D4 AF - Question to Pros

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jeminijoseph
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D4 AF - Question to Pros
8 months ago

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This is about D4's autofocus and auto focus only.. Interested only in action especially wildlife.

I've been using Nikon since 1996 and shooting wildlife for around 10 years. I've used film cameras including F5 with Sigma 500mm f/4.5, then same lens with D70 and D300. Sigma was replaced with Nikon AF-S 500/4 (I) in 2008 mainly to get better AF and then that lens was replaced in 2010 with latest VR. The biggest difference I noticed with AF performance was with D300 and that's the camera gave me my best ever shot (6 shots in 0.7 seconds) (Sorry posted this here before)

http://wildbirdimages.com/eaglefishing.aspx

My next big jump was with D4. I bought it for two reasons. Much better high ISO (I got that) and much better AF (not sure I got this)

D4 AF is much faster than D300's and it snaps almost everything if I can aim at the subject

EXCEPT A SUBJECT WITH BUSY BACKGROUND

Here are some proof.

If you know how random this fish jump out of water, you know how difficult to catch this

It was still before sunset when I shot this. The day was cloudy and foggy.

So I can see a huge jump in AF performance compared to D300. But there are many occasions where the camera goes for background. I missed many shots because of that. Here's a perfect example. Camera was tracking the bird perfectly fine until it moved to a place with busy background

I can't remember D300 had same issue. These days I'm very curious about Canon side too. If 1DX is far better in wildlife auto focus, I don't mind switching. If D4s is the answer, I can upgrade too. Anyway I have to wait another year to upgrade or switch because of financial reasons.

BTW, one solution I'm using these days is to manually focus the camera while the subject is moving (help the camera a bit). Once the camera get the subject in focus, it may follow it. So I made some improvement there. Above pictures were from a trip to a Osprey nesting area couple of weeks ago. I got some nice shots in the trip (nothing worth going to the web site. So I put them in a temp folder

http://wildbirdimages.com/temp.aspx

In short, does D4 struggle to focus a moving subject with busy background? All answers appreciated. If someone think I've wrong settings can you please share your AF settings?

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dgluckman
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to jeminijoseph, 8 months ago

I've used a pair of D4 for 2 years, replacing my D300's as you did. I shoot mainly birds and don't usually have the problem you describe. Probably because I use spot focus (with the smallest number of focal points) for all my shots except when the bird is in the sky and there is no discernible background. When you use either of the other 2 modes, the focusing points are often well outside the profile of the bird and will almost always focus on the background (or go into search mode) and miss the relatively small bird. Of course, manual focus will overcome this if you have the eyes and hand coordination which I sorely lack. If you're using spot focus you might want to check to make sure the red focusing square is place where you want it.

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larrywilson
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to dgluckman, 8 months ago

What do you have focus tracking lock on set at?  Long, short or off?  I usually set mine on short.  For me its also best to use 9 point dynamic focus to keep the focus area down to a small size.  I live in western Oregon so lots of vegetation in the background a lot of the itme.

Larry

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abcdefghijklmnop
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to jeminijoseph, 8 months ago

I do not have the D4 rather I have the D4S.  I also came form the D300s.  With the use of the Grouped AF in the D4S (5 points working as one) it tracks birds across the face of busy back grounds without many instances of AF loss.  Also the f19 setting is a big plus in my opinion.  You can be using S or GRP on wadding/sitting birds and when one flies off, you just press one of the lens AF buttons (available on the 300, 400, 500, 600 and 800mm glass) and the camera will instantly switch to any one AF mode you have programed in the menu setting.  Release the button and you are back to S or GRP.

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jeminijoseph
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to dgluckman, 8 months ago

dgluckman wrote:

I've used a pair of D4 for 2 years, replacing my D300's as you did. I shoot mainly birds and don't usually have the problem you describe. Probably because I use spot focus (with the smallest number of focal points) for all my shots except when the bird is in the sky and there is no discernible background. When you use either of the other 2 modes, the focusing points are often well outside the profile of the bird and will almost always focus on the background (or go into search mode) and miss the relatively small bird. Of course, manual focus will overcome this if you have the eyes and hand coordination which I sorely lack. If you're using spot focus you might want to check to make sure the red focusing square is place where you want it.

