Nikon D6 Autofocus
Most powerful AF in Nikon’s History
Continuing from the strong Nikon legacy in DSLR’s autofocus capability, they developed a brand new sensor of Multi-Cam 37K autofocus module which outperformed the previous D5. The new sensor now consisted of 105 selectable cross-type focus points which are 1.6x higher-density AF coverage. A lot of people questioned why there was a drop in the number of focus points from D5? Although the D5 was equipped with 153 points and 99 cross-type sensor but the D6 has spread the tracking detection into 105 all cross-type points which make it denser in overall.
Nikon has also improved the low light/low contrast focusing by 0.5stops to -4.5EV in the centre focus point from previously -4EV.
17 customisable Group focus area
With the new enhancement of 17 customisable group focus area now, photographers could easily set the area configuration to their needs of the event or sports. In D5 group area, there were only HL and VL option to choose from. I really love the flexibility on how the D6 Group AF area have different combination that I can configure to my preference for different shooting condition.
In order to activate the new group AF area, there are 2 memory setting – C1 and C2 to preset the grouping to your preference.
For these sequence shots, I shot 12 images continuously of the airplane flew past the roof of the building opposite my house window. With the expansion of the focus area, it is much easier to track fast and erratic movement subject within the focus point to efficiently lock focus to the subject than the original diamond shape focus area.
For the shots, I handheld the D6 with Nikon 180-400mm FL lens which weighs around 4.7kg and leaning my body slightly outside my window. As you can see towards the end of the shot, my camera did shake a little bit and the plane was just around the edge of the focus area. The amazing thing was the AF system still continue to lock focus to the plane even when the plane was off the edge of the focus area by a little bit as well.
I have cropped one of the shot to show the amount details that the camera had captured and the accuracy of the customised group focus.
Challenging the group focus AI
One of the stuff I was really curious about was how smart the algorithm of the new group focus could be. I decided to put the D6 to test outside the car to do some panning shots with autofocus on. If you have setup remote camera before, the golden rule is always to set the focus to pre-focus at a certain distance and switch to manual focus mode. In order to test the algorithm of the camera looking for subject, I broke the golden rule and set to one of the customised group focus setting with autofocus on.
This was a very interesting test for me as it’s the first time I setup remote camera with autofocus on. The D6 did pretty well in tracking the car in both frontal and side view.
In this setup, my camera was mounted on the plastic panel of the car and connected to a wireless shutter transmitter for me to focus and trigger off the shutter. I did not know what the camera was capturing during the shoot until I stopped my car at the end of the route to check the series captured. The camera AI capability really amazed me as the AF track the car quite well even though the car was always traveling in various distance of 5-20m away from the camera.
3D tracking is one of my favourite focus mode for subject with erratic movement which is challenging to track. If using dynamic area AF-C such as 9-point will be very difficult to keep up with the subject movement especially shooting tight with long telephoto lens.
Shooting birds have never been my favourite thing to do but the 3D tracking make it so much easier on the tracking. This was captured with the same setup of D6 and 180-400mm, often it was very difficult to track fast moving birds using dynamic area even with a 153-point on the pervious D5.
The 3D tracking makes tracking so flawlessly with it’s AI capability to predict and track subject movement. The photos were a compilation within 2 seconds, my thumb held on to the AF-on button while admiring to the auto focus doing its work and snapped 7shots in that duration.
One big improvement in D6 3D tracking is that there are more focus points engaged when autofocus is tracking the subject. Previously in D5 3D tracking mode, there was only one focus point activated when tracking. Now in D6, it’s like an art as I watched the AF doing its work in the viewfinder with multiple points engaged across the frame.
What I’m amazing isn’t just about the camera tracking the bird and freezing the action. One common issue with 3D tracking is it’s algorithm to forecast the position of the subject when the image is captured. Although the camera might have maintain its focus sometimes its not 100% tack sharp in the previous D5. I was amazed in the D6 3D tracking reliability that all my shots in that sequence were tack sharp right in the eye of the bird.
Overall I was really happy with the improvement from the new D6, I would rate it as 15-20% improvement in tracking reliability from the D5. Unfortunately during the period of my hand-on experience, all sports activities were suspended in Singapore and I hadn’t have the chance to try on sport actions due to Covid-19 virus. I’ll definitely test the camera again and add on to my review on the autofocus for Sports activities when situation get better here.