3. Nikon Df – Autofocus and Lowlight Performance
How does the Auto Focus (AF) perform with fast moving subjects?
Over the course of the year I have rented a couple of the super tele’s from Sigma & Tamron. Both performed admirably and I dont really have a preference for either and both were used in very different environments – one in a 90 degree Chicago summer with perfect blue skies and the other on a grey day at Duxford in England so difficult to make specific comparisons. I plan to cover each of those in a separate post but wanted to share my thoughts on the Df for this purpose.
I have long had a love for aviation photography ever since I was a kid and my dad took me to airshows back at Prestwick & Leuchars in Scotland. My interests grew in my late twenties and was in large part responsible for my renewed passion for photography. At the time I was living in Cambridge (England) which put me wonderfully close to Duxford. Over that time I moved up through a Panasonic TZ-5 – Panasonic GF1 – Olympus OM-D EM5 and finally to the Nikon Df. I got some lovely photos with the Oly and with practice I could get reasonably consistent results but few would disagree that its C-AF has nothing on something like the Nikon.
So by comparison my first outing with the Df highlighted just how easy it was to pan and shoot with a camera like a Df vs something like the EM5. Almost too easy by comparison!!
The weight of the Df coupled with either the Sigma or Tamron is obviously far more bulky (weig but as it’s a specific day out and there are plenty of other people with similar lenses its entirely manageable for the day. The 5.5 fps worked perfectly well and the focusing is more than adequate – I know some question the quality of the AF unit in the Df but it is more than capable of tracking aircraft in a situation like this. I would estimate I ended up with somewhere in the region 90%+ of my shots in focus (now I will caveat this with it was a gloriously bright day which makes things easier). By comparison with the Oly it was more like 20% of those being suitably in focus. By comparison it almost made it too easy! But it’s a lot of fun and I love the look of the images captured. It also allows an amazing amount of detail to be pulled from the shadows and highlights in Lightroom afterwards which is massively helpful on a day that was so bright, there are sometimes exposure issues.
I am still a huge fan of the EM5 and m43 but like any camera, it has its pros and cons and Phase Detect AF still has the edge over AF of Olympus and Panasonic for this specific purpose… for now…
Useful tip to get the Auto-focus to work in low light
I know one of the negatives leveled at the Df at launch was its poor performing auto-focus in low light. I would be inclined to agree with this criticism and over the last few months found a number of situations where it has failed to lock on at all and I have fallen back to manual focus to get a few shots that work.
However in the last few weeks I have discovered a way to make it work far better in almost darkness. And that trick is setting the AF to 9 point AF-C. I mostly have my camera’s set to centre point AF but amazingly if you change it to 9 point it almost always locks on and most of the time is pretty close to being spot on! I cant say how delighted I was to work this out as it had been bothering me for some time, so hopefully it might help you if you have been suffering similar issues.
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