The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best

Started Jan 21, 2013 | Discussions
Shotcents
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The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
Jan 21, 2013

Okay, I know it sounds like a trolling start for a thread and perhaps it's a bit of frustration more than any effort to get attention.

Yesterday, using 70-300 VR my D800 had a 50% hit ratio on a child who was posing for the camera, so NOT a lot of movement. Typically my faster glass, like my 70-200 VRII will do much better than this. But still, at times, especially when shooting faces, the D800 will back or front focus for no reason that I can detect. Flipping to LV gets perfect results, but this is not a great solution.

Is it my camera? My technique? No. I have no less than 9 friends using the D800 (6 are working professionals) and ALL of us will occasionally run into this issue. It's HIGHLY subject and light dependent, but repeatable.

The "cure" is VERY careful handling of the D800 and seeking higher contrast elements for the AF while composing. Most of the time this delivers results that are truly stunning, on par with my expectations of the D800 sensor.

But the camera is weaker for that quick moment where you might not employ the best technique and you'll sometimes get poor results. By comparison my D700 almost NEVER missed focus.

I really don't want to hear about the resolution element. This has nothing to do with pixels and is caused by the camera having NO IDEA of where the target is, thereby back/front focusing.

I've been using the D800 for a while now, tuned it for my lenses and get perfect results on any test. But out in a real shooting environment the D800 will simply blow focus unless I show a lot of care. The worst targets are faces, which is a drag when using faster lenses.

Undoubtedly some will respond that their D800 is "perfect" but I know what I'm doing and a few of my friends know even more. The D800 AF has been problematic since day one and continues to be. While I've been able to work around the limitations MOST of the time, this camera does not nail focus like the 5DIII does.

Let me repeat that: The D800 cannot match the AF accuracy of the Canon 5DIII

Yet the D800 is still my choice for a DSLR for many other reasons, from DR to detail. The D800 was two steps forward and one step back. I do believe, after we've left our D800 bodies behind, we'll all eventually agree on this. So rather than screaming about this I'll simply leave it at this....

I'm very much looking forward to a D900 or other high MP Nikon body that has AF that will be better than this and match what the 5DIII can do.

Love my D800...most of the time!

Robert

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rschoemaker
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Shotcents, Jan 21, 2013

My D800 doesn't have ANY IDEA where the target is either, so I just tell it where to focus. Works for me...

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Raul
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Shotcents, Jan 21, 2013

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50651413

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amobi
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Shotcents, Jan 21, 2013

Shotcents wrote:

Okay, I know it sounds like a trolling start for a thread and perhaps it's a bit of frustration more than any effort to get attention.

Yesterday, using 70-300 VR my D800 had a 50% hit ratio on a child who was posing for the camera, so NOT a lot of movement. Typically my faster glass, like my 70-200 VRII will do much better than this. But still, at times, especially when shooting faces, the D800 will back or front focus for no reason that I can detect. Flipping to LV gets perfect results, but this is not a great solution.

Is it my camera? My technique? No. I have no less than 9 friends using the D800 (6 are working professionals) and ALL of us will occasionally run into this issue. It's HIGHLY subject and light dependent, but repeatable.

The "cure" is VERY careful handling of the D800 and seeking higher contrast elements for the AF while composing. Most of the time this delivers results that are truly stunning, on par with my expectations of the D800 sensor.

But the camera is weaker for that quick moment where you might not employ the best technique and you'll sometimes get poor results. By comparison my D700 almost NEVER missed focus.

I really don't want to hear about the resolution element. This has nothing to do with pixels and is caused by the camera having NO IDEA of where the target is, thereby back/front focusing.

I've been using the D800 for a while now, tuned it for my lenses and get perfect results on any test. But out in a real shooting environment the D800 will simply blow focus unless I show a lot of care. The worst targets are faces, which is a drag when using faster lenses.

Undoubtedly some will respond that their D800 is "perfect" but I know what I'm doing and a few of my friends know even more. The D800 AF has been problematic since day one and continues to be. While I've been able to work around the limitations MOST of the time, this camera does not nail focus like the 5DIII does.

Let me repeat that: The D800 cannot match the AF accuracy of the Canon 5DIII

Yet the D800 is still my choice for a DSLR for many other reasons, from DR to detail. The D800 was two steps forward and one step back. I do believe, after we've left our D800 bodies behind, we'll all eventually agree on this. So rather than screaming about this I'll simply leave it at this....

I'm very much looking forward to a D900 or other high MP Nikon body that has AF that will be better than this and match what the 5DIII can do.

Love my D800...most of the time!

Robert

This post is funny coming from you. I remembered when I first described the exact issue you are now experiencing with your D800 you called me a troll. Personally I have concluded that D800 AF is not consisted regardless of what other people are saying. My 5DIII AF is much much better and more reliable. At the same time I can’t image parting with my D800. Also, I can’t image having D800 as my only camera.

