D90 Focus Problem? Please help!

Started Apr 5, 2012 | Discussions
CatsMeow
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D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
Apr 5, 2012

I upgraded from a D50 to a D90 nearly a year ago (lens mount on D50 broke) and have been frustrated and downright depressed with the sharpness of my shots from this new camera. Sweet memories of my young children are slipping by uncaptured because I don't even want to pull the camera out of the bag anymore.

I'm a TOTAL newby on this, so please go easy on me. I've never included photos in a post, and I've only ever posted one or two times, so I don't know if I'm even going about this in the correct way.

I've spent countless hours over the last few days taking shot after shot trying to determine if it's operator error, a problem with my equipment, or unrealistic expectations. I've tested with both a Nikon 50mm 1.4 AF lens and a Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens with similar results. The photos below are with the 50mm because it should presumably be sharper and I was hopeful that the narrow DOF would help isolate the problem.

Here are two of the test photos and the specs common to both photos:

D90, Nikon 50mm 1.4 AF lens (no filter), f1.4, iso 200, af-s, single-point af area.

Test #1 carried out per the instructions here ( http://www.focustestchart.com/chart.html ):

Photo-specific Info:

1/4000 shutter speed, subject distance .5 meters, taken on a tripod using the self-timer to try and rule out camera shake.

To me, the wording "This text should be perfectly in focus" is not focused.

Test #2:

Photo Info:

1/80 shutter speed, subject distance 1 meter, handheld (no tripod or self-timer used).

To me, the wood on the bed is more focused than the eyes. Why the heck can't I ever seem to get my kids' eyes sharply focused when that's exactly where I am placing the camera's focal point indicator? I used to be a focus/recomposer but have now tried to retrain myself to compose and then move the focal point using the arrow keys on the back of the camera.

Thoughts? What else should I try? I'm at my wit's end on this thing and would be forever grateful to anyone who could help me.

Nikon D50 Nikon D90
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FoolyCooly
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 5, 2012

I had similar issues with 2 D90s. It is possible to manually adjust your D90. I did it myself with great success. Have a look at the post below.

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/readflat.asp?forum=1034&message=39465865

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CatsMeow
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to FoolyCooly, Apr 5, 2012

Thanks so much. I read that thread when I was trying to research my problem. Because my camera is under warranty still (1 year, right?) I'm hesitant to mess with it. I'd hate to make the problem worse or cause another problem.

In your opinion, do the photos I posted point to a focus problem with the camera?

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Deleted1929
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You have no camera or lens problem
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 5, 2012

To me, the wording "This text should be perfectly in focus" is not focused.

You are in error. I would describe your first test as a textbook example of perfect focus at wide aperture.

You need to allow for the extremely narrow depth of field at such a wide aperture.

http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/depth-of-field.htm

As you're new at this I'd suggest you read as much as you can of the great tutorials at that website.

[ Child photo ]

Lots of potential problems, all related to the user and your understanding of things.

Top problems.

Shutter speed - 1/80th is too slow to avoid motion blur in a human portrait. People ( and other animals ) make small and almost continuous movements of their bodies and parts of their bodies. It's also too slow to avoid shake. You need a shutter speed of about twice what you have to be safe(r). That means raising ISO a stop or two.

Depth of field. Depth of field is tiny at f1.4. Even the slightest movement back or forth by you or the subject ( or both ) will shift what you want out of focus.

P.S. Ignore that nonsense about "fixing your camera yourself". You have nothing to fix and will simply ruin your camera messing with it.

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FoolyCooly
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 5, 2012

The first photo- no but focus test charts are not always the best way to test AF.

The 2nd photo- maybe (I wouldn't be happy with it.) But see sjgcit's post.

I think a larger sampling is needed. Only use the center focus point and shoot at varying distances to your subjects. Shoot in good light and fast shutter speeds. Check your results at 100% and you decide. If your happy with the results than great... if not then send it in for service.

CatsMeow wrote:

In your opinion, do the photos I posted point to a focus problem with the camera?

