AF Settings + Practice = Sharp
From the get go, the AF settings in the D3 have confused folks (and all Nikon DSLRs since). I was no different in the beginning but lucky for me, I was able to ask two of the lovely ladies at NPS back when what to do. They told me exactly what the designer of the new AF system at Nikon told them when asked which is the best. “21 Dynamic, it’s the best!” And that’s what I use the majority of the time ever since. That means, I go into the Custom Setting Menu > Autofocus > a3 Dynamic AF Area > 21 points and then select the AF sensor I want to use. That’s how both of these images were taken. To take advantage of this selection, the lever on the back of the D3x is pointing at the middle icon, not the top or the bottom icon, but the middle icon. This is what I use for basically all my landscape, people and wildlife work and it serves me very well.
And while the power of the D3 AF system makes it possible to not have to manual focus all the time (I still manual focus a lot, old habit), it’s still only part of the equation to getting a sharp photo. The other part is spending a lot of time with gulls so when the great opportunity like the Osprey appears, I’m ready for it. I practice A LOT! Yeah, after doing this for 30yrs, I still practice this on an almost daily basis! Personally, I don’t know of any other way. Now I realize these videos are a bit old (shot before I knew anything about video), but the techniques none the less are still the same. So if you don’t know the techniques that go along with the technology, check these out.
Now I really find personally that using the Nikon AF system is this simple, 21 Dynamic and go, it just works. If you find though the camera searching for focus alot, more times then not, it’s the pilot that’s the problem and not the system. That’s where practice kicks in. And the time I don’t use this AF setting? You’re lookin at it. When I have something in the sky, a single bird, a giant flock and I want the front of the flock sharp or planes in the sky, I switch over to Auto Area AF or what I simply call Triple A. What does this do? It gives you all the attributes of Dynamic; Focus Tracking, Focus Lock and Color Recognition but adds to this list Closest Subject Priority. Added to this is the fact you no longer have to select an AF Sensor to lock onto you subject because the ENTIRE area in your viewfinder is now one, giant AF Sensor! The beauty of this system to me is the ease of operation. All I have to do is move the lever on the back of the camera from the middle icon to the top icon. Wanna go back from Triple A to Dynamic? Don’t have to take the eye away from the action, just flip the lever. Even a Moose can handle that thought process.
Does the AF work 100% of the time? No. Do I focus on a subject, lock focus and then recompose? No! Do I use the back AF Button to activate focus? Can’t get coordinated enough to ever make that work, I’m a spaz! So then do you use the shutter firing button to activate focus? Yes, I can manage that much. Have you tried other combos? What do you think? Do you manual focus? I think I’ve answered that but to make it clear, alot! Will you modify this system since you seem to change other settings with time? I don’t think so, not with the D3 because it works for me. Will it work for you? Only is you go out and practice. If you just set these settings because you read them here and then in a week to two think you can go out shooting and every thing will be sharp, you will be really disappointed in your results. I don’t know anyway around practicing to make this technology work for you and your photography. The D3 AF system does make it possible for this important aspect of photography to take a back stage but it’s still up to you to make it sing!