In my previous article I mentioned I’m waiting for what is promised to be Nikon’s very first, very professional mirrorless camera: the Z9. Why am I still waiting and why didn’t I switch already to the current Nikon Z-series mirrorless cameras? Or (worse), why didn’t I switch completely to another brand like Sony or Canon? (although Canon, like Nikon was also very late in developing this new technology…)
What I need from a camera system is: ergonomics, reliability, speed and… autofocus, which I’ll discuss in this article.
I already mentioned earlier that Nikon DSLRs have a setting called 3D-tracking. Without going into all the details, the camera basically acquires initial focus and then tries to maintain focus on your subject, regardless of the movement of our subject, or your own movement for that matter. Of all the other autofocus options (e.g. 9/21/51-point dynamic-area AF) this one does part of the trick. But that’s not all…
Nikon 600mm f/4E FL on Nikon D4S, f/5.6, 1/2500 s., ISO 720, +2.0EV exp. comp.
Second, the “AF-C Priority Selection” menu setting controls how quickly the camera is allowed to take an image depending on acquiring focus or not. I used to set this to either ‘Focus’ or ‘Release + Focus’ where the camera gives priority to focus rather than advancing frames. However, for shooting Snowy Owls I noticed I got the best results when this was set to ‘Release’: the camera will capture images even when it hasn’t (or ‘thinks’ it hasn’t) acquired focus… strange but true.
Third, the “Focus Tracking with Lock-On” menu setting controls how much the camera should ‘stick’ to the focus while other things change; for example something else jumps into the scene, or the distance between the subject and camera suddenly changes. I had always set this to #3 (Normal), but in the case of shooting Snowy Owls coming at you at about 70 km/h, setting this to ‘Off’ works miracles!
The autofocus system of Nikon’s current mirrorless (full frame) cameras, the Z6 & Z7 is not yet on par with those of Nikon’s pro-level DSLRs. However, Nikon has indicated that the new Z9 will even outclass its current DSLR flagship (D6) on autofocus performance which is one of the reasons why I decided to wait for the Z9, planned to be announced before the end of 2021. That said, there are certainly more factors than just autofocus performance which make up for a ‘good’ pro-level camera, and I’ll discuss those in the upcoming articles… Stay tuned!