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Updated 08/10/12 Nikon D800 Left Focus point issues–Much ado about nothing? some more thoughts

Due to several readers comments I have added some updates to the bottom of this post.  Depending your shooting style this may be more serious than it is to me.

Since the Nikon D800 and D800E have been announced, one issue that seems to come up over and over is the Left Focus Point on some cameras is not accurate.  The amount of variance seems to vary from a huge amount of difference to just a bit off.  This difference seems to be most often compared to using the center focus point.  The auto focus system on the Nikon D800 is the same that is in the D4, yet it only seems that people using the D800 or D800E have problems.

I have used a D800 now for about 2 months. I was aware of the issue regarding the Left focus point but went ahead and purchased the camera.  I would have been much more concerned if the problem was coming from the center focus points as I tend to use them much more often then the left points or right points.  In fact I can rarely think of a time in my 30 years of landscape shooting where I found that I needed to have the left focus point utilized instead of the center.  I am sure if was working on a very selective scene or a portrait shooter who was working on a off center subject, the left focus point my be important.  However I still don’t see the reason for people to be trying to test it, post pictures of it, write up complaints about it, or feel that for some reason that they were wronged by Nikon.

With my D800, I feel that the center focus point is very accurate enough so that I rarely go back and check focus on the LCD unless I am working a smaller subject like a bird or wildflower.  For landscape wide-angle shooting I am very comfortable with just using the center focus point and then setting up the shot.

There are a few things that people may not be considering before they get upset with the fact that their left focus point is off.

      1. For a lot of my work, still or moving I will use the “auto” AF mode, not the single.  I have found that over time the auto AF setting brings more total focus points in to play and seems to give a more accurate focus.  Note, that when shooting a smaller subject in DX mode, i.e. a bird or animal I will drop back to the center focus point only and take the “auto” setting off.
      2. With a 35mm full frame camera when shooting a landscape there really is not that much difference in subject matter from the center focus point to the left or right.  There is a lot of empty space in the viewfinder that is not covered by any focus point.   So when shooting a traditional landscape at say F8 or F11 where I am working with a hyper focal distance of infinity at 400 feet to 10 feet, the center focus point is a better tool to use.  At this focal range, if you have the center in focus then surely your left and right will also be in focus, or your lens is out of calibration.
      3. If you feel your left focus point is not accurate, and you are concerned that the left side of your composition needs to be in critical focus, then simply move the camera over to the left, place the center focus point on that part of of the image, get your focus and then turn the lens off of AF or use AF lock.  I feel this is actually faster then taking the time to move the active focus point all the way to the left, with the command dial.

I feel that right now Nikon is not saying much either way on this issue.  What’s even more interesting is that many people have reported that after sending in their cameras to a U.S. Nikon repair center, that Nikon is coming back with a request for a payment to fix the issue.  This surprises me since any D800 or D800E out there would still be under full warranty.  I am not aware of any vendor selling a D800 class camera as a “grey” market unit, i.e. one that is imported and not available for a U.S. 1 year warranty.  Nikon may run into more problems with this than the actual focus problems.
There have been a few reports as to how this issue is fixed.  One person was able to get an actual picture of the process and what he reported showed a pretty non-technical process.   This was originally posted on nikonrumors.com. and here is a link to the post.  This posting offers both a good description of the problem and how Nikon is attempting to repair it.  The process definitely involves a total recalibration of the AF system and could possible cause the camera to get the left point fixed and then cause the center or right point to lose accuracy.
I don’t know how others feel, but for me it’s simple.  I have a working D800 that has what feel to be an extremely accurate center focus point.  When I am in single AF mode, I use the center AF point about 98% of the time.  End of story.  I would rather have a 98% working solution than sending it off to Nikon only to get it back working in worse condition that when I sent it off.  Trust me, the calibration of the AF system on these new cameras is not a simple issue and is more than likely all contained on a e-prom chip inside the camera.  Until Nikon admits to the issue and then issues a formal fix for their U.S. service centers which has not happened as of yet, I am going to keep my D800 here.
Instead of worrying about a possibility of getting an error 2% of the time or less, I am going to focus on the amazing dynamic range of the the sensor in the D800 and spend my time learning how to best utilize it.  I was amazed enough with the early reviews to let over 15 years of Canon equipment go and I am not looking back.
09/17/12 Update:
After reading one reader’s comment, I have changed my position a bit.  If you are an action shooter, I can totally agree that this is big issue.  If you you are using AI servo mode and your action or subject moves over to the left focus points, then this issue could most determinately cause you to loose sharp focus.  So for a action shooter who is not able to use Live view or just the center point, you need to make sure you check out your camera.  For this you can visit Thom Hogan’s website for starters as he has posted a test that you can use to see if your left side focus points are off.

