Z6 - 1 year on

Started Nov 22, 2019 | User reviews thread
OP beatboxa Veteran Member • Posts: 8,400
Into the mind of Z6 Autofocus. Bookmark this.

starfly wrote:

Great review!

Is there a write-up somewhere that goes in-depth on the different focusing settings? You mentioned for AF-C that it'll sometimes work better if you slow down the focusing speed. I haven't really had a chance to dive into this yet, but would like to learn more about all those focusing settings as I use AF-C quite a bit to take pictures of my baby daughter who never sits still

I do not have a prepared AF deep dive, but I'll do one now for everyone's benefit. Glad to get discussion going. 

I'll cover my observations in the AF Areas rather than modes, since the modes like AF-S & AF-C are easy.


This forces CDAF (a good thing for accuracy), and is great for when you have time to set up the shot.  Great example:  Landscapes, or posed portraits where you want tack-sharp eyes.

Single Point:

Will use best-available method (PDAF or CDAF).  The camera seems to decide which to use based on what is under the AF point at the time you initiate focus.  This seems true for all modes.  Low contrast subjects attempt CDAF, while high contrast subjects--especially vertical--use PDAF.

The difference between this and pinpoint really boils down to speed--both speed of using it (since there are fewer & larger points) and sometimes performance (PDAF).

Dynamic Area:

To use this properly, you have to make sure the subject is under the center AF box when you begin focus.  Then, as long as the subject stays in the greater 9-point area, the camera will attempt to maintain focus on this subject.  Also, seems to PDAF.

Be careful though--the moment the subject leaves the precise perimeter of the 9-point area, the camera says "uh oh.  I need to find a new subject."  This is where setting a3 (Focus Tracking with Lock-On) comes into play.  If you want to tell the camera not to jump to a new subject immediately, set this to delayed.  A value of 1 (Quick) means "just refocus instantly," while 5 (Delayed) means:  "Give me about 1 second to get the subject back into the 9-point area before you pick a new subject."

The irony often lost is that setting a longer delay may help you keep focus on your intended subject better.  I keep mine at 5.  If I want to refocus on a new subject (or after I lost my subject), I just let go of AF-On and press it again in a split second.  Remember, this is AF-C, so this setting does not affect how quickly the focus keeps up with your subject.  Instead, setting a3 tells the camera how quickly to  forget  your subject.

This might be the single most misunderstood mode and setting.  When you hear about the camera refocusing on the background, this is usually the cause.  And depending on your DOF, once the camera goes to the background, the foreground may be so blurry that it's outside the threshold of the PDAF.  But usually, recentering the subject on the center box gets you back on track.

Wide area small, Wide area large, & Auto Area:

These are all the same thing, covering different areas.

They work well.  The camera picks the subject you think it wants, anywhere within the area.  It seems to prefer closer subjects, unlike Dynamic area, which has no preference and just does what you tell it to do.  To be clear, Dynamic area focuses on what you told it to focus on in the center box regardless of distance, while these auto-area modes tend to pick the closest subject in the area.

Ultimately, if you notice that you are having a tough time maintaining dynamic area or focus moves to the background frequently, try one of these modes instead.  You may be pleasantly surprised.  Of course, you have less control over the precise subject...but that's why you limit the area. 

Be aware:  occasionally (fairly rarely) wide-area just doesn't make an effort.  You try to focus and it just sits there, quietly thinking with cold, dark eyes.  Careful:  it may be contemplating its origins and slowly becoming self-aware, ready to enslave or eradicate its human overlords.

And then obviously, you've got face detect & eye detect in auto-area.  Face & eye detection is something you should have learned about as a baby, so it's not worth going into detail over. 

Subject Tracking:

This really shouldn't be used under any circumstances.  But I feel obligated to cover it.

First, lets start with this:  tracking should be its own AF Area mode, not a sub-mode underneath Auto-area.  It makes absolutely no sense to put this under auto-area.  Nikon probably buried it here so nobody would use it .  Nikon just ripped it straight out of their Coolpix  line of cameras.

So how does it work?  From Auto-Area mode, press OK to enter the dark chambers of Subject Tracking.  You will be greeted with a message:  "Abandon hope all ye who enter here."  Press OK again to accept and begin tracking over the subject.  As the subject moves around the frame, the box will follow the subject.  This tracking around the frame actually works surprisingly well...

But be careful.  Because it won't actually autofocus yet, because you obviously didn't separately tell it to, silly billy!  The yellow box is there to tell you:  "if you hypothetically wanted to autofocus, here's where I would focus."  This is useful information apparently.  So then, press AF-On or half-press shutter to focus there.  It works ok.

But like all tracking on every camera ever, it will eventually lose the subject.  This is a normal part of life.  What is not normal is how to remedy this.  On Nikon's DSLR 3D tracking, you would just let go AF-On, recompose, and press/hold AF-On again.  But this is not Nikon's 3D tracking.

Here, you have to let go of AF-On, and then press the OK button again to stop tracking.  To begin again, you can either press the OK button again or just hold AF-On.  And herein lies the crux of the issue:  You are using tracking presumably because the subject is moving.  (Being a mirrorless, there really is no point to focus & recompose).  So while this subject is moving, Nikon assumes you have time to press all of these extra buttons?

The main reason people think the subject tracking performs worse on the Z6 is because on DSLRs, you constantly, instantly, and intuitively restart tracking all the time as you lose the subject.  You don't hold tracking for minutes at a time--you hold it for a few seconds.  But this "restart tracking" is just not possible to do on the Z6 due to all of the extra button presses.

Anyways, when you're done playing with Nikon's tracking (because playing around is the only purpose of tracking today on the Z6), then you can press Zoom Out to exit subject tracking and get back to Auto-Area mode.

Long read, but hope this helps.  Unless you abandoned hope when you entered subject tracking. 

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