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CatsMeow
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Re: You have no camera or lens problem
In reply to Deleted1929, Apr 5, 2012

Thank you for your feedback and the link to the tutorials. As soon as I got your reply, I popped over to the site and can't wait to dive in.

One last question for you, if I may. Was my testing methodology for photo #1 (test chart) flawed and does it need to be repeated or refined to definitively rule out a camera focusing problem? You mention the hair-thin DOF at f1.4. For example, should I have stopped it down to 2.8 or so or are the results of the test at f1.4 sufficient?

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FoolyCooly
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Re: You have no camera or lens problem
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 5, 2012

Wait a minute... You should verify that you definitely have a focus problem first.

I did a sampling of 30 or more images before I tuned my cameras. Then I spent another 3+ hours testing.

I honestly don't like the macro focus test chart. IMO, it often will not show issues with focusing on objects at a distance. It did not work for me. When focusing on objects 20 feet or more away. They were obviously back focused but the test chart showed that the camera was performing as it should.

Try focusing on fixed objects with good contrast or maybe print a moire interference pattern and use that to test.

http://www.komar.org/faq/camera/auto-focus-test/

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Barry Fitzgerald
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 5, 2012

Focus chart is spot on no problem there

The portrait seems to be a bit off AF wise hence the wood appears sharper

I can't read your exif information so can't see what your settings are, I would suggest using AF-C so that minor movements won't put the focus off. Also you can try the wide point settings for the central sensor I'm playing around with settings and I've found that actually works quite well

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CatsMeow
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to Barry Fitzgerald, Apr 5, 2012

Thanks so much for your time and input. I'm taking my kids out later this afternoon to give it another go, and I'll try to wide area and af-c options. I haven't ever played with the wide area setting because I thought it might exacerbate the focus problem, but I'm game for anything at this point.

I really appreciate your input!

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Barry Fitzgerald
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 5, 2012

CatsMeow wrote:

Thanks so much for your time and input. I'm taking my kids out later this afternoon to give it another go, and I'll try to wide area and af-c options. I haven't ever played with the wide area setting because I thought it might exacerbate the focus problem, but I'm game for anything at this point.

I really appreciate your input!

Get back on this one. I have found the AF on my D90 mostly on target..but like all cameras can be off the odd time. But it should not be that often, and it's more likely an issue in very low light/poor contrast on the target.

Sometimes the AF can lock onto something in the AF area and it's often a bit bigger than it might appear in the VF, the wide AF is worth a try for "some" types of shots, but might not work as well for others. AF-C can be of use..but then the AF assist can help with shots too (it can be a distraction the bright light, but it can help accuracy too) that's off with AF-C though can't use it

Anyway have a play around and see how things go, report back and let us know how many are in focus, or a bit off. As with anything if you find a lot are off focus I would send the camera in to service under warranty no questions. I've 2 years on my D90 and you can be certain if I had issues it would go back to get fixed.

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CatsMeow
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to Barry Fitzgerald, Apr 5, 2012

I'll definitely report back on this issue if there's any chance it could help others. Even though the test chart shows no AF problem, my real-life photos definitely suffer from lack of sharp focus. User error? Maybe. But it just seemed like my D50 was much more predictably sharp.

Armed with the generous info from you and others, I'll head out to the Texas blue bonnets tonight to do more testing. And if I'm lucky, I'll discover that it's something that I've been doing wrong and will have some precious photos to celebrate this fleeting phase in my kids' young lives.

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RobertLaw
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 5, 2012

Good luck. One thing that I have noticed is that as the number of pixels increase, the more important it is to have a good shutter speed and being very careful on how you hold your camera. Nikon has even put cautions with the D800 to try to avoid many of the complaints. I believe that the D50 was only 6 megapixels, so you might need to be a little more careful on how you hold your camera.

Your pictures look okay to me. I agree that expecting good exact focus at f1.4 is kind of worthless. On a portrait you may get one eye in focus but the other out.
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Deleted1929
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Re: You have no camera or lens problem
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 5, 2012

If you have some reason to think you have a focusing problem then do a rigorous series of tests as the other poster suggested.

