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Thread: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

  1. #1
    Mitch Alland
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    Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    In his excellent review of the D300 Thomas Hogan states that "The Autofocus Area Mode Selector is going to confuse more folk on the D300 than it did on the D2 series and D200" and that "the lack of clear documentation is going to keep you from learning it quickly". I agree: the autofocus section of the D300 manual is not at all clear on either Focus Mode or AF-Area Mode and how to use them in the various ocmbinations. Does someone who has learnt how to use the various combinations of autofocus settings on the D300 — Hogan says that there is none that fits all situations — want to elaborate a bit?

    BTW, the Hogan review is here:

    http://www.bythom.com/nikond300review.htm

    —Mitch/Windhoek
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

  2. #2
    Member gromitspapa's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    I can't say I'm up to speed on it, but there's an 11 minute video under "Focus" on the Digitutor that's helpful:
    http://www.nikondigitutor.com/eng/d300/index.shtml

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Mitch,

    There are so many different combinations, give us a situation that you want to shoot and I'll let you know how I set my camera.

    Best,

    Ray

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    I have been just doing a lot of single point half press or use the AF button than recompose just like i do with the M8 only manual. Old dog still old tricks.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

  5. #5
    Mitch Alland
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Quote Originally Posted by harmsr View Post
    ...There are so many different combinations, give us a situation that you want to shoot and I'll let you know how I set my camera...
    Thanks, Ray. Yes, there are a lot of possible combinations: there are three Focus Mode settings on the front of the camera and three AF-Area Mode settings on the back; and then there are four different focus point settings [(9 /21 / 51 / 51 (3D tracking)] that can be applied to the Dynamic Area AF Mode (or to some other modes as well?). Let's start with settings for the following types of situations:

    1. Landscape or still life: my understanding is that one would use the "S" setting on the front (Single-servo AF) and "Single Point AF" on the back and then use the Multi-Selector to move focus point to the object to be focused on.

    2. Street photography with person approaching — someone is coming towards you and want camera to track sugject: my inclination would be to use the "C" setting on the front and the "Dynamic Area AF" on the back, but how many focus points should one use — 51 with Dynamic Tracking? Or is there a better way?

    3. Street photography with photagrapher passing subject, or subjects, on the side: same settings as situation 2?

    4. Portait with focus on eyes: subject is sitting across table from photographer at 1.0–1.5m and in conversation both photographer and subject may be moving body forward and backwards and side to side. What are the best settings for this.

    Another question: when would one use "Auto Area AF" with either S or C?

    —Mitch/Windhoek
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/
    Last edited by Mitch Alland; 23rd March 2008 at 00:12.

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Assuming that the basic autofocus functions of the D300 and the D3 are similar you may gain some insight from the following Moose Peterson link:

    http://www.moosepeterson.com/D3/media_center.html#

    Regards,

    Bob Moore

  7. #7
    Mitch Alland
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Thanks, Bob, but here in Namibia the internet access is too slow now to look at instructional videos — I'll have to do it when I get back to Bangkok.

    —Mitch/Windhoek
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    BTW how do you control shooting with AF. Mine won't shoot until in focus, i want to turn that sucker off. This is in S mode
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Guy

    Set the autofocus menu to "release" instead of "focus." It will then fire when the shutter is fully depressed

    Woody

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    I haven't seen the menu setup for the D300 autofocus, but if it's similar to the D2Xs, it will be something like this:

    In Single Servo AF mode, the camera finds focus once the shutter release is depressed part way, if the subject was in motion when the shutter was halfway depressed, it will follow focus that subject but it will not release the shutter until focus is achieved.

    In Continuous Servo AF mode, the camera looks for focus the moment the shutter release is depressed part way and will continue to look for focus as long as the shutter is held part way. If a subject moves after focus was established the focus still follows the subject. However, a picture is always taken immediately when the shutter is depressed all the way even if focus has not been established.

    (above paraphrased from Thom Hogan's guide)

    I have moved the focus activation component from the shutter release to the AF/ON button and use my thumb to control the focussing. That leave the shutter release free to activate the capture and to implement the VR on lenses like the 70-200VR. Effectively separating the two functions. Continuous Servo is my personal favorite setting for focus.

    There are further refinements one can make with the various autofocus area modes, which might also be worth looking into depending on your preferred style of shooting or the event/subject at hand. You can of course, set up various sets of these variables and save them to individual shooting menus or styles so you can switch all the various components at once, i.e. a custom settings group for portraits and one for track and field.

