Cree and I just returned from three days of shooting in Jackson, Wyoming. We used to live in Wyoming, and love the Tetons. It also gave me an opportunity to continue to explore the autofocus options of the Z9. One thing is very obvious about the Z9, similar to otherl mirrorless cameras; choosing the right autofocus mode is important, and there are a lot of choices that might work. It reminds me of Photoshop edits…lots of different ways to get the same result.
I have been shooting a lot in Wide Area Large autofocus mode lately, and really like it. This mode gives you a large square to put over your subject to acquire focus. The big difference here, compared to 3D and Auto-area Focus, is you have to move the square to stay on the subject, it doesn’t move around in the viewfinder. This mode is similar to Group Area AF in Nikon DSLRs. When activated, Wide Area Large will have a smaller focus box in the square that goes to the subject, face or eye of your subject, depending on your subject detection mode. I used animal detection in the Tetons to photograph both birds and sheep.
But there is one big difference about Wide Area Large focus mode compared to DSLR Group Area Autofocus. If you can just get the focus box close to your subject, the Z9 is going to focus on it…even if your subject is outside the box. I spent hours yesterday photographing geese to test this idea. As a bird was flying past, even against busy backgrounds with trees, Wide Area Large AF just picked up the bird even outside the box and tracked it beautifully. If the bird was in the extreme edges and well away from the focus box, it would not acquire it. But it seemed to me this mode may work even better to track subjects on busy backgrounds…maybe because the Z9 is only looking at the focus area in this mode and not the entire viewfinder. You just have to be able to loosely track the bird in/near the focus box. This mode is going to be a favorite for many Z9 users, just get the square close to your subject, and the Z9 picks it up. Try it out, you will be amazed.
Where does the Wide Area Large not perform great. If you have a bird with lots of sticks and brush in front of it, the Z9 may focus on the brush in front in this mode (depends on how dense it is). Just switch to 3D, put the square on the bird in the dense brush, and the Z9 will nail the focus.
But what about the incoming gull flying right at you? Wide Area Large would work nicely, but so would Auto-area AF and 3D. If the bird is really erratic and moving all over the frame, I would choose Auto-Area AF since it will look at the entire viewfinder. If the bird is perched, I may choose 3D since it will lock onto the bird when it flies away and stay with it. If I have an eagle flying in front of a busy background I will use Wide Area Large since it does great against confusing backgrounds.
As you can see, there are lots of choices with autofocus in the Z9. They all work great, but certain situations may make you change what mode you are in to get the best results. I’ll continue to report my findings along the way!