Thanks
Paul

Comments

  1. I agree with you’re technique of using the center focus point, however for events and sport photography focus tracking becomes an essential technique. When a faulty D800 tracks to the left side all accuracy is lost.

    Tooma

  2. If you’re an action shooter you probably won’t buy the d800 to begin with. the FPS aren’t terrible but def not ideal for action.
    I’m with you though I shoot static objects and 9/10 i use the center af

  3. Bengt Nyman says:

    Dear Paul,
    I question why you bother to write about this complex issue when you clearly neither understand it nor care about it.

    I quote You below and comment afterwards:
    1. “However I still don’t see the reason for people to be trying to test it, post pictures of it, write up complaints about it, or feel that for some reason that they were wronged by Nikon.”

    We are talking about a product defect which might seem minor in landscape photography but which can make you loose many shots, and assignments, in sports and racing photography.

    On the next subject I quote You again:
    2. “If you feel your left focus point is not accurate, and you are concerned that the left side of your composition needs to be in critical focus, then simply move the camera over to the left, place the center focus point on that part of of the image, get your focus and then turn the lens off of AF or use AF lock.”

    Here you are optically and technically completely wrong. With a short to medium focal length lens the distance between the camera and the left edge of the scene is substantially longer than between the camera and the center of the scene. Your technique is guaranteed to pull the entire scene out of focus, including the left side. Hasselblad has invented something they call True Focus to help people avoid the mistake that you are recommending.
    Sketch up a top view of this scenario on a piece of paper and think it through and you will see what I mean.

    With serious but well meant greetings.
    Bengt Nyman

    • Good points, I looked at the issue only from the point of a 14-24, and other wide angle lenses at infinity. where the left point or center point at a middle aperture range should not make a big difference. However with a medium telephoto to large telephoto lens, I can see definitely where the issue could get much more critical. If you are using the left point for critical focus.

      Actually my point 2 works fine again looking at it from a wide angle/landscape shooting point of view where the camera should be at infinity anyway. Here the center point and left point should be capturing the same information on focus. Agreed not true if using a medium telephoto or larger lens.

      As for as for wide angle shots, using infinity and hyperfocal, from my testing if I have good focus with the center point then the scene should all be in focus as long as I am using F5.6 to F9.

      I wrote the post from my usage, as even with a telephoto 400mm or 500mm I am almost always using the center focal point. I just don’t compose my work with the left or right focus points. As another reader pointed out, the left focus point issue can cause extreme problems with AI servo mode and focus tracking as when the action in the shot moves over to the left side (on a camera with the problem) then your shots can be ruined.

      I fully agree in sports/racing photography, this is a huge issue and I would be on the other side of the coin. However I also feel that the D800 is not the best fit for that type of shooting anyway, with a slow continuous frame rate.

      Considering that Nikon has yet to even formally admit to a problem (as far as I know of) I would still be concerned to send the camera back for repair as it seems that depending on location and country Nikon handles the issue totally differently.

      I agree that the True Focus solution is good one and had hoped that Phase One/Mamiya would announce something similar instead of the DF+ body.

      Sincerely
      Paul

  4. Bengt Nyman says:

    Hi Paul,
    I agree that the D800 is nobody’s first choice for action photography. Unfortunately I have heard rumblings that some D4 may exhibit the same problem. I wish Nikon would came out in the open about this. I know several pros who have cancelled their D800E orders indefinitely due to the D800 focusing worry.
    By the way, the D800(D4) left focus problem is of course the worst with wide open, wide angel lenses shooting at close distances. The problem obviously becomes less of an issue with greater focal depth such as with small apertures, narrow angle telephoto lenses and long subject distances.

  5. Hi there.

    Question regarding this left point focusing problem. Did Nikon solve the problem at the production level or is this annoyance still observed in the cameras delivered this fall?