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dgluckman

Thanks for the input. So you use single point AF? No dynamic 9/21 points? I always use 21 point which was very effective in D300. If I use single point it's going to be hard to keep the AF point on the bird. Isn't it? If you can track with single point you are much more skilled than I'm Anyhow I will try that and practice it.

On manual focus. I just started practicing it. Everything take practice. That was the case when I started using AF-On button. Now it's almost like a second nature. I can't live without that button any more..

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jeminijoseph
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to larrywilson, 8 months ago

larrywilson wrote:

What do you have focus tracking lock on set at? Long, short or off?

Off.

I usually set mine on short. For me its also best to use 9 point dynamic focus to keep the focus area down to a small size.

I will try 9 points and see if that makes any differences.

I live in western Oregon so lots of vegetation in the background a lot of the itme.

Larry

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jeminijoseph
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to abcdefghijklmnop, 8 months ago

abcdefghijklmnop wrote:

I do not have the D4 rather I have the D4S. I also came form the D300s. With the use of the Grouped AF in the D4S (5 points working as one) it tracks birds across the face of busy back grounds without many instances of AF loss.

This is interesting. I read few threads claiming D4s is much better than D4 is tracking.

Also the f19 setting is a big plus in my opinion.

Is this something new in D4s? I don't think D4 has this. D4 has only up to F16.

You can be using S or GRP on wadding/sitting birds and when one flies off, you just press one of the lens AF buttons (available on the 300, 400, 500, 600 and 800mm glass) and the camera will instantly switch to any one AF mode you have programed in the menu setting. Release the button and you are back to S or GRP.

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abcdefghijklmnop
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to jeminijoseph, 8 months ago

Yes the f19 is new with the D4S.  Very handy for instant AF MODE changes.

The other day I had my D4S and 300/2.8 with me and I was just taking snaps in the yard, testing the combo.  In the neighbor's yard I say a bumble bee flying around and with either S or GRP, when he was kind of still, the camera would focus on him (at about 30 feet) with plants or a car in the near background.

I very much like the D4S af over my D800!

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dgluckman
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to jeminijoseph, 8 months ago

The camera and lens will only take you so far. After that it's all practice, except when it's luck!

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jeminijoseph
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to dgluckman, 8 months ago

dgluckman wrote:

The camera and lens will only take you so far. After that it's all practice, except when it's luck!

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dgluckman

I agree. But the top of the line camera going from subject to background while tracking and while the AF point is still on subject is little odd I think.

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jeminijoseph
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to abcdefghijklmnop, 8 months ago

abcdefghijklmnop wrote:

Yes the f19 is new with the D4S. Very handy for instant AF MODE changes.

The other day I had my D4S and 300/2.8 with me and I was just taking snaps in the yard, testing the combo. In the neighbor's yard I say a bumble bee flying around and with either S or GRP, when he was kind of still, the camera would focus on him (at about 30 feet) with plants or a car in the near background.

I very much like the D4S af over my D800!

I know D4 focus on subject as long as the focus point is on the subject if we shoot a single frame. It struggles when while tracking only.

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Canadianguy
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to jeminijoseph, 8 months ago

Sounds like you need to turn it on.

See pg 44 - it is doing exactly what you told it to do - there was no lock-on on your subject. It focused on whatever had the most contrast within the AF points.

http://cdn-10.nikon-cdn.com/pdf/manuals/dslr/D4_TechnicalGuide_En.pdf

jeminijoseph wrote:

larrywilson wrote:

What do you have focus tracking lock on set at? Long, short or off?

Off.

I usually set mine on short. For me its also best to use 9 point dynamic focus to keep the focus area down to a small size.

I will try 9 points and see if that makes any differences.

