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Autofocus - Head-2-Head Review: Canon EOS Rebel T1i vs. Nikon D5000
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H2H ROUND-7: Autofocus

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The autofocus features on the two cameras are, once again, subtly different. Nikon boasts an 11-zone system, a cross-type center sensor, with an AF low-light assist beam. Nikon clearly wins on the name of the system - once again, the Nikon marketing folks go wild with the “Nikon Multi-CAM 1000 autofocus module with TTL phase detection.” Nikon gives you four autofocus area modes: single-point, dynamic-area, auto-area (the system will automatically determine the focus method), and 3D-tracking, which uses all 11 points. The servo modes are the usual: single-servo AF (AF-S), continuous-servo AF (AF-C), auto AF-S/AF-C selection (AF-A), and predictive focus tracking automatically activated according to subject status (AF-A), along with manual.

The Canon T1i has a “TTL-CT-SIR AF-dedicated” sensor, also with a center cross-type sensor and 9 focus points. Zone selection is simply either automatic selection or manual selection. For servo modes, Canon gives you Auto, One-Shot AF, Predictive AI Servo AF, AI Focus AF, and Manual modes, and an AF assist that comes from the built-in flash (or Speedlight if that’s mounted).

They both have face-detection autofocus in Live View modes - with the slight expected, but not uncomfortable, delay.

Clearly the Nikon has a more full-featured system with the Multi-CAM 1000 module, and it seems like a natural development along the same lines as the sophistication we’re seeing in metering. Testing the performance of each of the modes is a review in itself - but in the basic, default focus modes the two cameras fared well. Although the Nikon features are pretty impressive, we’re a little concerned that they’ll have the photographer, especially the enthusiast amateur, running for the owner’s manual when they want to explore modes.

Let’s not forget, however, the lens issue with Nikon. You are going to get autofocus only with the compatible lenses - the lenses with internal servos. In spite of the lens issue, the winner here is Nikon, with the caveat that we’re going to suggest a little testing to see what mode works best for you. And keep that manual accessible.


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