Does The Nikon D850 Have Autofocus Tracking Issues?

Leaked Image credit – Nikon Rumors

By James DeRuvo (doddleNEWS)

A few weeks in with the Nikon D850 and filmmakers are starting to see some autofocus tracking issues emerge with Nikon’s new flagship DSLR. Is it a deal breaker for filmmakers and video shooters? Maybe not.


The issue was found by South African Photographer Clifford James who says that the autofocus tracking of the D850 runs into issues of seeking it’s quarry when trying to lock in using autofocus tracking in 4K, especially in complicated background situations.  James walked through a wooded area of a park and found that the with Face tracking turned on, the Nikon D850 would rack focus in and out several times and it’s noticably problematic while shooting.

James tested the D850’s autofocus tracking with three different lenses, a 50mm f1.8, a SIGMA 135mm, and a Tamron 15-30mm zoom. He walked back and forth while the camera was on and the result was a close loss of focus, and then the camera racks in and out to acquire it. James also tried using face detection and while the camera was able to lock in on the face relatively consistently, the background would hunt back and forth, making the scene relatively distracting.

What I think is happening in James’ test here is that he’s shooting in a very complicated background, and this could be causing the camera to lose details of the subject within the scatter of the background, especially in lower, flat lighting.


The same issue was echoed by Fro Knows Photo’s Jared Polin, who said in his Real World review of the D850 that the D850’s autofocus is nearly useless. But in still image burst mode, it holds up really well in real world situations, even in slow motion. “The autofocus video in this camera is still pretty terrible,” Fro says, ” and by terrible it’s really not usable. It hunts back and forth. Not as good as Canon, and if you’re going to shoot video, dual pixel AF with Canon is really the way to go.”

Peta Pixel’s John Aldred states that this amounts to a huge step backwards for Nikon, saying that the facial track system of the lower end D5300 is far better.

But is this a really big deal? I mean, as filmmakers, we don’t usually rely on autofocus when trying to get those key shots. It’s why the position of camera assistant, and the term “rack focus” was invented in the first place. But as a wedding videographer, having the ability to keep the autofocus locked on the bride while they’re dancing that first dance during the reception would come in handy.  Since you can’t just stop the action and say “let’s go for take 2,” those kind of situations make autofocus tracking either all or nothing, and in the case of the Nikon D850, it’s starting to look like it’s nothing. Advantage Canon, I guess.

Hopefully, Nikon will get a firmware tweak out in the coming months to address this issue, because the D850 is looking like a solid camera and it would be a shame to lose all that this camera brings to the table because it would rather hunt than focus.

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