The latest Nikon DSLRs like D810 (see our detailed review) and D4S came with the a new “Group-area Autofocus” mode. When compared to the regular Single-Point AF Mode, Group-area AF activates five focus points to track subjects. This focus mode is great for initial focus acquisition and tracking of subjects when compared to a Single-Point or Dynamic AF, especially when dealing with smaller birds that fly erratically and can be really hard to focus on and track. In such situations, the Group-area AF mode might give better results than Dynamic AF, showing better accuracy and consistency from shot to shot.
Some of our readers have been asking about the performance of the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art lens on the Nikon D810, particularly about its autofocus speed and accuracy, especially in low light situations. Lola and I recently shot a wedding with this combo and I had a chance to test out the lens in various conditions – from broad daylight to very dim indoor environments. In this article, I want to talk about my experience with the lens and talk about its pros and cons when using it with the Nikon D810.
As I was writing my Nikon D7100 vs D600 comparison article a while ago, I had a lot of conflicting thoughts that crossed my mind and made their way to the article. I then decided to refrain from making the comparison article negative and rather move my thoughts to a separate post, because I thought that it would be worth the discussion with our readers…
Nikon Quality Assurance Gone Bad
Nikon has been quite active since last year. We have seen a lot of ups and downs of the company, most notably with the amazing D800 and D600 cameras that became available last year, both of which were accompanied by quality assurance issues and escalated into the “Nikon D800 autofocus fiasco” and the “Nikon D600 dust issue“. And as you may already know, these problems were covered rather extensively on our website through detailed posts and reviews.
One of the requests we have been getting lately from some of our readers has been to provide more simple and easy to understand photography techniques. So far this year we have covered a lot of complex topics that are for more advanced users, thanks to such new fine tools as the Nikon D800. So for the remainder of the year, we decided to focus on photography basics again, covering simple and basic techniques and tips for beginners. In this article, I will go over the focus and recompose technique, which can be quite useful when photographing in various environments – whether shooting in low-light situations, or composing your shots with the subject in the corner of the frame. I personally use this technique quite a bit in event photography and it saved me a number of times when the light conditions were extremely poor and my camera could not properly focus.
1) What Recomposing Means
Before I talk about this technique, let me first explain what the word “recompose” stands for in photography. When you take a picture, you carefully frame your shot and place your subject somewhere in the frame before you take a picture. In other words, you compose the shot. Recomposing simply means framing your shot first (for example to acquire focus), then moving your camera to re-position your subject somewhere else in the frame.
Today’s guest post is by Mikhail Bezruchko on using the Nikon D600 for Sports Photography. Mikhail was kind enough to send his observations on the autofocus performance of the D600 for low-light and daytime sports photography. He photographed a local football game at night and then a local soccer game, using fast telephoto lenses. Although not a pro, Mikhail has had a long history with photography, starting out with Russian-made “Zenit” film cameras a while ago. But his interest in photography spiked up during the last few years and he has been shooting with Nikon D90, D700 and other high-end DSLRs, mostly freelancing. Enjoy!
When the D600 was finally announced, most of us got very excited about the new camera. Nasim’s review of the D600 and Bird Photography follow-up answered a lot of my questions, but I was still curious about the D600′s autofocus performance with sports. There are some similarities between sports and wildlife photography, but there are also many differences.
While I mainly focus on portraiture and functions, I absolutely love shooting games, especially local, non-professional events. Anyone who has photographed a sports match knows that it’s a very challenging venture. Not only does it take experience, preparation and knowledge of the particular game you want to shoot, but it also requires decent equipment.
If you are wondering about how to calibrate lenses, this article has detailed explanations and different methods of AF fine tuning. Due to the nature of the phase detect autofocus system that is present on all SLR cameras, both cameras and lenses must be properly calibrated by manufacturers in order to yield sharp images. Various factors such as manufacturer defects, sample variation, insufficient quality assurance testing/tuning and improper shipping and handling can all negatively impact autofocus precision. A lot of photographers get frustrated after spending thousands of dollars on camera equipment and not being able to get anything in focus. After receiving a number of emails from our readers requesting help on how to calibrate lenses, I decided to write this tutorial on ways to properly fine tune focus on cameras and lenses. Lens calibration is a complex topic for many, so my goal is to make this guide as simple as possible, so that you could manage the process by yourself, while fully understanding the entire process. In addition, I strongly recommend to follow these tips every time you purchase a camera or a lens in order to identify and address any potential focusing issues. But I have to warn you – this article is NOT for beginners. If you just got your first DSLR, you might get very quickly frustrated with the calibration process.
