Sony A1 vs Nikon D6

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Wes Peterson

Active member
I was an early adopter of the nikon Z7, and followed a lot of what Thom said/posted in real time.. I think he's either an ambassador, a pseudo-ambassador or too brand loyal to be objective - he was always extremely dismissive on any comment about the poor autofocus and kept saying its because people didn't understand the mirrorless AF setup and that it differed from dSLR. I initially believed it (probably because I wanted to), but these days I just struggle to take him seriously after that. Including where he says now that A1 and D6 are no different in AF performance.
I think Hogans point is that when using the two cameras in real life as a professional photographer there is little difference when it comes to getting the shot. It's easy to make an impressive video showing a very sticky af box with a mirrorless camera, but how you make a video showing how well a D6 autofocuses while set to auto area af? The only thing that matters in the real world is keeper rate and as a D5 owner I can assure you ANY professional should find the AF in ANY modern camera more than up to the task.

His comments about people not knowing how to take full advantage of Nikon's af systems rings true to me. I have been shooting Nikon for awhile now and in doing so have talked to many other nikon shooters and am shocked at how many people rely on single point, dynamic or group af while NEVER using auto area. Auto area af is NOT an af mode designed to aid beginners. Auto area af is where most of the complex algorithm is focused. Nikon bodies have had face detect af (that works) all the way back to the D750. I would venture to say that among my birding friends 99% of them have never used auto area af for bird in flight yet in my experience it is the ONLY mode Ill use for it.
 

abc123brian

Well-known member
I think Hogans point is that when using the two cameras in real life as a professional photographer there is little difference when it comes to getting the shot. It's easy to make an impressive video showing a very sticky af box with a mirrorless camera, but how you make a video showing how well a D6 autofocuses while set to auto area af? The only thing that matters in the real world is keeper rate and as a D5 owner I can assure you ANY professional should find the AF in ANY modern camera more than up to the task.

His comments about people not knowing how to take full advantage of Nikon's af systems rings true to me. I have been shooting Nikon for awhile now and in doing so have talked to many other nikon shooters and am shocked at how many people rely on single point, dynamic or group af while NEVER using auto area. Auto area af is NOT an af mode designed to aid beginners. Auto area af is where most of the complex algorithm is focused. Nikon bodies have had face detect af (that works) all the way back to the D750. I would venture to say that among my birding friends 99% of them have never used auto area af for bird in flight yet in my experience it is the ONLY mode Ill use for it.
I was not an early adopter of the Z, probably later in firmware version 2, but having been using mirrorless for a long time, I will say the AF modes have differed from DSLR and using them has been a different experience. It’s not necessarily a bad thing as the mirrorless cameras can do some things better and DSLR continue to do somethings better. IMO, where Nikon went wrong is in How they implemented AF in mirrorless. First, they changed all the terminology, which is understandable as the focus system is completely different, but they didn’t do a good job helping DSLR users understand comparable modes. The integration of tracking modes is not good. Not only is the user interface clunky, the algorithm used for tracking doest track well. If I am using dynamic focus and put the focus point on a subject, it does a very good job of keeping subject in focus. If I use the actual tracking mode under auto area af, put the tracking box on the same subject, in the same location, the tracking box sort of just moves off the subject and jumps to something else. If Nikon were to update this algorithm, the feature would be much more useful, even if they didn’t change the somewhat clunky interface. I know the camera can do a fine job with autofocus because it does in AF-C modes. The other thing I don’t like is that if I’m using something like wide area mode, it doesn’t show me the smaller focus squares to know what it is actually choosing. It acts like one single, giant AF box My previous Fujifilm cameras showed active focus points within the larger box and I found that more intuitive.

Aside from this, the issue for Nikon is that both Canon and Nikon have made this more intuitive and have better algorithms on tracking. If Nikon has figured out how to make this work, and I’m fairly certain they did, once they release the updated focus algorithms to more cameras outside of the Z9 most people should be satisfied.
 

