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Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus

Bluefin

Danville, US
432 posts

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Bluefin Registered since 14th Nov 2006
Sat 28-Jul-12 11:49 PM

I never really maximized all the AF capabilities of any of the Dxxx bodies I've owned. It's just too much information to understand, test and remember. The way I used to choose AF mode was "Let's try this!" which is probably why I pull a MF lens first if the situation will allow it.

Does anyone else struggle with all the options and combinations of options for AF?

Right now I'm making a real effort to study Thom's D800 book on AF and I think I have a plan to dumb down my options and I want to run my plan by you guys to see if I've missed anything. I basically shoot 4 different genres:

1 - Landscape = MF
2 - Fine art portraits & nudes = MF
3 - Birds and wildlife = 51-point dynamic-area AF
4 - Candid family portraits = Auto-area AF

I would always leave the camera on "AFC" mode.

Not sure how to configure Custom Menu Setting #a3 "Focus Tracking with Lock-on" for the two AF modes.

MF for #1 & #2 are personal preference so no need to sell me on AF for those.

I wish I could configure AF modes into the Menu Banks because I have them set up for different types of shooting.

Hopefully this will work for me and I will not lose too much capability by ignoring the rest of the D800 AF options. Please let me know If I'm making a mistake......

Mark Sloane
Danville, CA

dm1dave

Lowden, US
13737 posts

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#1. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 0

dm1dave Administrator Awarded for high level knowledge and skills in various areas, most notably in Wildlife and Landscape Writer Ribbon awarded for his excellent article contributions to the Nikonians community Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Nikonian since 12th Sep 2006
Sat 28-Jul-12 11:06 PM

That looks like a good set up.

a3 "Focus Tracking with Lock-on” … I would leave this at the default setting.

Turning it off or setting it to “short” can cause the AF to jump to the background to easily when using dynamic area AF for tracking.

You should only need to set it to “long” if you know you are going to track a subject that is on a predictable path and is likely to be temporarily obscured by an obstacle. This is probably useful for some sports when players/referees are likely to run in between the camera and your intended subject.

Dave Summers
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PeterBeckett

Lincoln, US
835 posts

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#2. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 0

PeterBeckett Gold Member Donor Ribbon awarded for his generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Nikonian since 04th Jan 2010
Sat 28-Jul-12 11:19 PM

Hi Mark,
Please forgive me if I sound a bit "blunt", but I feel that you're making a mountain out of a molehill.

I live in San Jose, right where SJ, Saratoga and Cupertino come together, if you are planning to come to this area, please feel free to let me know (by email) so we can arrange to meet. I would be very happy to show you just how simple it really is.

With regards,

Pete

agitater

Toronto, CA
4551 posts

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#4. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 0

agitater Gold Member Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014 Nikonian since 18th Jan 2007
Sun 29-Jul-12 12:05 AM | edited Sun 29-Jul-12 12:07 AM by agitater

>Hopefully this will work for me and I will not lose too much
>capability by ignoring the rest of the D800 AF options. Please
>let me know If I'm making a mistake......

I think the D800, like all its predecessors, offers a list of features and functions that no single photographer can possibly use to their full extent.

You're not making a mistake - especially if you're rarely missing shots and getting at least a big bite of the superb results you should expect from the D800. My feeling is that photographers should only tweak camera settings (AF or what-have-you) if they're missing shots or not getting the quality they're expecting due to incorrectly set features or functions (most other considerations - mainly good technique - being in place).

If your photography is laudable already, the D800 just provides better technical image quality (which I think is the only factor that makes the camera itself worthwhile), effectively removing the camera's technology from the equation. It should be just you, MF or AF as it suits your needs, aperture, shutter, ISO, white balance, exposure compensation, and really, really fast SD/CF cards.

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JonK

New York, US
6408 posts

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#5. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 0

JonK Moderator Awarded for his high level skills and in-depth knowledge in various areas, such as Wildlife, Landscape and Stage Photography Donor Ribbon awarded for his very generous support to the Fundraising Campaign 2015 Nikonian since 03rd Jul 2004
Sun 29-Jul-12 12:55 AM

Your focus settings for your four genres sound pretty good to me. My only quibble might be for wildlife and birds — with all my bodies, I find 51-point not responsive enough, so I usually work at 21-point.

Jon Kandel
A New York City Nikonian and Team Member
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Bluefin

Danville, US
432 posts

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#6. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 5

Bluefin Registered since 14th Nov 2006
Sun 29-Jul-12 01:53 AM | edited Sun 29-Jul-12 03:16 AM by Bluefin

Jon,

That's good to know. I had no clue. I'll switch it to 21 points.

Thanks for the tip........Mark

Mark Sloane
Danville, CA

LMMiller9

Potomac, US
1169 posts

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#7. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 0

LMMiller9 Silver Member Nikonian since 18th Dec 2005
Sun 29-Jul-12 12:04 PM | edited Sun 29-Jul-12 12:05 PM by LMMiller9

Trying to simplify the process is important. When I have really messed up it is because I was changing settings then forgot to unchange them as I went to a new scene. I almost always use the single point auto focus and then reframe my shots. That is the simplest method, in my view, and I need simple!

