Autofocus tracking birds in flight; Red kites over the Chiltern Hills

The miracle of autofocus – do you make the most of it?

Over the years I have been really fortunate to gain lot so of experience photographing all kinds of subjects. One of the great capabilities of the more recent EOS cameras is the “tune-ability” of the autofocus system. However I know that for a lot of photographers they tend to either leave it on the default or adjust it a little and then forget it.

I was out to photograph the red kites (Latin: Milvus Milvus), that are common across the Chiltern hills. I was using the EOS 70D and my trusty EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens. My initial results were slightly lack-lustre. I didn’t seem to get the results I wanted, it was time to optimise the AF for the subject at hand.

These were my final settings…

EOS 70D AF 1 EOS 70D AF 2 EOS 70D AF 3 EOS 70D AF 4


The EOS 70D doesn’t have the AF cases like the EOS 5D Mark III has, and I have found that I’m adjusting the AF settings more often with the EOS 70D as I explore it’s capabilities.

  • I have increased the tracking sensitivity C.Fn II-1 to try and ensure the camera kept on the bird, and would not jump to the background, even though they are similarly coloured and textured
  • I set C.Fn II-2 since the birds are swooping out of the sky to the ground, they are accelerating and almost stopping as they come in to the carrion on the ground before leaving and flying off. These birds pick up the food and eat on the wing
  • I didn’t change C.Fn II-3 but maybe I should to ensure the AF system was locked on before the first frame in a sequence was captured. When I photograph this kind of subject I try to track the bird with my finger on the AF-ON button all the time so the AF is usually locked on anyway
  • I changed C.Fn II-4 to focus to ensure that each of the frames in the sequence is sharp, I preferred in this instance to have sharp shots as much as possible.


After all this changing of setting i did get the results I wanted, the picture below is the same bird about three frames later in the sequence. All the frames were ok, but this bird seemed to get its wings in the way in the other shots. The first shot from the sequence is the one at the top of the post.

Red kites over the Chiltern Hills

EOS 70D + EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM – 1/1600s f/4 ISO 640


Do you change your AF settings much?

I’m interested to see how many photographers do adapt the camera AF to their subjects, i’d love to be wrong but I have a feeling that many don’t change a thing from the default settings and they are missing out. Tell me your stories in the comments below…


About the author

Full-time photo tutor and photographer. I love to share my knowledge and skills to make photos, videos and teach others. I write books and articles for photo magazines and I always have at least one Speedlite flash in my camera bag