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D300 and focus settings for sport photography

Fred Lefebvre , Aug 22, 2008; 09:53 a.m.

Hi All,

I just bought a D300 last week (upgraded from my D200) and I'm struggling with the autofocus system. I used it last night, along with the Nikkor 70-200mm to shot an ultimate frisbee match. I took about 100 pictures and I've got about 30 keepers out of them... The other 70 are either badly framed (I obviously need to practice) or badly focused (That's the part I need help with). The main problem seems to be that the camera focuses on the wrong subject... that's especially true when my main subject is close to the border of the frame.

I set autofocus to the 'C' mode, 51 areas 3D and I let the camera pick the most appropriate sensor to use. I also set the AF-C mode to 'release+focus'. On my D200, I used the 'C' mode but picked myself a group of sensors. With the D200 I used to get more 1st shot with perfect focus but the following shots where often badly focus. Now, with the D300, my follow-up shots are better but the first one is often badly focused.

I would like to have suggestions and tips on how to configure the camera for that type of shooting (or how to configure the photographer if he is the problem :P ).

I'll try to attach some samples of badly focused shots.


Bad focus - D300 + 70-200mm - f2.8


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Elliot Bernstein , Aug 22, 2008; 10:13 a.m.

The D300's focusing is one of its best features.

As a starting point, I would suggest you start learning how it works by just using the center point with the continuous focus mode. I have successfully used the 9 points cluster but generally stick with the single center point for fast action sports as long as I can track the subject.

I personally have not found the 3D focus tracking to be beneficial on the D300.

Elliot Bernstein , Aug 22, 2008; 10:18 a.m.

I shot this with the D300 and 80-400mm lens.

Nikon D300, 80-400mm lens.

John Vanacore , Aug 22, 2008; 10:22 a.m.

I don't like the 3d tracking.

I shoot 21 point and have pretty good success with it. I think though it really depends on the sport you shoot. In foortball, I reduce to either 9 point or center point if it's a single subject that i'm focusing on.

But i did quite a bit of experimenting with the different settings, as there are many different combinations. The best thing is to try the many combinations, and shoot what's best for you.

Good Luck & Cheers

John Vanacore , Aug 22, 2008; 10:31 a.m.

I shot this one with A D300 and Nikon 300mm f2.8 AF-I

Attachment: filey0cOND.jpg

Shun Cheung , Aug 22, 2008; 10:35 a.m.

I discussed some of that in photo.net's D300 review; you might want to take a look: http://photo.net/equipment/nikon/D300/D300-review

The D300, D700 and D3 use an identical AF system. I haven't tested the D700 yet, but I am not too happy with 51-point 3D AF on either the D3 or D300, where the metering system that is color sensitive is involved in AF. If your subject has a distinct color against the background, the AF system can track the subject for a little while but will soon lose it. Instead, typically I use 21 point but you might want to experiment with 9 and see whether that is faster for you.

Also experiment around with Custom Setting a4. I have a number of images of surfers with the AF messed up because a bird suddenly enters the picture out of nowhere.

Guido H , Aug 22, 2008; 10:52 a.m.

I have settled on the 21 point mode too (I shoot road cycling and running competitions). The 3D tracking mode - well, I don't get it either.

William Pahnelas , Aug 22, 2008; 11:22 a.m.

also, i find placing the AF area-mode selector in the center position, dynamic-area AF, works best in conjunction with 21 focus points.

Chris Tirpak , Aug 22, 2008; 11:22 a.m.

I also moved from a D70 to a D300 and definitely recommend you read Shun's referenced post. Keep in mind that you can still take advantage of all 51 points. I think of it as selecting a focus point cluster size. You pick the primary point out of 51 but the camera can over-rule you within the surrounding 9 or 21 points. The less points it has to choose from obviously the faster it can decide which to use and how to adjust the focus. Thus for high speed sports 9 can be the better setting. As he says, a4 can also be very handy in telling the camera to ignore some of the surrounding movement for a period of time. I would bet that ultimate frisbee shots will benefit from fiddling with this setting.

Shooting soccer I have generally settled on 21 point. I usually take a few shots and check the results and will switch to 9 point if I need more fine grained control.

For mountain biking I use 9 point because the bikes are moving fast enough that it just seems to keep up better.

Once you get the hang of it you will love it. Just experiment a little on a day where you don't care about the results and then it will become second nature. Also, putting the needed entries from the Custom Settings Menu into the My Menu will make it a lot easier to change these on the fly.

And I too have not been terribly impressed by the 3D tracking feature. I am sure it works in some settings but so far has not done so not for me.

Rick Larkin , Aug 22, 2008; 11:58 a.m.

By using a specific shooting menu bank combined with a custom setting bank that's geared towards action photos, you can establish and save ideal control settings for the sports you shoot. It's much, much easier to do this way since the D300 has a pretty complicated set of menus.

For example, I have been using the AF-ON button programed to focus the camera instead of the shutter release. This is done with Custom Setting a1 set on Release; Custom Setting A5 set to AF-ON Only and the front camera switch set to C. The Mode Dial on top of the camera is also set to either Cl or Ch. I have the Dynamic AF area (Custom Setting a3) to 21 points. The focus tracking with lock-on (a4) is generally set to short. I have the number of AF- points (a8) to 11 for faster focusing speed. Finally, the Autofocus Area Mode (3- way switch just right of the LCD) is generally set to Dynamic Area Focus. If the primary sensor dances around too much while you're trying to shoot then lock it via the direction pad lever. If this seems complicated, then it underscores the benefit of creating a custom bank for action photography.

The big thing with this configuration is realizing that you cannot focus by depressing the shutter release- nothing will happen. You've got to press the AF-ON button exclusively to focus. But it lets you compose or re-frame on the action yet keep the focus. It may prove awkward at first (it was for me). But it does work very well with action shooting. Give it a try and see how it works for you. If it's not your cup of tea, simply re-set the shooting menu for that bank. Thom Hogan's D300 Guide provides a lot of detailed explanation on this AF system and illustrates the benefits of this particular configuration. I find it very useful. While not cheap, it is an excellent resource on using this camera.

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