Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox

Started May 12, 2012 | Discussions
dgc4rter
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Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
May 12, 2012

Although there are some early pre-orderers still waiting, the D800s are beginning to trickle through and I received mine from WEX UK a few days ago from an order placed on 13th February – just under 3 months. Serial No. 605nnnn

I’ve not had chance to shoot much with it yet but the obligatory test shots have been carried out to check the camera for any signs of the more notable issues being publicised by users on DPR. I stuck my best lens on it for the initial test shots – the 24mm f1.4 G AF-S

First off, no back/front focus problems, AF-S on the central focus point appears to be pinpoint accurate. I would, however, appear to have an issue with the left outermost focus point like some owners are experiencing but it’s a paradox. A 24mm lens (albeit one of Nikon’s finest) will be somewhat soft at the edges at f1.4. It appears to be quite soft in the centre up to f2. Stick the lens on my D700 and conduct the same test and I get the same results, sort of. Conduct the tests at f4 and the problem becomes more apparent. Conduct the same test with my D700 at f4 and I get better results but then we have to factor in a 3x difference in resolution somewhere along the line. If I put my 50mm f1.4 on, the problem is not so pronounced but it’s hard to tell if this is just due to edge softness. If I use Live View, there is no problem at all and this method of focussing does seem more accurate in general.

Am I unduly concerned about the issue? To be perfectly honest, if it wasn’t for reading about it in the forums, I would never have looked for the problem and I very much doubt it would have ever caused me that much of a problem with my photography to notice it. I’m more interested in taking photos than spending all my time analysing the complex workings of my DSLR. Truth is, I have very rarely shifted focus points in this way, preferring to use the central point then focus lock. If I need pinpoint accuracy at shallow depth of field, I’ll be using Live View anyway. That isn’t to say I’m not glad I’ve found out about it. It’s a REAL issue which Nikon ought to acknowledge. It would be nice if the fault could be corrected by firmware but I somehow doubt it. I am more inclined to think that this will be rectified in future batches by remedial manufacturing processes without public knowledge and the issue will be dealt with on a person by person basis upon contacting Nikon about it. I think I’ll wait to see what transpires in the coming months and have it looked at before the warranty runs out.

No recall on the battery supplied and the LCD hue seems fine to me. Out of my very first batch of handheld shots (about 6), only one was sharply in focus but I could immediately tell that this was due to camera shake and not any technical fault, even though one of the more OOF shots was at 1/1000 sec which I found a little strange. Next up was a few indoor shots on a tripod. All these shots were in focus and super sharp. So, I really have to conclude from this that good technique is a requisite for yielding the best results from this camera and sloppy technique will almost certainly be punished accordingly. Looks like I’ll be having to carry my tripod around a little more.

Went out this morning to get some half-decent outdoor photos in good light (all hand-held). The best 3 have been posted for your interest (no cats… sorry!)

Am I pleased with the camera? 90% Yes. 10% gets deducted because of the left AF problem although I’m happier with this camera than I initially was with my D7000 which had back focus issues. Will it take better photos than my D700? Let’s rephrase that… Will it help me to take better photos than my D700? Don’t know yet, although I’m pleased with the few results I’ve had so far. Get it right and the pics seem to have amazing detail – they just seem to be a little more “alive” and 3D than the other photos.

Will it replace my D700? No. There’s still room in my kit bag for the D700 as well.

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dgc4rter
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to dgc4rter, May 12, 2012

Just thought I'd give myself at least one reply to my post if no one else can be bothered.
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ukat123
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to dgc4rter, May 12, 2012

Provided that it focuses correctly without any back focus or front focus you are fine. NO AF issue then.

In that case, the softness on the 24mm and 35mm on the side is inevitable due to field curvature. It only shows on a D800 because of the high resolution. If you reduce the size of the image to 20mp it does not show. Extensive tests have been done by Lloyd Chambers on Diglloyd.com. You have to shoot at f5.6 with the 24mm or f8 with the 35mm to get rid of the softness that comes from the field curvature. With such a camera, all lens limitations show when viewed at 100%, but who needs to look at 100%. Be careful with the vibrations. It immediately shows as well. Best sharpness is with live view and mirror up option on tripod; then amazing.

