Nikon D800 Left Autofocus point issue

If you’ve been following the online forums about the D800/D800E you may have come across a few message threads about a “Left AF point” issue. Or maybe a few hundred threads about it. In today’s blog I’m going to discuss the issue, and then present a video demonstration of the sadness on a recently-acquired D800 that is afflicted by the disease.

First, is the problem real? Yes. I’ve had two D800 bodies so far, the first I acquired soon after they became available in the states and a newer one I bought within the past few weeks. The first body had perfect AF – its left and right AF points were highly accurate and consistent across all my lenses, including the ones most sensitive to the Left AF issue, the 24G f/1.4 and 14-24G f/2.8. The second body? Not so much. The good news is the second body has highly consistent autofocus, just like the first. The bad news is it’s consistently bad, at least when focusing using its leftmost AF point. After finetuning this second body with my 24G (-5 AF tune for you geeks), the center and right AF points produce perfectly focused images at f/1.4, over a wide range of focusing distances. The left AF point? It’s a little off starting at MFD (minimum focusing distance), then gets progressively worse as the focusing distance increases. At around 4 feet and beyond the focusing error becomes unusable wide-open on my 24G.

Those few to a few hundred online threads about this issue have spanned the spectrum from “you’re imagining things” to “you’re testing it wrong” to “mine sucks too, let’s go have a beer and commiserate”. To my knowledge the first person to discover and disclose this issue was Ming Thein, a photographer who maintains a blog Here. He even went so far as to visit a Nikon service center to demonstrate the problem in front of Nikon technicians, where they cycled through several samples of the 24G and D800 bodies, not to mention other full-frame Nikon bodies like the D3. More recently Thom Hogan, a respected Nikon shooter, blogger, and author of must-have guides about Nikon bodies wrote about his experience with the issue, disclosing that he’s personally observed it on 2 bodies, out of a sample size of 12 bodies. Well I guess it’s my turn to chime in, late as always ;-)

What follows is my video demonstration of the issue, as recorded from a live session with my second D800 body. I set up three siemens star charts perfectly parallel to the camera’s focusing plane, one centered on the rightmost AF point, one on the center AF point, and finally, one on the boogeyman leftmost AF point. I mounted my D800 on my sturdy-as-all-getout Benro J-3 ballhead and C-358m8 legs. The charts were illuminated with a 5000K LED lamp to produce an exposure of f/1.4 ISO 100 1/50. Not the most light possible but certainly well above the darkness threshold where the D800 starts to hunt like a blind pig. To isolate clarity issues to the AF system alone, I configured the body in 2-second exposure delay mode, which combines the mirror vibration-avoiding MLU mode with the human vibration-avoiding timer-release. This level of precision of setup isn’t really necessary; you can simply point your camera at something of interest and see if it takes a sharp photo. Expecting any less from a $3,000 body seems rather silly. But in the interest of repeatability, comparability, and most of all, flak invulnerability, I went through the trouble of setting up the most precise test I could think of.

The methodology is simple. For each of the three AF points I first enter Live View and focus on the siemens star using the ultra-precise Contrast-Detect autofocus and then snap a photo, which becomes my reference “sharp” photo. I then exit Live View and take a sequence of three photos using the camera’s Phase-Detect autofocus, racking focus in between each photo so that the camera has to work to acquire focus. After each photo I zoom to 100% in playback and then compare the photo to the reference shot focused in Live View. For my test the charts were mounted 4 1/2 feet away from the sensor plane indicator on the body. As mentioned previously, at closer focusing distances the problems are less severe, at further distances forget about it. Watch the video below for the results.

So what’s Nikon’s position on this? Nobody knows. Of the D800/D800E owners who have sent their bodies in, the early adopters reported frustration and lack of success, whereas the most recent service attempts seem to have been much more successful. I’d like to send my body in as well, except I haven’t been able to convince Nikon USA to send me a prepaid printing label that will spare me the $50+ insured shipping expense. That’s Nikon USA’s standard warranty policy/procedure. And unless and until this issue is recognized by Nikon as something beyond the normal low-percentage defect rate type of issue I suspect that policy will remain in place. When will Nikon acknowledge the issue publicly? Will they issue a recall, even a silent one?

You can download the Siemens Star chart I used in this video at Chart

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26 Responses to Nikon D800 Left Autofocus point issue

  1. lorenzo says:

    SCARING!