I live in western Oregon so lots of vegetation in the background a lot of the itme.

Larry

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jeminijoseph
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to Canadianguy, 8 months ago

Sounds like you need to turn it on.

See pg 44 - it is doing exactly what you told it to do - there was no lock-on on your subject. It focused on whatever had the most contrast within the AF points.

http://cdn-10.nikon-cdn.com/pdf/manuals/dslr/D4_TechnicalGuide_En.pdf

jeminijoseph wrote:

larrywilson wrote:

What do you have focus tracking lock on set at? Long, short or off?

Off.

I usually set mine on short. For me its also best to use 9 point dynamic focus to keep the focus area down to a small size.

I will try 9 points and see if that makes any differences.

I live in western Oregon so lots of vegetation in the background a lot of the itme.

Larry

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I can't remember the exact reason, but everybody was suggesting leaving this off in Nikon world. Anyway I will give it a try
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http://wildbirdimages.com/favorites.aspx

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Grevture
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Sports shooter here, can feel you pain :)
In reply to jeminijoseph, 8 months ago

jeminijoseph wrote:

I can't remember D300 had same issue.

Well, that just might be a bit of selective memory

These days I'm very curious about Canon side too. If 1DX is far better in wildlife auto focus, I don't mind switching. If D4s is the answer, I can upgrade too. Anyway I have to wait another year to upgrade or switch because of financial reasons.

The situation you show is always problematic, with any AF system. Keep in mind the AF system has no way of knowing what we want focus on. It assumes you want focus where the selected focus point(s) are at, and at the most significant contrast in the area it is covering. In your example, both the forest behind the bird and the bird itself is where the AF is pointing, and the at some point the forest offers the most obvious contrast. The AF does not see a bird, it just detects more or less strong contrast in the area at which it is pointed. As long as the bird had the sky as a back drop, there was no reason to refocus, when the forest, and that dark area appeared ... Bad luck.

As a sports shooter you quickly learn to hate ad signs, fences, nets and other busy backgrounds for pretty much the same reason, they are often just irresistible for a AF system

One thing you can do to at least partly reduce the incidence of series like the one you showed is to increase the delay before doing (drastic) refocusing (a4).

As things happen, the D4s will very probably be able to do this exact thing somewhat better: The new group AF mode is heavily geared towards always focusing on the closest of two possible distances in situation like that, meaning it will always choose the bird as long as you do not completely miss it with the focus points (in which case it is hard to blame the AF).

The 1Dx is ever so slightly better then the D4, simply because it has a focus mode very similar to the new group AF mode in the D4s.

BTW, one solution I'm using these days is to manually focus the camera while the subject is moving (help the camera a bit). Once the camera get the subject in focus, it may follow it. So I made some improvement there. Above pictures were from a trip to a Osprey nesting area couple of weeks ago. I got some nice shots in the trip (nothing worth going to the web site. So I put them in a temp folder

When I (occasionally) teach photography classes, and always insist that the 'A' in AF does not really mean 'automatic' but rather 'assisted'. The AF can help us focus, but it does not really ever know where we want focus, it can only make educated guesses. When I shoot sports, I often end up using AF in a 'semi-automatic' kind of way: For example focus on the feet of a goaltender in football (soccer), and then not activate AF when following the goalie making a save - since the net in the background is just to prone to trip up the AF.

The method you tried works, and help guide the AF making better guesses about what it is supposed to do.

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By the way, film is not dead.
It just smells funny

 Grevture's gear list:Grevture's gear list
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xtm
xtm
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Re: Sports shooter here, can feel you pain :)
In reply to Grevture, 8 months ago

Set AF Focus Lock On to OFF.

btw, I use my D4 for landscapes only

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jeminijoseph
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Re: Sports shooter here, can feel you pain :)
In reply to Grevture, 8 months ago

jeminijoseph wrote:

I can't remember D300 had same issue.

Well, that just might be a bit of selective memory

These days I'm very curious about Canon side too. If 1DX is far better in wildlife auto focus, I don't mind switching. If D4s is the answer, I can upgrade too. Anyway I have to wait another year to upgrade or switch because of financial reasons.