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dgc4rter
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to ukat123, May 12, 2012

Thanks for the info. That's made me feel better. I just wasn't sure whether it was the camera or a trait of the lens.
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JediLight
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to dgc4rter, May 12, 2012

Congrats on receiving the camera. Your review, approach and thoughts about the AF left point issue sound very sensible. Have you played with Auto-ISO function yet where it sets the shutter speed automatically for you? One of the best features on this over the D7000, and obviously helps a lot with removing blur.

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AtomicPunk
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to dgc4rter, May 12, 2012

The best way to tell if this is an issue with lens softness or AF is to use single point and the center focus point. Lock focus on your subject, then move them to the left edge of the frame. Take the picture. DO it again, only this time put the left focus point on your subject. Compare the shots, if the first one is sharper, then yes, you have the same left AF issues that most people have.

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dgc4rter
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to AtomicPunk, May 12, 2012

I've just done this with my 50mm f1.4. Using the centre focus point and focus locking yielded slightly better focus results than using the left outermost focus point but it was only marginal. Using live view and the focus was even better still wherever I placed the focus point.

It's really hard to tell. Generally, the photos are coming out great so I'm going to sit on the fence with this one and just enjoy taking photos for a while.
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dgc4rter
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to JediLight, May 12, 2012

Thanks! Yes, I've played with the Auto ISO. Didn't use it for the tests though as the camera was on a tripod.
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Cenk
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to dgc4rter, May 12, 2012

It seems nearly all D800 bodies have this issue at the moment, unfortunately...

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Manny82
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to ukat123, May 12, 2012

ukat123 wrote:

...the softness on the 24mm and 35mm on the side is inevitable due to field curvature. It only shows on a D800 because of the high resolution.

Body should make no difference to the output of such a lens. Suddenly we shouldn't be using these lenses on a D800? Or at least we shouldn't be left-focussing with them?

If you reduce the size of the image to 20mp it does not show.

Why buy a camera with 36MP sensor then?

Extensive tests have been done by Lloyd Chambers on Diglloyd.com. You have to shoot at f5.6 with the 24mm or f8 with the 35mm to get rid of the softness that comes from the field curvature. With such a camera, all lens limitations show when viewed at 100%, but who needs to look at 100%. Be careful with the vibrations. It immediately shows as well.

So use a D700 with 24 f/1.4 @ 1.4 or use a D800 with 24 f/1.4 @ f/5.6? Or use f1.4 on the D800 but just don't zoom in otherwise be prepared to be upset? That's just crazy! I know what i'd rather use.

Best sharpness is with live view and mirror up option on tripod; then amazing.

Overkill.

Should have just implemented image-stabilisation into the body of the D800. The fact that you have to go to these lengths with such a camera is just gonna put people off photography or certainly limit its uses.

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ukat123
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to Manny82, May 12, 2012

Manny82 wrote:

ukat123 wrote:

...the softness on the 24mm and 35mm on the side is inevitable due to field curvature. It only shows on a D800 because of the high resolution.

Body should make no difference to the output of such a lens. Suddenly we shouldn't be using these lenses on a D800? Or at least we shouldn't be left-focussing with them?

I am not saying the body makes a different. 36mp shows you the limitations of lenses. that is all. Your focus can be as accurate as you want. You still cannot get rid of field curvature I am afraid on wide angle lenses, and you need to stop down to compensate.

If you reduce the size of the image to 20mp it does not show.

Why buy a camera with 36MP sensor then?

Extensive tests have been done by Lloyd Chambers on Diglloyd.com. You have to shoot at f5.6 with the 24mm or f8 with the 35mm to get rid of the softness that comes from the field curvature. With such a camera, all lens limitations show when viewed at 100%, but who needs to look at 100%. Be careful with the vibrations. It immediately shows as well. Certainly my 35mm 1.4G is extremely sharp, but this is a lens which is not at its best with planar subjects due to its field curvature. This is a reportage lens. As lloyd Chambers showed in detail, it needs to be shot at f8 to eliminate the softness due to field curvature. I am afraid, lenses are what they are.

