Nikon D4 Autofocus Test

He's coming right for us! (click to enlarge)

Here’s a quick AF test with the Nikon D4. This is a continuous 39-shot burst at 10fps using the 70-200mm f/2.8 AFS G VRII zoom Nikkor. Out of 39 shots, only two seemed too soft to really use. That’s good enough for me!

See the full image sequence here

Test conditions:

  • Servo Mode: AF-C (continuous)
  • Area Mode: 9-point dynamic
  • Tracking (Custom a4): Normal (3)
  • Exposure mode: Manual 1/1000s @f/4.0
  • ISO: Auto
  • VR: On (normal)

22 thoughts on “Nikon D4 Autofocus Test”

  1. Can you do me a favor? Take the D4, a SB9x0, and go inside.. shoot your son jumping off a couch using 1/250s @f/4.0. Try it with both AF-S and AF-C. Could you compare the results for me? Shoot him from the side jumping (so that he remains mostly in the same focal plane). On AF-S on my D4, I get perfect pictures.. on AF-C, the pictures are blurry

  2. Yes but.. If the 1/250s really was the issue, then switching from AF-C to AF-S should have no effect. Yet, it has a dramatic effect on my D4.

  3. Well, it all boils down to the A3 custom setting. Switching this back to “normal” (3 verses 1) seems to have dramatically improved the AF-C behavior. A setting of 1 seems to cause it to never stop hunting for the perfect focus

  4. I would have to disagree that 1/250th is too slow to freeze motion. Sure it’s too slow to freeze a bullet exiting a gun, but I have no issues freezing motorcycles moving 200kph with 1/250th and a little panning. Freezing a boy running should be no challenge.

    Also, using a flash, it is no longer the shutter speed that is doing the freezing, but the flash, and depending on flash power is easily in the several thousandths of a second (faster as speedlight power drops), more than enough to freeze a boy running towards you. I have frozen professional dancers mid-twirls at shutter speeds of 1/60th in dark reception halls thanks to flash.

    To be able to tell if it is the motion blur or if the camera is missing focus is relatively easy… If it is motion blur, then just the thing moving is blurred. If it is a focus issue, then whatever the focus point is set on is consistently out of focus, irrespective of if the subject is moving a little or a lot. A running kid is not a lot of motion!

    There are a few people that are saying that their D4 cannot focus with AF-C, but everyone that I ask to do specific tests, and do them as I ask, are not able to replicate the issue, so for me it is a mystery.

    I would love to try myself, unfortunately, I am still waiting on my D4 to arrive.

  5. Jerry-

    1/250s is the minimum needed to freeze action, and it really depends on how fast the angular movement is not how fast the subject is. For example, if I use a long telephoto to shoot a car going 120mph from 100 yards away, I’ll freeze the action. But I probably won’t freeze the wheel movement. Likewise, if that car is going 200kph directly across my frame from 10m away, 1/250s isn’t going to freeze it.

    The rules about freezing motion also depend on print size. The 1/250s rule of thumb is fine for small prints. I’m talking about evaluating digital files closely… not because that’s how I use them, but because cropping etc will reveal slight motion blur.

    I don’t think the D4 has any problem focusing in AF-C mode. At all. In fact, it’s the best Nikon AF system I’ve used to date.

  6. Hi Jason, while I believe you when you say that your camera has no issues with AF-C, I am working with another person who seems to be having dramatic issues. With AF-S, it will not take the shot until focus is achieved and with AF-C, no matter what the a1, a2 and a3 settings are, it always gets the shot before even close focus are achieved.

    In terms of freezing motion, in the context of this discussion, would you not agree that Josh Seigel’s results should be the same in either AF-C or AF-S? In his case, it seems to be an issue to even get that initial lock-in, much les be able to continuously get and retain focus lock on a moving object. I currently use a pair of D700’s and in AF-S, I can press the shutter as many times as I wish, and it will not fire until the camera locks in on the subject. This is something that some D4 owners are not able to do… but should be able to.