    The variables for focussing are deep and initially pretty confusing. After I settled on my simple take on the ones that worked best for me, it all became second nature. But it's a daunting set of variables.

    Good luck, hope this helps.

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Quote Originally Posted by woodyspedden View Post
    Guy

    Set the autofocus menu to "release" instead of "focus." It will then fire when the shutter is fully depressed

    Woody
    Thanks Woody , it's driving me mad.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

  12. #12
    Mitch Alland
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    I'm beginning to understand that the overall autofocus system can be controlled as follows:

    First, you set the Focus Mode, which is controlled by the focus-mode selector on the front of the camera that can be set to "S" for Single-servo AF, "C" for Continuous-servo AF, or "M" for Manual.

    Second, you set the AF-Area Mode, which is controlled by the AF-Area mode selector on the back of the camera that can be set Single-point AF, Dynamic-area AF, or Auto-area Af.

    Third, for Dynamic-area AF the number of focus points can be selected to be 9 points, 21 points, 51 points, or 51 points with 3D-tracking. The number of focus points is selected for the "a3: Dynamic AF Area" setting (page 269 of the manual) of the Custom Settings. There are the following custom settings sets possible:

    a:Autofocus
    b:Metering/Exposure
    c:Timers/AE Lock
    d:Shooting/Display
    e:Bracketing/Flash
    f:Controls

    Each of the above custom setting sets has places for a range of settings: for example a:Autofocus has ten palces, a1–a10, with a1 being AF-C Priority Selection, which sets the behaviour of the shutter for Continuous-servo AF in terms giving the shutter focus or exposure priority; a2 does the same for AF-S Priority Selection; a3 selects the number of focus points; and so on for other focus setting through a10.

    All of these custom settings a: through f: can be saved in one of four Custom Setting Banks (page 266 of manual), which are named "A" though "D", but which can be renamed by the user. Different combinations of settings can in each of the banks, allowing the user to switch instantly from one combination of settings for a particular type of photography to another by selecting the appropriate bank from the bank menu.

    Obviously, this Custom Setting Bank system allows great flexibility in setting up and using the camera for various types of shooting. However, my understanding is that if one needs to change the Focus Mode settings from S to C and to change AF-Area Mode from, say, Single-point AF to Dynamic-area AF one has to change the relevant selectors on the front and back of the camera, as well as possibly changing the default Custom Bank, say from A to B, if one is also changing, say from 9 focus points to 51 focus points with 3D-tracking. It seems to me that having to change two selectors, one on the front and the other on the back of the camera, as well as changing a menu item from Custom Bank A to Custom Bank B could become rather cumbersome, just to change the autofocus setup to be used. Am I correct on this?

    Assuming I have understood correctly how the autofocus system can be set up for the various combinations I still have no idea which settings are best to use for various type of photography: as Hogan says in his D300 review, one needs to do a lot of testing to figure out how to use the various combination of autofocus settings in the most practical and effective way, I suppose that his hefty eBook has a lot of the information I need, but I cannot wait four weeks for delivery of the CD, since this is the only way he sell the eBook. As I'm in Windhoek on business I don't have time to test this before I go off on ten days vacation in game parks next week. Therefore, it would be most helpful if someone could indicate what are the best settings for the four types of situations defined in my posting #5 above.

    —Mitch/Windhoek
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/
    Last edited by Mitch Alland; 23rd March 2008 at 20:20.

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Taking a shot at this for you Mitch.

    [QUOTE=Mitch Alland;16336]Thanks, Ray. Yes, there are a lot of possible combinations: there are three Focus Mode settings on the front of the camera and three AF-Area Mode settings on the back; and then there are four different focus point settings [(9 /21 / 51 / 51 (3D tracking)] that can be applied to the Dynamic Area AF Mode (or to some other modes as well?). Let's start with settings for the following types of situations:

    1. Landscape or still life: my understanding is that one would use the "S" setting on the front (Single-servo AF) and "Single Point AF" on the back and then use the Multi-Selector to move focus point to the object to be focused on.

    S mode and Single point. You can move your point around

    2. Street photography with person approaching — someone is coming towards you and want camera to track sugject: my inclination would be to use the "C" setting on the front and the "Dynamic Area AF" on the back, but how many focus points should one use — 51 with Dynamic Tracking? Or is there a better way?

