Nikon N80...low light focusing??

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by suzi_k., Sep 22, 2002.

  1. Hello. Has anyone have any problem with the N80's focusing in low
    light situations?

    I had to attend a unexpected birthday dinner recently and as we were
    leaving the restaurant, the birthday boy asked me to shoot some
    pictures of him and his friends. I was a bit nervous because I'm
    still new to photography and I haven't done any night photography
    YET! I didn't want to turn him down so I agreed. I had my N80 and a
    Nikon 85 1.8 afd lens with me and a roll portra 400NC film. What a
    nightmare!! The camera's focusing was more than just sluggish, it is
    wacked! I don't have this problem in the daytime.

    Is this normal for the N80? What did I do wrong?

    (I don't know if this help.....It's was 9:30 at night in the street
    with street lights. I use the camera's built-in flash, nikon 85 1.8d
    lens and portra 400NC. I stood about ten feet away from a group of 3-
    4 people. The aperture was wide open or either F/2.8 @60sec. I used A
    mode, tried P mode, used flash and without flash. But the problem is
    consistant in everyway.)

    Any comments or suggestions are welcome! Thank you.
  2. Did your focus assist light come on? In theory, that camera should be able to focus in total darkness if it's little lamp comes on.
    All of my AF Nikon cameras get 'lost' if there is no contrast to lock on to. If your focus point was on something with no detail (i.e. white t-shirt or black leather jacket) it can't focus. When I see that happening, I shift the focus point to an 'edge' (say the line between the jacket and shirt) and get it to lock on, then recompose.
  3. Hi Suzi,
    What a nightmare!! The camera's focusing was more than just sluggish, it is wacked! I don't have this problem in the daytime.
    My experience with autofocus is (very) limited - and with the N80 it's zilch. So perhaps someone with more experience in this area (especially with the N80(F80)) will address your question. Meantime, though, here's what little I do know.
    My understanding is that the lower end autofocus cameras (such as the N80) use a beam of light to assist in focusing in low light. This apparently slows down the focus tracking to an undesirable level. In addition, if the pressure of your finger on the shutter button is too light, the camera will lose its focus lock and have to refocus.
    For what it's worth, my advice would be to turn off the autofocus, at least in dim light, and resort to focusing the camera yurself (or, save your sheckels for an F100 or F5).
  4. Hello Suzi,<p>
    You must indeed be new to photography because you would know that this is normal with just about all AF bodies, even the top of the line F5. If there is not enough light and/or little or no contrast to what you are trying to focus on the AF has nothing to go by. As you found out, this can really be a pain in dimly lit rooms. <p>
    I don't know about the N80 by itself with it's built-in flash, but I do know that the Nikon dedicated flashes have a focus assist light that will shine some light and a pattern on your subject to help the AF in these situations. You might want to look into a separate flash such as the SB-28 or the SB-80DX not only for this feature but because it is more powerful and works much better than that built-in flash. <p>
    Something else that you may want to try is shining a small flashlight such as a Mini Maglight in your subject in these situations. You could even attach it to your camera with Velcro. I've never tried this but I understand it works well.
  5. OK, I actually have one of these things. In low light you must use the center AF sensor for decent low AF performance (the center AF sensor has a crossed sensor pattern). Also, the AF assist light will only work if the center AF sensor is being used. I just renabled the built in AF assist light, and the camera can focus in a pitch dark room with an 85/1.8. You just need something with an edge it can pick out. The AF with a F100 is better in low light.
  6. True, all AF is problematic in the dark. But the N80 is downright frustrating. After several of these nightmares, I stick to the N90s, F100, and F5. I don't care how much heavier they are, or that they don't have the built-in speedlight, they perform well in dim light. The N80 is a basket-case. Just rent an F100 of F5 for a little while, Suzi, and you'll see the difference. You'll come to the same conclusion I did - either dump the N80 or save it for daylight pics. ;-)
  7. That is poor advice. The N80 is a very capable camera. I've used the fancier Nikons and they do the same thing in low-light. No worse and no better. In fact the built in AF assist light is quite nice. Too bad the pop-up flash is under-powered. Which is why I use a flash with a built in AF-assist light. It throws out a nice red spot of light with a pattern of stripes to it. The AF sensors love this and it helps focusing in a big way.

