. Imagine that you are photographing a runner about to sprint in a race—you want to focus on the person’s eyes as they take the “ready” position and don’t want your camera to change focus. But just as the runner starts running down the track, the camera will kick into AI Servo mode to track and focus on the runner as they are moving.

You should note that holding down the Shutter button for long periods of time will quickly drain your battery because the camera is constantly focusing on the subject. You can also activate the focus by pressing the AF-ON button on the back of the camera (Figure 6.9). This is a great way to get used to the focusing system without worrying about taking unwanted pictures.

The AF-ON button will activate the autofocusing system in your 7D without your having to use the Shutter button. Note that this button will not work when shooting in one of the fully-automatic modes.
FIGURE 6.9 The AF-ON button will activate the autofocusing system in your 7D without your having to use the Shutter button. Note that this button will not work when shooting in one of the fully-automatic modes.

FOCUS AREAS

The third setting that is extremely important in action photography is the area of focus within the frame.

  • Single-Point AF: You choose from one of the 19 focus points within the viewfi nder.
  • Zone AF: You pick a general area within the viewfi nder where you want the camera to maintain its focus.
  • Auto Select: With this option, the camera selects one of the 19 focus points for you.

My advice is to use Zone AF when photographing action shots. You will want to follow along with your moving subject, but you won’t always have a specifi c focus point like you would with the Single-Point AF and a non-moving subject. For example, if you know that you will be following a person riding a motocross bike and they will always be centered in the frame, set the focus point somewhere in the middle (Figure 6.10). As long as you keep the subject centered, the camera will use that area to fi nd the best point of focus. There are fi ve areas that you can use: left, right, top, bottom, and middle. The one you use will depend on the subject you are photographing and the composition you are trying to achieve.

When you set your focus to the center area in Zone AF, your camera will look for areas within the nine center AF points to focus on.
FIGURE 6.10 When you set your focus to the center area in Zone AF, your camera will look for areas within the nine center AF points to focus on.

SETTING THE FOCUS MODE TO ZONE AF

  1. Press the AF Point Selection button on the back of the camera.
  2. Press the Multi-function button (M-Fn) on the top of the camera next to the Shutter button until you reach the Zone AF setting (you will see a cluster of focus points grouped in one area of the viewfi nder).
  3. Rotate either the Main dial or the Quick Control dial to change the focus area (you can also use the Multi-Controller on the back of the camera to toggle from one area to the next).
  4. Now point your camera at your subject and press the Shutter button halfway to set focus. You’ll see the camera fi nding the focus point(s) somewhere within the area you just chose in the above steps.

Another option is to use the Auto Select focus mode. I tend to stay away from settings in which the camera decides everything, and in this case the camera has full control over where the focus is set, but sometimes this mode can be useful (Figure 6.11). Just try to use this mode sparingly and only in situations when it’s very unlikely that the camera will fi nd the wrong area of focus.

For this image, the guitar player was jumping up from a trampoline and I wasn’t able to anticipate where the focus would be, so using the Auto Select focus mode was a good choice.
FIGURE 6.11 For this image, the guitar player was jumping up from a trampoline and I wasn’t able to anticipate where the focus would be, so using the Auto Select focus mode was a good choice.