    I would think C mode for follow focus than I would pick Dynamic -area AF mode. Some may say Auto -area since it detects the subject. But two people moving in different directions could lead to a miss. Mitch personally i try to keep this simple and avoid the auto everything stuff. i just don't trust auto everything but that is me

    3. Street photography with photagrapher passing subject, or subjects, on the side: same settings as situation 2?

    Yes i would say the same if you follow your subject. If you don't follow than S mode and Dynamic maybe better . BTW I have mine set for 9 points

    4. Portait with focus on eyes: subject is sitting across table from photographer at 1.0–1.5m and in conversation both photographer and subject may be moving body forward and backwards and side to side. What are the best settings for this.

    For me S and single point. I just move the Af point to the right for a vertical so it hits the eye area all the time

    Another question: when would one use "Auto Area AF" with either S or C?


    I would say S



    Now more experienced Nikon shooters may say something different but I NEVR totally depend on camera to think for me and this is the bad part about AF, people feel it is the wonder drug . It is not, it can't think like you do and can't predict what you will do next. It's nice but dangerous IMHO to completely trust it. I don't care how good the system is, I trust myself more.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    BTW when all else fails i will go single point in the middle and focus and compose. Just like I do with the M8 because in my head, I trust myself and the camera better in this mode than anything else. Not to say other will not work , i just know this always will if you know what i mean. I miss or screw up i don't get paid or worse lose a client forever.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Hi Mitch,

    No time tonight, as I'm finishing something that must go out in the morning.

    I'll spend some time tomorrow on the settings that I use and post them.

    Best,

    Ray

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Moose Peterson's settings are not a bad place to start...

    http://www.moosepeterson.com/D3/moose_d3_settings.html

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    Senior Member Lisa's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    BTW when all else fails i will go single point in the middle and focus and compose. Just like I do with the M8 because in my head, I trust myself and the camera better in this mode than anything else. Not to say other will not work , i just know this always will if you know what i mean.
    Hey, that's how I *always* use my D200. Like you said, I know what I want to focus on better than the camera does, and it's predictable. It works for me...

    Lisa

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    the moose site is a very useful treatment. he makes the point that a large part of what you pay for in the D3, D300, is the ability to focus on moving targets. I am also of the old school, but this new-fangled focusing merits close attention.
    Moose basically sets his body to continuous, 9 fps, (if shutter held down), then uses 21 point AF, where the selected focus point (could be the center point) is surrounded by 20 others to track the moving (toward or away) subject. you are panning the sideways movement, of course, to keep the subject framed. there are a few tricks in the moose dialogs; definitely a good read

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Yes it is a good read and makes sense of what he says. i may have to use the Dynamic a little more but I may not go as high as 21 points.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Although this might be slightly off-topic (in a discussion about focusing), I thought it might be useful to point to this D300 Custom Settings Spreadsheet at Nikonians.org. The author explains:
    I’ve tried to be thoughtful about the settings I have chosen to illustrate these modes, but the ultimate purpose of the spreadsheet is to help you to learn the camera and to make it your own. Please take these settings only as a starting point to help you personalize the camera so that it reflects how you use it. They are there to get you started using some of the amazing capabilities of the D300.
    I think that having a whole range of example settings can make it much easier to choose one's own.

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    Senior Member Robert Campbell's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    So this is progress: a camera so complex with instructions so opaque that a new owner can't work it...and it's not only the D300 - most cameras these days come with a phone book sized manual...and the frequent advice is to carry the manual at all times...is this complexity really necessary, or just a case of oneupmanship towards the opposition...is it time to revert to simplicity, to concentrate on the essentials...or am I just an anachronism?
    Sláinte

    Robert.

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    And this is a extremely good point. Yes the D300 has some nice features but there simple are to many and confusing as hell. I would say about 45 percent or more are just gimmicks. I will never use many of them. But you can ignore a lot of them too and never have to turn some of this stuff on ever. LOL

    Exactly what i am doing turning off more than turning on buttons.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

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    Subscriber Member TRSmith's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    I feel you Bertie. When I un-boxed my Nikon I was at first overjoyed and then quickly became overwhelmed. The top-end modern DSLRs can shoot a product shot in the morning, a wedding at noon, and a NASCAR race in the evening. And many of the features that confound me can be put to good use by a professional in any one of those situations.

