How Good Is the Eye Autofocus on the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7?

Nikon recently brought eye autofocus to the Z 6 and Z 7 mirrorless cameras, a feature that many photographers rely on to help them get the shot, particularly when shooting at wider apertures with narrow depth of field. How good is Nikon's implementation of the popular feature? This great video answers that question.

Coming to you from DP Review, this excellent video shows the ins and outs of the new eye autofocus feature on the Nikon Z 6 and Z 7. Personally, I always thought the feature was a bit overrated, but when I switched to Sony, I was blown away by how much my keeper rate went up. And it wasn't just about the keeper rate; knowing I could trust the camera to nail autofocus in a difficult situation freed me up to focus much more on other things, particularly on directing the subject, and that in turn has made my shoots feel and proceed more organically the last few years. It's clear that Nikon is lagging behind the implementations from manufacturers who have been refining their versions for longer (Sony and Fujifilm), but certainly, seeing the feature present is a step in the right direction, and hopefully, it'll improve soon. Check out the video above for the full rundown. 

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30 Comments

Rob Mitchell's picture

There's a whole lot of talk about Eye focus, as if it's the be-all and end-all. For some a dealbreaker.

I tried it out when shooting some people doing speeches. Yeah, it works fine.
I turned it off after that as I'm actually quicker using point AF to bang in the shots and set the AF exactly where I want it.
A gimmick? Nope, I don't think so, it's a helpful tool that can be accessed very quickly via a function button and dial twist that's bound to help people out in some situations.

I can see it being important for vloggers relying on AF while taking video .. other than that I dont really feel like I need it enough to affect my decision when choosing camera ..

Eric Salas's picture

How were you quicker with it off with a moving subject when the camera stays in focus the entire time with it on?

Rob Mitchell's picture

Years of practice I guess, the joystick is nimble and honestly, people walking around on a podium aren't exactly hard to keep in focus. Plus, their eyes tend to stay in the same place.
One person on the podium is fine for any Eye AF system as long as they are dominant in the scene, 2 people or a panel of people. you're moving the eye focus point to each person anyway.

Eric Salas's picture

To each their own I guess but I still don’t get how you’d be “faster” than something that is always in focus.

With more than one person you should be using the lock feature so you designate who you want to follow or just not use it because it’s not the tool for the job.

The problem may be that wrong person’s eye is in focus.

Eric Salas's picture

All you do then is change your focus point to the eye you want to track or grab focus where it is and then recompose. A simple tap on the eye you want using the LCD fixes it if you have touch focus on.

From my personal experience, the majority of difficulty with eyeAF is because most don’t take the time to set up the feature properly.

Isn't it disruptive to take your eye away from the viewfinder, tap on a particular eye and then go back to the viewfinder??

Eric Salas's picture

Of course it can be so you have the option to do that, use the joystick, or grab focus and recompose... you’ve got plenty of ways to do it. It’s not hard at all.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Sorry, Rob. I'm calling BS. There's no way you're faster than Eye AF. No one is. Unless you're doing it wrong.

Rob Mitchell's picture

yeah, whatever makes you feel good.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I think I may have figured out the disconnect... You're a Nikon shooter so you've used Nikon's Eye AF. My apologies. I was speaking from the perspective of someone who owns an A9.

You can certainly disagree but there's no need to be a jerk.

Eye AF is fast. But for event work (which Rob, as far as I know, does) it may be confused by other people’s eyes in the frame.

Jonathan Brady's picture

No system is perfect (yet?) and Sony's Eye AF can get confused, but I can't tell you the number of misfocused images I've taken over the years with DSLR when the system said I was locked on. As for your asserted exception, when used correctly, Eye AF is faster for events, too.

I'll try to be more clear - EyeAF doesn't know who your subject is. It doesn't know how you want to compose your shot. It doesn't know if person in the background or foreground should be in focus. Should it be face on the right or left side of the frame?

Jonathan Brady's picture

I'll repeat... Then you're using it wrong. Assuming you have a current Sony body with updated fw.

Then, please, correct me.

Jonathan Brady's picture

I don't have my camera in front of me but I think it's called flexible spot. I will choose either small or medium and usually keep it dead in the center of the frame. I half press the shutter with the box over my subject and then recompose while the autofocus system tracks the subject. If you are tracking a person, the focus will automatically travel from wherever you initiated focus on their body up to their head and then their eye. It then tracks their eye as they move around the frame and/or you recompose further. This all happens in a fraction of a second.
Obviously, you can place the AF box wherever you want in the frame and I don't always choose dead center depending on what I want my composition to be. But, the autofocus is so fast that it is absolutely possible to leave the AF box deadcenter practically all the time. The joystick comes in handy when I do decide to move the AF box away from the center because it does work quickly. Also, I have it set so that when I click the joystick (like a mouse) it repositions the AF box dead center.

Thanks, I’ll try this method.

Eric Salas's picture

Like I said in another comment, you just simply tap the lcd on who you want to track or what eye you want to track with eyeAF. It doesn’t get easier than that.

I shoot with viewfinder.

Eric Salas's picture

Just press the lcd screen while you’re looking through the viewfinder. I shoot with the viewfinder as well and that’s what I do.

Marc Perino's picture

I think from what I have read this is not possible with the Z7. At the moment you cannot touch focus on the LCD when your eye is on the EVF. I think it just works when you watch the LCD from afar.

Eric Salas's picture

It’s a feature that portrait photographers like myself who use fast lenses rely on heavily. For many situations, it’s like sprinkles on ice cream... do you need them, no... but do some people want them, yes.

I only use it for portraits but with continuous AF on Sony cameras, you can basically use it for everything and almost never miss a shot.

Mmm... Sprinkles. :-)

michaeljin's picture

The Eye-AF on the Z7 definitely needs some work. I find it good enough when I'm stopped down to f/2.8 or so, but it's not as reliable at f/1.4 as my A7RIII was. Focus acquisition also seems to be slower than on a Sony even with a native 50mm f/1.8 S attached to the body and if the subject is moving at anything faster than leisurely walk, you're going to get a lot more misses than hits.

I'm glad that Nikon has introduced the feature, but I don't think it's ready for prime time just yet.

Uneternal Van de Dood's picture

Oh well, its from Dpreview and they usually complain about everything that is not Sony.
Im sure Nikon AF is good enough as well as the one from Canon.

That's pretty funny that a great part o your video is back focussed ;)