  7. Hi guys had the D4 the day they got released mid March ( got lucky, so I thought)from my experience yes the D 4 s has got a problem with the focus , and as far as I aware Nikon are getting more and unhappy photogs wanting answers on this ,Yes don’t get me wrong the D4 is a fantastic unit quality overall is good and as a pro for getting onto 34 years i will sticky it just now , but Nikon needs to act fast to sort this problem , I remember many many moons ago They had a similar issue with the D2, ,, we need the big boys /girls at Nikon to sort soon , cannon are right on their heals just now ,,,,

  8. Steve-
    Let me be perfectly clear: My D4 has absolutely no AF problem. Any soft shots I have can be explained by technique, conditions, or both. You bring up the D2. It’s focus “problem” was not a defect, per se, but instead a poor design; the AF sensors were too large and tended to miss-focus because they overlapped subjects at different distances. This issue was resolved with the release of the CAM3500 modules now shipping on the top-end Nikon DSLR bodies.

    While it is certainly possible that your camera is having issues, it’s a bit premature to extrapolate from this single datum that the D4 has an inherent problem. In fact, from my single data point, I’d say it is the best AF system in a Nikon to date.

  9. Jerry-

    If that individual is having a problem with their camera that can be confirmed via a repeatable testing methodology, then have them send the unit to Nikon for repair. Problem solved.

  10. Jason…allow me to be perfectly clear this time.
    Both my D4 and D800E HAVE severe focusing issues, regardless of your D4.

    I’m talking about cameras mounted on a tripod, a fixed subject (not a human that imagines that he/she can sit still), both manual and automatic exposure , f stops ranging from f/1.4 to f/8, and inconsistent focus results regardless of the lens used.

    For more information please visit :

    …or the other countless google search results on this particular issue.

    I & many other people have hundreds of images that, when viewed in ViewNX2, show perfectly clear that the acquired focus point (using the aforementioned “methodology”) is …. out of focus (especially when using other then the center focus point).

    I have no knowledge of any Nikon representative that will acknowledge such an issue on any of the Advanced MultiCam 3500FX-based focusing system cameras and thus …
    Problem NOT solved.

    Oh and..yeah, my D4 can track the eyes of a kid running in 40 consecutive shots (in AF-C) with spot-on perfect focus but is unable to have coherent focus accuracy in 5 consecutive shots of … the same kid’s eyes sitting on a chair (and myself NOT running).

  11. Then send the cameras back to Nikon for repair. To my knowledge, no amount of forum posting ever fixed a camera.

    All I can say is that my D4 does not have any focus problems that I cannot attribute to user error or poor conditions (low-contrast moving targets).

  12. Hi Jason,

    Great posts. I have a few pro shooters who have moved up from D700’s and D3S’s to D800’s and D4’s. They all say the exact same thing: “these are not your fathers cameras. there are slight learning curves in play here.” Basically they were saying that if you approach these cameras as your previous ones, you might have some problems initially. Your views…

  13. I think each component system of a modern camera has a learning curve. The technology, combined with the ability to review images at extremely high magnification on-screen has led to a certain level of nit-pickyness amongst many users. Of course, that’s not entirely bad– a 12MP camera, when used correctly, can deliver results that blow away any of my 35mm slides.

    The problem, in my opinion, comes from people who know how to zoom in to 100% on their images, but don’t know how to understand the limitations of the system before they complain about it. Autofocus isn’t perfect. Those imperfections were not (usually) noticeable when shooting film. Small errors are magnified with the D800… if you are examining the images with the intent of making 20×30″ prints. So I think you have to have a grasp of “what’s acceptable” based on your intent.

    Unlike many recent Nikons, the D800 seems to have been adopted by a very large crowd… probably due to the relatively low price-point for a 36MP beast. You didn’t hear much about the D3x, but at $8000, this camera was priced well out of the range of most casual users. Not only are “enthusiasts” jumping on the D800 bandwagon, but so are many people who have limited experience with DSLRs, in general (or so it would seem). It’s become the “must-have” DSLR these days.

