85mm 1.4 focusing and sharpness issues

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by rascal64, Nov 27, 2010.

  1. Hi...I just bought a used 85mm 1.4 lens. I am a bit disappointed with the results, as this lens is supposed to be the crown jewel portrait lens. I shoot with a D300. I am not sure if my problem is the lens, the camera or me. Some of the images that I get, look great ...GREAT! But, the results are unreliable. I am getting soft focus on the eye, or an inaccurate focus a lot of the time. Does this lens lose center focus capabilities at 1.4? I have read that the D300 can calibrate individual lenses, but I don't know the first thing on how to do that, or if that is the answer. Here are 3 side by side images shot at 1.4. The focusing square told me that the eye (closest to the candycane)was sharp. These images are straight from the camera. RAW converted to JPEG. Should I return this lens? Any help would be appreciated!
  2. problem is the lens, the camera or me​
    Focus is on the candy bar
  3. Tiffany
    check out the Nikon Tutorials on You tube it will show you how to fine tune your lens if at all it needs it.
    for your info
    you can find the AF Fine tune in the menu under:
    spanner/wrench symbol AF Fine tune
  4. Thanks Martin. I will. John...I'm sorry that I wasn't clear. I know there is a focusing problem. I am just trying to figure out if the problem can be fixed.
  5. Tiffany, I agree with John.
    An aperture like 1.4 results in a "Paperthin DOF" , therefore you cannot afford to let your camera choose the focussing point as it will find the highest contrast in the frame ( which happens to be the candybar here...).
    If you realy did focus on one of your models eyes , using your center foccusing cell only, ( Single Point AF ) then I would say that you need to trim the focus "in camera" ( AF Fine Tune) ,but if you used multiple focussing points and allowed the camera to choose, then thiese pictures are just what i would expect with this lens..
  6. It would make sense to do some focus testing on a less lively subject. If you're shooting wide open, you have virtually
    no DoF, and even the tiniest movement by her or you would throw an eye out of focus. What was your working
    distance, here?
  7. Don't return the lens! Obviously yours is in excellent condition. It is not uncommon for people to have focus difficulties with f1.4 lenses. I am sure someone with experience with this lens/camera combo will be able to help you with technical aspects of the equipment. Otherwise experiment and manage/refine your technique.
  8. The lens appears able to focus, somewhere. It appears to be focused on various parts of the brightly coloured cane. What did you do different between the three pictures ?
  9. C.P.M.....I am shooting on Single Point AF. I have the settings at 9 points for the dynamic AF area. I am not sure if by having it in single point AF, that 9 point setting applies. The option in my autofocus menu only shows fine tuning for exposure. I am not sure where the fine tune focus is.
    Matt....we have actually done some test shots of me (I can be quite static) and it seemed like the eyes were soft in half of the images. I was probably between 7and 10 feet from the girl in the posted shots.
    John....I was really excited to get this lens. It was a great deal, but still pricey (for us). There was a little gunk in the lens that doesn't seem to appear in images, but we are wondering if it might affect the focusing quality. Believe me...I really would like to have this lens as part of my kit, but I also want something reliable. I am willing to do the work...I just need to know what the work is.
    Andrew...I moved back a bit for the last shot. For the first 2, I was pretty stable. The girl was seated and I gave her the same direction in between shots.
  10. C.P.M....Oh...you are referring to the fine tune that Martin mentioned? Got it. Going to look at a vid on it right now.
  11. Tiffany,
    I agree with Matt that those shots are not good for testing. You should redo the test in better condition: flat subject with details like a newspaper, higher shutter speed and camera is on tripod
    But right now my guess the reason is the lens is in bad condition
  12. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Tiffany, did you capture those images at f1.4? I never quite understand why people shoot portraits @ f1.4. No lens is at its best so wide open and the depth of field is very shallow such that most of the image is guaranteed to be out of focus regardless of where your focus is.
  13. thats is weird! i hear good things about the this lens ,,, maybe something in your settings?
    good luck
  14. John...we did some new test shots. We even did it the way the youtube vid said. With the coke can and changing all my camera settings...tripod...sandbag. The results seem okay. I was a little alarmed that the "lens sharpness chart" claims that this type of lens is only sharp at 2.0, 2.8 and 4.0 (if I am understanding the info correctly). I also don't shoot coke cans, I shoot people, so we tried again with myself as the subject. And as Shun pointed out, we shot at several apertures...because 1.4 portraits are quite ambitious and maybe a bit foolish? But, going back to 1.4, this is what happened. My husband was focused on my eye (no smart comments guys, please).