So use a D700 with 24 f/1.4 @ 1.4 or use a D800 with 24 f/1.4 @ f/5.6? Or use f1.4 on the D800 but just don't zoom in otherwise be prepared to be upset? That's just crazy! I know what i'd rather use.

Best sharpness is with live view and mirror up option on tripod; then amazing.

Overkill.

Should have just implemented image-stabilisation into the body of the D800. The fact that you have to go to these lengths with such a camera is just gonna put people off photography or certainly limit its uses.

Not everyone want to extract the last bit of pixel sharpness and always look at their photos with 100% magnification. The D800 is a great camera also for other factors such as DR, and even downscaled, the photos are sharper than what a D700 or D3S offers, without any post processing. It captures detail that cannot be obtained whatever the amount of sharpening you put on a D700. When you do want to extract the last drop of sharpness out of this 36mp sensor, very very few nikon lenses can do that, as Lloyd Chambers showed in his very detailed tests of many Nikon lenses. The primes are fine. Some lenses can outresolve the sensor such as the Zeiss 100mm, but those lenses are rare. It doe snot mean you cannot enjoy fantastic pictures. And you can enjoy this camera with average lenses as well such as a 24-120 or 28-300 if you don't pixel peep.

After shooting many years with 2 D700 and 1 D3S, I don't look back. Fantastic camera. And fantastic high ISO as well. VERY VERY Happy bunny here.

My only complain is relating to live view. I think it could be faster and better implemented.

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Biological_Viewfinder
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PRetty big ding for something you wouldn't have known about
In reply to dgc4rter, May 12, 2012

You say that you're charging the Nikon D800 a full grade 10% downwards for something you wouldn't have even known about and will rarely ever see?

I mean, 90% is still an A-, but barely. Maybe with the slower Live View, you'll charge it just 1%, oops now it's just a B camera. What????????????
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Tom Reynolds
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to AtomicPunk, May 12, 2012

AtomicPunk wrote:

The best way to tell if this is an issue with lens softness or AF is to use single point and the center focus point. Lock focus on your subject, then move them to the left edge of the frame. Take the picture. DO it again, only this time put the left focus point on your subject. Compare the shots, if the first one is sharper, then yes, you have the same left AF issues that most people have.

But make sure that your subject to camera distance stays exactly the same, and that the subject plane and sensor plane stay exactly parallel in both comparison shots. If both parameters are not exactly the same your results will have no meaning. Good luck doing this because it is very difficult. People find problems all the time because of poor testing methods.

An easier method may be to place subject in left zone that you wish to test, using a tripod. Then compare two shots: one with AF single point over the non-centered subject and one using Live View. If Live View is always better than probably an AF issue.

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Leonard Shepherd
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Re: This is probably not completely right
In reply to ukat123, May 12, 2012

ukat123 wrote:

In that case, the softness on the 24mm and 35mm on the side is inevitable due to field curvature.

This is probably not completely right.

While the lenses may or may not have some field curvature at particular focus distances, wide angles lenses always have less corner depth of field than at the centre .

Most are familiar with circles being stretched into ovals in the frame corners using wide angles. The stretching along the diagonal lines means x resolution is stretched - leaving less residual resolution

If you are aiming for a specific minimum depth of field; the reduced wide angle corner resolution due to image stretching may not deliver it. For this reason it is wise to consider stopping down wide angles an extra stop to get similar dof in the image to that suggested (with inaccuracy for wide angle corners) in dof tables.

Digressing if a wide angle has curvature (in the era of the Nikon MF 20mm f3.5 curvature was terrible) the curvature can be partially corrected by manual focus slightly behind correct focus, and stopping down a stop or so to get better corner detail.
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marike6
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to Cenk, May 12, 2012

Cenk wrote:

It seems nearly all D800 bodies have this issue at the moment, unfortunately...

This is not true. My D800 has identical results at all AF points. I've tested it twice, mainly because of the paranoia of this forum with camera bugs. And I have read many reports on here of others that have no such issue. Don't understand the need to make sweeping statements or proclamations, but if it makes people feel better...