NorthernFocus

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Thread starter
... I would venture to say that among my birding friends 99% of them have never used auto area af for bird in flight yet in my experience it is the ONLY mode Ill use for it.
When I mentioned shooting side by side with D5 shooters this is what I was talking about. People read that D500/850 share the same AF module with the D5 and think it means they have the same AF. They don't. Just like the A1 has better AF than the A9ii. The high end cameras have more processing power that supports faster and more complex algorithms. Which is the whole point of the OP. Compare like for like.

Interested to see what Steve has to say in his comparison as he clearly has a different take than Thom. But Steve shoots mainly wildlife whereas Thom shoots wildlife among other things. How we use the camera makes a huge difference.
 

Doug Herr

Well-known member
Re: a1 vs. D6 AF, I'll take the word of someone who has used both cameras extensively over the word of someone who has used only one (or only rented the other for a weekend). As I have used only one I have no opinion in the matter.
 

fcotterill

Well-known member
Thanks for your pertinent points, including the challenges of communicating the subtler aspects of AF performance and settings!
Back in July in one of his videos, Moose Peterson gave a synopsis of his AF settings (discussed here). He was raving about how AF has improved, especially tracking in the D6 since updated in recent firmware. He stated Custom Group is using eye-tracking on bears etc. Moreover, with eye-recognition turned on, tracking has improved in the AutoAF mode significantly. As I understand this mode now permits positioning the AF cursor on the selected subject, then activating BBAF. From here in the video. In these improved automated modes, Nikon's secret sauce appears to use different colours and textures and this has made a jump upwards in performance with the D6.

Nikon also does not make a big effort to spell out the deeper details of how its AF works best where and when, and barely mentions updates if ever.

3D tracking has been improving since the D5, as I recall. I don't use 3d mode for wildlife, but when the telephoto design permits I set the Lens_Fn button to Auto-Mode+AFon, which works very well provided there's no intervening clutter and/or too much background clutter. Otherwise, I use GroupAF on the D850, and one of the major advantages of the D5 are the HL and VL Group modes, which often have major advantages over std group AF.

My point is I've read no other feedback on what we hear is a major AF improvement for wildlife shooting thanks to the updated D6 AF Firmware, which is a little strange. Unfortunately I cannot afford a D6 :)

I think Hogans point is that when using the two cameras in real life as a professional photographer there is little difference when it comes to getting the shot. It's easy to make an impressive video showing a very sticky af box with a mirrorless camera, but how you make a video showing how well a D6 autofocuses while set to auto area af? The only thing that matters in the real world is keeper rate and as a D5 owner I can assure you ANY professional should find the AF in ANY modern camera more than up to the task.

His comments about people not knowing how to take full advantage of Nikon's af systems rings true to me. I have been shooting Nikon for awhile now and in doing so have talked to many other nikon shooters and am shocked at how many people rely on single point, dynamic or group af while NEVER using auto area. Auto area af is NOT an af mode designed to aid beginners. Auto area af is where most of the complex algorithm is focused. Nikon bodies have had face detect af (that works) all the way back to the D750. I would venture to say that among my birding friends 99% of them have never used auto area af for bird in flight yet in my experience it is the ONLY mode Ill use for it.
 
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fcotterill

Well-known member
I was an early Z7 user (buying one of the first kits to land in S Africa, early October 2018). While it worked well on mammals in Kruger NP etc, the reliably suffered compared to my D850 and even Df in more cluttered situations and 'snap-shooting' birds on perches etc. Too often the Z AF grabbed the back ground and stubbornly clung to it. I has similar frustrations hiking in Zambia with the Z7 and 500 PF stalking large mammals in relatively denser riparian thickets. Even the Df's D600 AF engine was more reliable by comparison! IME a D850 and D5 excels by comparison, albeit with noisier shutter. I have far less keepers in these conditions compared to the larger mammals and the more obliging bird subjects, who tend to be far more obliging in Kruger.

