Nikon Z9 Autofocus Not Working: Causes and How to Fix It

Nikon Z9 Autofocus Not Working: Causes and How to Fix It

The Nikon Z9 is a highly regarded mirrorless camera, celebrated for its superior image quality, rapid autofocus system, and user-friendly operation. It’s an ideal choice for capturing everyday moments and is equally adept at both photography and videography. However, even with its impressive performance, users might occasionally face challenges, such as autofocus not working properly. This article is here to assist if you’re experiencing this issue with your Nikon Z9. 

We will explore the various reasons why the autofocus might malfunction and offer practical solutions to resolve these problems. By identifying the root causes and applying the recommended fixes, you can restore the full functionality of your Nikon Z9’s autofocus system and continue enjoying a smooth photography or videography experience. Let’s delve into troubleshooting the autofocus issues of the Nikon Z9.

Nikon Z9 Autofocus Not Working: Causes and How to Fix It

1. Incorrect Focus Mode

One of the possible causes of autofocus not working on the Nikon Z9 is using an incorrect focus mode. One potential issue affecting autofocus functionality in the Nikon Z9 could be the selection of an unsuitable focus mode. The Z9 is equipped with a diverse range of autofocus modes, each tailored for different shooting scenarios:

  1. AF-S (Auto Focus Single): Best for static subjects. In this mode, the camera focuses once and locks the focus when the shutter is half-pressed.
  2. AF-C (Auto Focus Continuous): Ideal for moving subjects. The camera continuously adjusts focus as long as the shutter is half-pressed.
  3. Manual Focus: Provides full manual control over focusing, bypassing the camera’s autofocus system.
  4. Pinpoint: Offers highly precise focusing, useful for macro or detailed work.
  5. Single-Point: The camera focuses on a single, user-selected point in the frame.
  6. Dynamic-Area: Useful for subjects that move unpredictably. The camera focuses based on a primary focus point and surrounding areas.
  7. 3D Tracking: Tracks moving subjects across the frame, maintaining focus on them.
  8. Subject Detection: Advanced mode that recognizes and focuses on specific subjects like faces, eyes, animals, motorcycles, and cars.

Selecting the appropriate focus mode is critical. For example:

  • Use AF-S for stationary subjects like landscapes or posed portraits.
  • AF-C is suitable for sports or wildlife photography where subjects are in motion.
  • Pinpoint and Single-Point are excellent for precise control over the focus area.
  • Dynamic-Area and 3D Tracking are advantageous in scenarios where subjects move erratically.
  • Subject Detection is particularly effective for automatically identifying and focusing on specific subjects.

Choosing the wrong mode may result in images that are blurry or out of focus. To select the right mode for your needs:

  • Adjust the focus mode by pressing the AF mode button on the camera’s top and rotating the sub-command dial.
  • Alternatively, use the i menu on the touch screen for adjustments.

Understanding and utilizing these focus modes correctly can significantly enhance the autofocus performance of the Nikon Z9, ensuring sharp and well-focused images across a variety of shooting conditions.

2. Manual Focus Mode Activated

Another possible cause of autofocus not working on the Nikon Z9 is having the manual focus mode activated. Manual focus mode allows you to focus manually by rotating the focus ring on the lens. This can be useful for situations where you want to have full control over the focus, or when the autofocus is unreliable or inaccurate. However, if you accidentally switch to manual focus mode, or forget to switch back to autofocus mode, you may end up with out-of-focus images. Therefore, it is important to check the focus mode before shooting, and make sure it is set to the appropriate autofocus mode for your scene. 

How to Change Focus Mode

  1. Using Camera Buttons:
    • Press the AF mode button on the top of the camera.
    • Rotate the main command dial to switch between manual and autofocus modes.
  2. Using the Touch Screen:
    • Access the i menu on the camera’s touch screen for easy mode switching.

Enhancing Manual Focus

  • Focus Peaking Feature:
    • In manual focus mode, you can enable focus peaking.
    • This feature displays colored outlines on in-focus objects in the viewfinder or on the screen, aiding in precise focusing.
  • Customizing Focus Peaking:
    • Navigate to Custom Setting a13 [Focus peaking].
    • Select [Focus peaking display] to adjust the settings according to your preferences.

3. Autofocus Lock Engaged

Another possible cause of autofocus not working on the Nikon Z9 is having the autofocus lock engaged. Autofocus lock allows you to lock the focus on a specific subject or area, and then recompose the shot without losing focus. This can be useful for situations where you want to have a different composition, or when the autofocus is distracted by other objects in the scene. However, if you accidentally engage the autofocus lock, or forget to disengage it, you may end up with out-of-focus images. Therefore, it is important to check the autofocus lock status before shooting, and make sure it is disengaged when you want to focus on a new subject or area. 

