D3 vs D3S AF performance - a brief comparison

Started Nov 29, 2009 | Discussions
Marianne Oelund Veteran Member • Posts: 7,779
D3 vs D3S AF performance - a brief comparison
1

A few weeks ago, I looked at AF performance, comparing the D3, D700, D300 and D3x. With the arrival of the D3S this week, I've revisited this topic, to see how the new camera stacks up against the D3. Included in this comparison, is a look at the new 70-200 VR II, relative to the VR I model it replaces, so there were four different body/lens combinations evaluated.

The test setup was very similar to the one used for the previous tests, but results are not directly comparable as the test target was a little different. In this case, the target seems rather more "difficult" as the performance from the D3 shows a much higher rate of focus readjustments than I saw before. This underscores the difficulty in testing AF systems - even very subtle test condition changes can have large impacts on the results, and there is always a question of how well the test results apply to real world use. Although some interesting findings often turn up in tests like this, do not assume they will necessarily apply to your own experiences; AF behavior is simply too variable.

AF Speed, Indoor Lighting

These measurements were taken at LV 4.3 (exposure 1/20 sec at f/2.8, ISO 800), with a subject at 2m distance, and lens set to 70mm. Procedure is to set the lens to minimum focus distance, then measure the time delay from pressing the shutter release, to the moment of exposure, using single AF with focus priority.

Best times result from the camera moving the focus to position accurately in a single movement. If the first movement isn't accurate enough, the camera will need to make a readjustment, which adds a considerable amount of time. You can clearly see how often readjustments were needed, from the histogram data, and can also see which camera/lens combination has the best ultimate speed.

For each camera/lens, 100 repetitions were performed. The results have been sorted into 20msec-wide bins (except wider bins for the longest times). Results suggest that the D3S AF optimization favors the VR II lens fairly strongly, whereas the D3 obtains less advantage from the new lens:

AF Accuracy

For the measurements at LV 4.3, I set up a second camera to record the final focus position of the lens, as indicated by the focus scale on the lens barrel. For three of the camera/lens sets, AF error distribution spanned the full depth of field for 70mm f/2.8 (using a COC of 0.017mm), i.e., accuracy was adequate.

The notable exception was the D3S with the VR I lens; in this case, peak AF errors spanned only half of the DOF, and the average focus error was only 40% of the average for the D3 with this lens. For subjects that do not require high corner IQ, the D3S with 70-200 VR I lens is an extraordinary combination. With the VR II lens, the D3S had an average AF error about 15% lower than the D3, which is probably not noticeable in the field.

AF Speed, Very Low Light

This test certainly revealed some difficulties with the snappy new VR II. The D3, especially, was having a difficult time controlling focus position; this was obvious when watching the focus dynamics, as in almost every repetition, visible overshoot occurred, requiring readjustment. The D3 actually turned in a better performance with the VR I lens.

The D3S achieved a few very fast times, but in most cases also needed to take extra time to readjust. In 7 cases out of the 50 samples taken with the VR II lens, the extra time was considerable. From this result, I would suggest that to take best advantage of the D3S AF speed in extremely low light, one should avoid using focus priority.

rhlpetrus Forum Pro • Posts: 25,914
images not showing, thanks for report n/t
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M Lammerse
M Lammerse Forum Pro • Posts: 11,458
Re: images not showing, thanks for report n/t

Thanks again Marianne,

However, images do not show up here too.
Michel

rhlpetrus wrote:

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Disclaimer: Posts written by me are my views, ideas and opinions only, and should not be taken as facts, unless stated otherwise.

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CAT Productions
CAT Productions Contributing Member • Posts: 899
Re: D3 vs D3S AF performance - a brief comparison

Thanks, Marianne. I can see the data...