I had some correspondence with Thom Hogan following his upbeat Mirrorless Safari commentary, and pointed out the positives in his Botswana situations (which I know well) ie often uncluttered backgrounds, relatively approachable subjects and large mammals are generally much less challenging...
His take was it was my mistake for trying to photography from too far away etc... oh well. But I was shooting the Z7 and D850 side by side :) ;)
 
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Ken Miracle

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Well, Steve has already weighed in here and as he's reported, he has his big review of the A1 coming imminently. I will say that his big review of the D6 factored quite strongly in my decision to buy the D6 and I'm very glad I did. Even though he's just suggested that the gulf between the D850 (my other camera) and the D6 is dwarfed by the gulf between the A1 and D6, I will remain very happy with it. For me, I am confident that I've already obtained shots with the D6 this year that I doubt I would've obtained with a lesser body. If his forthcoming review of the A1 leaves many pining for one and Sony struggling to keep up with production, I will content myself to know that he has a purchase planned for the Z9 and, therefore, another motherlode of a review he'll likely be contemplating for 2022...and what about the Canon contendahs? :cool:
I did the same thing and bought a D6 .... had a period of time without it because of my big boo boo ... set it down on front bucket seat lens first (600mm f/4E) bad move and on the edge ... wife got out and trying not to make noise pushed the door closed on the other side and the D6 fell out hit the pavement on a bottom corner ... it still worked but started getting erratic with focus and metering ... 8-19-21 started insurance claim and repair process ... needed new lens mount of course the part was on backorder ... 10-11-21 picked up the repaired D6 ... 10-12-21 ... went birding and realized that while the D850 and the 600 f/4E were a great combo and so was the D500 and 500pf and got some great shots ... the D6 was just faster to focus and locked on better and handled low light better ... so really glad to have it back. Maybe someday in the next 2 or 3 years the Z9 or Sony A1++ will move me to change but not yet.
 

Ken Miracle

Well-known member
Supporting Member
I carry the camera with me more often because it's smaller and weighs less. That's gotta result in more images, if not better.

D850: 2.01 lb / 915 g
a1: 1.6 lb / 737 g

Nikon 600mm f/4: 8.4 lb / 3.81 kg
Sony 600mm f/4: 6.7 lb / 3.04 kg

I hike for miles with the a1+600 GM (8.3 lb vs. 10.41 lb). If I carried a second body it would still weigh less than the D850 + 600 f/4. The lower weight and the 600's CG closer to the camera body means I often use it hand-held, a big benefit with an active subject.

EVF's benefits include less vibration, real-time histogram & WYSIWYG exposure feedback, accurate AF w/o AFMA, viewfinder magnification for simple, accurate manual focus in any light w/o reading glasses, image review in the viewfinder, clearly visible in any light w/o reading glasses. All contribute to better photos.
20-30 frames/sec helps capture the peak expressions, optimum wing positions, the fraction of a second an active subject is still, etc.

There's also:

Fully electronic shutter w/o rolling shutter distortion. Completely silent, no blackout. Huge benefit with timid subjects at close range.
Much bigger buffer, I have yet to hit the limit.
Sensor stabilization means slower shutter speeds & lower ISO with slower moving subjects when using lenses w/o optical stabilization.
for me I find the center of gravity being further away from the camera body for hand held gives me more stability ... ie. 600 f/4 E far more stable than 500pf on the same camera body ... simple physics mass forward is harder to put in motion and hence more stable ... hence why heavier barreled rifles used in offhand competition and ditto for longer and heavier barreled shotguns in many shooting sports ... that said I would imagine the Sony combo still gives you some barrel heavy assistance hand held that is better than what I run into with the 500pf (very light and whippy to me). I was a target rifle shooter and a sporting clays shooter before I got into photography so my hand holding style is a carryover even to the point of resting the tripod mount in the palm of my hand and not gripping it etc.. I am a birder and spent 4.5 hours hiking around with the D6/600f/4E combo last Thursday and was delighted to have it back instead of using the lighter D850 and D500 and 500pf combo while I was getting the D6 repaired and the 600 checked after my dumb boo boo let them fall out of the vehicle.
 

