This video shows that Nikon D850 autofocus tracking is as bad as everybody feared

Sep 20, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

This video shows that Nikon D850 autofocus tracking is as bad as everybody feared

Sep 20, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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For shooting stills, Nikon’s autofocus system is pretty solid. I’ve thought so for a long time. Even my ageing Nikon N90s could keep up just fine with most everything I’ve thrown at it. Several cameras later, I picked up a D300s. The 51 point predictive 3D autofocus tracking just blew me away. Every Nikon I’ve owned since then has also impressed me.

Why, then, do Nikon fail so damn hard when it comes to video? People had high hopes for the Nikon D850, given the specs. Nikon fanatics were praying it would crush the recently released Sony A9, and in other areas it may. But when it comes to video autofocus tracking, hopes is all they were. And this video from photographer Clifford James just dashed them.

YouTube video

It almost feels like Nikon have taken a step backwards. My Nikon D5300 can facial track better than this. Sure, it’s only 1080p, but it’s supposedly a much less advanced autofocus system. So, why can’t the D850 keep up?

I’ll give Nikon some credit, at least, when it comes to the old D90. Back then there was some serious innovation. It was, after all, the first DSLRs to even shoot video, followed a short time later by the Canon 5D Mark II. The D90 was only 720p, automatic exposure, and it would only focus when you half-press the shutter, but it could shoot video. Other than stepping up to 1080p, then 4K, and giving us manual exposure control, not much seems to have changed for the better when it comes to Nikon video.

That being said, I learned video with big Sony DSR-500 broadcast cameras. The lenses I used then were all manual focus. For the types of video I typically shoot, manual focus often does the job fine. But there are times when I really wish I had a camera for video with a decent autofocus system. And that’s never been Nikon.

Canon’s dual pixel autofocus technology has become a hot favourite for DSLR video shooters. And Sony’s A9 is just ridiculous. I suppose, at least when the D850 footage is in focus (and correctly exposed), it doesn’t look too bad.

I guess us Nikon shooters will just have to keep manually focusing video for a while longer.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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38 responses to “This video shows that Nikon D850 autofocus tracking is as bad as everybody feared”

  1. Vladimir Khudyakov Avatar
    Vladimir Khudyakov

    Is D850 a VIDEO camera?

    1. emre okur Avatar
      emre okur

      no but photographers need video sometimes

      1. Vladimir Khudyakov Avatar
        Vladimir Khudyakov

        And sometimes you can survive these problems. Or buy Sony. Or buy Canon. Lot of solutions…

    2. Mac McGommery Avatar
      Mac McGommery

      Nikon is trying to jump on the DSLR video bandwagon, which was dominated by Canon and the 5DMk II/III and since bested by Sony and Panasonic hybrids.

      A lot of photographers do video, youtubers need that too and people generallly want swiss knife cameras, especially when theese are expensive.

      1. Vladimir Khudyakov Avatar
        Vladimir Khudyakov

        Buy a TOP Nikon DSLR for video. :) Pretty amazing.

  2. Bart van Dieken Avatar
    Bart van Dieken

    Whatsapp about stilletjes photography? I wonder how it compaies to other high end DSLR camera’s in terms of autofocus performance…

  3. Fadi Shaban Avatar
    Fadi Shaban

    Adel M. Takash

  4. Dieter Greven Avatar
    Dieter Greven

    Good that this guy is a DSLR and not a videocamera. If you want to make video go and get a fucking videocamera.

    1. Petar Maksimovic Avatar
      Petar Maksimovic

      Even Hollywood movies need a focus puller, not tracking.

    2. Dieter Greven Avatar
      Dieter Greven

      But no Nikon D850.

    3. DFlower Avatar
      DFlower

      What full frame video camera do you suggest?

  5. Anthony Guerriere Avatar
    Anthony Guerriere

    Yeah I’m sure when everyone found out the D850 was coming out they all shook in fear over AF tracking ? who writes this crap anyway? And I don’t even use Nikon! People are still going to buy it, you think AF tracking is going to stop them?

  6. Michael Hastings Ereth Avatar
    Michael Hastings Ereth

    Why do people care about video autofocus so much? For photos it’s critical but for video I’ve never used it and none of my videography friends do either.

    1. DFlower Avatar
      DFlower

      Auto focus is very useful for gimbal use. But outside of that, I can take it or leave it until DPAF is mainstream.

