Which FF DSLR for accurate MF with fast glass.

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by oofoto, Sep 10, 2010.

  1. Best combo for using MF with the 50mm 1.2 so I can place point of focus where ever I like in the VF and shoot wide open.
    Any opinions or experience?
  2. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    If you can mount your camera on a tripod and use live view to focus manually, any one of the Nikon FX body can give you very accurate manual focus, but that is a slow process. If you cannot use live view, I would get a split-image focusing screen to help you focus manually.
    Today I still have above-average 20/15 vision wearing glasses, but way back in the 1970's when I was a teenager (and already wearing glasses), I already found that a split-image focusing screen was a must for accurate manual focus on SLRs.
  3. Shun, two problems with that. First is live view would not suit me shooting style. Second a split image screen does not allow me to place my point of focus anywhere in the VF.
  4. I believe the D700, D3, D3s and D3x all have the same autofocus system, and have separate front-focussed/in-focus/back-focussed electronic rangefinder indicators (using any one of the 51 points - you can't do the Canon trick of having the focus indicators light up as the corresponding sensor hits focus, sadly), which help with manual focus. I've had no problems with 135 f/2.8 AI , but I've never tried anything faster manually. If you want to be accurate at f/1.2 and really focus anywhere in the frame, zoomed-in live view is your friend - the autofocus module on all the full-frame cameras only covers the middle of the frame. (See the manual on Nikon's site, or DPReview's review, for frame coverage.)

    The D700 would probably balance best on a normal lens, in addition to being cheapest, but I suspect your choice will come come down to more than the one lens. If not, have you considered an M9 and a Noctilux? (Or a 5D2 and an EF 50 f/1.2 L, which is a much newer design than the Nikkors.)

    I hope that helps!
  5. According to Zeiss, only D2 and D3 series cameras have "suited" screens for manual focusing. And in my own experience, the D700 rangefinder aid is not so useful in terms of accuracy and forgiveness.
  6. ShunCheung

    ShunCheung Administrator

    Paul, as far as I am concerned, the two ways I mentioned earlier are the only ways to get accurate manual focus on DSLRs. Since you rejected both, I am afraid that you are out of luck; most likely, you simply have to accept the fact that you'll have somewhat inaccurate focusing.
    A few years ago I tried the Zeiss 50mm/f1.4 ZF on my D2X for about an hour. I found the "electronic viewfinder" focus confirmation on the D2X pretty much useless. I got a bunch of images that seem to be slightly out of focus. Copies of those images are still on my hard drives. Today, if I shoot macros or use my 24mm PC-E (MF lens), I use live view to foucs (a feature not available on the D2 series cameras).
  7. pge


    I shoot in this fashion with a d700 and a mf 55mm f1.2. I can't comment on whether this one is the best or not because I have not tried any other ff nikon camera with the exception of film. But certainly the d700 works for what you want to do. I assume you own a 50mm f1.2 and you already know how hard it is to focus wide open.
  8. I use fast MF lenses on my D300 (50 f/1.2. 55 f/1.2, 105 f/1.8) and do not have a problem focusing them. I have never like split image screens having replaced them on every camera that I have owned that had replaceable screens. If you practice focusing on the ground glass it is very doable. Its all about practice and seeing when the image pops into focus.
    With that said to me the D3 is better then the D700. I find the 100% viewfinder of the D3 D3s better suited to me. The D700 works well enough but I really like 100% viewfinders
  9. "If not, have you considered an M9 and a Noctilux?"
    How does one "place point of focus where ever I like in the VF" of a rangefinder?
  10. A D700 with Katz Eye focussing screen would seem a natural choice. You should be able to request it without the split-prism focussing aid if so desired.
  11. Phil, thanks. Do yo have any examples anywhere?
    Michael, you shoot with a D300 or D3? Do you need to replace the standard screen to get the 'ground glass'?
  12. I had a D700 and had the Nikon 50mm f1.2 AIS lens with it. It was fun to fool around, but ultimately, shooting at f1.2 is not a very productive thing to do unless you want to make bokeh experiments, which is pretty boring.
  13. My wish list for Nikon includes using the AF brackets for manual focus confirmation. The green LED focus confirmation doodad isn't very convenient for quick manual focusing. It'd be a big help if the existing AF bracket illumination feature could be extended to confirm manual focus as well. And it would help with manual focus even on the entry level dSLRs with viewfinders that don't lend themselves well to eyeballing focus confirmation.
  14. "How does one "place point of focus where ever I like in the VF" of a rangefinder?"