I just finished a one week photo hunting trip to Maine with my D800. (http://lmmillerphotography.smugmug.com/) I brought about eight lenses, tripod, etc. As days went by and as I reviewed my photos each night, I increasingly just relied on the 24-120/f4, usually hand held, and leaving the camera on "P" and using single point focusing, which I always use unless there is a fast moving subject. I was pretty happy with the results and I don't think any weakness was a result of the camera, its settings or the lenses. The weakness is the photographer and I need to focus on finding the right subject, the right light and the right composition. I think the more we can focus on those things the better will be our photos.

Just my opinion.

Larry Miller, Potomac, MD
DF/D810
http://lmmillerphotography.smugmug.com/

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Bluefin

Danville, US
432 posts

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#8. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 7

Bluefin Registered since 14th Nov 2006
Sun 29-Jul-12 12:32 PM

Larry,

I couldn't agree more; the less I concentrate on technology and the more I focus on art, the better my images are.

BTW: I enjoyed the photos from Maine.

Mark Sloane
Danville, CA

Bluefin

Danville, US
432 posts

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#9. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 1

Bluefin Registered since 14th Nov 2006
Sun 29-Jul-12 12:34 PM

Dave,

Thanks for the input on "a3". I made sure my setting were on "Norm".

Mark Sloane
Danville, CA

MotoMannequin

Livermore, CA, US
8582 posts

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#10. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 0

MotoMannequin Awarded for his extraordinary skills in landscape and wildlife photography Registered since 11th Jan 2006
Sun 29-Jul-12 03:01 PM

You're on the right track. I generally agree with your settings except for the few comments I'll add below.

Let me also say that I activate focus with the AF-ON button so that I can set focus in a separate action from releasing the shutter. The camera is always set to AF-C. If I want AF-S focus, I momentarily press AF-ON and release. If I want AF-C, I hold AF-ON. If I want MF, I just focus (assuming I'm using a full-time MF override lens like Nikon AF-S or Sigma HSM). That simplifies the settings somewhat.

>1 - Landscape = MF

Agree except as described above, the camera just stays in AF-C mode and I can focus and release the shutter without AF coming into play, because the camera is set to focus on AF-ON only.

>2 - Fine art portraits & nudes = MF

Same as #1

>3 - Birds and wildlife = 51-point dynamic-area AF

This doesn't work for me. I've had situations where I was focused on a perched bird, waiting for her to flush. When I panned with the moving bird, the tracking system thought the bird was stationary and tracked the perch off the edge of the frame. So, I ditched 51-point and prefer to use 9-point dynamic. That forces the AF system to stay with the thing that I'm keeping near the center of the frame. Caveat is, I need to be steady enough to track reasonably well with a long lens. 21-point might be an option here if that's a problem for you.

(BTW Mark since you live fairly close to me, we should share some of our favorite birding haunts!)

>4 - Candid family portraits = Auto-area AF

Not sure on this one. Still prefer single-point "simulated" AF-S as described above but I hear the face detection on D800 is uncanny. Really I don't do enough of this to advise.

>Not sure how to configure Custom Menu Setting #a3 "Focus
>Tracking with Lock-on" for the two AF modes.

I set this to the shortest and see this as kind of a "dummy" feature.

The idea is: you're tracking a bird in flight, and she passes behind a tree. You continue to track hoping you can pick the bird up as she exits the other side of the tree. During the time she's obscured by the tree, the focus system will realize it has lost its target, and that there's another target at a different focus distance. If focus jumps to the tree, it will be difficult or impossible, or at least be a delay before the focus system find the bird again. The "Lock-on" defines how much time before the AF system decides to jump off its old target to focus on the tree. Ideally you'd like this set long enough so you can pan through the other side of the tree, but short enough so it doesn't cause a delay when you're actually trying to focus on something different.

Now, why I say this is a "dummy" feature: If you have focus tied to AF-ON, you can simply lift your thumb off the AF-ON button as you pan through the tree. This becomes quite second-nature with a little practice. The lock-on feature is therefore for someone who just wants to mash the buttons down and let the camera figure out something that's better understood and handled by a practiced photographer. In this case lock-on just needs to be set short enough for your reaction time, which minimizes the trade-off described at the end of the previous paragraph.

>I wish I could configure AF modes into the Menu Banks because
>I have them set up for different types of shooting.

This is probably my biggest useability pet-peeve so far with the D800. I love the so-called "Advanced Shooting Bank" or whatever they're calling it, which ties most of the soft-switches to the shooting bank. Unfortunately it doesn't tie the AF mode, which used to be a hard switch on older Dx00 cameras and now is a soft switch. We lose the visual indication of the hard switch and don't get the advantage of tying the soft switch to the shooting bank. Really I consider this an oversight and hope they correct it. I predict AF mode will be my #1 field mistake with D800.

