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  • Andrew JK Tan

Nikon D850 - 3D AF Tracking Mode at WTA Future Stars

I already know that the Nikon D850 is capable of photographing sports when I was only using the default 7 Frames Per Second High speed burst rate. The 7 FPS (default) burst rate is of course slower in comparison to my Nikon D500's 10 FPS and my Nikon D4's 12 FPS but the "slower burst rate" is not really a good excuse missing peak action when photographing sports.

My main goal was to try out Nikon's 3D Auto Focus tracking mode implementation in the D850. In this mode the Nikon's AF system is supposed to track the subject motion on it's own (to a certain extent) within the AF frame coverage. This mode would allow the photographer more freedom to focus on the composition while the 3D AF algorithm tracks the subject as best it can.

For today morning's 2 hour session , my setup was as follows :

- lens used Nikkor 80-400mm f4.5/5.6

- hand-held

- D850 set to Aperture priority mode

- AF set to 3D AF Tracking mode

- 3D Face Detection turned on

- AF area set to wide

- AF tracking with Lock on set to level 3 (Blocked shot response)

- AF-C priority set to FOCUS+RELEASE(the option selected does affect how nimble the DSLR feels)

- JPEG FINE File format

- shooting at 45.7MP resolution (more for testing the buffer performance)

ISO3200 , 1/5000s , f5.6 ...... 1/5000s to "freeze" as much motion as possible , even then the tennis ball depending how hard it has been hit may not be completely "frozen"

In general , the D850 as expected captured the sport of Tennis pretty "easily". With the right timing , peak action could easily be captured. More importantly was how the AF Focus Hit Rate with 3D AF tracking mode perform ?

Firstly , my measure for Focus Hit Rate success is achieved when the player's eye (s) are tack sharp at 300% magnification ....... and after today's session , the D850 managed an excellent 90%+ success rate with this measure of mine. It's really pretty good , something my D810 could NOT achieve even when photographing tennis.

ISO3200 , 1/5000s , f5.6

Screenshot of above image at 300% magnification around the eyes area

Many of you will be asking me how does it compare to the flagship Nikon D5 ...... well actually you really should not be asking , its not really an apple to apple comparison , but if you really must know the D850's 3D AF tracking performance is a little sluggish (slower) though hit rate is almost comparable to the D5.

Now I could "tune" the AF tracking performance of the D850 to be faster but I think that's not really the point because every photographer has variations in their technique and timing. My advise is NOT to compare which DSLR's AF is faster , instead you should try the DSLR out and tune the DSLR to match your own sports photography technique and see if it suits you !!!!

As far as I am concerned , in today morning's session , I was more than happy that I could treat my D850 shooting at 45.7MP resolution as I would treat my D500 or D4 shooting at their much lower native resolution , that in itself says a lot about this new camera !!!

I also have to mention that the buffer was more than sufficient based on my style of sports photography , not once did the D850 slow down because of buffering issues ...... so all fine and dandy in this department.

There you have it ...... the D850 shooting at full resolution , definitely can capture the sport of Tennis. Imagine the advantage of the 45.7MP resolution paired with a 400mm focal length , if you wanted to crop and still retain say 15MP - 20MP , the angle of view would be equivalent to shooting at 600mm focal length & greater.

More highlights from today's session

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