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Arretose
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to amobi, Jan 21, 2013

Not very encouraging for someone thinking about buying a D800E. I was hoping that waiting after 12/15/12 per Thom Hogans recommendation would improve the likelyhood of getting a D800E with accurate focus. Looks like the D800 has an inherent defect, and I will be waiting for the D900!

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rgolub
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Shotcents, Jan 21, 2013

I would sort of agree with you.  Perhaps change emphasis a tad.  The D800 seems to AF about as well as any non "pro" Nikon body I've used.  I would class it in the same category as the D300 / D700  but not as good as a D2x or D4 (never really played with the D3 series).

It does like contrast.  I've actually found it to be better than expected on large birds in flight (eagles, ducks, swans).  But hardly world class.

Perhaps it's expectations.  Given that it is a 'prosumer' level body I expect about that level of performance. (Yes, I know the distinctions are a bit foolish and arbitrary but there is a clear difference in capabilities between Nikon's top-of-the-line bodies and it's other offerings.  Surprise!)

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primeshooter
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Shotcents, Jan 21, 2013

Shotcents wrote:

Okay, I know it sounds like a trolling start for a thread and perhaps it's a bit of frustration more than any effort to get attention.

Yesterday, using 70-300 VR my D800 had a 50% hit ratio on a child who was posing for the camera, so NOT a lot of movement. Typically my faster glass, like my 70-200 VRII will do much better than this. But still, at times, especially when shooting faces, the D800 will back or front focus for no reason that I can detect. Flipping to LV gets perfect results, but this is not a great solution.

Is it my camera? My technique? No. I have no less than 9 friends using the D800 (6 are working professionals) and ALL of us will occasionally run into this issue. It's HIGHLY subject and light dependent, but repeatable.

The "cure" is VERY careful handling of the D800 and seeking higher contrast elements for the AF while composing. Most of the time this delivers results that are truly stunning, on par with my expectations of the D800 sensor.

But the camera is weaker for that quick moment where you might not employ the best technique and you'll sometimes get poor results. By comparison my D700 almost NEVER missed focus.

I really don't want to hear about the resolution element. This has nothing to do with pixels and is caused by the camera having NO IDEA of where the target is, thereby back/front focusing.

I've been using the D800 for a while now, tuned it for my lenses and get perfect results on any test. But out in a real shooting environment the D800 will simply blow focus unless I show a lot of care. The worst targets are faces, which is a drag when using faster lenses.

Undoubtedly some will respond that their D800 is "perfect" but I know what I'm doing and a few of my friends know even more. The D800 AF has been problematic since day one and continues to be. While I've been able to work around the limitations MOST of the time, this camera does not nail focus like the 5DIII does.

Let me repeat that: The D800 cannot match the AF accuracy of the Canon 5DIII

Yet the D800 is still my choice for a DSLR for many other reasons, from DR to detail. The D800 was two steps forward and one step back. I do believe, after we've left our D800 bodies behind, we'll all eventually agree on this. So rather than screaming about this I'll simply leave it at this....

I'm very much looking forward to a D900 or other high MP Nikon body that has AF that will be better than this and match what the 5DIII can do.

Love my D800...most of the time!

Robert

Have you read my 2 latest threads? Exact same issue. It is horrendously bad with faces with fast 1.4 primes shot wide open. It front or back focuses by a large margin, UNLESS the face is very contrasty. This means that even in good light when there is alot of light in terms of quantity, contrast on the face could still be low - it totally misses.

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primeshooter
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Raul, Jan 21, 2013

Raul wrote:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50651413

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"There is not a thin line between love and hate. There is - in fact - a Great Wall of China with armed sentries posted every 20 feet between love and hate." (House)

Sorry, thats nothing to do with this particular problem the D800 has. I know how to set up a camera to focus with just the single point...I'm sure some newbies will be doing it wrong but the point is the D800 has a problem with focus on faces at distance wide open when contrast is low, wheras the D3s and D700 would nail it every time.

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Raul
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to primeshooter, Jan 21, 2013

primeshooter wrote:

Raul wrote:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50651413

-- hide signature --

"There is not a thin line between love and hate. There is - in fact - a Great Wall of China with armed sentries posted every 20 feet between love and hate." (House)

Sorry, thats nothing to do with this particular problem the D800 hasI. I know how to set up a camera to focus with just the single point...

Is there any other way?

regards

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primeshooter
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Raul, Jan 21, 2013

Raul wrote:

primeshooter wrote:

Raul wrote:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50651413

-- hide signature --

"There is not a thin line between love and hate. There is - in fact - a Great Wall of China with armed sentries posted every 20 feet between love and hate." (House)

Sorry, thats nothing to do with this particular problem the D800 has. I know how to set up a camera to focus with just the single point...

Is there any other way?

regards

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"There is not a thin line between love and hate. There is - in fact - a Great Wall of China with armed sentries posted every 20 feet between love and hate." (House)

I have no idea what you mean, but my camera is set up how Peter says in this thread, and I get this issue consistently, along with many of my peers including pro's using this camera.