    The same way you do it with a split prism screen in a D3, but probably a little more accurately. :) (Sorry, but even as a Nikonian, if someone says "manual focus fast normal lens" to me, I still think Leica - and a rangefinder has a big advantage in focus accuracy if properly adjusted.) Actually, Hassleblad do have their "True Focus" hack which adjusts the focus to compensate as you shift the camera, but a) I don't know if it works if you started by focussing manually, b) they don't make any f/1.2 lenses, and c) an H4D is a bit pricey compared with a Nikkor 50 f/1.2.

    I bow to the knowledge of the assembled masses in the accuracy of the electronic rangefinder; I've found it very useful, but as I said I've never tried it wider than f/2.8. That said, according to the images recently posted by a certain Mr R, the Nikon f/1.2 lenses don't really have anything you could call "in focus" at the edges anyway.

    I've suggested in the past to Nikon (and Canon) that it would be nice to have a blinking confirmation light that would tell you how accurately you've achieved focus: my preference would be for an LED behind each focus zone in the viewfinder (as on Canons, at least my 300D), but for it to use the following scheme:

    Very back-focussed: not illuminated.
    Near back-focussed: solid red
    Very near back-focussed: alternate blinking red and green, mostly red
    Perfect focus: alternate blinking red and green, 50% each
    Very near front-focussed: alternate blinking red and green, mostly green
    Near front-focussed: solid green
    Very front-focussed: not illuminated

    In other words, have an analogue scale for how accurate "in focus" is. Assuming, of course, that the autofocus sensor produces the appropriate information. Failing that, it'd be nice to set an accuracy both for manual focus and for what comprises "locked on" focus - missing a shot because focus is slightly off when I was going to use f/16 anyway, for example. I can dream.

    Meanwhile, I'll remember not to look too closely through the viewfinder of a D3, in case I start seeing the shortcomings of my D700. I'll be surprised if you can do a perfect job of locking focus with ground glass alone in a 35mm viewfinder - and a magnifying angle-finder means you're back to seeing just the centre - but I guess it depends how big you're printing, and I may be underestimating other people's eyesight. Meanwhile, I'm standing by the live view suggestion. I can also recommend FocusMagic for fixing up the focus of the result, although I've not experimented much to see whether the filters provided in newer Photoshop versions are as capable. Good luck!
  15. a split image screen does not allow me to place my point of focus anywhere in the VF.​
    Sure it does. You have to focus and recompose. How do you think we did it before AF when every camera came equipped with a split-image sceen as standard equipment?
  16. focus and recompose at f/1.2? That's asking for a fail.
  17. Sure it does. You have to focus and recompose.
    Split image + recompose works ok for long lenses but gives incorrect results when using fast wide angles at wide apertures. The focal plane is approximately a plane and distinctly not spherical, as would be required for focus + recompose to give accurate results.
    How do you think we did it before AF when every camera came equipped with a split-image sceen as standard equipment?
    I don't know about you but I very rarely used the split image itself, instead preferring to rely on the matte screen surface for focus. It worked fantastically with the F3HP (I never had focus issues), unfortunately in this area, camera technology has gone backwards.

    I recommend the D700 with Katz Eye screen. Test the manual focus thoroughly using the split image and a test target, you can adjust it with a small hexagonal key next to the mirror on the side of the camera which has the lens release button if you determine that manual focus is off.
  18. Well, I just fooled around with my 50/1.2 AIS on a D700 at the local pro shop and I found it way, way easier to focus reasonably accurately than on my D300 which is pretty hopeless at f/1.2 even using the green dot AND a KatzEye screen. F/2 was much easier to get keepers on the D300.
    If you want to use the AF indicator dot in the VF, then yes you can do this on the D700, but I'm not so sure of the accuracy.
    Also, watch out for focus shift on the 50/1.2 if you plan on using it stopped down in the f/2 to f/2.8 range while focusing at f/1.2.
  19. Well to each his own. I managed quite successfully with a split-image screen...whether it was a wide angle, fast wide angle or telephoto.
    Good luck. Hope you find what works for you.
  20. Ilkka wrote: Split image + recompose works ok for long lenses but gives incorrect results when using fast wide angles at wide apertures. The focal plane is approximately a plane and distinctly not spherical, as would be required for focus + recompose to give accurate results.

    Quite - this is what Hasselblad compensate for with their TrueFocus mechanism (which is a single focus point combined with a gyroscopic sensor and a bit of calculation). The 100 f/2.2 and the H4D-60 wouldn't be far off what you'd get from a 50mm f/1.2 on full frame; the 80 f/2.8 would be nearer to the field of view, but with more depth of field. I mention it only because it's the nearest thing I can think of to a "perfect solution", although frankly it's not rocket science - I'm sure someone else could make a camera behave the same way, give or take that Hasselblad have probably patented it.