    Shun, I don't plan on shooting a lot of 1.4 portraits, but it should focus where we tell it to, right?
    Luis...It is a wonderful lens. Again, this one was used. No box, no hood. It may be trouble. We have a week to decide if we are returning it or not.
  15. Tiffany,
    You must fine tune your focus manually with a fast portrait lens. As Shun says, the depth of field is maybe less than an inch thick at 1.4. And if you focus on the eyes as you should, you need DOF of 2-3 inches to keep the nose in as well as the ears.
    Stop down to 2.8 and you will get maybe 4 inches or more. You'll get the hang of it. For portraits, I always focus manually. By the time you have fiddled with selecting a focus point and getting it onto where you want to focus, you would have taken the shot, packed up and gone home if you did it manually.
  16. The strange thing is that the result is not consistent (and I guess because of the condition of the lens). There are big differences between the two photos. On the left photo, your eyes and your right half body are sharper. On the right photo, your left half body is sharper starting from the hair under your left ear
    This inconsistency is in the photos of the little girl too. Her face and the candy bar are sharper in the photo on the left, but her left shoulder is sharper in the photo in the middle, the photo on the right is kind of an average of the other two photos
    I still suggest using a newspaper as the subject (not the coke can)
  17. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    I wouldn't be too concerned about no box on a used lens. I still have the boxes and warranties for lenses I bought 20 years ago (we even have boxes for items we no longer own), but I know not everybody has space for boxes and that kind of discipline. No hood is an alarm, though. That means the previous owner(s) has not been using it and we all know how important the hood is in terms of lens protection.
    f1.4 lenses are always difficult to focus. I own no f1.4 AF lens. You can try focus fine tuning and see whether that can fix the problem. Or if you can depend on manual focusing, change to a focusing screen that has split-image focus assist. Otherwise, with the new 85mm/f1.4 AF-S coming onto the market, I would imagine that there should be plenty of the old version on the used market once some people start upgrading.
  18. Tiffany, keep the lens. As stated a couple of times earlier, the DOF is so shallow at f1.4 that the slightest body sway either by photographer or subject will change the point of focus. Check out an online depth of field calculator such as "DOFMaster". It provides accurate focusing distances for a ton of lenses. I'm guessing you were about 8 feet from the camera in your second set of test shots. With the 85mm f1.4 on a DX camera at 8 ft. from subject, the resulting depth of field is .15 feet or approximately 1 3/4 inches.
    The 85mm will provide excellent bokeh at smaller apertures as well so if critical focus is required for non static subjects I'd stay away from f1.4
  19. Hi Tiffany, as to portraits and f: stops. The pictures of the girl: with a 85-105 lens in order to get the tip of the nose as well as the earlobes in focus the f: stop must be at least 5.6. This applies to head shots. The candy cane is much further forward than the girls head. Also manual focus on the eyes. Fine tuning the lens via the D300 menu only applies to autofocus. Regards Peter
  20. Somewhere around Nov 5th there was a thread in the wedding forum about manual focus. One of the main things that came to mind in writing my response was focusing on the eyes in portraits and how I am never happy with the auto focus for this. If close enough, the AF will zero in on part of the nose or eyelashes or whatever. If I'm closing down the pupils and lighting up the color in the eyes, I want the eyeballs themselves really in focus. I don't use the 1.4, I use th 1.8 which I've had a long time. I think f2.8, f4 is not unreasonable in many cases, the DOF is so narrow. When I shoot musicians at jazz clubs and coffee-houses, I always work with an old small manual 50mm 1.8 and my 85mm 1.8 wide open and manual focus. I don't like the 50 1.4 wide open, while it's brighter to see, it's not sharp enough wide open. So while the 1.4 have really nice "bokeh" (oh, I can't believe I used that word....) sometimes I don't think they are the optimum choice when actually shooting wide open. Another lens I like to use wide open is the 180mm 2.8 and also the Hasselblad 100 f3.5 and 180 f4. You certainly have many very fine images, so you know what you want, but perhaps this isn't quite the tool. Maybe you'd be happier with the smaller lighter and less expensive f1.8? If you think the lens is a dud, get rid of it before it's a liability, lol.
  21. At f1.4 on a smaller sensor at a distance of 10 feet, the DOF is about 2.5 inches with an 85mm lens. Any change of distance between the subject and the camera (subject moving just a little bit and/or the camera moving just a little bit) will soften the focus considerably. I sounds like you are using spot autofocus so that should help, but another thing you could try (not sure this is supported on the D300) is to put your camera in continuous focus mode with the release set to 'focus' What this will do is release the shutter the instant the camera thinks it is in focus and reduces the two step focus and then shutter release to one step. I use this method a lot because I tend to move the camera just a bit on the two step process going to shutter release.
