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I think face detection only works when you have the camera set to 3d focus tracking on continuous....
You can focus on whatever you want then recompose and as long as your object stays within the focus grid you will achieve focus
3d tracking has been around for years, and it's notably different, at least in theory, than Face Detection. The primary difference, IMO, is how the initial focus point is selected. With 3d tracking, you get to choose the initial focus point. With face detection, you just press the shutter, and the camera should locate and lock on to a face. It appears that my D800 may very well detect a face, but it it ends up locking on to an ear, chin, hairline, some piece of clothing, a necklace, etc.. It behaves like a hybrid between face detection and 3d tracking, where it detects a face, but can't seem to lock onto the facial triangle made up of 2 eyes and a mouth. Maybe my expectations are just too high after seeing what it's capable of doing in Live View, .