    I lead many photo safaris, and I have come across two distinct types of users. There are the photographers, like me, who have slowly upgraded their gear over time. Each time a new camera comes out, the “learning curve” is simply the minor differences between models. I have also seen a fair number of rank amateurs who go out and buy a D3 or D800 as a step up from a point and shoot film camera. These people get completely overwhelmed.

  14. Jason,

    You have made a believer out of me. My camera history is rather brief. A Nikon F3 back in the 80’s. Didn’t know how to use it so it sat until I sold it. Went to Kuwait and bought a Nikon D50 which I kept for about 3 months and jumped to the D80. From there to the D300, then D300S. During this period I realised that I like to shoot in low light or natural light so I went for a D3S. I kept this for about a year and a half until the D4 dropped. This camera is by far the best camera I have ever used, and it has a learning curve. To get the best out of it, I had to play with it, read about it, until I became comfortable. I find that in many cases there are people who have problems that are factory defects and then there are people who simply need to complain to find justification in their lives. I tend to just shoot..

  15. Dear Jason,

    I have a D800E but I believes this applies to the D4 as well.

    I set my camera up to model my D700 when it comes to AF-S where AF-S priority selection (a2) is set to “focus.” I do this so that the camera will not take out of focus images after the shutter release is depressed half way. By doing so, I can tell if an image will be in focus, since the camera will not allow me to take a picture when the subject goes out of focus after locking has occurred (assuming shutter speed is set to freeze the scene properly).

    If I set up my D800E this way according to the manual instructions it should work the same way as the D700…”This option [a2] controls whether photographs can be taken only when the camera is in focus…” However, it is not behaving this way.

    Amazingly, the D800/E manual states that when using manual focus, the image can be out of focus and the shutter can still be released! Who wants to take out of focus pictures?

    Is there a way to set the D800E up so that after the shutter button is depressed half way and locks focus it will not release all the way and take a picture if the subject goes out of focus after lock has been achieved?

    Thank you!

  16. Nick-
    This is something that has me scratching my head. The D800 and D4 both allow you to release the shutter on an OOF subject even when you’re in “Focus Priority” mode.

  17. After 8 weeks photographing, daily, vultures in all kind of weather and light, I come to the conclusion, that my D4+500 mm f 4.0 VR II equipment, has an AF problem.
    I work this subject since six years … again and again … and have used almost every Nikon camera available to do it …
    After more than 50.000 images this autumn, I think that I can say … My equipment has a very thick AF-problem !
    Even after having picked up the subject, the AF does not stop one milli-second trying to adjust … and the result is that in every series of pictures, a lot of them are blurry !
    I am profoundly disappointed and will send the whole equipment to Nikon. I can not accept this lousy technical quality for such a price.
    My settings:
    AF C
    VR on, normal
    1/250 – 1/1250 sek – 1/8000 sek (for me, the speed is not the origin of the problem)
    F 4.0 – 8.0
    Lockup: I tried every setting … 5 seems to give the best results
    21 or 9 AF-points
    All images freehand
    What amazed me the most: even with f 5.6 or more the pictures were not sharper !!!

    AND: the D4 produces, to my eyes, a terrible amount of image noise even at ISO 100 !

    Best regards,

  18. Nikon D4 is pretty awesome buddy, i think you should use VR only if the shutter speed is lower then 1/500 not above.

  19. Hi I have a working history of 30 years in the photographic advertising industry.Two years ago I purchase a D800 and a D800E. On Nikon prime optics 85/1.4 50/1.4 24/1.4the results I find un aceptable at f4.0 ,f3.2,f2.0. When raw files are viewed at 100% they are extremely soft when using the AF single shot at a1/1000 on a tripod. When the same shots are done with live view they are fine.
    I am open to suggestions and thoughts.The issue I am facing is the camera bodies are inconsistant would I get more consistant focusing results with the D4s or the D4 or the D3x.

  20. Hi Michael-
    It sounds like you might need to calibrate your focus using the AF-Fine-tuning option. Live view focusing uses the sensor, so it should be the most accurate.
    I have found the D800 focus to be less likely to lock on with my fast primes as compared to the D4. I hear the D810 is better in this regard, but I don’t own one to test.

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