    My level of respect for Pros making their living doing any one of the above rose a notch when I realized that one component of their mastery was to fully understand and utilize the spectrum of options that came with their cameras. It may not be rocket science, but it's a lot closer to it than I ever wanted to get. (Which is one reason why I ultimately bought the M8... to get back to a simpler method.)

    So I've found, over time, the functions on the Nikon that work well for me. Which leaves a huge number of options that I never even think of, never mind use. But the pro markets demand them and the competition seems pretty brutal.

    As complicated as it is though, I do find the evolution pretty exciting. I think it's an extraordinary time to be a photographer.

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    Senior Member Robert Campbell's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Yes, I agree that the cameras can do all these things; and I suppose that any pro might use one of the feature sets for their work, whether sport or fashion or whatever, but I guess that any pro would specialise in only one area. And I have been very impressed and surprised by the number of Leica M8 users on this forum, as judged by the number of posts - perhaps, as you suggest, a return to simplicity - or is it the feeling that I am in control of the camera, and not vice-versa? I did read somewhere - perhaps somewhere here - that a modern DSLR is no more than a computer with a lens attached - and therefore has a shelf life of no more than a couple of yeare - so perhaps like modern software, modern DSLRs are no more than bloatware - lots of functions, but 80% of users make use of 20% of them.

    The mass market P&Ss are for those who want a perfect record of their activities - and there is nothing wrong with this - so face and smile recognition together with settings for museum photography on the beach in the snow at midnight are appropriate for them: yet these functions 'trickle down' to more 'advanced' models. I do not believe in making things harder for myself than necessary, so auto exposure and focussing, and anti-shake are all sensible advances, compensating for most of the technical problems that people have; but it seems that this is now associated with a very significant level of complexity for the user -a very steep learning curve if you will - almost to the extent that it is counter-productive. Perhaps I really am just an anachronism.
    Sláinte

    Robert.

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    I think that we get close to being overly simplistic here.

    To me it is similar to Photoshop..........you can do virtually anything, but the price is that all of those abilities come with a level of complication. So we learn to master those elements we deem important with regard to how we need or want to process files.

    With the modern DSLR (no brand issue here) you can work from purely manual whereby you take control of the camera from metering to focus or you can go to the other extreme where you allow the camera to do a lot of the work for you. I find situations where autofocus gives me way more keepers than (for me) would be possible with manual focus. Your mileage may vary.

    I just think that it makes no sense to "ding" the manufacturer for giving us more than we want. So long as we have the option to engage or disengage those features we have the ultimate control. Just my humble opinion.

    Woody

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    I agree Woody as long as we can turn stuff off and on at will than the technology inside is great.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

    www.guymancusophotography.com

  27. #27
    Mitch Alland
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Campbell View Post
    So this is progress: a camera so complex with instructions so opaque that a new owner can't work it...and it's not only the D300 - most cameras these days come with a phone book sized manual...and the frequent advice is to carry the manual at all times...is this complexity really necessary, or just a case of oneupmanship towards the opposition...is it time to revert to simplicity, to concentrate on the essentials...or am I just an anachronism?
    Can't agree with you at all, Bertie. The D300 autofocus system is brilliant and technically dazzling in what if can do, for example, with "follow focus". Basically, the various AF modes are designed for various types of situations, including whether, when the subject is people, there are many or a few people to focus on and whether they move or not, that is, whether the autofocus target is broad or narrow, and whether it should be followed or not. You cannot expect such a sophisticated and well-articulated AF system — which indeed is dazzling in its capaility — to be capable to be used by the photographer without a learning effort when he first takes the camera out of the box.

    —Mitch/Windhoek

  28. #28
    Mitch Alland
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Quote Originally Posted by gromitspapa View Post
    I can't say I'm up to speed on it, but there's an 11 minute video under "Focus" on the Digitutor that's helpful:
    http://www.nikondigitutor.com/eng/d300/index.shtml
    Sorry for all the mis-spelling in the previous post. Anyone who gets this camera should look at the above video on focus because it will help you to understand the choices you have and when to use particular AF settings in various circumstances.

    —Mitch/Tsumeb, Namibia
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

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    Senior Member Robert Campbell's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Quote Originally Posted by Mitch Alland View Post
    Can't agree with you at all, Bertie. The D300 autofocus system is brilliant and technically dazzling in what if can do, for example, with "follow focus". Basically, the various AF modes are designed for various types of situations, including whether, when the subject is people, there are many or a few people to focus on and whether they move or not, that is, whether the autofocus target is broad or narrow, and whether it should be followed or not. You cannot expect such a sophisticated and well-articulated AF system — which indeed is dazzling in its capaility — to be capable to be used by the photographer without a learning effort when he first takes the camera out of the box.