Managing Autofocus Lock

  • Engaging/Disengaging AF-L:
    • Press the AE-L/AF-L button on the camera’s rear to toggle the autofocus lock.
  • Customization Options:
    • Customize the AE-L/AF-L button through Custom Setting f2 [Custom control assignment].
    • Navigate to [AE-L/AF-L button] in the menu to assign different functions.

4. Low Light or Low Contrast Scenes

Low light or low contrast scenes can also cause autofocus problems on the Nikon Z9. The Z9 uses a hybrid autofocus system that combines phase-detection and contrast-detection methods. Phase-detection is faster and more accurate, but it requires a certain amount of light and contrast to work. Contrast-detection is more reliable in low light, but it is slower and less precise. Therefore, if the scene is too dark or too uniform, the autofocus may struggle to find a clear focus point. To overcome this issue, the Z9 has a few features that can help improve the autofocus performance in low light or low contrast situations:

  • Starlight View: This feature, which can be activated from the Custom Setting Menu, under Shooting Display, D9, brightens the display and improves the low-light autofocus capabilities of the Z9, down to an impressive -8.5EV . This means that the camera can focus in scenes that are almost pitch black, as long as there is some contrast in the subject.
  • AF Assist Illuminator: This feature, which can be turned on or off from the Custom Setting Menu, under Autofocus, A9, emits a beam of light from the front of the camera to illuminate the subject and help the autofocus system. This can be useful when shooting in very dark environments, where the Starlight View may not be enough. However, the AF Assist Illuminator has a limited range and may not work well with some lenses or subjects.
  • Manual Focus: If the autofocus still fails to work in low light or low contrast scenes, you can always switch to manual focus mode and adjust the focus manually by rotating the focus ring on the lens. You can also use the focus peaking feature, which shows colored outlines on the objects that are in focus in the display. You can adjust the settings for focus peaking using Custom Setting a13 [Focus peaking] > [Focus peaking display].

5. Lens Compatibility Issues

Lens compatibility issues can also cause autofocus problems on the Nikon Z9. The Z9 features the Z-mount, which supports Nikon’s line of Z-mount lenses. These lenses are designed to work seamlessly with the Z9’s autofocus system, and offer fast, accurate, and silent focusing performance.

However, if you use a lens that is not compatible with the Z-mount, such as an older F-mount lens, you may experience some autofocus issues. For example, some F-mount lenses may not autofocus at all, or may autofocus slowly or inaccurately. Therefore, it is important to check the lens compatibility before using it on the Z9. You can use an optional FTZ Mount Adapter to attach F-mount lenses to the Z9, but this may not guarantee full functionality or compatibility. You can also check the list of compatible lenses for the Z9 on the official Nikon website or on some online resources.

6. Dirty or Damaged Lens Contacts

Dirty or damaged lens contacts can also cause autofocus problems on the Nikon Z9. The lens contacts are the metal pins on the back of the lens that connect to the camera body and transmit information and power between them. If the lens contacts are dirty, dusty, corroded, or bent, they may interfere with the communication and prevent the autofocus system from working properly. Therefore, it is important to check the lens contacts regularly and keep them clean and dry.

You can use a soft cloth, a cotton swab, or a blower to gently wipe or blow away any dirt or dust from the lens contacts. You can also use a small amount of alcohol or contact cleaner to remove any grease or corrosion, but be careful not to damage the contacts or the lens coating.

7. Camera Firmware Outdated

The last possible cause of autofocus not working on the Nikon Z9 is having an outdated camera firmware. The firmware is the software that controls the camera’s functions and performance. Nikon regularly releases firmware updates for its cameras, which may include bug fixes, improvements, or new features. If you have an older firmware version on your Z9, you may miss out on some of the enhancements or fixes that affect the autofocus system. Therefore, it is important to check the firmware version of your camera and update it if necessary. You can check the firmware version by using [ Firmware version] in the [ SETUP MENU].

You can download the latest firmware update from the official Nikon website or from some online resources. You will need a memory card and a card reader to perform the firmware update. You can follow the instructions on the website or on the camera manual to complete the firmware update process. Updating the firmware may resolve some of the autofocus issues or improve the autofocus performance on your Z9.

Salik Waquas is a seasoned professional in the world of cinema, bringing over a decade of experience as a cinematographer and colorist. With an eye for capturing the perfect shot and a passion for enhancing the visual storytelling of films, he has made a significant mark in the industry. Aside from mastering the art of cinematography and color grading, Salik also enjoys sharing insights and knowledge through the written word. As a dedicated blogger in the film industry, His articles cover a wide range of film-related topics, offering readers a unique perspective and valuable insights into the world of cinema.