Nikon D3 Field Review in the East Pacific. PART 2

The final AF mode is Dynamic-Area AF, which I used with all 51 points activated and 3D tracking switched on in continuous mode. Initially we did not get on well, but the more I persevered with it, the more useful it became. By the end of the trip this was my main macro mode. In this mode all 51 AF sensors are active, however the 3D tracking can recognise the subject and track it, keeping it in focus around the frame. This works underwater, however, it does not work on all subjects particularly if they move fast. In other words don’t expect to be able to track an Anthias flitting around the frame in the current. I identified two main uses – both more to do with camera rather than subject movement! First is intention camera movement, this mode is a great tool for recomposing a macro shot. You leave the main focus point in the middle of the frame, focus on the subject, recompose and the camera tracks the subject “movement” and then fire. The second is in high magnification macro with longer lenses where it is impossible to keep the camera totally still. Here the 3D tracking is excellent and following the small movements resulting from camera and keep the subject sharp. Remember that in both cases I was making use of the illumination from the Fisheye FIX light in the dark Pacific waters. However, in the bright tropics I would expect this system to be even more impressive.

Here I used 3D tracking to maintain focus while I recomposed the frame. Initially I focused on the Red Irish Lord’s eye while it was in the centre of the frame. With the 3D tracking ON I simply recomposed and the blinking AF points AF followed the eye to its new position within the frame ensuring it remained the point of focus. Nikon D3 + 150mm + 500D, Subal housing. F13 @ 1/250th. ISO 200. Two Inon Z240 strobes.

The AF frame coverage is perhaps my biggest complaint with the D3, the outer limits only just reaching the thirds of the frame. I feel that this is the only area where the D3 really falls below state of the art with its specifications. You can’t help conclude that the Multi-Cam 3500 system was developed for the D300 and then fitted to the D3.


Here is a comparison of the AF coverage in the D3 (top) and D2X (bottom) frames. For me the D3’s focus points are far too clustered in the centre of the frame.

Of course the camera has an AF lock button, with a lever that falls right below your thumb on the Subal housing, but I do not favour such a solution. Particularly with macro shooting, I want to have my AF point right on a key feature, such as an eye, ensuring it is razor sharp in my preferred composition. Surely this is more desirable that focusing, locking focus and recomposing while all the time trusting that neither you nor the subject moves. I hope that improved AF coverage will be on of the main upgrades when the D3 is replaced.


This image shows how the focus points fall over a typical subject. I would like more coverage from the D3 autofocus, but, to be fair, it is currently adequate for many subjects and compositions. Note underwater image has been lightened so you can see focus points.

Continued in Part 3.