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Tips & Tutorials >> All Tips & Tutorials

5 Tips for Better Subject Detection and Tracking

2023-06-05
11
6.67 k

Recent EOS R system cameras like the EOS R7 and EOS R6 Mark II boast a new AF operating interface and better subject detection and tracking performance. Here’s what you need to know to use them to the fullest advantage.  (Reported by: Yuta Murakami, Digital Camera Magazine)

In this article:

1. Use the best AF area mode for the situation

1. Use the best AF area mode for the situation

The first step to getting the best subject-tracking performance is to ensure that the camera identifies and locks on the subject (or part of the subject) that you want to track. The camera is smart, but it could do better if you give good directions! The AF area modes tell it where to look for a subject.

The ones on your camera can be divided into two categories:

  1: Auto-selection 2: User-defined
Subject acquisition Automatically establishes focus on and tracks a subject that it detects within the designated AF area. There is an initial AF point that you can use to select the object or part that you want the camera to focus on and track.
AF area modes Whole area AF
Flexible Zone AF
Spot AF
1-point AF
Expand AF area

Here’s how you can use them.

 

Example 1: Precision focusing with a user-defined AF area

This train is very small in the image frame, so I used Spot AF to ensure precise focus on it. The initial AF point is a small white square that detects subjects that intersect with it.

The focus stays precisely on the train head even as it gets closer and occupies a bigger area of the frame.

Depending on the size of your subject and the way it moves, you could also use 1-point AF, Flexible Zone AF, or one of the Expand AF area modes. The latter uses the points immediately beside a designated AF point to detect and focus on moving subjects.

 

Example 2: Capture unpredictable, fast-moving subjects

With fast-moving subjects that move quickly across the frame, such as bullet trains, it’s less effective to start focusing and tracking them when they are still far away. While tracking performance has improved tremendously on the latest cameras, I find it more efficient to start tracking with Zone AF or Flexible Zone AF (depending on your camera model) right before you shoot. That leaves less room for possible distractions.

In Zone AF/ Flexible Zone AF mode, if subject tracking is turned off, the camera focuses only on subjects inside the designated AF area (the white markings) when you start AF/half-press the shutter button.

Note: On the EOS R6 Mark II and newer cameras, when “Whole area tracking Servo AF” is set to “On”, the focus may shift to subjects detected outside the Flexible Zone AF area. See point 3.)


Pro tip 1: Subject detection is easiest when the subject contrasts with the background

A subject that’s easier to detect is also easier to track. If your subject stands out against the background due to its colour or contrast, you can expect steadier tracking compared to low-contrast conditions.

Find out how Flexible Zone AF helped underwater photographer William Tan in:
Capturing Marine Wildlife with the EOS R3: A Review in Pictures

2. Check your subject detection settings

2. Check your subject detection settings

Without subject detection, the camera determines which object to focus on and track based on contextual information such as composition, colours, contrast, and distance from the camera. Subject detection (recognition) helps the camera to make a better decision about which object to prioritise. It also ensures steadier tracking of subjects with unpredictable or erratic movement, such as children or animals.


Know what your camera can detect, and set it up accordingly

Newer cameras like the EOS R6 Mark II have the “Subject to detect: Auto”, which is good to start with. With this setting, if multiple subjects are detected in the frame (e.g., in a scene that includes a car, a person, and a dog), the camera analyses the contextual information and decides which subject to focus on and track.

In cameras that don’t have the “Auto” setting, you will have to select the type of subject to prioritise.


Remember that:
- “People” prioritises people
- “Animals” prioritises animals but also detects people. 
- “Vehicles” prioritises motorsports vehicles, but also detects people.

Image by: Asuka Yano
Model: Aki Takada

People-priority

In People-priority mode, the camera detects and tracks not just people’s faces, but also their heads and torso. If you turn on Eye Detection, it detects and tracks eyes too.
On cameras like the EOS R7, the camera will look for faces and eyes first. If these cannot be detected, it will look for the subject’s torso and head. Head detection works on the back of the head, as well as faces that are partially covered, such as when the subject is wearing goggles or a surgical mask. Newer, more advanced camera models can detect people by “grabbing” and identifying parts of the body. 

This makes the camera even more effective for photographing children running around, or even athletes in action!

 

Image by: Masayuki Oki

Animal-priority
The types of animals that can be detected depend on your camera model. Most cameras can detect cats, dogs, and birds at the very least; cameras like the EOS R6 Mark II can also detect horses.

Like in people-priority detection, the camera detects and tracks the eyes, face, and whole body of animals. Side profiles are also detected quickly and precisely, even if the animal is smaller in the frame.

Image by: Hirohiko Okugawa

Vehicle-priority
This mode works mainly on motorsports cars and motorcycles, but some camera models can also detect trains and aircraft.

When Spot Detection is enabled, the camera also detects smaller areas such as the helmets of motorcycle riders.


