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Missed/Soft Focus

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I shoot with a Nikon D750 and my images are almost never sharp when shooting more than 1 person or when shooting more than about 10 feet away. I have tried so many things to correct this, but nothing has improved it. I have included images from a shoot I did last night. I usd my Nikkor AF-S 50mm 1.8 lens, F Stop 4+, SS 400-800, and ISO 100. This is the same situation even with my 85mm 1.8; never sharp. The only time I seem to get a sharp image is if I'm no more than 5 feet away from my subject. I was about 10-15 feet away in these images. All firmware for my camera and lenses are up to date. I did a manual calib. on my lenses and they seem to be just fine. I don't know what to do from here.







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I have used higher F-stops than 4. The bottom image is a single person that I know I locked focus on because my camera won't activate the shutter until focus is acquired. The only thing I can imagine is that I am too far away from her, maybe 15 ft.

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1 hour ago, BrittaneyRodriguez said:

The only thing I can imagine is that I am too far away from her, maybe 15 ft.


With that much distance between you and your subject, the DoF thing becomes less of an issue. Now the closer you get, the more you'd have to stop down for subjects on different focal planes.

One thing I'd like to check is what Auto Focusing Mode are you primarily using?

AF-A,  AF-S or AF-C?

(Page 121 on from your Camera's Manual)

AF Area Mode, are you using Single Point AF or some other mode? (Page 123 from your Camera's Manual)

Now, this is very important...

I want you to hit your Menu Button and head to the Pencil Icon, which is the Custom Settings Menu. (Page 326 & Page 327 from your Camera's Menu.)

  • A1 should be set to FOCUS PRIORITY - Your Camera's setting will either be "Release" or "Focus." YOU WANT FOCUS!
  • A2 should be set to FOCUS PRIORITY - Your Camera's setting will either be "Release" or "Focus." YOU WANT FOCUS!

I have owned several Nikon cameras over the years, from a Nikon D40 all the way up to a D4s & D850. With my shooting style, I tend to use AF-C AND set both A1 & A2 to Focus Priority. What that does is that it tells the camera to not take a photograph UNLESS it thinks things are in focus. Only if I'm really shooting sports and such, will I set things differently. Even with subjects standing still, I find that AF-C works better for me. That said, the person who I shoot Weddings with, she primarily uses AF-S, so your mileage may vary. :) Never-ever use AF-A.

Honestly, it doesn't matter if you think your are going to "Miss a Shot" by not having it set to release. You can't deliver an image to the client that you have blown focus on. You are most likely not a Photojournalist of some kind that needs to produce a shot at the exact moment. :D

Finally, lenses have a minimum focusing distance and believe it or not, a maximum focusing difference. I've found that 15-16 feet is the absolute maximum limit for lenses like the 50mm and 85mm. Even lenses like my 17-55 f/2.8 and 24-70 f/2.8. If the subjects are 15+ feet away, I'm reaching for my 70-200 f/2.8. So you might want to invest in a 70-200 Zoom if you are typically shooting 15+ feet away. Speaking of which, why are you shooting this far away? To leave room on the sides for possible prints? Walk us through your approach.


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Another thing about focusing systems, and why the "Maximum Focusing Distance" comes into play. In order for a camera to lock focus, it primarily relies on Contrast Swing. Which means it needs something obvious to lock onto that is bright/dark. Some AF Points are stronger than others, and these AF Points are known as "Cross Type." Not all AF points are these type, and those AF Points tend to be weaker. So by you standing 15+ feet away, using an AF Point that isn't a Cross-Type on someone's eyeball...that's a really-really-really tiny area for the camera to lock on, because you are 15 feet away...see where I'm going with this? :D 

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I'd also like to see something photographed with you standing like 5-10 feet away. Something like a coffee can with big letters. Then take a shot from 15 feet away, or where you would normally stand. Then as Damien mentioned, post 100% Crops and we can really judge things. Since you are having the same issue with multiple lenses, I want to first to verify your camera's settings and if those are fine, you might have to send your D750 to Nikon and have it looked at. Nikon D750 and focus problems are common.

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@Brian Settings: AF-C (I have tried single per suggestions, but it doesn't work well with active children/lifestyle family portraits)

A1 and A2 both set to "Focus", however, I just did a test and for some reason my camera is still releasing the shutter without even attempting to focus....)

I have searched and searched for anything on maximum focus distance, but only come up with information on minimum focusing distance. Thank you for finally answering that! No specific reason why I shot that far away perhaps I was trying to get some of the sun or that just may have been where I happened to be standing when I took the photo.

Back-button-focus.... I tried it and didn't like it so I turned it off, then I gave it a try again las night because whenever I ask for insight on this issue, the main responses that I get besides aperture related ones is that back-button-focus is a must to get sharp images. The only that that really appeals to me is the ease of recomposing vs having to toggle my focus point around. It gets challenging having to move that thing around when photographing moving kids. Suggestions on this are appreciated.

Max focusing distance: This makes perfect sense to me and I have suspected this but haven't found any information to support this, and everyone that I have suggested this to has told me there isn't a max focusing distance... 

