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Baffling and inconsistent soft autofocus issue. Is it me or the D7000?

Asthenosphere

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Asthenosphere Registered since 15th Jul 2013
Mon 12-May-14 02:52 AM | edited Mon 12-May-14 02:57 AM by Asthenosphere

I've been using a D7000, usually with the Nikkor 70-300 (f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR) for a little more than a year now, but I started having issues about a month ago.

The autofocus system (the phase detect one) started being badly inconsistent. I just couldn't get decent photos, even with well-lit and stationary subjects. I took the camera in, got it cleaned, and it seemed like the problem was fixed.

But now I'm not so sure the problem was fixed. When I take the camera into the field, many, but not all, of the photos that should be in sharp focus are lackluster. But the phase detect system is getting in the ballpark, so it could just be that I'm doing something wrong. The inconsistency makes it really hard to judge - it could just be user error, because many times the photos are as sharp as I could hope for.


General Settings:
AF-A, Single Point, Image Stabilization On, Active Mode.
Matrix Metered, usually +.5 EV
Aperture Priority, ISO 800-1600.
Camera usually set to only take a photo when focus is achieved.
RAW

-If I test the camera using a tripod and a chart, there is no persistent back or front focus. But in the field, it seems like it sometimes back focuses, sometimes front focuses. Most often though, there is no obvious point of greatest focus anywhere on the picture.

-I've tried changing the camera internal sharpness settings. Still getting inconsistent results.

-None of the other common D7000 problems seem to fit. There is no persistent misfocus, nor am I hitting the lens release button. The autofocus always works, it just doesn't deliver good results.

-Tried the 18-105 Nikkor too, results were mostly unimpressive. Photos were lackluster despite excellent lighting and stationary animals. The goose is an example.

-Usually when I compare them, the phase and contrast autofocus systems are in complete agreement, but occasionally they disagree. The two tree pictures are an example of them disagreeing.

I've attached some photos to demonstrate. All were taken within the last few days, often only minutes apart. All were handheld. All focus points are on the subjects properly and the point of greatest focus is shown. All have had a 1200 by 1200 chunk cropped out of them and turned into jpegs to fit in the uploads, but otherwise unaltered.

I'd be very grateful for any advice. Am I doing something wrong? Am I just expecting too much from the D7000? Should I get the D7000 fixed? The Lens?


Click on image to view larger version

Parrot. Pretty sharp. f8, 1/750, 300mm. ISO 1600. Focus point was just above eye

Click on image to view larger version

Parrot, just a few seconds earlier. Not nearly as sharp. f8, 1/750, 300mm. ISO 1600. Focus point just to the right of the eye

Click on image to view larger version

Duck. Not sharp. f8, 1/4000, 220mm. ISO 1600. Focus point centered on the duck's left eye (on the right side of the picture)

Click on image to view larger version

Hummingbird in midair. Pretty sharp. f9.5, 1/2000, 220mm. ISO 1600. Sun was behind me. Focus point centered on eye.

Click on image to view larger version

Hummingbird on reed. Not very sharp. f8, 1/3000, 300mm. ISO 1600. Sun was behind me. Focus point on chest.

Click on image to view larger version

Tree. Not very sharp. f5.6, 1/4000, 300mm, ISO 800. Sun behind me. Using phase detection autofocus

Click on image to view larger version

Tree. Slightly sharper. f5.6, 1/4000, 300mm, ISO 800. Sun behind me. Using contrast detection autofocus

Click on image to view larger version

Goose. Not very sharp. f5.6, 1/1000, 58mm, ISO 1600. Sun behind me. Focus point was on the white chin, not on the neck.

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