A Portrait session with the Nikon Z6 and Nikkor 58mm f1.4G – and a quick review of eye-AF with f-mount lenses.

Continuing my write-ups on the Nikon Z6 & Z5 systems and with this likely to be the concluding article in the series, my goals today are to share my shooting experience and of course samples from the Z6 with the Nikkor 58mm f1.4G (adapted using the FTZ adapter) from my shoot with Andrea.

A few readers have wrote in seeking further clarity on the auto-focus performance of native vs f-mount lenses, especially with eye-AF and this article seeks to touch on these points.

The Z6 and Nikkor 58mm f1.4G mounted with the FTZ adapter

If you are keen, do drop by my other related write-ups linked here for your convenience:

1. Nikon Z5 vs Z6 – Sibling rivalry much?
2. Mid-term review of the Nikon Z6 in 2020 – using it with the Nikon f-mount 58/1.4G and 28/1.4E

And so of course to me, if there are questions, a real-life shoot is way more applicable than poring over charts or heresay and so let’s proceed!

The discussion background here is that one of the advantages with adopting Z-mount was eye-AF, which dropped with firmware version 2.0 on the Z6. The FTZ adapter was also promised to give full functionality to current f-mount lenses, enabling the current f-mount owners to take advantage of Nikon’s foray into mirrorless.

Let’s begin with credit where it is due, eye-AF is indeed a valuable capability in the pocket for any portrait photographer and in general, let us say out of a maximum scale of 10, I will give the setup’s eye-AF performance a decent 8 out of 10. This score is what I gleamed from the few hundred shots both of us did.

Of course a question most will ask first is: “Keith, then why not a score of 10/10?”

I must firstly stress very strongly that the eye-AF on the Nikon Z system works pretty much as advertised, and in general performance was great with fast activation and reliable application of eye-AF in my shots. However, the 2 points deducted are due to these three instances of how I felt eye-AF in Z-mount can be better improved.

  1. One of my greatest peeves with the firmware is that eye AF is only available in the Z6’s ‘Auto area’ mode, and the potential issue is that the camera is left in full control on what to target. Having eye AF available for example in Single-point or even Wide-area can help immensely in one’s shooting workflow.
  2. The eye AF does once a while have an issue with false positives, meaning that it detects a face when there isn’t especially when something of a similar shape appears in frame. This isn’t a tough problem to resolve, and (see no.1 above), allowing eye AF to work over the top of say, single-point mode allows one to zone into a smaller area for eye AF to work.
  3. Not so much an issue for the subject closer to the photographer, but somehow the ‘size of the eyes‘ does help in activating eye-AF. When Andrea was further away (aka obviously relatively eyes smaller in the focusing frame) the eye-AF did not activate until she came closer.

In comparison, with let’s say Fujifilm’s and Sony’s eye-AF, my take is that the Nikon Z6’s performance in the eye-AF is still noticeably better than Fujifilm in reliability. Even with Fujifilm’s current X-Trans IV sensors, I still get instances where the camera says it is focused but the final zoomed-up image shows the eyes out of focus. However, the Nikon Z mount does still lag behind Sony’s best. (but then, no one has beaten Sony in the AF game)

One thing I do appreciate immensely a lot is how ‘sticky’ Nikon’s tracking is, and in all honestly, it is not easy to lose tracking of a subject once the camera’s AF sticks on and I like that one can easily activate this by depressing the center button in the D-pad out of the box for the Z6.

To answer the last part of the question about using native Z-mount lenses vs adapted f-mount lenses ( I have since gotten myself the 24-70mm f4 S and 35mm f1.8 S), the answer is a resounding yes to that the native lenses do perform better in autofocus performance but this is expected, especially when some of the most loved f-mount lenses were released close to a decade ago. However, even with all said, I will prefer to still wait for Nikon to release the f1.4 series for Z-mount, especially for the portrait focal lengths.

Bonus: And since some might ask, let me share my choice of the Nikkor 58mm f1.4G for portraits?

  1. It is not likely I will have my hands on the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 S soon and though I expect it to be optically extraordinary, it’s still gonna cost too many kidneys for a review-writer/enthusiast.
  2. The fastest (at this time) 50mm native Z mount lens is the Nikkor 50mm f1.8 S, which has been widely hailed for its excellent sharpness. But then, potential sharpness in a portrait image although important is still not all that which contributes to a pleasing image.
  3. The Nikkor 50mm f1.4G of course was a choice worth considering, however the Nikkor 58mm f1.4G is a step upwards optically wise IMO. In fact, according to Nikon:

    “The spirit of the Noct-Nikkor lens lives on in the AF-S NIKKOR 58mm f1.4G – the evolution of a legendary lens prized by the world’s top photographers, … , It’s the ultimate lens for professional-quality portraits..”

    “…the optical design of the 58mm f1.4G was optimized to yield a three-dimensional look with beautiful bokeh and that is its main selling point vs the 50mm f1.4G’s design focusing on a modern fixation on sharpness.

My standard disclaimer:

  1. The Nikkor 58mm f1.4G is my personal copy, for the Z6 i can’t remember whether its the loan set from Nikon or my personal set (I did end up purchasing my own once Z6 II’s announcements came in) but it is definitely a full production set.
  2. All the samples shared here are photographed by me and edited to my preferences in LR CC.
  3. In general I am pretty easy with copyright but I always appreciate a polite request before using the images here.

Thank you for reading, and please do take care until the next write-up!

5 Replies to “A Portrait session with the Nikon Z6 and Nikkor 58mm f1.4G – and a quick review of eye-AF with f-mount lenses.”

  1. Thank you for sharing, the article was what I was searching for deciding to jump into Z.

    Like

    1. Great to hear that, for me, it took some time for me to decide whether to jump into Z-mount from f-mount too.

      Like

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