    Assuming Mr R's recent images from 50 f/1.2 Nikkor lenses are representative, it looks like the focus accuracy away from the centre isn't the biggest problem wide open. Not that the MTF from the 'blad lens looks all that hot either.
  21. The reason I knock the focus-recompose remark is because it is well documented that it should not be used at wide aperture - possibly for the reasons below. I wouldn't do the dance unless at least f/4.
    The focal plane may not be spherical but if you focus centre and then turn to recompose as most people do then you are moving from the plane of focus. I guess you'd have to move sideways (for example) without rotating your body.
  22. Even being a one-focus-point-only enthusiast and user (the central one), in my experience I`m becoming reluctant to that focus and recompose technique. I suspect the reason of many of my unfocused pics is that technique (using a D700 and AFS lenses!)... I shoot mostly portraits; I used to AF on the eyes (head) and recompose. If I`m not extremely cautious, the eyes will run easily out of focus, even not shooting wide open (pro lenses/=f2.8). I`m afraid I couldn`t shoot at f1.2 and recompose with repeatable success in a forgiving way.
    I`m lately using that peripherial focus points on my D700, which is a pain in comparison. Things look to be improved.
  23. I knock the focus-recompose remark is because it is well documented that it should not be used at wide aperture.​
    Focus-recompose can be used if you take into acount your depth of field and adjust accordingly. If you don't take depth of into account you are going to have problems even if you use use auto focus and manually sellect an off center focus point. I use focus-recompose (manual and auto) reglarly without any problems. I also have split prism focus screen installed in my camera. Most manual cameras had viewfinders with focusing aids such as the split prism and almost all of them had the focus aids in the center of the viewfinder.
  24. Paul: You can keep the subject in the focal plane by moving parallel to the focal plane until the focal point is where you want it, then pivoting at a constant distance from that point to get your composition. Doing so with enough accuracy for f/1.2 would be... tricky, though (unless you ask the subject to hold a piece of string taut, or something). The focus error is very small with small amounts of rotation and rises significantly with angle; hence you're probably okay with a telephoto lens, but not with a wide angle (although the depth of field effect from the wide lens might help). That's just the theory, though - I can't vouch for the practice.

    I used to use focus-and-recompose on my Canon, but never with a fast lens, and mostly because it didn't have many autofocus points. On a D700, I pretty much always select the focus points manually rather than risk any shift of focal plane.

    Steven: could you elaborate on If you don't take depth of [field] into account you are going to have problems even if you use auto focus and manually select an off center focus point? Obviously you have to know where the depth of field bisects the image, but it sounds as though you're specifically suggesting off-centre focus points need some manual compensation. Just curious what you're getting at.
  25. focus recompose works okay with large apertures if you practice. For a single shot exposure at f1.4 on a 75mm at minimum focus, it is a gamble and I wouldn't do it. But with some bracketing (easy with a digicam) then you could get some consistant results. Focus, recompose, lean, shoot.
  26. Amazing that people have been taking sharp wide open shots on rangefinders for 80 years using focus and recompose...there are limits of course, but used normally it works quite well. For example, at f/1.2 at 2m, and placing the focus point about 1/3rd of the way away from center. If you try shooting at f/1.2 at 1m with the focus point all the way in the corner...well, then it is not going to work so well! If you don't want a split screen or to use live view, your only real choice is to find a good ground glass screen. There really are not any other options! The D3 series would be the best for this, or the D700. Aftermarket screen manufacturers are probably your best bet. But give focus and recompose a try before you deny it out of hand...with practice and some realistic expectations, it works very well. Even focusing dead center with a 1.2 lens means that you will occasionally miss the focus. It is just part of the game in using these lenses. If you truly need a viewfinder that is purpose made for this work, find a good manual focus SLR like a Canon F1-N, Leica R9, or Nikon F3 and scan the film!
  27. There are two many factors at play here to cause a subject shot at f/1.2 to be out of focus, more than just the slight geometric error introduced in focus-then-recompose. For example, if you shot handheld, or your subject is a human and not a fixed object, then a slight movement of you or your subject will result in out of focus. The depth of field is so paper thin even the slightest movement of the subject's head will cause the focus to be off, such as the nose becoming in focus instead of the closest eye. Trying to be dead accurate in this situation is futile.

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