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Nikon D850: 'Focus Shift Shooting' Feature is a Reason by Itself to buy the Nikon D850 — Saves Time, Guarantees Peak Quality

See my Nikon wish list and get Nikon D850 at B&H Photo.

See my growing review of the Nikon D850 in Advanced DSLR.

The Nikon D850 offers a focus stepping feature, which Nikon calls Focus shift shooting, an extraordinarily unfortunate choice of terminology, given given the confusion it will cause with optical focus shift. Presumably chosen by marketing, because no one knowledgeable in optics would make such a choice.

Focus stepping automates the taking of a specified number of images based on a several factors that control the step width. The resulting images are ideal for focus stacking. The resulting images using the Nikon D850 Focus shift shooting feature are better suited to focus stacking than what I can do manually.

  • Images are taken as rapidly as possible thus minimizing changes in the scenery (changes in lighting are a problem that requires retouching, ditto for subject movement. The shooting envelope for focus stacking is thus greatly expanded.
  • Taking all images quickly greatly reduces shooting time. Tedium is reduced, more images can be shot.
  • Chance for focusing error is greatly reduced to near-nil. When focusing manually, there is a risk in making a step too wide or wasting a step on too narrow. I’ve made plenty of such mistakes, some ruining the entire stack.
Nikon D850 Focus shift shooting: top menu, Focus shift shooting Menu, Focus Step Width

On the time-saving front: the Faces in the Trees image would have been impossible for me to manually make that image with the light fading quickly and I am all but certain I would have made at least one focusing error that would have ruined the stack, if I had not run out of patience by frame #28.

I discuss how Focus shift shooting works and how I I use it here:

Nikon D850 'Focus Shift shooting' feature for Easy Focus Stacking

The images on this page (below) were shot the very first day I tried the Nikon D850 Focus shift shooting feature. I did not read the manual (or have it with me). I was up in the mountains and decided to give it a try, expecting so-so result with issues. Instead, it worked so well that I am incredibly excited about the value it brings to my work.

Examples of Focus Stacking using Nikon D850 'Focus Shift shooting' for Focusing

WOW. If those images don’t pop your eyes out of their sockets for detail, I don’t know what will. Shot at 105mm, 135mm and 85mm, it’s just not possible to stop down to get even a fraction of the detail shown there.

After using the Focus shift shooting feature in the field, I’m 'sold': the Nikon D850 Focus shift shooting feature is a 'killer app' that alone justifies the purchase of the Nikon D850. I say that based on having shot hundreds of focus stacks over the past two years. The Focus shift shooting feature is faster and more accurate than anything I could possibly do manually*. It eliminates focusing-spacing errors, and saves me time, and it reduces the chances of subject matter change by keeping the shooting time to a minimum. Fantastic. No camera feature in years has ever provided this much value to me.

* Which raises the uncomfortable fact of autofocus lenses now having a major advantage over manual focus lenses.

But here in the digital age of ultra high resolution sensors, my view is that focus stacking is a *mandatory* skill that is required before 'competent' can be placed before the word 'photographer', at least for a wide variety of photographic jobs—and there are numerous situations for which focus stacking is ideal: landscape, product photography, architecture, documentary, etc.

Three Big Rainbow Trout
f8 @ 1/4 sec focus stack 13 frames, ISO 31; 2017-10-24 19:35:06
NIKON D850 + 60.0 mm f/2.8

[low-res image for bot]
Faces in the Trees
f9 @ 8.0 sec focus stack 28 frames, ISO 31; 2017-10-23 18:20:34
NIKON D850 + Nikon AF-S 105mm f/1.4E ED

[low-res image for bot]
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