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Nikon D800 and D800E User's Guide:
Custom Setting Menu: Autofocus

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Nikon D800 and D800E

Nikon D800 and 50mm f/1.4 G. enlarge.


July 2012    D800 and D800E Review  Nikon Reviews  Nikon Lenses  All Reviews

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Custom Settings Menu:
a1 - a8: Autofocus


See also How to Use the D800 and D800E AF System.


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How to Get Here

Press MENU, go to the left and select up and down to the pencil icon. You'll then see CUSTOM SETTING MENU on the color LCD. Click down to a AUTOFOCUS and click to the right.


What it Does

It sets many options for the AF system.


What I Change

I change a1 and a5, and leave the rest at their defaults.


a1 AF-C priority selection        top

At default, this lets you take fuzzy action pictures.

At the default "Release" setting, the D800 and D800E will fire anytime you press the shutter in AF-C mode, regardless of if it's in focus. Nikon's cameras usually can't run at their advertised frame rates and stay in focus at the same time.

At the default Release setting, most of your sequences will be out of focus! Set it to "Focus" instead and the D800 and D800E only will fire when it's in focus, ensuring a sharp sequence.


Release (default)

The default mode, this lets the D800 and D800E free-run at 4 FPS, whether or not it's in focus.

In this mode often only the first few shots of a sequence are in focus.


Release + focus

This is also a good one. It's a halfway setting. It makes the D800 and D800E slow down and get most, but not all, action shots in focus.



I use this. This makes the D800 and D800E wait for perfect focus before firing any shots.

Because it waits for focus if it needs to, you can shoot long bursts and they'll all be in focus.

See also How to Use the D800 and D800E AF System.


a2 AF-S priority selection        top

At the default setting, the D800 and D800E only fires after getting perfect focus in AF-S mode. Nikon call this "Focus Priority." It's the opposite of the default for AF-C mode, which lets the D800 and D800E fire at any time.

If you use off-brand or defective lenses that can't get the green focus confirmation dot in the lower left of the finder to light, the D800 and D800E won't fire. If you have a problem with this you might want to take this off the default setting, otherwise, I leave it alone.


Focus (Default)

The D800 and D800E only fires after it's gotten and locked perfect focus.



The D800 and D800E fires anytime you press the shutter, regardless of if it's in focus or not. Try this setting if your D800 and D800E seems to lock up with some lenses.


a3 Focus Tracking with lock-on        top

This selects how long the D800 and D800E focus tracking systems wait to start looking for the subject if it loses it behind a tree or person. This only applies in the AF-C (continuous) AF position.

I leave this alone.



The D800 and D800E presumes the subject has run behind something big, like a billboard, if it loses it. The AF system keeps running without it for a while, expecting the subject to return on the same path from before.

In LONG the AF system has a lot of patience for subjects disappearing.


Normal (default)

The D800 and D800E presumes the subject has run behind something like a tree or another player if it loses it.

The AF system keeps running without it for a little while, expecting the subject to return on the same path from before.



The D800 and D800E has little patience for subjects evaporating. It doesn't wait very long after it loses your subject to start looking for it again from scratch.



The D800 and D800E wastes no time tracking. If it loses your subject it immediately starts looking around again.

You might want to use this if you're shooting a bunch of fixed things at varying distances one after another, but I use AF-S for that.

I've never moved this setting from its default of Normal.


a4 AF activation       top

This allows the AF system to ignore the shutter button.


Shutter/AF-ON (default)

In its default position, the AF system turns on when you press the shutter, or press the AF-ON button on the back.


AF-ON only

The D800 and D800E won't focus when you press the shutter. They will only focus when you press the AF-ON button on the back.

I've never used this. It might be helpful with an AF telephoto that lacks easy manual override. You'd use the AF button to focus, and remove your finger to lock.


a5 AF Point Illumination        top

This controls when, or if, the AF points light up in the finder.

There's a catch: when you use the crop modes, they only show as faint lines in the finder. The only way to get the finder to indicate the dead areas as fuzzy gray are if this is set to OFF, which therefore is how I set it.


Auto (default)

They light up as they need to.



Always on (when the meter is on).



Always off.

In this setting, crop modes will show more clearly in the finder by making the unused regions fuzzy and dark.


a6 Focus point wrap-around       top

AF point selection normally stops when you hit the edge of the constellation of AF areas.



Wrap lets your selection wrap around to the other side of the AF areas!


No wrap (default)

If you keep pressing the selector to the left it stops at the far left. I prefer it this way.


a7 Number of focus points       top

AF usually uses all 51 points.

If you prefer faster manual selection by aggregating the 51 points down to only 11 points, set that in this menu. You don't have to click around as much, but you only get to select 11 of the 51 points. These 11 points are similar to the 11 points of the D2, F6, and D200.

I leave it at 51 points, but I also usually use the Auto AF-Area Select modes to let the D800 and D800E's brilliant AF system do most of the work.


a8 Built-in AF-assist illuminator        top

This lets you deactivate the annoying AF assist light.



The annoying focus light lights if it needs to.

This is great for shooting inanimate objects, but annoys people.



This makes it much tougher for the D800 and D800E to focus in the dark, but doesn't annoy your subjects either.


Top of D800 and D800E User's Guide

Nikon D800 and D800E Review



Setting the D800 and D800E's Autofocus System











          a Autofocus

          b Metering/Exposure < < NEXT

          c Timers/AE&AF Lock

          d Shooting/Display

          e Bracketing/Flash

          f Controls

          g Movie




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