    Great video and test, thank you for doing that for us, but that doesn’t look as a $3K camera, it looks worse than a point and shoot.

    I am afraid that it won’t be any recall and Nikon will say as usual “At factory specs”.

    Think I am going to cancel my order at B&H. I already bought a defective D300S that Nikon wasn’t able to fix in two years, don’t want to buy another defective D800E.

    Anyone agrees?

  2. Daniel says:

    Nikon QC…

    i discovered the same issue with my D800 ( 6003xxx). I delivered it my self along with a brand new AF-S 50 f1.4 to Nikon service ( Prague ) on May 7.

    I attached a proper “problem description” to the service ticket and hoped for the best.

    It’s June 20 and my camera is still in service, although i called there 3 times and went there my self to check the status.

    Here are Nikon responses:

    First call: Camera is fine but my brand new AF-S 50 1.4 has problem so it was sent to service in Germnay! Lens is almost perfect on my other bodies D300, D5100 and i also tested it on a good D800.
    Second call: Camera is not fixed, lens is not fixed, “we will call you”
    Third call: Engineer checked the camera and it is fine! Lens not fixed yet. “We will call you”
    Last visit: We will call you when the lens will be here!

    I tested the body on following lenses: 50 1.4 G and D, 16-35 F4, 24-120 F4, 85 1.4 Nikon and Sigma, 14-24 F2.8 and a couple more…all exhibited the same left bank AF issue.

    The only usable AF is with points around the center, left AF bank back focuses, right AF bank front focus. LV is perfect!

    I am preparing legal services for service point in Prague as if the issue is not fixed in 30 days i have to get money back or new body. It’s been 44 days since i delivered my camera to Nikon, issue is not fixed …

    thanks for the article and good luck!

    • Tad says:

      Hi
      I alredy give back my new lens 50mm f1.4 couse i thought the focuse problem was with the lens :-/ now i see my other one 24-70 f2.8 its out of focuse too :-/ my old d700 hasnt problem with it :-(

  3. Rob in San Diego says:

    So don’t use the left Autofocus point. Problem solved.

  4. Daniel Robu says:

    I can confirm the same issue with the left AF points on my D800E. – Tested with 24 1.4 G ED.

  5. David says:

    Hi thanks for doing this. I have had this issue which effected a recent job. Thankfully I shot on a D700 as well. I also tried another series of portraits, and didn’t know about this. I sent my camera and lens (D800 and 24-70) for service. It’s back and I tested it, I will now run the same test you have to see if they have solved the problem!

    It’s sad that Nikon didn’t fix all the bugs before release (no pun) and bowed the mega pixel race… seems just like a Canon type launch :(

  6. A. L. Amiri says:

    Hello. My D800 (#301XXX) has this issue I believe. I simply tacked a large, intricately detailed poster on the wall, put the D800 on a tripod with an old Nikon 28mm f/2.8D lens approximately three to four feet from the wall. I used MUP mode with two second shutter delay (as I usually do with architectural photography anyways) and the AF point in the center, lens wide-open. I repeated the same process with the AF point shifted all the way to the left and when I zoomed in I noticed that the second picture was definitely blurrier.
    The lens is a little awkward on this body I’ll admit, but I repeated the test with different subjects too (backs of playing cards for example) and it still happened. I racked the focus on the lens as close as it gets, so that the subjects were out of focus, then pressed the AF-ON button and the shutter so the lens had to work, as the article mentioned. Every time the lens caught the focus without hunting and every time I compared the shots, the left hand AF point shot was blurrier.
    I called Nikon today and got differing responses. One person said they knew nothing about it, one person admitted that people have been calling in about it, while the supervisor I asked to speak with kept repeating “there are no problems with the D800.” Unless all these people on the forums I’ve been reading are making it up, I guess Nikon is just very very careful about admitting that it’s a problem.
    Unfortunately this is all leaving a bad taste in my mouth and I’m considering just returning it and either getting a D700 or just wait to see what Nikon does about the problem and purchase one later. I’d rather not, but I’m not sure what else to do. Maybe I set my expectations too high with Nikon this time.

  7. Daniel says:

    update…

    i just got my D800 back from service.

    i did not have time to test it properly but it looks like it’s fixed. Left bank AF focuses properly. Right af seems a bit off but i need to check it thoroughly.

    I tested it with AF-S 50 1.4 and 24-120 F4 @24.