eaj101

Well-known member
I was an early adopter of the nikon Z7, and followed a lot of what Thom said/posted in real time.. I think he's either an ambassador, a pseudo-ambassador or too brand loyal to be objective - he was always extremely dismissive on any comment about the poor autofocus and kept saying its because people didn't understand the mirrorless AF setup and that it differed from dSLR. I initially believed it (probably because I wanted to), but these days I just struggle to take him seriously after that. Including where he says now that A1 and D6 are no different in AF performance.
It's a matter of opinion, but I disagree about Thom Hogan's reliability. (He has no connection to Nikon, by the way). Over time he's been frequently willing to criticize Nikon and acknowledge competitors, and especially to point out failures in Nikon products. More importantly, I've found his technical explanations to be accurate and complete and his facts as well (I don't think you can find a better or more complete guide to Nikon gear than his books). It's not just his facts though, but it's as much the logic of his explanations. Over time, I've found him to not be a fanboy and to be reliable.

The a1/D6 AF issue is, I think, a good case in point. I think Thom is describing his experience with his use cases and he's been pretty clear that bird photography is not something he does much - he does sports, landscapes, and general nature photography. Steve's use cases are different and he's noted how good the a1 is at bird photography. I suspect from this that each reviewer is correct from their point of view - they're both right.

It's too easy to dismiss a reviewer because you don't like their conclusions. (For that matter, it's too easy to support a reviewer because you do like their conclusions).
 

Ken Miracle

Well-known member
Supporting Member
I think Hogans point is that when using the two cameras in real life as a professional photographer there is little difference when it comes to getting the shot. It's easy to make an impressive video showing a very sticky af box with a mirrorless camera, but how you make a video showing how well a D6 autofocuses while set to auto area af? The only thing that matters in the real world is keeper rate and as a D5 owner I can assure you ANY professional should find the AF in ANY modern camera more than up to the task.

His comments about people not knowing how to take full advantage of Nikon's af systems rings true to me. I have been shooting Nikon for awhile now and in doing so have talked to many other nikon shooters and am shocked at how many people rely on single point, dynamic or group af while NEVER using auto area. Auto area af is NOT an af mode designed to aid beginners. Auto area af is where most of the complex algorithm is focused. Nikon bodies have had face detect af (that works) all the way back to the D750. I would venture to say that among my birding friends 99% of them have never used auto area af for bird in flight yet in my experience it is the ONLY mode Ill use for it.
I have tried auto area AF in D300s, D500, E850 and D6 and never found it satisfactory for fast action wildlife/bird photography. It just does not focus where I want it to and can cause metering issues etc.. So I use single point when possible and group AF on smaller BIF and on the D6 custom group. I have prv, fn1 and f2 buttons set to push and select those AF methods as needed. Back before group with the D300s I would use 9 point dynamic range in situations where on my current bodies I use group and get better results.
 

Wes Peterson

Active member
I have tried auto area AF in D300s, D500, E850 and D6 and never found it satisfactory for fast action wildlife/bird photography. It just does not focus where I want it to and can cause metering issues etc.. So I use single point when possible and group AF on smaller BIF and on the D6 custom group. I have prv, fn1 and f2 buttons set to push and select those AF methods as needed. Back before group with the D300s I would use 9 point dynamic range in situations where on my current bodies I use group and get better results.
I can understand the lack of satisfaction with auto area af in the lower tiered bodies but I'm not sure whats going on with it in your D6. In my experience its absolutely bulletproof for bird in flight with the D5... so much so that the few people with D5s that ive convinced to try it have had their minds blown. I can personally think of half a dozen situations where auto area af was the ONLY af mode that would work (birds leaving a nest) I'm also not sure how it would mess with metering unless you are in spot metering.
 

