Update on Nikon D800 focusing issues

It seems that I’m going to have to redo all of my focus tracking and lens evaluation tests: my AF sensor module is misaligned. I’ve come to this conclusion after a) trying out a number of wide angle lenses, all of which exhibit a soft left side when the AF system or focus confirmation dot reports achieving focus; and b) sending it in to Nikon locally to diagnose. Curiously, the problem is only exhibited with wide angle lenses (telephotos are mostly fine), and live view confirms it’s an AF sensor issue not an imaging sensor issue.

The bad is that it’s serious enough to require a new camera because the calibration is a very high precision adjustment that takes time (and unclear if it can be done locally); the good news is that NPS Malaysia made the situation right: a couple of hours after reporting the problem, I met with a representative who informed me a new D800 will arrive next Wednesday, and I’ve been loaned a D3x until the replacement arrives – at which point it will just be swapped out. Kudos to NPS for handling the problem well though – that’s how professional service should work (though a new camera on the same day would be even better…)

Still, a bit of a shame, because I planned to use the D800 for its first commercial shoot this weekend – looks like I’ll only be using it for the stop-down telephoto shots. MT

Coda: It’s interesting just how sluggish the D3x feels when shooting in 14-bit raw mode – just 1.8fps, with what feels like a good 200ms or more of lag between hitting the button and the shutter firing. It’s very noticeable if you put the camera back into 12 bit mode, after which it feels responsive and snappy like it should. Even the menus feel a little laggy, like the camera’s processor is working very hard. The D800, by comparison, runs happily along at 5fps in 14-bit mode – 3x the frame rate with files that are 50% larger, for a total of 450% more data. You don’t feel any lag, and zoomed in images – even 14 bit raw – are very fast to navigate around. Faster than the D700, even. I don’t know how many other people have noticed this, but it’s pretty darn impressive, in my opinion.

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Comments

  1. I picked up my D800 in June. And I too have the left focus issue. Not only that, but on EVERY focusing point when using single point auto focus the camera focuses much sharper and clearer when I use Live view in either Auto focus, or manual focus than using auto focus through the viewfinder. Extremely annoying to say the least. In a couple of weeks I’m driving it up to the Nikon HQ in Melville NY to drop it off (and hopefully pick it up at the end of the day) to see if they can fix this.

    • Live view being better than AF is normal because you’re focusing on the sensor itself. The AF system doesn’t take into account any misalignments in planarity between the sensor array and the imaging sensor. I’m starting to wonder if it may be the sensor itself that might be slightly out of plane instead of the AF array…

  2. i have had a similar problem with wide angle photos not being sharp, but if i focus with live view all the shots are pin sharp,
    i asume it is the same focus problem as yours,and i am waiting for an exchange camera
    great website

  3. My copy has the same issue as you described: left AF point is not sharp, actually it looks like completely out of focus, while the center and right AF points are much sharper (with AF fine tune on the center AF point -11). The situation is very obvious with 24mm at f1.4, but still visible with smaller aperture. My local service center thinks that it is tolerance issue such that my 24mm does not match with the camera or vice versa… however, all of my lenses require AF fine tune at about -10 but +10 for my macro…

    • Do you have the same left-side softness issue with longer focal length lenses? I wonder if there’s a bad batch of cameras out there – what’s your serial number? Mine is #234.

      • I cannot say that it is not there with my longer lens (70-200); but the difference between left and right AF points is not obvious, or the difference is acceptable. My D800’s serial number is 10xx; also located in SE Asia. I tried the demo 24 1.4 with the demo D800 in the Nikon Service Center. This combo don’t have the issue; however, it is not as sharp as mine (with the center AF point). I also tried the demo 24 on my D800 (without AF fine tune); it is sharper with the left AF point, but I can still see the issue. Compare to my 24, it is quite soft with the center AF point. I guess the AF fine tune may amplify the issue. It is very difficult to compare different combinations in the service center as the condition is not well controlled (the SC is suprisingly dark) and the resolution of the LCD screen of the camera is not high enough. Well, it may need some luck to match the lens and body. Unfortunately, I am not NPS member and don’t have the same treatment as you do, although the tech in the SC is very patient in testing it with me.

