I recently took pictures of a car race.

I was close to the track and tried to focus the drivers within thir cockpits - during they passed. I used a Nikkor 85mm prime and tried to focus on their faces at f1.8. That worked well enugh.

I noticed that it's hard to catch the perfect moment and tried the continuous photo mode to take a lot of photos and select the good ones afterwards. But the focus didn't maintain during they passed. And most of the taken pictures can be deleted because at f1.8 there is a small range of sharpness.

Question: How can I maintain the focus during continuous shooting? I shoot with a D3200 but I would ask for general, because if it's not possible with this model I would also switch to another Nikon.

I used AF-C: enter image description here

  • Did you use Continuous Focus Mode (or whatever it is called by Nikon)? And why did you use f1.8?
    – Zenit
    Sep 10 '16 at 5:53
  • Yes, "AF-C Continuousservo AF" was used but that doesnt seem to work when shutter isn't half pressed. 1.8 for bokeh!!
    – fubo
    Sep 10 '16 at 6:36
  • @fubo Focus (no matter AF-S or AF-C) is only initiated when the shutter button is half pressed (or by the AE-L button if it's set to AF-ON). Some cameras do the opposite (trying to focus while no button is pressed), but I consider this wrong by design.
    – K. Minkov
    Sep 12 '16 at 12:18

The default for continuous shooting is Release Priority which means that the camera will take the shot even if focus is not confirmed. The other option is Focus Priority which only takes a photo when focus is confirmed. The catch is that the continuous speed can diminish in Focus Priority while is maintained at a constant speed in Release Priority.

Check the Settings menu to see if that option exists on your camera. Mid to upper range models have an option for this, but your camera is an entry-level one and may not have it. Keep in mind that it may not manage to focus fast enough, only that the camera will delay the shutter-release in favor of focus. AF Performance is a major difference between low and high-end cameras.

  • Thanks! Is there a way to compare the AF Performance between different models by the technical specifications?
    – fubo
    Sep 12 '16 at 5:56
  • 1
    Not quite, that's why you need review sites ;) The specifications though will indicate capabilities and sophistication of the AF system (number of points, sensitivity, etc) which are factors in performance but not the ultimate result. Only testing and measurement can accurately determine it.
    – Itai
    Sep 12 '16 at 14:53

There are 2 issues which are likely to affect you here:

The Performance of AF-C

AF-C is not magic, and it will not follow the movement through the frame. Your focus point needs to remain in the same place in the frame throughout the shots. If you're off by even a small amount, it could lead to a big difference in where the focus lands. Check your images - can you find the point the image focussed on?

AF-C simply may not be fast enough. The Nikon D3200 is an entry level camera - the speed of AF in general, and the AF-C tracking will be considerably lower than in the pro bodies which are designed for sports. Motorsport in particular is very challenging because of the speed of movement. If you're close to the track the 'closing speed' between you and the cars will be very fast, and probably faster than your AF can cope with.

f/1.8 gives a really shallow depth of field

With such a shallow DOF, getting accurate focus on stationary subjects can sometimes be a real challenge - with a moving target, you'll really struggle - ask yourself if you actually want a DOF that small?

Getting Better Images

With fast moving subjects like this - the best way of getting a good focussed image is to pre-focus on a particular spot. If your cameras 'burst' mode is fast enough (probably not on the 3200), you can fire continuously as the subject gets close to the target zone. Or you can try and manually time the perfect moment. These require lots of trial and error. One of the advantages of most motorsport is they do many laps - so keep trying.


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