      1. RichMathis Avatar
        RichMathis

        gimbal use is the only thing thats making me cry, I’ve never even “wanted” to do autofocus with my d750 or now my d850…until I wanted to mount it in my ronin-M. :'(

  7. Petar Maksimovic Avatar
    Petar Maksimovic

    Good, so now they don’t have to sell their expensive focus pulling rigs and lose money.

  8. Kevin Avatar
    Kevin

    “Why, then, do Nikon fail so damn hard when it comes to video?” Truth is they don’t… if you’re relying on auto focus when capturing motion then perhaps you’re a vlogger, everyone else that’s doing serious work uses manual focus or expensive purpose built solutions.

  9. Pixyst Avatar
    Pixyst

    They do a pretty good job with the Nikon1. I just wish they would transfer that technology to the larger sensor cameras.

  10. armatus rebellio Avatar
    armatus rebellio

    Short answer:
    You cannot do phase detect auto focus (the kind that blows you away) when the mirror is up. You cannot shoot video when the mirror is down.

  11. Alain Gaudreau Avatar
    Alain Gaudreau

    Seriously, they could do away with anything video on their high end dslr’s… Would bring our costs down a bit. I haven’t used video on my dslrs more than once a year in the last 5-10 years… Hardly worth all the development they are putting into the video features.

    1. Vincent King Avatar
      Vincent King

      If you look at the Professional Wedding photography space, using video and still photography is the norm now. Let’s also not forget the overuse of drones at weddings too.

    2. Alain Gaudreau Avatar
      Alain Gaudreau

      Perhaps in your market but not in mine and those who do, use dedicated video equipment.

  12. Cynicaleye Avatar
    Cynicaleye

    My DSLR still comes can’t autofocus when shooting video! Oh woe is me.

  13. Jordan Moorman Avatar
    Jordan Moorman

    It’s a good thing professionals know how to manual focus for video :p

    1. RichMathis Avatar
      RichMathis

      How do you manual focus on a gimbal? Asking for a friend… ;)

      1. Oscar Avatar
        Oscar

        Gimbal with a focus ring attachment to control from the hilt. Wish I could buy one lol

  14. Ganesh Ghimire Avatar
    Ganesh Ghimire

    lol

  15. Craig Johnson Avatar
    Craig Johnson

    If I wanted to shoot video…… hey guess what I’d buy. Not a DSLr that’s for sure!

  16. Denis Germain Avatar
    Denis Germain

    videographers use video cameras….
    as I photographer I only use the video mode to record my voice or quick audio from an an event for “names” and/or Titles….

  17. Andreas Pratikto Avatar
    Andreas Pratikto

    Dslr is for stills, get the video camera to do video work. Why doesn’t he test image quality on video camera?

    1. Nick Darwall-Smith Avatar
      Nick Darwall-Smith

      Because when you travel a single camera rocks. I currently use a D750 and a XC15 – I would love to take just one body.

  18. Jason Correia Avatar
    Jason Correia

    It would have been better to test under different conditions to see more variability in performance. Nonetheless, this shouldn’t be a dealbreaker for anyone considering the camera as it’s not a prized feature.

  19. Bill McKenzie Avatar
    Bill McKenzie

    Click bait crap. Title makes it sound like all autofocus is junk including still images.

    You can do better than that @JohnAldred

  20. Ondřej Konopásek Avatar
    Ondřej Konopásek

    Why would you buy Nikon, if you want to shoot video. Is AF that important for video??

  21. WillMondy Avatar
    WillMondy

    The autofocus is rubbish….

    But only in video?

    Well buy a video camera then!
    I’m not gonna buy a sports car and complain that while it Is great on the road, it can only off-road on flat grass rather than go exploring in Moab.

    1. Courier.6 Avatar
      Courier.6

      its video features were a big part of its marketing you moron

      1. WillMondy Avatar
        WillMondy

        The main marketing I saw was about its stills performance.

        Also, try not being a prick.

  22. Reader Avatar
    Reader

    NIKON : If you need Video camera : Buy video camera : forget us
    CANON/SONY : We are GOOD for both don’t worry
    NIKON keeps its costumer stupid. They even provide the stupid answer
    If 2018 but nikon cannot compete with Dual pixel AF or Sony AF, Good by nikon