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Nikon D3 User's Guide:
Custom Setting Menu: Autofocus

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Nikon D3

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August 2008    Top of D3 Users Guide    D3 Review    More Nikon Reviews

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a1 - a10: Autofocus

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 advanced AF system.

What I Change

I change a1 and a3, 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 D3 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 D3 only will fire when it's in focus, ensuring a sharp sequence.


The default mode, this lets the D3 free-run at 5 or 8 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

I use this. It's a halfway setting. It makes the D3 slow down and get most action shots in focus.


This makes the D3 wait until it's in perfect focus before firing any shot.

Because it waits for focus you can shoot long bursts and they'll all be in focus, but I find its too picky than the Release + Focus mode.

See also How to Use the D3 AF System.

a2 AF-S priority selection        top

At the default setting, the D3 only fires after getting perfect focus. Nikon call this "Focus Priority." It's the opposite of the default for AF-C mode, which lets the D3 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 D3 won't fire. If you have a problem with this you might want to take this off the default setting.

Focus (Default)

The D3 only fires after it's gotten and locked perfect focus.


The D3 fires anytime you press the shutter, regardless of if it's in focus or not. Try this setting if your D3 seems to lock up with some lenses.

See also How to Use the D3 AF System.

a3 Dynamic AF Area       top

There is a lot of crazy stuff here. I use 51 Points (3D-tracking) which lets the D3, in the crosshair and AF-C modes, track a target and show you what its doing. See How to Use the D3 AF System for more.

a4 Focus Tracking with lock-on        top

This selects how long the D3 focus tracking system waits 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 D3 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 D3 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 D3 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 D3 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.

a5 AF activation       top

This allows the AF system to ignore the shutter button.


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

AF-ON only

The D3 won't focus when you press the shutter. It only focuses 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.

a6 Focus Point Illumination        top

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

Auto (Default)

They light up as they need to. I leave it here.


Always on (when the meter is on).


Always off.

a7 Focus point wrap-around       top

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


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

a8 AF point selection       top

AF51 (default)

You may select any of the 51 AF points.


You only get to select 11 of the points. You don't have to click around as much with the Big Rear Thumb Switch, 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.

a9 AF-ON button        top

This lets you select the function of the top AF-ON button.

You'll see that many of the selections are things to which the AE-L AF-L button can also be programmed.

Personally I don't use the AF-ON buttons, and I use the other AEL functions with my AE-L button, so I really wish Nikon let us program some of the cool custom functions to the AF-ON button.

a10 Vertical AF-ON button        top

This lets you select the function of the second (vertical) AF-ON button.

I don't use this. I really wish Nikon let us program it to duplicate the Exposure Compensation button, which is needed and now requires a second hand to reach when shooting vertically.


My D3 User's Guide continues below.

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          a Autofocus

          b Metering/Exposure < < NEXT

          c Timers/AE&AF Lock

          d Shooting/Display

          e Bracketing/Flash

          f Controls




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