    I guess the other thing I might say is for me, the 70-200 f2.8 VRII lens is the go to portrait lens. Probably 85% of my portraits are taken with that lens and I do own the 85mm f1.4 lens. I once did a comparison between the two lens for sharpness and at 85mm, could not convince myself I could tell the difference between the two lens and AF was much better with the 70-200. If anyone would like to see the image set, I will figure out a way to get them to you.
  22. Is this the new G lens or the old afd?

    Either way with the razor thin dof expect to gets some out of focus shot unless the subject is static just how many depends on which version you have. My D700 (same af module as your D300) nails the af fairly reliably with the adf version wide open but if there is any movement or you are focus/recomposing forget it.

    I have found that even with better than 20/20 vision, the D700 viewfinder with split image screen my af nails the focus more accurately than I can manually focus and I've come from MF/LF cameras.
  23. Is the Autofocus mode setting selection on (C) Continuous or (S) Servo? If it's on S then focus may/will be locked on the first squeeze of the shutter button. If any sway occurs then the focussed plane will not move even if the subject/photographer does, resulting in apparent focussed plane error.
    If it's on C, then the camera should take account of these movements and use the actual focussed length at the second of exposure.
  24. On the D700, there are two steps. First is to set the autofocus switch to C (Continuous), and then in the menu items there is an Autofocus--> AF-C priority selection --> a) Release, b) Release plus focus, c)Focus. I set it to c or Focus as the criteria for shutter release. Not sure what the options are with the D300. Second step is important since if you select a) Release, the camera will take the picture whether or not you are in focus!
  25. C.P.M....Oh...you are referring to the fine tune that Martin mentioned?​
    Tiffany, the fine tune I am writing about is at page 327 of your user manual titled "AF Fine Tune"
    There are many methods for "FineTuning" your cam's. AF for a specific lens, and you can do this for 12 lenses and keep the adjustments for them in your D300.
    Here is a relatively simple method that works for me for my D300 & 85 1.4 AF-D lens .. : http://www.focustestchart.com/chart.html
    You can download the test charts at the end of the article..
    BTW, I had a peek at your gallery, and I fully understand why you like this type of lens... Nice shooting !!! . :) , a lot of "Dreamyness" mixed with expression and character going on there , very expressive i think !!
  26. I think the problem is that the camera or subject moved slightly after the focus is locked and thus the lens is actually focused at a different plane than the one the focus is locked on.
  27. Don't fight it...fine tune the focus manually. Why is there so much resistance to that? Or are we becoming pig headed about autofocus everything.
    Why is this so hard? Is it something to do with some subliminal resistance to days of yore when one finger did the focussing instead of a nice fat AFS lens not getting it quite right.
    I don't understand...portraits are like landscapes. One sets them up, takes care with no rush and takes maybe three or four with some exposure bracketing. Nothing has changed in the art of portraits. Only the film has been swapped for the sensor. You still have to do everything else.
    With a good lens like the one you have, switch to manual focus and start with the eyes, then carefully stop down from 1.4, one click at a time, and watch the dof deepen until you have it just right. There will be a point when the nose and ears are sharp, or whatever you want, and then you have it.
  28. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Shadforth, modern DSLR's viewfinders are not designed for manual focusing. I currently have 20/15 above average eyesight, but since I was a teenager 30+ years ago, I always need to have a split-image focus assist to manual focus. A few years ago I tried the Zeiss ZF 50mm/f1.4 on my D2X, and I found that electronic rangefinder pretty much useless. I had the same issue with my Contax 645 whose film size and focusing screen size is almost 3 times the FX frame, and yet I also had manual focusing issues until I bought their split-image focusing screen.
    Today, the best way to manual focus on DSLRs is to use live view and magnify a small portion of the image to fine tune the focus; that approach works great for landscape and macro. Otherwise, I think getting one of those Katz Eye screen with split-image assist is a must for manual focusing.
    And if you have ever capture portraits of children, especially small ones younger than 5, 6 years old, you'll understand that it is not like landscape photography at all. The live view approach is not applicable when your subject wouldn't stand/sit still.
  29. Yes, Shun. Three weeks till I get my D700.
    I'm spoilt by the finder in the F4s.
  30. In addition to a Katz Eye screen, calibration of the screen is often necessary. There is a hex screw on the right side of the mirror of the D700, which is used to calibrate manual focusing. Use a focusing target to determine if the screen gives front or backfocus.