Calson

Active member
All my photography requires both a camera and a lens and at times, one or more flash units. I went with Nikon in 1988 when I started doing underwater photography as all the UW speedlights were made for Nikon TTL capable cameras. Now with the 500mm PF the lens I use the most for wildlife photography, I would be extermely reluctant to switch to Canon or Sony where such a lens is not available. I use 3 tilt shift lenses and I could get this with Canon but not with Sony. I have 3 macro lenses which also would be available in part from Canon but not from Sony.

If all I cared about was using a 600mm and a 100-400mm with a camera then I might be able to rationalize the $26,000 cost for two Sony cameras and these two lenses and two Sony speedlights. I find it difficult if not impossible to determine how many more keepers I would get for the $26,000 it costs to add this photo gear. I understand the drive to find a silver bullet that will greatly increase the number of keeper images but at the same time I know that you cannot throw money at the problem for a magic fix.

I received an image of a gray owl in flight taken a few weeks ago using the A1 and the 100-400mm lens and it was an image I would have trashed. Composition was perfect but the feathers on the wings were blurred, either from autofocus problems or the shooter having used too slow a shutter speed or failing to pan during the exposure.

Yesterday I was with birders and one had a D5 and the Nikon 800mm prime lens and a tripod and a gimbal and she was struggling with her load. I could not help but think that the image size with the D5 and the 800mm f/5.6 was comparable to that from a D850 with a 600mm f/4 lens with a gain of a full stop. Or that her subjects could have been photographed with a 500mm PF lens and the D850 that were missed while she was moving and setting up the tripod and attaching the camera and lens again and again. She gained little or nothing with her additional 14 lbs of gear with the heavier lens, tripod, and gimbal mount, and she lost the mobility to quick get shots and to move lower to get better backgrounds and lighting and be closer to eye level with her subjects.

We never see the shots that were missed either because we were not adequately familiar with the idiosyncracies of our gear or the limitations imposed by large heavy lenses that require a tripod.
 
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Marcus Slade

Active member
Supporting Member
I did the same thing and bought a D6 .... had a period of time without it because of my big boo boo ... set it down on front bucket seat lens first (600mm f/4E) bad move and on the edge ... wife got out and trying not to make noise pushed the door closed on the other side and the D6 fell out hit the pavement on a bottom corner ... it still worked but started getting erratic with focus and metering ... 8-19-21 started insurance claim and repair process ... needed new lens mount of course the part was on backorder ... 10-11-21 picked up the repaired D6 ... 10-12-21 ... went birding and realized that while the D850 and the 600 f/4E were a great combo and so was the D500 and 500pf and got some great shots ... the D6 was just faster to focus and locked on better and handled low light better ... so really glad to have it back. Maybe someday in the next 2 or 3 years the Z9 or Sony A1++ will move me to change but not yet.
I was cringing as I read about your D6 hitting the deck and feeling your pain. Glad you have it back. I think we all have those experiences. It's not if you'll cause a self-inflicted camera/lens injury, it's when. My 600 f4, mounted to my D850 slid off its gimbal mount (collar on the foot not tightened down enough) and off my shoulder, hitting the ground two years ago. Not a scratch or anything on the body but did over $1000 worth of damage to the lens, despite the fact that it still worked. Two months after that it was good as new. As you say, when the action beckons, I reach for the D6. Will I reach for a Z9 in the future? We'll see.
 

Hut2

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Re: a1 vs. D6 AF, I'll take the word of someone who has used both cameras extensively over the word of someone who has used only one (or only rented the other for a weekend). As I have used only one I have no opinion in the matter.
Thom knows which side his bread is buttered on.
 