    —Mitch/Windhoek
    Mitch,
    I think we will have to agree to disagree; I quite accept that the D300 can do all of these things, and do them amazingly well. But I have difficulty with the idea that you have to carry a phone book sized manual around to work out how to do it - that is, I feel that some things have got too complicated for their own good - too clever by half - and by the time you have read the manual the decisive moment has passed.

    I suppose I must be a reactionary old Luddite; so be it.
    Sláinte

    Robert.

  30. #30
    Mitch Alland
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Bertie, but that is the point: once you've figured out how things work, on the AF, for example, you don't need to carry the manual because, once you understand it, it's quite logical and well-designed.

    —Mitch/Tsumeb, Namibia
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Luddite at the time, when i was shooting 4x5 outdoors, i was carrying around a lot more than a weenie little nikon manual and the decisive moment had always to be happy to wait while i set up, head under cloth, focusing with a loupe on the ground glass, taking spot meter readings, you know the drill. A different form of complexity.

    back in '92, ken hanson convinced me to trade in my Minolta CL and try one of those new fangled autofucus zooming SLR nikons (i think it was a D90?); that I took for a six week trek in Nepal. could not have had a better camera, even the batteries hung in there and it shot well at 21,000 feet. oh, i brought the manual
    Last edited by jlm; 27th March 2008 at 04:14.

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    Administrator, Instructor Guy Mancuso's Avatar
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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Honestly I have yet to read the manual and actually not even opened it. I did read the quick guide though 33 pages and enough for me. I do need to look up about 3 things though. But I have a lot of experience with DSLR's so maybe I don't count as much.
    Photography is all about experimentation and without it you will never learn art.

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    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Mitch,

    For shooting fast moving game, I was going to give you some suggestions on the your lens and camera settings.

    Turn your lens VR (70-200) on and set it to the restricted distance not full. It will focus faster at distance.

    I shoot on CH, the high frame rate. Shoot in 12 bit on the D300, not 14 bit. The D300 cuts its speed in half at 14 bit. That is in the shooting menu, under NEF recording.

    Leave Active D-Lighting off.

    I set AF-C Priority to focus, so the camera won't fire until focus is achieved. The same for AF-S.

    Dynamic AF area at 21 points. The focus point which you set, plus the surrounding 20 points will be used to keep track of the subject. You must keep the subject in that area of the frame and focus first.

    I leave focus tracking with lock-on at normal. This relates to the amount of time an object can pass in front of your subject prior to the camera switching focus distance. (example a bush or branch)

    AF Point selection at 51, so you can refine more where you want the subject in the frame.

    AF-On button is only AF-On. I use this button to start the AF system when initially framing and selecting my point of focus with the selector.

    Shutter-release button AE-L is on. Allows a continued half press of the shutter to lock exposure.

    AE-L/AF-L button is AE lock (Reset on release) - This allows you lock the exposure with this button and not have the half shutter press change your exposure. This works well when you want to lock exposure on continuous focus mode and then the shutter button only focuses and fires the shot. Once the shot is taken, the exposure lock is gone.

    So now for the shot.

    Set focus mode to "C" and type to the dynamic area auto focus. The middle setting of the control switch.

    Use the AE-L button if you would like to like the exposure prior. Your choice.

    Set your camera mode to A, S, P, or M however you want along with the appropriate ISO, aperture, shutter as needed for the mode.

    Move your focus point where you want to compose your subject in frame.

    Compose your shot. Press the AF-on button or give a half shutter press to start focusing on your subject.

    Keep your subject as close to the lit focus point as you can, panning the camera as needed.

    Press the shutter to get the shot.

    I normally also shoot with a 5.6 or 8.0 aperture on a fast moving subject to keep my DOF covering everything as it moves within the 21 points that we have already selected.

    Fairly simple, but I hope that helps on understanding the focus system a little.

    Best,

    Ray

  34. #34
    Mitch Alland
    Guest

    Re: Learning to use the D300 autofocus system

    Thanks, I already read this and commented in the other thread.

    —Mitch/Tsumeb, Namibia
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/[email protected]/

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