Larry - a Bay Area Nikonian
My Nikonians gallery

www.tempered-light.com

moizes

Brooklyn, US
1322 posts

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#11. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 5

moizes Silver Member Nikonian since 19th May 2006
Sun 29-Jul-12 03:02 PM

Hi, how you set 21 points, on D800? I see 51 and 11 points available. Thanks for clarifications. Dimitri.

Bluefin

Danville, US
432 posts

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#12. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 11

Bluefin Registered since 14th Nov 2006
Sun 29-Jul-12 03:32 PM

Dimitri,

Press the button on the AF/M switch just below the lens release button. While it is depressed rotate the sub-command dial in the front of the camera. This will rotate you through the various settings till you see "d21".

Mark Sloane
Danville, CA

Bluefin

Danville, US
432 posts

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#13. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 10

Bluefin Registered since 14th Nov 2006
Sun 29-Jul-12 03:48 PM

Larry,

Thanks for the great advice. I think your point re: 9 points vs 51 points is on the same path that Jon put me on. I never even understood that the more points slowed you down. So now I know to work with 9 to 21 and see what suits me best.

I think your single point for family portraits would be best for adults making it easy to focus on their eyes. My challenge is my 3 grandchildren who are like electrons buzzing around me at the speed of light. That's where I'm hoping the face recognition will help. If I have adults posing for me I would probably just switch to MF.

My favorite place to go birding is at Baum Lake near Burney/Cassel, CA. Unobstructed views (as in over a lake) of Osprey, American Pelicans, Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons, various ducks & geese, beaver, muskrat, coyote, deer and a mountain lion (never saw him but he was close! He growled at me from 50 yards and I still could not see him. The rangers have seen him on a number of occasions). Larry, I would be happy to give you more in depth details if you like.

Despite how thorough Thom's book is I still learned a bunch from you guys so thanks to everyone for your help.

Mark Sloane
Danville, CA

moizes

Brooklyn, US
1322 posts

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#14. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 12

moizes Silver Member Nikonian since 19th May 2006
Sun 29-Jul-12 04:24 PM

>Dimitri,
>
>Press the button on the AF/M switch just below the lens
>release button. While it is depressed rotate the sub-command
>dial in the front of the camera. This will rotate you through
>the various settings till you see "d21".
>
>Mark Sloane
>Danville, CA
Thank you, Mark! Being too busy to read 600 pages manual, uncovered the camera almost at its potential, on the field, but you gave me the very needed help! Dimitri.

MotoMannequin

Livermore, CA, US
8582 posts

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#15. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 13

MotoMannequin Awarded for his extraordinary skills in landscape and wildlife photography Registered since 11th Jan 2006
Sun 29-Jul-12 05:02 PM

>My favorite place to go birding is at Baum Lake near
>Burney/Cassel, CA. Unobstructed views (as in over a lake) of
>Osprey, American Pelicans, Bald Eagles, Great Blue Herons,
>various ducks & geese, beaver, muskrat, coyote, deer and a
>mountain lion (never saw him but he was close! He growled at
>me from 50 yards and I still could not see him. The rangers
>have seen him on a number of occasions). Larry, I would be
>happy to give you more in depth details if you like.

I've never been there but I do love that general area for landscape photography. I was more thinking local/East Bay spots like Coyote Hills, Los Vaqueros, etc. although this is more a winter sport for me when the migratory birds improve your chances. August is usually good in the flooded fields around Mountain House for migratory Swainson's Hawks coming out of the Sierra Nevada and heading down to Mexico.

Larry - a Bay Area Nikonian
My Nikonians gallery

www.tempered-light.com

bga123

Atlanta, US
59 posts

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#16. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 7

bga123 Silver Member Nikonian since 04th Dec 2002
Mon 30-Jul-12 01:14 AM

Really enjoyed your B+W picture of the rocks in the fog. What lens did you use?

Tekkie

Montville, US
24 posts

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#17. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 0

Tekkie Silver Member Nikonian since 22nd Apr 2006
Tue 31-Jul-12 10:28 PM

I found that Thom's book is a big help in understanding what is going on with focus. I could never get the D200 in my head or work with it intuitively. I worked with the D800 using some of Thom's suggestions and finally 'got it'. I am still putting it into practice and, like you, hope to developer my own menu, but when in doubt, I use that central focus point!

I think both S and C mode needs to be used IMHO.

Dan

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LMMiller9

Potomac, US
1169 posts

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#18. "RE: Trying to dumb down D800 autofocus" | In response to Reply # 16

LMMiller9 Silver Member Nikonian since 18th Dec 2005
Tue 31-Jul-12 10:50 PM | edited Tue 31-Jul-12 10:54 PM by LMMiller9

I was using the 35mm 1.4 prime for that shot.

Thanks

Larry Miller, Potomac, MD
DF/D810
http://lmmillerphotography.smugmug.com/

Visit my Nikonians gallery.

G