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Comparison of Nikon Z9 and Canon R3 Autofocus systems – part 1

December 2021 saw the release of pro-level mirrorless cameras from Nikon and Canon. Both have autofocus technology that feature subject detection, specifically face and eye detection. This is the most significant autofocus advance over the DSLR era where autofocus was achieved via a sub-system rather than being off the sensor in the mirrorless bodies.

While Nikon and Canon have implemented subject detection, their approach is very different. This is a short post about the differences and some setup tips for both these bodies when shooting news and sports.

In the era of DSLR, autofocus on Canon and Nikon was essentially identical. There was two modes. Continuous and Single. For Sports, Continuous was preferred where the camera continually tries to focus on the area selected by the autofocus points. Nikon called it AF-C mode and Canon AI-Servo. The photographer puts the focus point over the area they want to be in focus and the camera did it’s magic. The photographer called the shots.

Now with mirrorless, the idea of subject detection was developed. The first subjects the cameras were able to detect via software are people, animals and vehicles. Both cameras have a fully automatic mode where the camera looks at the scene and decides what to focus on. If there’s a single person, animal or vehicle in the scene, the camera will select that and it will focus on a person’s or animal’s face or eyes. Both systems do this pretty well. But, when it’s not in fully automatic mode, the cameras have implemented subject detection differently.

Turning to the Z9 first. The Nikon Sports AF Settings Guide gets right to the point. Nikon only makes subject detection possible in four modes. Three of them are simply restrictions on the area of the sensor that the camera will look for a subject: “auto-area AF” being the whole sensor, and AF (S) and AF (L) are small areas. In this setting, the camera automatically selects the subject. The fourth mode, 3D-tracking, allows the user to select the initial subject to track, and if there is a face of a person, animal, vehicle etc, the focus will select that.

When the Z9 is in the other four AF modes, Single-point and Dynamic-area S, M, and L, the autofocus behaves in the same way as a DSLR, looking for contrast in the area under the focus point. Subject detection does not apply.

This clearly demonstrates that there are two separate autofocus systems at work in the Z9. The traditional approach without subject detection, and the system that can detect subjects. This has been the system that’s been used since the Z6 and Z7 was introduced in 2018.

Its interesting to note that Nikon Sports AF Settings Guide, the recommendation for team sports is to use the traditional non-subject tracking mode.

Part two will take a look at how the Canon R3 has implemented subject detection autofocus.

EOS R3 Customizing AF settings – detailed settings

The EOS R3 has an autofocus system that’s different to the R5 and R6. It also allows you to customize buttons to activate autofocus features. The most common customization is commonly called back-button focus. This allows the photographer to separate the release of the shutter from the activating the autofocus. The thinking behind this is to give the photographer more control over when to start and stop the camera from attempting to acquire focus. To do this, Custom Functions 4 menu has the customize buttons option and setting the shutter button half-press to Metering start only stop this button from activating the focus function. Then setting the AF-ON button to Metering and AF start will enable that button to perform AF.

However, the R3 allows you to do a lot more. Pressing the INFO button will get you to another screen where specific AF features can be set. The R5/R6 also has this ability, but the settings are much more limited and explained more clearly. There isn’t any documentation about this detail screen in the current R3 Advanced User Guide.

On this screen, the AF settings you can affect are on the right. For example, you can set AF Operation to Servo or One-Shot. But to enable that, you then have to click on the left so there’s a tick against that setting. This will override any AF setting you might have. But if you don’t enable that function, it will use whatever setting you have set in the camera. On the R5/R6, it’s explicitly labelled “Maintain the current setting”.

So in this screen, the AF area is whatever has been set using the menu system. However, if it was enabled, the camera would use the large AF area.

Note: For Eye detect to be enabled, Subject tracking must also be enabled. Having a tick against Eye detect alone will not enable it unless Subject tracking is enabled. The Eye detect setting should really be greyed-out when Subject tracking is off.

And, if you have a R5 / R6 – this is a great way to set up eye detect https://youtu.be/fWpuF6tGVTc

How to calibrate MacBook Pro Liquid Retina XDR (MiniLED) Displays with i1Display

There’s no point getting one of the new MacBook Pro with the Liquid Retina XDR (MiniLED) Displays if it’s not calibrated accurately. The good news is that out of the box, these displays are very accurate. The default profile is the P3 gamut capable of displaying HDR content to 1600 nits (brightness).

For my photography workflow, I need the much narrower sRGB colorspace at around 160 cdm (luminance). The nice thing about the display settings control panel in Monterey is the luminance is fixed so you can’t accidentally bump the brightness key.

Here is a good discussion on what’s changed with these displays and Monterey OS and a good run through on Youtube:

The delta-E on my display was a very good 0.8

Migrating to a new MacBook Pro 16 inch M1

After the excitement of getting a new Macbook, the practical issues of moving all the applications, data and settings from an old Macbook is largely undocumented. Here’s what I did:

  • The old Intel-powered Macbook Pro was updated to Monterey 12.0.1
  • The new M1 Macbook Pro had 12.0 and needed to be updated. I created a temporary account and then used that to update it to 12.0.1 so the versions of the two Macs were identical
  • Started the Migration Assistant app on both devices after connecting the two with a Thunderbolt 3 cable
  • It took less than 15 minutes to transfer 200GB of data and the new MacBook was ready
  • Before logging into the new Mac, sign out of a few licensed apps so they can be activated on the new one…
  • Adobe Creative Cloud, Microsoft Office, Photomechanic, PDF Expert
  • Now login to the new Mac and re-authenticate into iCloud as required
  • If you have apps that require extensions like Softraid and Rogue Amoeba, you’ll need to change the Security Policy to allow third party extensions to run. Follow the instructions after restarting the Mac while holding down the Touch-ID button
  • Now re-login to the new Mac and login to the apps that you logged out of on the old Mac

I found an issue with the Spotlight index on mail messages. I had to disable and re-enable the index to get it all working.

Enjoy your new Mac!

Noisy and nosey Netgear routers

If you run your own DNS server like pihole, you can see in the logs that Netgear routers wants to contact a couple of Netgear servers hundreds of times a day.

Netgear has been silent on why they need to do this in public forums. Pihole has a pretty simple way to block this request using per-client blocking.