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Richard M Contributing Member • Posts: 547
Re: D3 vs D3S AF performance - a brief comparison

thanks very much.

this is very informative the D3s sound very interesting.

for now i will keep my D3 did get the Vrii though and sold the vr1 already

RM
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rhlpetrus Forum Pro • Posts: 25,914
now showing, thanks n/t
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sebastian73 Contributing Member • Posts: 598
Re: D3 vs D3S AF performance - looks good

Thank you very much Marianne for the fast D3s AF speed updating.
So, the new cam looks good.
--

Nikon D3, D700, AFS 17-35/2.8, AFS 24-70/2.8, AFD 85mm/1.4, AFS 105mm/2.8VR, AFS 70-200/2.8VR, TC-1.4E II, SB-800

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bikinchris
bikinchris Forum Pro • Posts: 21,549
Re: D3 vs D3S AF performance - a brief comparison

Great work again. But you might want to summarize your finding for us people who are slower on the uptake.

Can't wait for your comparison with the MKIV..

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Steve Bingham
Steve Bingham Forum Pro • Posts: 26,658
Marianne

God I love the hard facts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Thanks. So much amateur BS out there. You are my hero - at least for now.
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motto_L Regular Member • Posts: 385
Re: D3 vs D3S AF performance - looks good

Thanks for the data and the hard work.. As 2 years ago when I got my D3 I was telling everyone "I am going to keep this camera for 4 years from now" Now I just have a good reason to rewrite that statement.

jkiefer Regular Member • Posts: 120
Thanks!

Great info! Thanks for taking the considerable time and effort to do this. AF speed for the D3S was something I was wondering about. Given the limitations of tests like these, it looks like the D3S AF is quicker on average, especially in low light.

rhlpetrus Forum Pro • Posts: 25,914
old D3?

Given that AF is an optical/electronic/mechanical system maybe the D3's system is not up to specs if already used intensively.
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Renato.
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RKGoth Senior Member • Posts: 1,141
Re: D3 vs D3S AF performance - a brief comparison

This certainly backs up my impression that the D3s was better in terms of acquisition; my D3 has gone and a D3s of my own will be arriving hopefully next week sometime. I wanted the buffer upgrade anyway!

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RKGoth Senior Member • Posts: 1,141
Re: old D3?

rhlpetrus wrote:

Given that AF is an optical/electronic/mechanical system maybe the D3's system is not up to specs if already used intensively.

My D3 had only got 6,300 shots on it or thereabouts - and was from May 2008 with already fairly high serial number. When I picked up the D3s, the first thing I noticed was that even with a slower lens, it was a lot happier to acquire focus in low light, a lot more consistent. I was quite reluctant to make that claim as an improvement, but it does seem to be the case.

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karlreed Senior Member • Posts: 2,022
Re: D3 vs D3S AF performance - a brief ..sensor design thread?

Hi..

Marieanne, this is the second contribution of yours I have found, and they are true gems!

We need a thread on sensor design..

Does the concept of sensor efficiency have any meaning here? I mean electrons out for photons ion?

And, what is the optical equivalent of Dolby processing?

Regards and thanks..
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jeddv Junior Member • Posts: 44
Re: D3 vs D3S AF performance - a brief comparison

I'm curious as to what might be the cause of the D3s 'preferring' the MkI version of the 70-200mm F2.8. What could the reason be?

sebastian73 Contributing Member • Posts: 598
Re: D3 vs D3S AF performance - to jeddv

jeddv - read the test of Marianne correctly. The D3s works better with the new lens.

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ne beginner Senior Member • Posts: 2,149
Makes me re-think: 1D MkIII to D700...

I had just decided to move to Nikon from Canon, and ordered a D700 with the new 20-200 VR II and 24-70 lenses. Should arrive Wednesday.

However, these tests (D3 to D700 also) have raised questions and doubt.

As a hobbiest, I am looking for one pro grade small body. Currently I use a 1D MkIII, and also have a 50D for when I don't want to carry the large and noticeable 1D. I want one body I can take anywhere, with the performance and high ISO of the MkIII, in a small body.

The most demanding need I have is theater and dance, using stage lighting. Lighting can be low, mixed, colored, etc. And dancers and actors move, etc. I try to capture action, expressions, etc. No complaints with the MkIII in these conditions.

I finally decided Canon is not going to bring out a small pro-grade body (Canonites dream of a 3D), and made the move to Nikon. With the D700, it appeared a small body pro grade cam fit Nikon's line up, so I could count on a future upgrade path.

But these tests change all that. First, it appears that Nikon did NOT put the exact same AF as the D3 into the D700. Second, although Nikon does not seem to claim (from what I have read anyway, and I'm no expert so I could have missed something) that the new D3s has a different AF system from the D3. However these tests indicate some differences there as well.