1) Why Calibrate?
Why is there a need to calibrate lenses? With the release of new, high-resolution cameras like Nikon D800, it seems like calibration is becoming an important and hot topic. Why is that? As I have explained in a number of my photography articles and reviews, while the increase of megapixels in our cameras has a number of benefits (see benefits of high resolution cameras), it can also expose potential focus problems. A slight focus issue might not be as noticeable on a 10-12 MP sensor, but will be much more noticeable on a 25+ MP sensor (assuming both sensors are of the same size). Especially when viewed at 100%, which is what we, photographers unfortunately like to do too much. Hence, the need for a properly calibrated camera setup today is bigger than ever.
When it comes to DSLR technology, there seems to be quite a bit of confusion on how exactly phase detection autofocus works. While for most people this might not be a topic of great interest, if you are wondering how and why a camera could have an autofocus problem, this article will shed some light into what happens inside the camera in terms of autofocus when a picture is taken. There is an overwhelming amount of negative feedback on autofocus issues on such fine tools as the Canon 5D Mark III, Nikon D800, Pentax K-5 and other digital SLR cameras and it seems like most photographers do not seem to understand that the underlying problem is not necessarily with a specific model or type of a camera, but rather with the specific way these cameras acquire focus. If you search on the Internet, you will find thousands of autofocus reports on all kinds of DSLRs dating back 10+ years. Hence, the front focus and back focus issues we see in modern cameras are not anything new – they have been there ever since the first DSLR with a phase detect sensor was created.
How DSLR Cameras Work
To understand this issue in more detail, it is important to get to know how a DSLR camera works first. The typical DSLR illustrations only show a single reflex mirror positioned at a 45 degree angle. What they don’t show, is that there is a secondary mirror behind the reflex mirror that reflects a portion of light into a phase detect sensor. Take a look at the below simplified illustration that I made from a sample Nikon D800 image:
Below is the easiest and quickest way to test if your DSLR has an autofocus issue, along with a recommendation on what to do if there is a problem. This test can be used to detect front focus or back focus issues with a particular lens or a camera body. I will be using the Nikon D800E as a reference camera for this article, but any modern DSLR with Live View capability can be used for the same test (even entry-level DSLRs such as the Nikon D3200 have a Live View mode). Why would you want to test your camera for autofocus issues? Because if your camera or your lenses are defective or have a calibration problem, then you will not be able to obtain critically sharp images.
1) What You Will Need
For this test, you will need the following:
- Any DSLR with Live View mode capability such as the Nikon D7000.
- At least one lens, but preferably 2-3 lenses if you want to isolate the problem to the camera or your lenses.
- A good stable tripod.
- A flat vertical surface in a very brightly lit area. For example, your garage door or a wall inside your home that is adjacent to a very large window will do fine.
- Print out either this Siemens Star Focus Chart or this Focus Test Chart on regular letter size paper. You can print it on a laser printer or inkjet (doesn’t really matter). Make sure to print on regular paper, not anything glossy like photo paper.
- Scotch tape or some other adhesive material to keep the focus chart on the wall.
The last two weeks have been very busy for me. I am working on multiple reviews of Canon, Nikon and Fuji lenses and you will be seeing many lens reviews coming up this summer. At the same time, I have been shooting with the Nikon D3200, D4 and D800E DSLR cameras, so I will be sharing my thoughts on these fairly soon as well. One question that keeps popping up over and over again from our readers, revolves around the autofocus problems on Nikon DSLRs. Specifically, these questions are on front focus/back focus problems with lenses, the left AF focus point issue found on some Nikon D800 bodies, use of 2x teleconverters with the new Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FX (on D4 and D800/D800E), etc. Since there is a lot to cover, I will be publishing articles on each topic with my findings and thoughts I have thus far.
As with any product that is manufactured, there is always a chance that it is defective. I am finding Nikon’s QA (quality assurance) controls to be rather weak lately, especially given the fact that it is manufacturing such fine tools as the Nikon D800 with lots of resolution. Yes, Nikon has had a wonderful year so far with so many great announcements and phenomenal products, but it almost seems like it is rushing its products from the manufacturing plants too quickly, without properly testing all equipment before it is sent out. As a result, we are seeing many defective DSLR cameras with lenses. I have been shooting with Nikon gear for the last 6 years and this is the first time I am seeing really badly calibrated DSLRs (D800E and D4), along with some pro lenses. I can understand when there is a problem with an entry-level camera and a kit lens, but it is unacceptable for Nikon to ship faulty professional equipment that is worth thousands of dollars.