  31. Wow...thank you to everyone who has offered input on this. I used the lens again on a job with my other lenses as primary. I used my tripod. I shot a 2.0. My camera is always set to "focus", not "release". I don't trust my own eyes for manual focus right now. I will do some more tests with that one. I had the same results. A few of the images were beautiful...several more...soft or misfocused. My husband has a gut feeling on this lens and I certainly need something reliable. I am willing to push myself and learn how to use new tools, but I have to make sure it's a good tool. We are talking about returning the lens and using the $ towards a new 85mm. However, I am going to do a few test shots (before we buy) with the new one and see if I have the same problem. If I do, then I know I have to work a bit harder or just enjoy my 50mm 1.8 (which is a star!). I have a lot to reread here. Again, I really appreciate all the input.
  32. If you really have questions about the specific lens, perhaps you can find a local place to rent the same version of the lens. I have rent lens on several occasions, and generally, have been quite happy with their performance.
    When you focus on the eyes, do you focus on the section of the eye closest to the noise or the outer portion of the eye?
    I am not sure how large of an area the D300 uses to generate a focus, but I would guess the autofocus area marked in the view finder is larger that the space actually used.
  33. Steven, good point, when focussing on an eye, i like to focus on the line of the eye and the lower eye lid ( is that what you call this in english? ) because the eye itself makes focussing hareder by being to reflective.
    Also when using my 85 1.4, for portrets I like to set it to F2 mostly, because at 1.4 the dof is too shallow causeing a blurry nose tip when focussing on the eye often,, ( do i live in "big nose country ?? :) ) .
  34. At least on the D700, the outer focal points only look for lines in one direction (horizontal or vertical) to operate the autofocus functionality. With the camera in the vertical position, it is very difficult for the camera to focus on a horizontal line (eyelids) on any but the center focus point. In fact, it won't. If you rotate the camera about 25-30 degrees, it will instantly focus with the focal points outside of the center ones. Not sure what the D300 does, but you might check that as well.
  35. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    The D300 family, D700, and all D3 family DSLRs use the same Multi-CAM 3500 AF module. That is why their AF works pretty much the same way.
  36. Steven, I agree with you there, but it works for me to just focus with the center focus point on the lower eyelid, ( I use the af control , not the shutter control for focussing always), and then recompose if neccesary. Mostly both eyelids also have hairs attached. .:) , which help a bit if needed.
    Like I sayd, it works for me, and it works for me a lot better then focussing on the eye itself ( if vissible..), but everyone will have hers or his way of doing things I guess...
  37. I don't have an 85mm lens, but I shoot regularly with 50mm f1.4, 105mm f 2.5, 35mm f 2.0 lenses and all of them are difficult to focus on a dslr. I never use any of these lenses wide open unless I'm in very dark conditions and have to. With portraits even with the 50mm I use f2-2.8 to get good sharpness and still have a nice blurry background. With the 105mm I usually use about f4 for a portrait. All these fast lenses are softer wide open and as noted the depth of focus is really narrow and difficult to control. I would try some portraits using more f stops to see how they look in terms of sharpness and bokeh. It is a nice focal length for portraits.
  38. I use an 85mm f/1.4 AIS Nikkor quite a bit for portraiture and the depth of field wide open is paper thin. Using a lens like this is just one more reason why I NEVER trust a camera to focus for me. That's for point and shoots. With a lens like this, especially in a static environment like yours, you should always focus manually. Only you know exactly what you want focus on. And in the case of your photos, focus on the catchlights in the eyes.
    Digital camera focusing screens, however, are not particularly well suited to manual focusing, as most are simple matte screens. I would recommed you change your screen to something made by focusingscreen.com to something with either a microprism or split image (or combination of the two) focusing aid. Those folks have a wide selection of screens for a large number of cameras. And even though they are designed to help focus manually, they will still work perfectly with your camera's autofocus.
    The selection of screens for the D300 can be found here: http://www.focusingscreen.com/index.php?cPath=22_76&osCsid=8de58811644604eceb9a9e8b5f0310cd
  39. Another observation, Tiffany, is that most of your portraits have very little background and its often a studio background with little detail. With this type of shooting you don't need a lens with excellent out of focus (bokeh) qualities, since it won't show anyway. An AF kit lens of the desired focal length would work just as well and be less headache focusing. I think of the classic portrait lenses such as the 105 f2.5 and the 85 1.4 as lenses you would use when there is a background that you want to render as soft and pleasing. Here's an example of the 105mm on a full frame film shot probably at about f 4: http://www.photo.net/photo/1522609

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