        • Sounds to me like we’re having the same issue. I’d seriously have them look at the alignment of your AF module. I’m starting to think they a) don’t use wides to calibrate the AF modules and b) they kept the same setup for some time before anybody noticed something was out of whack. AF fine tune affects all focusing points equally – however it will make the difference between good and bad more obvious (assuming that your lens is sharp somewhere in the frame). I’ve just been informed that Nikon are doing their annual warehouse stock take, and my replacement camera may not even come this week – not good, as I’ve got a shoot scheduled this weekend…

  4. Well, I have always had the bad luck of picking up ”lemon” when I purchase electronic goods, thus all three DSLRs I owned have focus issue that needed either calibration or fine tuning. It really makes me wonder are there actually any DSLR body that is perfectly calibrated for AF. I don’t think for non-NPS, Nikon will bother exchanging a new camera even if you bring it in on the same day you made the purchase. But honestly, I think they should extend such service for all customers especially those that bought a camera as expensive as a D800/D4. I’m planning to purchase a D800 but with a less forgiving sensor for AF error I’m worried I’m gonna stuck with another lemon again; and most of the time calibration doesn’t solved the problem but merely reducing it which is why I think an exchange should be mandatory as such defects should be deem unacceptable with the amount of money customers paid for it.

    • Ouch, sorry to hear that. In other countries outside southeast asia, there are consumer protection laws that require the vendor to exchange if faulty within a certain period – I’m pretty sure if I was in the US or UK I wouldn’t have a problem swapping it out. I didn’t even think about it here because a) you’re pretty much on your own once you’ve bought something and b) I was also pretty sure there weren’t enough cameras. I agree though, more care needs to be put into calibration and testing – although that would drive the price up, of course. I had one of the original D2H cameras that had both the black first frame (which Nikon denied was an issue until the international bulletin came out; I must have been one of the first to see it) and the wonky meter. Still, those things aside, it was a pretty awesome camera. Even though my D800 is defective, I used it for a studio shoot over the last couple of days – manual focus works fine – and have been really, really impressed by the image quality. So not all is lost.

  5. Ming – my D700 (firmware 1.02 and Enel4a battery in grip) has pretty responsive AF and snaps off ~7-8 FPS pretty rapidly; unsure about your comment regarding speed, as I’m usually only limited by the buffer of the camera when shooting, and the speed of the CF card when reviewing (I used either the Transcend 600x CF cards or Delkin 700x CF cards)….
    A shame regarding the D800 – your AF issues were actually why I cancelled my order, decided to get a D4 and wait for the D800 issues to be ironed out…

    • Agree – my D700 with the MBD10 and ENEL4a feels a little bit more snappy in low light, about the same in good light – but it’s precision, not speed, that’s the issue here. However, I’m now starting to suspect the issues may lie with my particular D800 body – Nikon today confirmed that my AF sensor was out of alignment, and I’ll be getting a replacement camera next week. Let’s see how the new one fares.

  6. My D7000 has been having issues like this. It seems to back focus notably under artificial light; far worse than daylight. My 200/2 VRI, which had a recent calibration from Nikon, is the worst. I can’t fine tune it into alignment either. Focus performance is better with the 70-200 VRII. I’ve been contemplating sending it in under warranty.

    • If your D7000 is doing it with all lenses, then it sounds like the camera itself is the issue – I’d send it in. They (or at least Malaysia does) should have a jig that can quickly determine if things are out of alignment or not.

  7. it will be interesting to see, how manufacturers deal with increased demands on precision in low-end gear, when it gets high-res sensors.

    • Yes – especially if those D3200 rumors (24MP DX) are true. However, I think they’re probably safe because most low end gear users use lenses with slow enough apertures to let DOF cover for any focusing errors. The future of AF probably lies in a combination hybrid phase detect and contrast detect system – I think Nikon was on to something with the sensor in the 1. Couple that with an old-fashioned (!) pellicle mirror, and voila, you’ve got your monster AF system driven off the main sensor, live view, optical finder, high frame rates, video…even an optical finder for video, which would be pretty interesting.

  8. That’s a pretty interesting observation about the D800. I’ve had to fine tune the AF on my 50mm f1.4 by 2 or 3 steps but he 14-24mm is -20. The left side is a little soft too. I’ll send it in to be looked at in a month or two when there will be loan stock available.
    Thanks for posting, I thought I was going mad!

    • I think the alignment was probably okay for the D700’s required level of tolerance – and the D800 focuses fine with lenses where there’s more difference between in focus and out of focus, i.e. telephotos – but the increase in resolution requires a lot more alignment precision of the focus module for accurate focusing of wides.

    • Interestingly enough my 14-24mm is about -20 as well. I was looking into having the lens calibration checked. My 50mm seems to be fine. What is the best way to check the module?

      • Nikon hooked up my camera to an optical rig and computer of some sort. However, if your module is out of alignment then you’ll find it sharp on one side and not on the other – with all lenses of similar focal length. Longer lenses tend to have much sharper DOF transition profiles, so it’s easier for the camera to determine if the image is in focus or not (even if the module is misaligned). It’s with shallow-transition lenses – wide angles specifically – that the issues occur.

  9. That’s a pity, but 1st class service.
    I do not believe anybody here in DE can treat customer like that
    (without good personal/financial relation in background).
    I hope the new one will be o.k.

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