    In case you need Nikon service case number just email me.

  8. lance bayman says:

    i had same issue with my d800. real problem happen when distance shot rather than close range. all my distance shot were unusably blur dispite of any focus points with my 70-200 vrii while i was using tripod and 2 second delay mode. i returned my camera in time. luckly, i still have d700 so, i am going to wait and see if nikon correct this problem. i have been reserching this problem throughout the web and i experiened myself conclude, it is not a af censor alignment problem. it seems rather af sensor design problem which will not fixable by simple updating firmware. we all wait and see.

  9. Neil says:

    My D800 is fine with all lenses bar one.

    I have been using AF systems since they arrived on the market, routinely checking new camera AF systems for accuracy as a percentage will suffer slight front or rear focus issues off the assembly line – Canon and Nikon.

    My D4 and D800 required calibration for slight rear focusing issues across all AF sensors (miss-focus errors become worse at normal working distances than chart tests at only 50x distance). My D4 and D800 have never suffered left AF focusing issues with the following lenses:
    70-200mm f/2.8 MKII
    200mm f/2
    400mm f/2.8 VR
    600mm f/4 at VR

    However both of these cameras showed severe left AF problems with a Nikkor 105 mm lens which required attention.

    Since Nikon re-calibrated both cameras for rear focusing, images focused via the sub mirror are as tack sharp as live view auto-focused versions across all AF points – Flicking between AF and live view versions at 100% in Photoshop.

    Tests were repeated after service in identical fashion to initial tests, 50x focal length, appropriate tripod for lens weight, mirror lock up (mirror lock up 7-10 seconds wait) and very careful alignment of sensor plane to charts positioned on vertical surface checked for its accuracy re levels.

    In some cases it appears the left AF point problems may in fact be a rogue lens defect, and not the AF system.

  10. Don Chesler says:

    I believe I have had similar problems with my D7000. I never traced it to a specific focus rectangle. It is generally sharp, but inconsistent. Sometimes it appears to be inches off the plane, extremely frustrating. Of course, it could be me. I use the same technique with my D700 and have no problems.

  11. Below is a slightly edited version of my review that I posted to Nikons’ website for their D4.

    I first purchased a D800, and then later a D4. I have owned a D90, D700, D7000, plus still own a D3X. I shoot a lot of sports with the D3X, and use AF-C single point focus. My primary lens is a Nikon VR 80-400. With that lens on a D3X, I get a hit ratio (good focus) of approx 90% (handheld). However, with that lens on a D800, using AF-C singe point focus, my hit ratio fell to less than 50%. Same issue with the D4. Note: On all my cameras, I shoot with the release priority set to focus (so that is not the problem).

    I conducted test shots using other lenses (80-200, 28-300 and 85 f/1.4), and got the same issue. Switching to AF-C and 3-D, the hit ratio climbed, some, however the focus point would jump from horse to horse (in polo there are four players per team, plus two refs, for a total of ten horses on the field at a time). Since four players are wearing the same jersey, and a lot of horses look alike, in 3-D the focus point would randomly switch from horse to horse, and it also switched off the horses onto a nearby wall, then back to the horses. AF-C single point is my preferred way to shoot, it works great on the D3X (and on a D3S that I purchased after I returned my D4). Same issue with focus point jumping around in D9, D21 and D51. In 3-D mode focus point even jumped around when I has holding the camera on a stationary subject.

    Apparently Nikon has taken a process that worked (on the D3 line), and “fixed it.” If this had just occurred on the D800, and worked okay on the D4, then I would have thought it was just that one camera (or model of camera). However, since the issue occurred on both models, something is wrong in the new focus software for these two cameras (and I suspect with all current models, like the D5100 and D3200).

    Nikon: Please address this issue, as I am sure I am not the only pro that uses the AF-C single point option. I can provide test shots from both cameras (in a month I shot over 17,000 photos with the D800 before I sold it. I probably shot over a thousand on the D4 before returning it to the store).

    Picture quality, when in focus, is excellent on both of these cameras. However, with such a low hit ratio, neither of these camera served my needs. I shoot at least 150,000 pictures a year, mostly sports, so I am not a rookie at this. I can provide links to my website, and even create galleries of examples if anyone wishes to see.

    As such, for both of these products, I can not recommend, until this focus issue is fixed. For a sports camera, which the D4 is designed to be, this is a major issue.