The conclusion I'm drawing by these tests is that 1. the D3 AF locks a little faster than the D700, and this is more pronounced in low light, and 2. the new D3s improves on this, at least with the new 70-200 VR II lens. Add to that the 1D MkIII AF is a little faster to achieve focus lock compared to the D3 (reported from D3 users who also shoot MkIII's), and the D700 may not be what I'm looking for after all.

The DxO lab tests also indicate that the D3 sensor is a little better at high ISO than the D700 (although both Nikons beat the 1D MkIII).

I'm not doubting the Nikon AF accuracy over Canon's 1 series. BUT will I be unhappy with the slower AF lock?

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bikinchris
bikinchris Forum Pro • Posts: 21,549
Re: Makes me re-think: 1D MkIII to D700...

ne beginner wrote:

But these tests change all that. First, it appears that Nikon did NOT put the exact same AF as the D3 into the D700. Second, although Nikon does not seem to claim (from what I have read anyway, and I'm no expert so I could have missed something) that the new D3s has a different AF system from the D3. However these tests indicate some differences there as well.

These differences are not great, so don't worry too much.

Nikon always tries to improve it's products, so you just need to wait for the expected improvement of the D700 to get better focusing. But it could be worse, you could be stuck with the crippled focus systems in the 5D MKII.

The conclusion I'm drawing by these tests is that 1. the D3 AF locks a little faster than the D700, and this is more pronounced in low light, and 2. the new D3s improves on this, at least with the new 70-200 VR II lens. Add to that the 1D MkIII AF is a little faster to achieve focus lock compared to the D3 (reported from D3 users who also shoot MkIII's), and the D700 may not be what I'm looking for after all.

The DxO lab tests also indicate that the D3 sensor is a little better at high ISO than the D700 (although both Nikons beat the 1D MkIII).

If you want to cry, wait until you see the new D3s performance!

I'm not doubting the Nikon AF accuracy over Canon's 1 series. BUT will I be unhappy with the slower AF lock?

Nope.

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ne beginner Senior Member • Posts: 2,149
Re: Makes me re-think: 1D MkIII to D700...

Thanks!

I'm trying NOT to look at the 3Ds ... too tempting! Sounds like a new standard, BUT I really want a small body ... especially after using the MkIII for the last 2 years.

What's difficult to gage is what these tests mean in real time. Will I notice, or is it almost unnoticeable. Even in low light.

The 5D MkII has never been on my radar screen. I had a Mk I for almost 3 years, and the AF and shutter lag, which are the same in the Mk II, were too annoying.

bikinchris wrote:

ne beginner wrote:

But these tests change all that. First, it appears that Nikon did NOT put the exact same AF as the D3 into the D700. Second, although Nikon does not seem to claim (from what I have read anyway, and I'm no expert so I could have missed something) that the new D3s has a different AF system from the D3. However these tests indicate some differences there as well.

These differences are not great, so don't worry too much.

Nikon always tries to improve it's products, so you just need to wait for the expected improvement of the D700 to get better focusing. But it could be worse, you could be stuck with the crippled focus systems in the 5D MKII.

The conclusion I'm drawing by these tests is that 1. the D3 AF locks a little faster than the D700, and this is more pronounced in low light, and 2. the new D3s improves on this, at least with the new 70-200 VR II lens. Add to that the 1D MkIII AF is a little faster to achieve focus lock compared to the D3 (reported from D3 users who also shoot MkIII's), and the D700 may not be what I'm looking for after all.

The DxO lab tests also indicate that the D3 sensor is a little better at high ISO than the D700 (although both Nikons beat the 1D MkIII).

If you want to cry, wait until you see the new D3s performance!

I'm not doubting the Nikon AF accuracy over Canon's 1 series. BUT will I be unhappy with the slower AF lock?

Nope.

 ne beginner's gear list:ne beginner's gear list
Nikon D750 Tamron SP 70-300mm F4-5.6 Di VC USD Nikon AF-S Nikkor 85mm f/1.4G Nikon AF-S Nikkor 24-120mm F4G ED VR Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G +1 more
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