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Update on Nikon 35mm f/1.4G and Nikon D3x autofocus

I rented a Nikon D3x from LensRentals.com to cross-check my results with the Nikon D3x and Nikon D3s, both of which showed unacceptable autofocus error with the Nikon 35mm f/1.4G. I am still analyzing the results, and will report on them in detail, and after I cross-check once more with some more examples. But see one example below.

I have reports from a few pros that their 35/1.4G is working perfectly, to their great satisfaction. That’s all good, but since behavior can be inconsistent, one has to be careful, since satisfactory performance on a few scenes (very different from what I’ve been shooting) is not proof of no problem. Satisfactory performance on many images is wonderful magic, since that’s been impossible with my gear. On the other hand, poor performance on numerous scenes proves beyond any doubt there is a problem at least with consistency, and at least with the particular equipment used. Particular combinations might work well, but as yet, this dog don’t hunt.

I want to be clear that I’m not concerned with occasional errors; that’s normal. What I’m concerned about with my D3x and my 35/1.4G is a fractional hit rate, which so far has precluded my usual field-shots-handheld approach, since examples would mostly be blurred, not showing the excellent optical potential.

The rental D3x might be a little better than my D3x (very tentative), but it’s still capable of inconsistent and lousy results in repeated tripod-bound trials. So for those who think AF Fine Focus Adjust is a panacea, think again— all focus adjust can do is to reduce the average error by centering focus within a slop zone; it cannot make things consistent and perfect. Focus adjust is on my list to try, but so far I’ve found that values from +2 to +12 have worked well on specific subjects, showing that no single value works for every scene. Not with my D3x.

Anyway, shown below is the worst of 5 frames taken with the rental D3x. The others varied from almost perfect to sort of OK to this worst one which is shown below. All trials absolutely identical, so the camera had every chance to be consistent; it wasn’t.

Look how good the 35/1.4G is wide open when focused properly. Yet I suspect that some shooters would find something half-way between these two “in focus”. Sure it is, if you want 6MP of sharpness out of a 24MP camera. Note also that the 12MP Nikon D700/D3/D3s have half the pixels (1.4 less resolution), and thus a greater tolerance of focus error.

  
Nikon 35mm f/1.4G, with Live View focus (left), autofocus (right)
(second Nikon D3x body)

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