Ken Miracle

Well-known member
Supporting Member
I can understand the lack of satisfaction with auto area af in the lower tiered bodies but I'm not sure whats going on with it in your D6. In my experience its absolutely bulletproof for bird in flight with the D5... so much so that the few people with D5s that ive convinced to try it have had their minds blown. I can personally think of half a dozen situations where auto area af was the ONLY af mode that would work (birds leaving a nest) I'm also not sure how it would mess with metering unless you are in spot metering.
Not in spot metering usually center weighted or matrix depending on the subject but when you use auto area AF you loose control over where the camera is going to focus and meter. the camera does what it thinks is correct and that is frequently not where I want it to be. You can read more about it in @Steve books on Nikon AF and Metering. I seldom shoot birds leaving nests but I shoot them in coming at me, soaring through trees, launching from bushes, fly catching etc.. I am always in AFC and Continuous High Speed shooting and use appropriately high shutter speeds. Thousands and thousands of rounds of shotgun shells shooting sporting clays and hunting over many years also help with BIF. One of the best pros I know also owns a couple of camera stores and is a great class room teacher. He uses single point and group AF 99 % of the time and the others would be situations where he was using manual focus.
 

Wes Peterson

Active member
Not in spot metering usually center weighted or matrix depending on the subject but when you use auto area AF you loose control over where the camera is going to focus and meter. the camera does what it thinks is correct and that is frequently not where I want it to be. You can read more about it in @Steve books on Nikon AF and Metering. I seldom shoot birds leaving nests but I shoot them in coming at me, soaring through trees, launching from bushes, fly catching etc.. I am always in AFC and Continuous High Speed shooting and use appropriately high shutter speeds. Thousands and thousands of rounds of shotgun shells shooting sporting clays and hunting over many years also help with BIF. One of the best pros I know also owns a couple of camera stores and is a great class room teacher. He uses single point and group AF 99 % of the time and the others would be situations where he was using manual focus.
I cant speak to the metering issue because im normally always in manual but your issues with auto area af definitely has me curious you seem to be having the exact opposite experience I am lol it's my go to when the action starts happening. I have my af on button programed for it. All of these were taken in auto area...

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Marcus Slade

Active member
Supporting Member
I cant speak to the metering issue because im normally always in manual but your issues with auto area af definitely has me curious you seem to be having the exact opposite experience I am lol it's my go to when the action starts happening. I have my af on button programed for it. All of these were taken in auto area...

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Wow, the tri-coloured heron? and black-capped chickadee shots are just gems.
 

Ken Miracle

Well-known member
Supporting Member
I cant speak to the metering issue because im normally always in manual but your issues with auto area af definitely has me curious you seem to be having the exact opposite experience I am lol it's my go to when the action starts happening. I have my af on button programed for it. All of these were taken in auto area...

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Cool shots ... not sure what you mean by almost always in manual and can not speak to metering your Nikon camera is metering off the focal point and will change if you let go of focus and focus again unless you lock the metering ... if you use full manual your camera is still metering the light to show you when it is essentially at 18% gray exposure with the meter in your view finder. I almost never use full manual, with a few exceptions, I shoot a lot of birds and critters moving in and out of a variety of light so I typically use manual with auto ISO with a few exceptions. I frequently shoot in low light and f/4 with shutter speeds at a minimum of 1/1250 and prefer at least 3,200 and up wherever the light will allow unless I am going for wing blur to emphasize action/speed. Of course with smaller apertures I could have more fudge factor on focus on some images but i am frequently threading focus through a lot of brush to get the ID shot on a reclusive sparrow deep in a sage brush. I am a run and gun photographer and hand hold. Have not used a tripod for other than lens and camera tests in a couple of years. I am a birder and photograph first for ID and then for anything else so our subjects and style probably vary signicantly.
Here are three examples of significantly different situations, distances and lighting and each "could" have been problematic for getting what I wanted using Auto Area AF or even one of the dynamic area modes. By chance these are all shot in a black cliffs canyon stretch on the Boise River just upstream from Boise, ID