    Added note: I have shot almost 2,000 shots with my D3S since I purchased it. Of those shots, less than 50 have been out of focus (and most of the out of focus shots were not that far out, unless I slipped too far off target), a hit ratio of well over 90%. Those shots were done with a 80-200 and a 28-300 lens. Additionally, in reviewing my files from the D4 and D800, the AF-C single point issue is worse when the subject is moving either directly towards or away from the camera. The more “flat” the movement, the less focus adjustment is required (still does not work correctly, however).

    I would respectfully request that others try this focus method with their cameras, and report on their results. If anybody has any questions, or would like to see sample pictures, please let me know. I can post pictures to galleries on my website (warning: they won’t look good because of the focus issue).

  12. bob cooley says:

    Adam,
    Thanks for the thorough test- and link to the chart!
    Very helpful!

  13. ali says:

    i saw that you experimented this test with lens 24mm f1.4g so can i experiment this test with 24-120 f4 @24 f/4 or i should get a prime lens to experiment my camera
    Eventually is this issue for all D800 & D800E?

    • Adam says:

      24mm @ f/4 might have too much DOF to detect the issue but it’s worth a shot. If I have time in the next few days I’ll try my 24G @ f/4 as well.

  14. Thank you very much for the in detail test.
    Would really like to see Nikon make an official statement via the NPS or NPU program

  15. Jo says:

    Thank you for testing.
    I have the same issue with the D4 in combination with the 14-24 2.8.
    AF-s lenses like 35 1.4, 85 1.4, 105 VR, etc. are working perfect with all AF points.
    After Nikon tried to fix the issue the 14-24 works acceptable, but now with all the other lenses only the LEFT Af point is usable and all others are out of focus. Bad deal.
    I will report the result of their second attempt trying to fix it.

    Btw., officially they denied any issue with left AF points when using a D4/D800 and a wide angle like 24 1.4 or 14-24.

  16. Aalt says:

    There is also another issue involved here which is almost never discussed.
    Many lenses suffer from (asymmetric) focus shift.
    This means that the focussing distance changes when the aperture is changed.
    A lens always opens to maximum aperture during focussing.
    During exposure the lens stops back down to the chosen or required aperture.
    In many cases focussing errors are generated this way.
    That’s why companies like Hasselblad have focus shift compensation built into their firmware!
    Read more about it here:
    http://diglloyd.com/articles/Focus/FocusShift.html

  17. Cesar D says:

    Just by reading thru the blog, one learns so much. I understand that there is no perfect camera …. all will be within certain accepted tolerances. Also, imperfections or problems can be hidden thru choice of apperture …. really learning !!!!!

  18. Hi all,

    My D800 seems not to present the Left AF issue. Even though still remains something to be desired when the extreme left AF point is used.
    For my tests I used the Nikkor AFS 1.8/50mm G and the 1.4/85mm G.
    The camera definitely lacks the AF accuracy of both the B3x and D3s. For the D4 I cannot comment.
    But there is another “problem” I am evaluating this time. It seems like it is producing a rather harsh bokeh with a lot of infringement of on colour into the other in the out of focus areas.
    So far I have evaluated with a dozen of latest and vintage lenses but I am not sure what it does not fit well.
    If somebody has something to comment of this he/she will certainly oblige.

    Regards,
    DVG

  19. I have noticed that with my D800 and 24G 1.4 the extreme AF points were not too accurate, but didn’t run any tests so far. Today I have read about the left AF point issue and did some testing as well. What I have found is that my 24G 1.4 shows this issue, but none of my other lenses i have tested (24-70G 2.8, 85G 1.8, 50G 1.4). At the time being I can live with that and I will wait and hope for a firmware update. I am a bit scared to send my D800 in and get it back worse. There was a time when you had to send in your DSLR for AF finetuning. Today you can adjust the AF by yourself since it’s just an option in the menu.

  20. Gopi Mehrotra says:

    I have left focus issue too. I used a 50 MM f1.4G lens for testing. LV, Center focus point and right focus point were razor sharp. However, left focus point was blured and not acceptable for a $3000 camera. Returning mine to the dealer and will place order for a another D800 in few months. Hopefully Nikon will take care of the issue by that time.

  21. Ben says:

    This is comment on your latest Dpreview.com post, about your D800 that was returned from El Segundo: it looks spot on at -15 at right focus point. Perfect. Other shots not good. Return it, raise hell, get it fixed.

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