The situation you show is always problematic, with any AF system. Keep in mind the AF system has no way of knowing what we want focus on. It assumes you want focus where the selected focus point(s) are at, and at the most significant contrast in the area it is covering. In your example, both the forest behind the bird and the bird itself is where the AF is pointing, and the at some point the forest offers the most obvious contrast. The AF does not see a bird, it just detects more or less strong contrast in the area at which it is pointed. As long as the bird had the sky as a back drop, there was no reason to refocus, when the forest, and that dark area appeared ... Bad luck.

As a sports shooter you quickly learn to hate ad signs, fences, nets and other busy backgrounds for pretty much the same reason, they are often just irresistible for a AF system

One thing you can do to at least partly reduce the incidence of series like the one you showed is to increase the delay before doing (drastic) refocusing (a4).

As things happen, the D4s will very probably be able to do this exact thing somewhat better: The new group AF mode is heavily geared towards always focusing on the closest of two possible distances in situation like that, meaning it will always choose the bird as long as you do not completely miss it with the focus points (in which case it is hard to blame the AF).

The 1Dx is ever so slightly better then the D4, simply because it has a focus mode very similar to the new group AF mode in the D4s.

BTW, one solution I'm using these days is to manually focus the camera while the subject is moving (help the camera a bit). Once the camera get the subject in focus, it may follow it. So I made some improvement there. Above pictures were from a trip to a Osprey nesting area couple of weeks ago. I got some nice shots in the trip (nothing worth going to the web site. So I put them in a temp folder

When I (occasionally) teach photography classes, and always insist that the 'A' in AF does not really mean 'automatic' but rather 'assisted'. The AF can help us focus, but it does not really ever know where we want focus, it can only make educated guesses. When I shoot sports, I often end up using AF in a 'semi-automatic' kind of way: For example focus on the feet of a goaltender in football (soccer), and then not activate AF when following the goalie making a save - since the net in the background is just to prone to trip up the AF.

The method you tried works, and help guide the AF making better guesses about what it is supposed to do.

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-----------------------------------------------------------
I don't suffer from insanity, I enjoy every moment of it!
By the way, film is not dead.
It just smells funny

So you are suggesting a4 set to shoert or long? Ever since I started using 51 point af (d300) people were suggesting set it to off. I will try this anyway.

I looked at 1dx for a while. Switch is very expensi e as you know. Also I saw threads suggesting to get best out of 1dx, you need their latest lenses. That's even more expensive. That's why I dropped the idea for time being. Do you think now D4s is pretty close to 1dx? That's encouraging. Upgrdes is not too expensive.

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jeminijoseph
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Re: Sports shooter here, can feel you pain :)
In reply to xtm, 8 months ago

Set AF Focus Lock On to OFF.

btw, I use my D4 for landscapes only

That's what I have now. I never tried anything else. I'm going to try short and long in that setting
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http://wildbirdimages.com/favorites.aspx

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Grevture
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Re: Sports shooter here, can feel you pain :)
In reply to jeminijoseph, 8 months ago

jeminijoseph wrote:

So you are suggesting a4 set to shoert or long? Ever since I started using 51 point af (d300) people were suggesting set it to off. I will try this anyway.

This setting basically introduces a delay before the AF does any drastic refocus, the typical example given is when you shoot sports, following a player of some sort and another player or referee briefly get between you and your subject. The delay mean the AF will wait ever so slightly before refocusing drastically (at whatever got between you and your subject) - the setting basically set the wait period.

It is a little more involved then that, but that is the basics. The downside of this delay is it will slightly impair the tracking ability for subjects moving irregularly, but for a large bird it should not pose a problem (a swallow would be a different matter )

My default setting is having this set to its mid value, but for a sport like volleyball which is extremely taxing on AF and where people stepping into your FOV is not a huge proble, I typically set it to a minimum. While when trying to track a player in say soccer, rugby or the weird American flavour of football, I occasionally use more delay. It depends on what I shoot, and what kind of subject movement I specifically try to follow.