LIncoln's Sparrow ... the thread the needle ID shot1/3200 sec f/5.6
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Great Blue Heron against the busy steep canyon wall 1/3200 sec f/4
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Say's Phoebe diving off a sage brush after a fly. 1/2500 sec f/6.3 .... shutter speed should have been 1/3200
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Venkatesh VT

Love nature & nature loves you back
Supporting Member
I can understand the lack of satisfaction with auto area af in the lower tiered bodies but I'm not sure whats going on with it in your D6. In my experience its absolutely bulletproof for bird in flight with the D5... so much so that the few people with D5s that ive convinced to try it have had their minds blown. I can personally think of half a dozen situations where auto area af was the ONLY af mode that would work (birds leaving a nest) I'm also not sure how it would mess with metering unless you are in spot metering.
Going by what you say Nikon seems to have deliberatley crippled Auto Area AF in lower level bodies which itself seem like a poor move by Nikon .I have used D 500 & D 850 with Group AF & i have had no problems in BIF shoots.Inspite of all this Nikon could not gets act together in Z series even after the second iteraion.Hence Z9 has to really be path breaking to win the confidence of shooters for wild life
There is another way to shoot birds taking off from perch with Fuji cameras where one can keep a button pressed to store shots in memoey & pressing the shutter writes shots in memory to the card .I had hoped that A1 would have introduced this cool feature
 

Wes Peterson

Active member
Cool shots ... not sure what you mean by almost always in manual and can not speak to metering your Nikon camera is metering off the focal point and will change if you let go of focus and focus again unless you lock the metering ... if you use full manual your camera is still metering the light to show you when it is essentially at 18% gray exposure with the meter in your view finder. I almost never use full manual, with a few exceptions, I shoot a lot of birds and critters moving in and out of a variety of light so I typically use manual with auto ISO with a few exceptions. I frequently shoot in low light and f/4 with shutter speeds at a minimum of 1/1250 and prefer at least 3,200 and up wherever the light will allow unless I am going for wing blur to emphasize action/speed. Of course with smaller apertures I could have more fudge factor on focus on some images but i am frequently threading focus through a lot of brush to get the ID shot on a reclusive sparrow deep in a sage brush. I am a run and gun photographer and hand hold. Have not used a tripod for other than lens and camera tests in a couple of years. I am a birder and photograph first for ID and then for anything else so our subjects and style probably vary signicantly.
Here are three examples of significantly different situations, distances and lighting and each "could" have been problematic for getting what I wanted using Auto Area AF or even one of the dynamic area modes. By chance these are all shot in a black cliffs canyon stretch on the Boise River just upstream from Boise, ID

LIncoln's Sparrow ... the thread the needle ID shot1/3200 sec f/5.6
View attachment 26150
Great Blue Heron against the busy steep canyon wall 1/3200 sec f/4
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Say's Phoebe diving off a sage brush after a fly. 1/2500 sec f/6.3 .... shutter speed should have been 1/3200
View attachment 26152
Well of course auto area af isnt likely to work well if the bird is buried deep in the sticks, but the other 2 shots I would have leaned on auto area af. I love the Phoebe shot!
 

fcotterill

Well-known member
The Zeds have a on-sensor autofocus system, which is completely different from the Nikon DSLRs. The AF modes are not comparable, unless one shoots in DSLR Liveview. In fact, the D780 is a Z6 in Liveview with much better LV AF than a D850 or D5 IME. Canon exploits its dual-pixel AF sensors in latest MILCs, and the Sony flagships rely on stacked sensors, especially for realtime tracking.