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Al Giordano
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Shotcents, Jan 21, 2013

Can you please share your D800 focus settings with us?

I scratch my head at these posts - I don't agree at all with your assessment based on my experiences with the D800.

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primeshooter
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Al Giordano, Jan 21, 2013

Al Giordano wrote:

Can you please share your D800 focus settings with us?

I scratch my head at these posts - I don't agree at all with your assessment based on my experiences with the D800.

Buy a prime lens that's f/1.4. Start shooting faces wide open, in lower contrasts, not so they are right up in the frame either. You'll see what we mean.

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AZBlue
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to rgolub, Jan 21, 2013

rgolub wrote:

I would sort of agree with you. Perhaps change emphasis a tad. The D800 seems to AF about as well as any non "pro" Nikon body I've used. I would class it in the same category as the D300 / D700 but not as good as a D2x or D4 (never really played with the D3 series).

It does like contrast. I've actually found it to be better than expected on large birds in flight (eagles, ducks, swans). But hardly world class.

Perhaps it's expectations. Given that it is a 'prosumer' level body I expect about that level of performance. (Yes, I know the distinctions are a bit foolish and arbitrary but there is a clear difference in capabilities between Nikon's top-of-the-line bodies and it's other offerings. Surprise!)

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The D800 is an evolution of the D300/D700. I don't understand why you would expect the D800 to focus as fast or furiously as a D2x or D4. Those cameras cost multiple of thousands of dollars more than a D800.

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Shotcents
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to primeshooter, Jan 21, 2013

My friends and I have done a ton of tests and tried every setting change possible.

I've been told that the D800 AF Module is a somewhat reworked version of what's in the D700, but the D800 cannot match the D700's AF prowess.

The 5DIII AF is so good you almost have to work to make it miss! Clearly superior, not "close" as some reviews stated. The issue here is that the D800 "tests" great and the AF seems fine until you press it into action at a wedding or other event at which point it's not much better than my recently sold 5DII.

AF is by no means bad, but you really have to educate yourself on where it will be weak and compensate. It's simply not going to tolerate less in those cases and this does add up to missed shots. I have NOTHING close to the confidence I have with a D700 or 5DIII.

This has nothing at all to do with the AF settings. It occurs under ALL setting combinations and on every D800 I've seen/used.

Robert

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Hugo First
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Shotcents, Jan 21, 2013

Shotcents wrote:

Undoubtedly some will respond that their D800 is "perfect" but I know what I'm doing and a few of my friends know even more.

and your evidence for this -- and all the other various assertions you make in this post -- is what?

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rgolub
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to AZBlue, Jan 21, 2013

That's what I said....

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AZBlue
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to primeshooter, Jan 21, 2013

primeshooter wrote:

Raul wrote:

http://forums.dpreview.com/forums/post/50651413

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"There is not a thin line between love and hate. There is - in fact - a Great Wall of China with armed sentries posted every 20 feet between love and hate." (House)

Sorry, thats nothing to do with this particular problem the D800 has. I know how to set up a camera to focus with just the single point...I'm sure some newbies will be doing it wrong but the point is the D800 has a problem with focus on faces at distance wide open when contrast is low, wheras the D3s and D700 would nail it every time.

And this is while shooting using the center focus point in AF-S mode and not using any 3D, motion tracking or facial recognition of any kind?

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rschoemaker
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to primeshooter, Jan 21, 2013

primeshooter wrote:

Al Giordano wrote:

Can you please share your D800 focus settings with us?

I scratch my head at these posts - I don't agree at all with your assessment based on my experiences with the D800.

Buy a prime lens that's f/1.4. Start shooting faces wide open, in lower contrasts, not so they are right up in the frame either. You'll see what we mean.

The OP mentioned to have this problem with a 70-300 ...

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Al Giordano
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to primeshooter, Jan 21, 2013

Are you shooting in Servo Mode? Single Point?  How many focus points are you using?  What is your workflow?

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rgolub
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Re: The Truth about D800 Auto Focus - fair at best
In reply to Arretose, Jan 21, 2013

Waiting for the perfect camera has a couple of advantages.  It's cheaper.  You don't actually have to go out in the field and shoot.  While the OPs issue may well be real for him, other photographers have managed to deal with the cameras capabilities and quirks.

It's not the fastest or best focusing camera that Nikon makes.  I disagree with the OP in that I think it's on par with the D700 (he thinks it worse).  Maybe for weddings it is - fluffy white lace in a poorly lit church is a very different target from some whales breaching.  The OP is convinced that the AF system is much worse than on a nominally equivalent Canon body - can't comment on that.

But it's good enough for a lot of things.  And it's a great camera with both a lot of strengths and a number of weaknesses.  It's your responsibility to understand what you want out of a camera and how to get it.

The vast majority of us would do better photography if we just spent more time with our insufficient cameras instead of waiting for the next best thing.

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