Improve Focus For a Nikon Z6 or Z7 Camera: This article applies to both the Nikon Z7 and Z6 for bird/sport and wildlife photography. Two years ago I was somewhat disappointed in the focusing performance of my Nikon Z cameras as compared to my Nikon D850 or Nikon D500 when it came to Sports and Wildlife photography. Two years later through trial, error, Firmware updates, and researching Nikon's focusing System for the Nikon Z cameras I am happy with the improvements by knowing what settings help me in a shooting situation. Not perfect, but a marked improvement overall.
Below are a few tips I picked up along the way that is aimed at Sports/birds and Wildlife Photography.
First and Foremost - Keep your Camera's Firmware Updated. Firmware 3.x made many focus improvements overall and added a few new features such as eye-tracking and pet eye tracking.
Understanding the Nikon Z Focusing System: Not switching your focusing mode is like staying in one gear in a manual shift car. Sure you will get there eventually but knowing how and when to shift will get you there faster and more efficiently.
Make your Nikon Z focus Faster:
- Apply Settings to Live View - Off Menu->d Shooting/Display->d8 Apply settings to live view->Off
- frees up a few CPU cycles and improves focus acquisition at the cost of what you see is what you get in EVF.
- Focus Points Used 1/2 - Menu->a Autofocus->a5 Focus Points Used->1/2
- Use Nikon Z lenses when available vs FTZ adapted lenses
Disclaimer - I have configured my Nikon Z7 and Z6 to use back button focus. This allows me to leave the camera in Continuous Auto Focus mode and can simply release the AF button and the camera acts like Single focus mode - Very convenient with wildlife photography and most other photography.
To set up back button focus: Follow these three steps.
- Menu->Controls->f2 Custom Control Assignment (use the D Pad ) highlight (yellow) the AF-On button.
- Menu->a Autofocus->a1 AF-C Priority Selection->Release (means when you press the shutter release it releases and does not try to focus)
- Menu-a7 AF Activation-> AF-On Only (means the focus is now assigned to the rear AF-On Button)
Note: Once you set your camera to back-button focus leave the camera in Continuous Focus Mode. This gives you a single focus by simply releasing the AF On button.
Focusing Mode: Set to Continuous as mentioned, use i Menu to set AF-C
AF-C Priority Selection: Set to Release, Menu->a Autofocus->a1 AF-C Priority Selection->Release
- AF Area Mode: Know which AF modes work best in your situation.
- Use Single Point AF when the animal is stationary or slower moving subjects
- Dynamic AF is better for active subjects that are moving around too much for single-point AF, it offers more helper points to assist in focusing.
- Wide Area Small AF is great for action when the subject is larger and the AF area box can be kept on the subject.
- Auto Area AF - I use this mode for larger subjects moving - but not my choice for wildlife.
- Note: you can assign tracking mode to a function button to quickly turn on/off tracking if the situation arises.
- PinPoint AF - I use this for other types of photography when I need precise focus on a small area of a subject.
* Use your I menu to switch modes as the situation arise. If one mode is not working as expected - jump to your I menu and change it on the fly.
Focus Delay: Menu->a3 Focus Tracking with Lock-on (Quick and Delay)
- Quick - Causes the focus to shift the main subject focus on another subject more quickly if the subject is momentarily lost. Good for situations when multiple subjects are present and are close together
- Delay- Causes the focus to remain longer on the last focus distance if the subject is momentarily lost. gives you more time to re-compose the focus points back on the subject.
Focus Points Used: Menu->a5 Focus Points Used->1/2 Every Other One
Store Points by Orientation: Menu->a6 Store Points by orientation->Yes (remembers the focus points in horizontal and in Vertical orientation)
Summary: My Favorite Settings for "Wildlife" Overall
- Back button Focus Mode
- Focus Mode - AF-C
- AF-C priority selection->Release
- (1) Dynamic AF mode - primary, (2) Wide Area Small - secondary
- Focus Delay - 4
- Focus Points used - 1/2
- Store Points by Orientation - Yes
- Apply Settings to Live View - Off
- Release Mode set to "H" highspeed
Finally, assign your favorite Wildlife configuration to a user profile, I set mine to U1: Menu-> Wrench->Save user Settings->U1/U2/U3