Although the D500 and D850 are stated to share the same "AF engine" in the D5, in which it was introduced early 2016 built around the Multi-CAM 20K AF sensor with -4 to +19 EV range. Having shot all 3 cameras intensively, the D5 AF is significantly snappier. It just works! So there seems to be more under the hood in the D5 AF, most likely software. We know the D5's AF was upgraded in 2018. The most obvious change was expanding the Group AF modes to 3, in total (when they also added the Recall Shooting Function).

Considered in retrospect, this upgrade possibly borrowed the G-HL and G-VL modes from D6 prototypes. It would have enabled Nikon engineers to see these modes testdriven in the wild, which made sense to evaluate the potential to expand the Group modes. We now see this in the D6, which has the new Multi-CAM 37K AF sensor module, rated at -4.5 to +20.

The D750 uses the Advanced Multi-CAM 3500FXII, introduced in the D4 (2012) and D810, but the EV range improved slightly for lowlight from -2 to -3 in the D750, D7500 and D7200. The D780 also uses the same AF sensor, but with some of the D5 algorithms.

Going by what you say Nikon seems to have deliberatley crippled Auto Area AF in lower level bodies which itself seem like a poor move by Nikon .I have used D 500 & D 850 with Group AF & i have had no problems in BIF shoots.Inspite of all this Nikon could not gets act together in Z series even after the second iteraion.Hence Z9 has to really be path breaking to win the confidence of shooters for wild life
There is another way to shoot birds taking off from perch with Fuji cameras where one can keep a button pressed to store shots in memoey & pressing the shutter writes shots in memory to the card .I had hoped that A1 would have introduced this cool feature
 

Ken Miracle

Well-known member
Supporting Member
Well of course auto area af isnt likely to work well if the bird is buried deep in the sticks, but the other 2 shots I would have leaned on auto area af. I love the Phoebe shot!
Thank you. I have found auto area af on my old D4S and now D6 to grab back grounds focus on wing tips instead of the head and eye and have trouble with backgrounds. The GBH was a long way off and I wanted the focus on the eye and the head. The Phoebe I would have not trusted it to seperate the bird from the adjoining sage brush. The D6 locks on focus with tenacity when I use single point, group or custom group to fit the subject but when I see a sudden opportunity like any of these 3 and have to acquire target and shoot in a very short amount of time I have found a high failure rate with auto are af. In a static set up on a tripod it might be a different ball game. If have not read @Steve Nikon AF and Metering Books I would recommend that you do he is far better at writing about it than I am. His discussion on Auto Area AF starts on page 142 of Secrets to the Nikon Autofocus System ... and there is a special section for D6 about setting an Auto AF Area Starting Point starting on page 212. Here is quote related to that option from Steve on page 214 of the book and my experience with Auto AF Area matches his.

"I’ve found it seems to work well for people and vehicles, but it’s still a little random for many of my wildlife subjects. It would often stick with the target, just not exactly where I wanted it on that subject. So, use it with care.
Still, it’s a nice option and one you may want to try - especially for trickier subjects or when Auto AF doesn’t seem to know exactly where you want to start with a given scene."
 

Steve

Admin
Staff member
Supporting Member
Reading all the back and forth on AF I think there's a point missing - AF areas aren't binary where one works for a given subject and the other simply doesn't. With the AF systems of any camera, there is a lot of overlap between AF areas and what you can capture. It's completely possible that you could have one person with Auto, one set to single, one to dynamic and one to group taking the same flying bird and they all get sharp eyeballs. There are times one AF area holds an advantage and is a better choice over another for a given scenario of course, but the overlap is always there. IMO the best bet is to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each so you can make those granular decisions in the field.

In addition, there is a vast difference in skill sets between different photographers and each photographer sort of gravitates towards AF areas that seem to work for the way they are wired. For Nikon, I usually favor Group AF for BIF work and seldom miss when I use it, although I will switch to dynamic or single for slower birds sometimes. Others, like Wes, like Auto. Still others go for Dynamic or even single point. Just depends on how you're wired and there really aren't any wrong answers as long as you're getting sharp pics :)
 
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