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Taken at Southport Airshow last year

Heavily cropped picture, Nikon D3100 aperture priority 1/3200s f6.3 iso 400 300mm

Aps-c sensor size so 1.5 crop factor

Spot metering.& I think the camera was on single point focusing.

Now to get a sharper picture with my D5500 & 300mm lens what would you suggest?

Bigger aperture & Matrix metering?

Focus to infinity & switch to manual focus to stop it hunting & getting confused by multiple aircraft?

Or use af with dynamic area tracking 9 point?


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I would set it as follows, with explanations - hope it makes sense;


max aperture - (is it the 300mm f4?) - you won't need much depth of field with the subjects at the top of the loop,


I would use iso 100, but I like my processed shots large. If you are happy with smaller size outputs you can go higher iso. The subjects are probably at their slowest during the whole display at that point which helps - not sure what the sensor performance is on the D5500, but it should be pretty good.


I would use matrix metering. There is enough going on for the camera to do its job.


Do you use the shutter button to activate the focussing system, or use AF-On? 


Have you got the body set up so it will only fire if in focus?



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Thankyou for replying.

I have tried various things and I think it was set up, at the time, to only fire if in focus.

Max lens aperture is 5.6 at 300mm and I use the shutter button to lock af.

I was using continuous shooting, to try & capture something, in a smoother manner than stabbing the shutter button.

Googling, photographing the red arrows has thrown up a few other thoughts.

What max shutter speed for the first half of a display would be ok?

If I had used shutter priority, of say 1/1000s, then the aperture & depth of field would have been greater.

Not using a uv filter is another suggestion.

0ne forum concentrated on exposure a lot, which I didn't think was really the issue, as much as af "hunting".

Not too bothered about extreme photos of the 2nd part of the display which my equipment is probably not upto.

Thanks for your interest 




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hi Roy,


I would suggest trying AF-On to activate the focus rather than the shutter button and see if it makes a difference. I stopped using the shutter button about six years ago on my D2Xs and the number of sharper images I captured improved immediately. If you google af-on for nikon there are bits and pieces around, and if it doesn't work for you it doesn't cost anything to change back.


Re. the  shutter button I have a small piece of Sugru on it,  (and AF-On button), to help locate them better with my sausage fingers - pic below - again it might make the firing process smoother.




You may wish to have a look around google re. the lens. f5.6 should be enough depth of field, but it might be that your lens performs better at a different aperture - perhaps have a play around. 


The only other thing I would do is check that the lens is calibrated properly to the body - it may be that it needs tweaking to make sure you are getting the best performance - https://photographylife.com/how-to-quickly-test-your-dslr-for-autofocus-issues







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Hi Roy

Is the lens you are using the Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 55-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED VR or the AF-S 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 VR. The 55-300 is quite slow at focusing the 70 -300 is much faster and is a better lens full stop I have both and never use the 55-300 now.

The D3100 is also quite slow at Focusing the D5500 not shore on that one but should be faster than the old one.

As Jinxman say's you should switch to back button focusing which is what it is called been using it for years and would never go back to the way you have it set up it dose take time to master for some I got it in about 5 mins of use.

Set to AF-C -  SP  -  9 focus points - Matrix metering - AUTO WB - AUTO ISO  but set max to about 800 to 1000 ish - start shutter speeds for jets at about 1/1000s  and set the frame rate to the top rate.

I shoot only in RAW and get large files so can crop and pull a few things back in PP, in jpeg you get a smaller size file and when you crop it tends to brake up more ie look out of focus.

My Nikons are DX also D300s x 2 with Grips and a D90 with grip I do a lot of Motorsport so panning is the norm and fast objects also.

It takes ages to get it right and a lot of duff shots just keep trying.

Take a look at one of my Flickr pages I need to up date it a bit at Silverstone this Saturday mined that's only 4 miles from my home and 1/2 mile from where I work so not to far to go.


If you need any thing more just ask.


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Hi Paul,

Thankyou for your reply. I am off to shoot the Reds at Scarborough tomorrow! Not too sure if the weather will play ball!

Am going to try to get closer to the action by heading uo to St Marys church by the castle, rather than my previous Spa bridge position.

The lens is the former, 55-300ED.

On my D5500 i have 5 options for the back button.

I presume the last one, AF-ON is the option I need, to activate focus off the back button only?

I have a choice of 11 or 39 focus points so I will set that to 11, AF-C single point focus, max iso 800 rather than the next one of 1600.

Shutter prioriy 1/1000 & VR on.

Regards Roy



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It looks like it was a clear sunny day so i would of shot at ISO 100 or 200 but if you're not printing very large then ISO 400 is fine... the only thing i would of changed is the focus you chose.


Keeping a small focusing point on fast moving planes like these is extremely difficult so better to use multiple focus points... and put camera into burst mode to shoot a few frames a second to ensure at least one or two will be in focus.


Was you hand held or on a monopod?

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Handheld shooting.

I will try multiple focus points next time but was not sure if mutiple aircraft confused the af.

At the armed forces day I struggled with blur free shots of a hovering coastguard helicopter!

I  was using 1/125 shutter speed to keep the tail rotor blurred (any faster would have frozen it) & wil try manual focus  next time.

Jinxman your link was most interesting & it did ocurr to me, that I once dropped my camera badly & I wonder if the shock has affected the calibration? 

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On 7/4/2017 at 10:44 PM, bhouse said:

That's very likely...


Indeed, could be. My eldest son dropped, (he would dispute this...), a body of mine once with a lens on at RIAT. It went to Nikon, and the body was fine, but the lens needed a new VR chip.


We still laugh about it now, :fight:, well sort of....

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