    Ignore the few N80 naysayers out there. The N80 is a VERY nice camera. Especially for the money.
  8. What about manually focusing the lens? f1.8 should be enough for manual focusing in dim light.
  9. umd


    N80 has a built in AF assist light (the big white lamp infront) if it does not light up during focusing in dim light, it is either turned off via custom function (it lights up with the factory default) or has some problem, check the relevant custom function (I forgot which one it was, its in the manual).
  10. I think the custom function for the AF Assist light is 18. I have more luck with manual focus, depending on what I am taking pictures of at night. I would think faces lit by street lighting and AF assist light should be enough for the camera to auto focus with.. although slower than daytime shots.
  11. Yes, this is normal (unfortunately). Focusing under low light situations is sluggish and prone to error. If you don't have a dedicated external flash with built-in AF-illumination you should consider turning on the N80s AF-illumination (custom function 18, as pointed out above). But beware, my opinion is that this light is to harsh and causes people to squint with their eyes. I have used two external flashes, a dedicated Vivitar and a SB-28, both use a red lamp for assisting focusing and it is much nicer when taking portraits.

    If you want to use the internal AF-illumination you must remember that it only works on quite close distances, I believe that 10 feet is about the end of the range. For more distant subjects the illumination becomes to weak to provide the contrast needed for the auto focus.

    Personally I focus manually under low-light conditions. But then, the only motives I have shot were night pictures of townscapes: they do not move and they are far away which means that I have no problem with DOF. If I am forced to use autofocus, I try focusing on an edge or textured surface.

    And I have to second Robert, for the price I paid I believe the N80/F80 to be outstanding.
  12. For me I would manually focus the lens myself. In low light I use my M6 for the purpose. That is why using both Leica and Nikon (in my case, digital cameras) has been very helpful. Each camera is a paintbrush and a separate tool so Leica is ideal for the low light setting. For Nikon SLR, just switch from AF to MF and then you're set! :)

    Manual focusing is always better in some situations than AF apart from daylight PJ and sports.
  13. Yes the AF has problems in low light.

    Use the center sensor (as mentioned)

    Point the AF spot at something with contrast (as mentioned)

    If you can live with it (I can't), don't turn off the focus assist light. I've never found it to be of much use, just very annoying, but it may suit you better.

    You may want to consider the custom function for switching the focus action to the AE-L/AF-L button. With continuous focus mode this enables you to focus on an easy part of the picture as a separate action, and then compose the picture as you like without worrying about the camera suddenly refocusing. For me it works best with exposure lock switched to the shutter button.
  14. The maximum aperture of the lens (f/1.8) effects low light focus, but the aperture you actually set (f/2.8 or whatever) has no effect on autofocus. The exposure mode (P, A, etc) and the film speed and type (400NC, etc) has no effect on focus. In the case of N80, using the built-in flash also has no effect on autofocus.
    N80's unassisted low-light focus capability is actually pretty good campare to other current mid-range camera bodies. It seems like your situation is just a little too dim or too flat in contrast for the N80 to focus unaided. To aid in autofocus, you can either purchase an external autofocus flash, which projects a subdued red light that assists auto-focusing in low light, or consult your N80 manual to turn on the camera's built-in focus assist spot light, which illuminates the target with a flash light like beam to turn low light autofocus into normal light autofocus.<p>
    In higher end Nikon bodies like the F100, there is a second set of autofocus sensors specifically dedicated to low light focusing. These bodies are distinctly better at focusing in dim light. That may be a option worth considering if you anticipate doing low-light natural light photography a lot.<p>
    Another alternative is to bite the bullet and get a separate true optical rangefinder camera like Leica M series. Those do better in low light focus than either manual or autofocus SLR.
  15. Your camera can focus in total darkness but you have to use the correct settings. Go to custom function #18 and set option to 0, set autofocus to single servo or dynamic AF with closest subject priority and the camera will autofocus to about 10 feet with the built in assist light. If you have an SB-28 you can auto focus to greater distances using the assist light on that speed light.
  16. I will disagree with Hal. My wife and I phootgraph weddings and are often faced with very low light (like being in the balcony of a Church lit only by candlelight. My F5 has no problems focusing in very low light. My F100 does an even better job than my F5. We also have two N80s andf their focusing is worthless in the dark. The focus assist light is not an option for us in what we do. You'll have to put your N80 in manual focusing mode when you get in low light.
  17. Hello everyone! Thanks for all your help. I will try your suggestions because I don't want to give up on this camera (yet). You guys are the best!

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