Pro tip: Assign a shortcut to change the prioritised subject

This customisation is useful for scenes with multiple subjects, such as when you are taking portraits of people with their pets. Use it with the “Limit subject to detect” function in the pink menu so that you have fewer options to toggle through.

Also see:
3 Types of Dog Portraits to Capture with Animal Detection AF
Motorsports Photography Techniques (1): Panning Techniques

3. Turn off whole area subject tracking if necessary

3. Be aware of whole area subject tracking

This is important especially if you are using an AF area mode other than whole area AF.
After you’ve initially found a subject to focus on, and have started AF so the blue AF point appears over the subject, how do you want subject detection to behave if the subject moves outside the designated AF area?

Whole area subject tracking: On

By default, the camera will track the subject over the entire area regardless of your AF area setting as long as you keep holding the shutter button (or whichever button you assigned to start AF) down.

However, if the original subject becomes undetectable but you keep holding down the shutter/AF button, the camera looks for subjects across the entire image frame. It may focus on other objects outside of the specified AF area.

Whole area subject tracking: Off

If you turn off subject tracking/ whole area subject tracking, the camera will not track the subject when it moves too far away from the AF area. It will find and lock onto other subjects that are within or near the AF area instead.

There may be situations where disabling subject tracking helps you work better, such as when you want more control over where the AF operates. Depending on your shooting style and preferences, and your camera’s customisability, you might want to:
- Assign a button to toggle whole area subject tracking on and off.
- Assign a button to shift focus to the detected subject even if it is outside the AF area you set.

4. Configure Eye Detection AF

4. Enable Eye Detection AF for portraiture

Camera models equipped with EOS iTR AF X (EOS intelligent Tracking & Recognition AF), which supports deep learning-based AF, can detect eyes with greater precision than before, even when the subject’s face is in the shadows, or in profile. This is particularly effective for shooting portraits with a very shallow depth of field!

Original image shot on EOS R7 + RF85mm f/2 Macro IS STM @ f/2, 1/200 sec, ISO 100

The close-up crop from this shot where the model is facing the side shows that the eye is sharply in focus.


Pro tip: You can choose which eye to prioritise on some cameras

On advanced camera models like the EOS R7 or EOS R6 Mark II, you can set the camera to prioritise the left or right eye.

In “Auto” mode, the camera will place the tracking frame over the eye that is closer to the camera. If the other eye is also detected, you will see arrows next to the tracking frame. Use the cross keys or Multi-controller to change the selected eye.


Know this: Eye Detection only works when subject detection is enabled

If you selected “None” in the “Subject to detect” menu, Eye Detection will not operate even if it is enabled in the AF menu.

5. Customise Servo AF characteristics

5. Use the Servo AF characteristics (AF2 menu) for finer control

The Servo AF characteristics (Servo AF case settings) let you configure how tracking behaves when another object crosses the AF point (“Tracking sensitivity”), or if the tracked subject suddenly changes speed (“Accel./ decel. tracking”).


There are 5 Servo AF cases on the newer camera.

- Case 1: A versatile multipurpose setting that should cater to most moving subjects.
- Case 2: For situations where obstacles are likely to appear, or when the subject tends to move away from the AF point (e.g., tennis, freestyle skiing).
- Case 3: For situations where you want to acquire focus immediately on subjects that suddenly appear in the frame (e.g., the start of cycling road races, Alpine skiing).
- Case 4: For subjects that tend to speed up or slow down unpredictably (e.g., soccer, motorsports, basketball, rhythmic gymnastics)
- Auto: The camera automatically adapts tracking to changes in the subject movement.

Changing the Servo AF cases can change tracking behaviour drastically. Most of the time, Case 1 or Auto should be sufficient. But for specific scenes, or if you simply want more control over tracking behaviour, you can try out the different cases or adjust the parameters. 

Also see:
Birds in Flight: Camera Settings to Increase Your Successful Shots

 

Bonus tip: Make full use of assignable buttons

If you find that you frequently switch between a couple of different AF modes or settings, refer to your camera’s manual or explore the “Customize Buttons” item in the orange menu. There’s probably something in there that allows you to toggle quickly between them at the push of a button. We have given a few examples in this article.

Have you assigned any shortcuts to your camera buttons? Share with us in the comments below!

 

Learn more about different camera features and settings in:
7 Photographers Share: AF & Drive Settings I Switch Based on the Scene
Unravelling the AF Features on the EOS R3
7 Often Neglected Camera Settings that Ensure a Smoother Shoot
5 Basic EOS R5/ EOS R6 Settings to Customise From the Start

About the Author

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Yuta Murakami

A native of Shimbashi, Tokyo, where the Japan’s railway system originated, Murakami was born in 1987, which makes him the same age as Japan Railways and the EOS system. An active photographer since his high school days, where he frequently competed in photography competitions for high-schoolers, he graduated with a degree in photography from the Nihon University College of Art. He loves riding trains as much as photographing them, and his train photos are usually shot on his train trips.

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