Right now there is a lot of excitement about predictive autofocus. Mirrorless cameras have been ushering in this technology in a big way, but it has actually been around awhile in DSLRs. The basic idea is you focus on a subject using a predictive autofocus pattern or mode, and then the camera will stay focused on it. This means you don’t have to worry about autofocus, instead you can work on composition and exposure. If the subject moves, or you move, your camera should stay focused on the subject.
These modes have gotten really good in recent years. If you bought a recent mirrorless or DSLR camera, check out what predictive autofocus modes you have. One example is how good eye/face detect autofocus is. Just set this mode in your camera, and a nice square shows up over your subject’s eye and the camera stays locked to that point. This is very helpful with portraits, especially in fluid situations like street photography. There are other modes that focus on animal and bird eyes, as well as just a general focus tracking mode for everyday shooting. Now we have more help when we are trying to track a bird in flight by using predictive autofocus.
For the longest time I have used Group Area Autofocus to track moving subjects using Nikon cameras. This pattern is a large diamond shaped box; as long as I can put it on the subject, the camera will stay focused on a moving target. I still use this for much of my fast action bird photography. If I am focusing on a close bird, I will use single point and put the focus on the bird’s eye.
But Nikon DSLRs also have 3D tracking, which can be very effective. In this mode you focus on your subject, and then if you or your subject moves the camera tracks it automatically using color, contrast and other information. What’s more, this is a predictive mode in that the camera is using advanced algorithms to predict where the subject is moving based on the information it is receiving. If you have a bird in flight on a blue sky, this mode will work well using a camera like the D850. 3D tracking also works incredible for sports and action photography. If you have never tried this mode, you should turn it on and go photograph some moving subjects. You can also turn on eye-detect in your Nikon autofocus menu and 3D tracking will put the focus point right on the eye…just like mirrorless cameras do.
I shoot a Nikon D6 for much of my wildlife, and the 3D Focus Tracking is at a completely different level than the D5 or any other camera Nikon makes…but you would expect that from their flagship camera. I use 3D Focus all the time for a variety of subjects in all sorts of different situations…it just nails autofocus all the time. Birds in flight are much easier, I just have to let the camera track the bird and keep my subject in the autofocus area of the camera. Static wildlife like the bighorn sheep at the top of this post…no problem for 3D. Portraits? The D6 will focus on the eye of my subject with eye detection turned on.
Nikon’s mirrorless camera also have subject tracking, it works a little differently but does a good job. I’m very excited to see what the next firmware update brings to the Z6II, I’m guessing more predictive autofocus options. If you shoot a Nikon DSLR, check out 3D Tracking and see how it works with your model of camera. You might be surprised at just how well predictive autofocus works in your DSLR.