I looked at 1dx for a while. Switch is very expensi e as you know. Also I saw threads suggesting to get best out of 1dx, you need their latest lenses. That's even more expensive. That's why I dropped the idea for time being. Do you think now D4s is pretty close to 1dx? That's encouraging. Upgrdes is not too expensive.

The 1Dx is a great camera for sure, it is overall slightly, but noticeably, faster then the D4 (not just framerate and AF, the whole experience), but the D4s seem to alleviate that.

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By the way, film is not dead.
It just smells funny

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jeminijoseph
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Re: Sports shooter here, can feel you pain :)
In reply to Grevture, 8 months ago

Grevture wrote:

jeminijoseph wrote:

So you are suggesting a4 set to shoert or long? Ever since I started using 51 point af (d300) people were suggesting set it to off. I will try this anyway.

This setting basically introduces a delay before the AF does any drastic refocus, the typical example given is when you shoot sports, following a player of some sort and another player or referee briefly get between you and your subject. The delay mean the AF will wait ever so slightly before refocusing drastically (at whatever got between you and your subject) - the setting basically set the wait period.

Looks like this should help me.

It is a little more involved then that, but that is the basics. The downside of this delay is it will slightly impair the tracking ability for subjects moving irregularly, but for a large bird it should not pose a problem (a swallow would be a different matter )

My default setting is having this set to its mid value, but for a sport like volleyball which is extremely taxing on AF and where people stepping into your FOV is not a huge proble, I typically set it to a minimum. While when trying to track a player in say soccer, rugby or the weird American flavour of football, I occasionally use more delay. It depends on what I shoot, and what kind of subject movement I specifically try to follow.

I tend to have one setting and forget about it. One thing I like about Nikon's AF-C is that it works fine for static subject too especially after the first firmware. I have to try different settings and practice before a major shoot

I looked at 1dx for a while. Switch is very expensi e as you know. Also I saw threads suggesting to get best out of 1dx, you need their latest lenses. That's even more expensive. That's why I dropped the idea for time being. Do you think now D4s is pretty close to 1dx? That's encouraging. Upgrdes is not too expensive.

The 1Dx is a great camera for sure, it is overall slightly, but noticeably, faster then the D4 (not just framerate and AF, the whole experience), but the D4s seem to alleviate that.

Good to know. I will definitely try D4s before thinking about switching.

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By the way, film is not dead.
It just smells funny

Thank you for the detailed reply. Now I want D4s (not sure I need it:)

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yihlee
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Re: D4 AF - Question to Pros
In reply to jeminijoseph, 8 months ago

Correct me if I'm wrong.

During focusing, no matter which mode you choose, Nikon camera always uses its RGB sensor and all focusing points to analyze the scene and assisting focus. If your designated point of focus is not valid - bird's soft fur-like feather is always the source of focus problem, interest things may happen:

If you're in 9-points area, focus may be locked on any one of the rest eight points. If you choose d51, you give it 50 more to choose from. If you choose 3D, you let the the camera taking charge. Once it established focus lock, it's pretty much game over.

To minimize margin of error, use single point. In addtion to s, use AF-ON only, release priority and turn tracking off.

When action starts, begin shooting while training your camera to the subject. AF-ON when it's near your target - right on target would be nice, but it's not possible most of the time. During all these actions of panning, shooting and focusing, your camera will never lock focus onto anything outside your designated focusing point. Instead, it will analyze the scene dynamically (the reason to turn tracking off) to guess where and what to focus, as close as possible to the designated focusing point.

In your example picture, the panned-by foliage would never be considered target, it's too random. A bird, constantly showing up, in random position maybe, but not in random pattern, would be considered a valid target. The camera would direct focusing effort on the bird - even when the bird is not in the center of frame, its feather can not be focused upon and it may not even fall under your focusing point. It is the assumed target and all focusing effort would be directed on it.

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