    • Hello:

      As far as I know, Nikon has never admitted to the issue. There has been a ton written about it on Lloyd Chambers and Thom Hogan’s nikon site. Thom even has a test for users.
      Nikon has fixed a few cameras in my area that I am aware of, but they still have not issued any recall. It’s also interesting that now some D4 users are reporting this also.
      The D4 and D800 share the same AF system, so I wondered when it show up. I am also not sure if Nikon did anything at the plant, i.e implement some fix there, to stop the issue.
      On the few websites I have looked at where users have shown the process of the fix and recalibration, it’s something that can seemingly be hit or miss.

      Right now, the only thing to do is get one and then test it.

      I have found that for landscape work, I am now mainly using Live View anyway. The degree of critical focus on the D800 is very narrow.

      Sincerely
      Paul

      • Hi Paul,

        I can assure you that here (Montreal area) Nikon techs has instructed at least my dealer that there was a special repair routine in Toronto and Montreal to readjust the focus problem on the left focus points. I don’t think Nikon would put up special setup to make these readjustments.
        After that, if Nikon says there is no problem, I afraid I will have to send my second d800e scheduled to be purchased next week back to their repair shop. Somehow, I assume Nikon would get their act strait knowing this…I hope…

        • Hello JD

          I missed your response until today.
          What I have found, is that Nikon has still not made any formal listing of the problem, i.e. serial numbers of camera affected. It’s being handled on a camera by camera basis as people discover the issue. I was in my local dealers shop last week and they were handling several of these for customers and they were not getting very far with it. It seems that there are still issues where a charge for the repair is being asked for, which surprised me.

          I do hope your cameras get repaired. Obviously depending on your shooting style the issue can be very important to be repaired.

          Sincerely
          Paul

      • I’d have to agree with a couple of the other comments that you seem to be a bit misinformed on the issue of the D800 left focus problem. As a result, you’re also misleading your readers.

        While it did take Nikon a while to acknowledge the problem, it now has. It has for a while, actually – since late July. It has provided repair instructions to its service centres that are capable of fixing the problem (others have to go back to Nikon).

        Nikon has also confirmed that the problem has been fixed in production.

        While the problem may not exist for you due to the way you shoot, or perhaps that your camera doesn’t have the problem, dismissing it as a problem simply because it doesn’t affect you is a pretty poor approach.

        • Bob:

          I pretty much understand the issue, and I believe I amended my first post to that effect. As for Nikon admitting to it, I have yet to receive any notification from
          Nikon or has my local dealer in Arkansas. I was in their store just last week and they were dealing with Nikon on 2 separate D800’s and 1 D4 with this problem. They were still having some confusion with the service repair center and just who would have to pay for the repair even though all the cameras were under warranty. The dealer was Bedford camera, and they have a good position with Nikon in this geo.

          If I missed a formal announcement from Nikon on this issue, then I do stand corrected, however I have not found anything on their site or Nikonrumors or other Nikon related sites with a formal announcement, unlike the way Canon handles issues like this.

          Sorry you disagree with my approach, however thanks for sharing your opinion on the matter.

          Sincerely
          Paul

  6. Dennis Maisel says:

    After reading the posts here, at Amazon and all over the internet I’m seriously thinking of making a move to Canon cameras. First of all it appears Nikon has this sorry attitude problem regarding their customers. Slow service and even making things worse once the camera is sent to them. This is after people lay out big bucks for their problematic products. It is now 2013 and I’m still really not sure that Nikon has fixed the problem. Secondly, if I do buy a D800 will I get one of the defected ones that were left in the distribution cycle.

    I looked at the D600 and that seems to have a problem with oil on the sensor. Nikon use to be the top banana in photography. They need to get their heads out of you know where and start concentrating on their reputation.

    • Hello Dennis:

      I agree the D600 is an issue with the dust. I am assuming that Nikon has a oil issue on the shutter, similar to what happened with the 1ds MKII’s. I had 2 of them and both were very problematic in the corners. The D600 appealed to me mainly for the price point as a back up body. However since I still own both Canon and Nikon lenses, I am now looking at the Canon 6D mainly for it’s higher iso performance. The D600 and D800 both seem to have about the same iso performance once past iso 800. Amazing range in the iso 100 to 800 settings, but a bit of noise once past this. I was on a shoot with a 6D about a week ago and the results were very impressive. The body is not that impressive coming from a 5D MKII, but it’s what’s there and I don’t need the 5D MKIII.

      Nikon will get the D600 issue fixed, but I would rather wait until they do and not have them tearing apart a body to fix a shutter issue.

      Thanks for reading
      Paul Caldwell