If people have a problem that's fine. But why go around saying all D800s have left AF point inaccuracy when that is not the case?

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ocean7
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to marike6, May 12, 2012

marike6 wrote:

Cenk wrote:

It seems nearly all D800 bodies have this issue at the moment, unfortunately...

This is not true. My D800 has identical results at all AF points. I've tested it twice, mainly because of the paranoia of this forum with camera bugs. And I have read many reports on here of others that have no such issue. Don't understand the need to make sweeping statements or proclamations, but if it makes people feel better...

If people have a problem that's fine. But why go around saying all D800s have left AF point inaccuracy when that is not the case?

It also depends on how one tests for this issue. I.e. even though my D800 cameras had this left AF issue (all of them), the issue did not show up with certain lenses, certain subject distances etc. Two people with the exact same camera may come to a different conclusion if their camera has an AF issue or not.

Over on FM, somebody posted a D800 image focused with the left AF point to prove that his camera has no issue. However his image was taken at 200mm and f/8!

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dgc4rter
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Re: Nikon D800 – The paradox remains.
In reply to dgc4rter, May 13, 2012

Interesting responses - thanks guys. For me, the paradox remains.

I was an early adopter of the D7000 and there was quite a furore on this forum about hot pixels, back/front focus and the AF in general too. My results with that camera were very hit and miss initially and I was convinced there was something not quite right with it. I almost sent it back but, in the end, I thought to myself, would I be thinking about sending it back if I hadn't been reading all the stuff on DPR? ... "Just get out there and take photos with it".

And you know what, I did and I've got some great photos from the camera. It' still a bit of hit and miss with the thing. I can go out for a session and have a very low keep rate but that's partly down to my lack of skill and technique. My trusty 35mm f1.8 lives on the camera now which I can achieve a pretty reasonable hit rate with and it's a great walkaround tool.

When we pay as much money as we do for a top end DSLR, we should expect it to work perfectly and I think the left AF issue with the D800 is a real one that Nikon should address. However, it's just not a big enough deal for me to bother sending the thing back when the general results I'm getting from the camera are awesome (the amount of detail in the photos is staggering).

I think I'm just going to get out there and take photos with it. Maybe I was a bit harsh deducting 10% - I'll give it 95% (-2.5% for the left AF, -2.5% for the slow Live View).
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ahmetu
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Re: Nikon D800 – The paradox remains.
In reply to dgc4rter, May 14, 2012

I received mine a week ago and have been testing it extensively since then. Serial no 3xx8xxx. I finally decided the return for exchange.

I tested the autofocus with
24-85mm f/2.8-4
50mm f/1.8g
85mm f/1.8g

24-85mm and 85mm seemed consistent across the AF points, the center point being marginally better. 50mm at 1.8 consistently gave out of focus images when the leftmost point was used. Not too bad but enough to bother a picky person. This was enough to create a problem in a portrait session when you are trying to pinpoint the focus on the eye for example. I tried to convince myself that it is not a big deal and I can definitely work around it by acquiring focus using the center point and recomposing. However, I finally gave up after trying the AF-C in 3D tracking mode to focus and recompose.

When the focus is acquired using the center point, the right AF bank did not have any problems tracking the subject. I tried this with moving cars and a stationary object on a white wall. However, the left AF bank was all over the place searching to acquire focus when tracking. Actually, you can tell by watching which focus points are used to track. The leftmost points rarely was active even though the object is clearly under that point with enough vertical contrast.

This made me gave up on my copy of D800. I don't think I can handle not being able to acquire focus and/or track focus. This will significantly detriment the camera's use in many photographic situations. I also don't want to risk sending it to Nikon and getting it back in the same condition since there is no definitive solution.

Sadly, it is going back. Otherwise it is a wonderful piece of equipment.

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thejohnnerparty
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to dgc4rter, May 14, 2012

I like the pics. .... If you do more testing outdoors, could do these same shots and very the fstop up and down a stop (along with shutter speed, of course). I be curious to see the differences in DOF and sharpness.

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thejohnnerparty
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Re: Nikon D800 – First Impressions & the Left AF Paradox
In reply to dgc4rter, May 14, 2012

Funny. I like that.

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