@Damien Symonds I included the 100% crops as well as new images at your request taken at 2ft and 10 ft.

Focus 1.jpg

Focus 2.jpg

Focus 3.jpg

Test 2 ft.jpg

Test 10 ft.jpg

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You aren’t going to find much...if any, information about "Maximum Focusing Distance," because it’s a Brian-ism, made up by yours truly. :D

It’s what I have found since I started shooting with SLR cameras in 1986. So it’s more of a personal experience of mine where my lenses started to get “soft” around 15 feet. I really noticed this with my 17-55 f/2.8 lens when I shot with my D300s. So I went testing with a tape measure and sure enough the lens was “fine” around 12-13 feet, “meh” at 14 feet and “soft” around 15-16 feet. You should be able to do the same, all you need is a tripod or something to put the camera on and a 25 foot tape measure. Then someone holding a Dry-Erase Board with the distance written on it.

BBF, while a valid technique, is not the “Second Coming of Christ” that it’s made out to be. Yes, some people will swear by it, others like me can’t use it since I usually poke my eye when I do. :) I really think it’s a placebo effect as it makes people slow down and not jamming their finger when pressing the shutter button. You are supposed to exhale and squeeze the shutter button, almost like you are shooting a rifle. Unfortunately, people do the opposite, usually hold their breath and jam the shutter button. 

Now, I think you are looking for “Tack Sharp” as opposed to “Acceptable Sharp.” Virtually all Digital Photos need some sort of sharpening and sharpened to the appropriate size photograph for which they are intended. Damien has a whole Print Sharpening Class for this very subject, so I can’t get into too much specifics. 

Now, with your camera releasing without trying to focus seems to be that the little switch on the side of the camera is set to “M” or a switch on the lens is set to Manual. That’s not normal. 

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Page 57 in your manual:


Make sure that switch below the release button for the lens mount is set to AF and not M. (Manual.) It's SO easy to bump this switch.   Then press and hold the button in the middle of that switch and look into the viewfinder. Rotate the Rear Command Dial to see what mode you are on. I would check to make sure it's set to AF-F. Or, switch it to AF-S and see if that works better for you.

Also, make sure your switch on the back of the camera is not set to L. It should be on the White Dot. 


The L means to "Lock" the Focus Point Selection.

Now for your two new photos. At 2 & 10 Feet, they look fine in the Focus Dept.

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Another thing that just came to my mind, you aren't using a STUPID UV FILTER TO "PROTECT" YOUR LENS? I hope you aren't. If so, take those suckers off and try things again.

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@Brian @Damien Symonds I am even more frustrated now than when I originally asked my question. My Focus Priority mode isn't working at all. All of my settings are correct. I quadruple checked. I just got off the phone with Nikon after speaking to 2 different techs to try to figure out why the shutter is releasing without acquiring focus despite being in FP mode. Both of them can't seem to comprehend that the problem isn't that my camera isn't focusing, it's that the camera is allowing me to take a picture without focus being achieved FIRST. 

Back to my original question, in your opinion, did I miss focus on my recent session (photos above), was I just too far away, or are my expectations of how sharp they should be unreasonable? My goal is to learn something and improve going forward.

I appreciate all the information that you take the time to share with me. NO FILTERS!

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@Damien Symonds would be the best one to judge focus. I'd say they are "salvageable," but I could be wrong. 


3 hours ago, BrittaneyRodriguez said:

the problem isn't that my camera isn't focusing, it's that the camera is allowing me to take a picture without focus being achieved FIRST. 


That's what I think is happening, the camera is taking a shot and regardless if things are locked on or not. I'd hate to say this but I think it's time to send your Nikon D750 into Nikon for repair.  Something could be wrong with the Motherboard or the focusing sensors. Something isn't right. In fact, you should be able to make the lens create a blurry image by rotating the focus ring and then see if the camera tries to lock focus. If it takes it no matter how blurry it is, that's a problem, especially if you told the camera not to, and it sounds like you did.

If you don't want to go that route and just want to get another D750 body, KEH has a D750 Body in "EX+" Condition for about the cost of a D750 Repair. Now, I could be wrong, but I'd estimate around $700-ish for this repair, plus the cost of shipping. It could be slightly more though. Nikon is the only one that fixes Nikon gear as they won't sell parts to 3rd party shops anymore.

You aren't being unreasonable. If I can nail focus of a Groom with his "Ugly Cry Face" when he see's his Bride for the 1st time from 20 feet away, you should be able to get the couple at the park, standing still, in focus from 15 feet away, if there's enough contrast swing.

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3 hours ago, BrittaneyRodriguez said:

Back to my original question, in your opinion, did I miss focus on my recent session (photos above), was I just too far away, or are my expectations of how sharp they should be unreasonable?

You definitely did miss focus, but I agree with Brian.  They are salvageable, just.

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With the proper sharpening, you could get away with smaller prints, like 5x7 or 4x6. If you want something larger, like a 16x20 or 16x24, I'd recommend printing on Canvas, which is a bit forgiving in situations like this. You still need to sharpen to the size you are printing, of course...but Canvas gives you a bit of wiggle-room.

Let me know what Nikon says and how much it will cost.

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