However my idea of when you need to do that is after you've eliminated all the technique issues which, as a beginner, you naturally have. The preliminary results you posted seemed very clear to me - it's unlikely you have any obvious focus problem with the equipment.

There's a lot to pick up and what you really need is a couple of months shooting in the real world. You'll find lots of issues with out of focus shots and blurring, but all of them are likely to be your fault ( again, understandable - you're a beginner ). It's a bit like learning to drive. At the beginning you want to blame everyone else, but later on you'll realise that most ( or all ) of the difficulties were of your own making.

Takes time. Be patient.

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CatsMeow
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UPDATED PHOTO--D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 6, 2012

Thanks to those who have provided feedback thus far. Based on that feedback, I've gone out this evening and taken more pictures.

The picture below is straight from the camera.

I focused on her left eye (the eye closest to the lens) and yet, at least to me, her eye is soft and her bow is sharp. Back focusing? User error?

I don't know how to post the EXIF data, but here are the settings I used and the data that shows in Bridge:
D90, Nikon 24-70mm 2.8 lens
Shutter-priority mode, 1/250
f2.8
ISO 320
Focal Length 62 mm
Subject Distance 1.3 m

On this particular shot, I was in AF-C mode, Single-Point AF-area mode, Center Focus Point set to Wide Zone.

Thoughts? Suggestions for other things or settings to try?

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hamton
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Re: UPDATED PHOTO--D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 6, 2012

I think your D90 is fine.
The focus chart shows even distribution of front and back focus.
The picture of the boy shows some front focus.
The picture of the girls shows some back focus.

I think this is within error. I also believe because you are using the body focus motor (AF), there could also be some margin of error as well. Maybe there is some wiggle between the drive and the screw. Try to do focus test on an object by first focusing on something near then your target. Then try focusing something far and then your target. Compare and see if the focus is the same.

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grandpaw
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 6, 2012

The only problem I see with the two first pictures that you posted is the depth of field. That is how much is going to come out in focus at a certain focal length and in these to photos it was F, 1.4 which is the least amount you can get in focus and the closer you are to the subject the worse it gets. Try using a larger F stop like the F2.8 that you used in the last picture. The bigger the number and the farther away you get the more will come out in focus.

Try doing the same shot with the green AUTO setting on top of your camera and see how it works. If you like the results or think they are better than before, that should give you some idea of what setting you should be using. I personally do not think you have any problem with you equipment at all and all it is will be you getting a little more acquainted with your camera and how it works, Jeff

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Breaker51
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to grandpaw, Apr 6, 2012

I would try two things:

1) take a shot of some object (I used a ceral box) per the other posters instructions, i.e. smaller apetrue, faster shutter, etc. I would do this on a tripod or set on a stable object and use shutter delay. Then do the same thing with Live View, and compare the two shots. The Live View should have pretty accurate focus - if it looks out of focus you may have a problem.

2) what is your in camera sharpness setting? When I went from my D50 to my D90 I had to go to a little stronger in camera sharpness setting for JPEGS. For JPEGS I would go to 6 0r 7. Won't matter if you are shooting raw.

This is what I did and my focus was pretty much dead on - made me take a look at my shooting technique and work to improve it!

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CatsMeow
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to Breaker51, Apr 6, 2012

I am really blown away by the helpfulness of people on this forum. My kids are going to wonder if I've lost my mind when I'm taking pictures of cereal boxes in the morning, but that I shall, and then some.

I'll post results tomorrow. THANK YOU, my dpreview.com mentors!

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InTheMist
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to CatsMeow, Apr 6, 2012

You sure AF-C? No focus lock? Lens not on M focus mode?

It really looks like you were in AF-S and moved.

I say that because the test chart is bang on (they usually look hazy like that) I've never heard of a camera or lens that back focuses and front focuses.

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InTheMist
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Re: D90 Focus Problem? Please help!
In reply to InTheMist, Apr 6, 2012

Nice lens by the way!

Keep your fingers off of the focus ring. Any slight movement will mess up the focus too.

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