Focus Modes Explained

All those focus settings sound the same yet shall do different things?
The wording is confusing - and not used consistently! But don't worry, this simple default setup got you covered and the list below simplifies the focus modes for you.

Use these settings as your personal default

No need to over complicate things or know all of the below functions. For the most part
  1. Set the AF-area mode to Single-Point Focus (= you choose which single point to focus on).
  2. Leave all other Focus settings at default (i.e. Auto-Focus, Single-servo AF Mode (= focus once), Single Frame Release Mode (= 1 photo))
  3. Use Aperture priority. For more info on this see The only 7 camera functions you need to know

  1. Switch Autofocus Mode to Continuous-servo AF (camera keeps focusing)
  2. Switch Release Mode to Continuous shooting (camera takes many photos)
  3. Switch to Shutter Speed Priority and set a fast shutter speed (e.g. 1/500)
  4. If subjects move AND will be at different places in your frame (e.g. kids playing), make your life easier by also switching the AF Area Mode to Auto-area or Dynamic-area
Remember to switch things back to your personal defaults afterwards!

So what do those Focus Modes do?

If your camera is completely set to Automatic behavior, then the camera will do all of this for you. Click the settings to find out more.


With the AF Area Mode you can decide where to focus yourself

  • The Focus Points that shall be sharp are those red or green squares in your viewfinder (with shutter halfway pushed). If you choose Auto-area AF the camera decides where to put the focus points. This usually works well, but at times the camera guesses wrongly what the actual subject is.
  • For more control use Single-point AF. In this case there is only one focus point and you can move it to where you need it to be. No guessing, no lost moments.
  • Other modes might include Dynamic-area and 3D-tracking, both used for moving subjects

Where to find it? Sometimes this is hidden in the menu, sometimes it's just a button combination. Check your manual.

Choose the Focus Mode between Automatic and Manual to focus yourself

  • Have the camera do the focusing = Auto-Focus (AF)
  • Focus yourself by turning the ring on your lens = Manual Focus (MF)

Where to find it? By default your camera is set to Auto-Focus. To focus manually, flip the switch on your lens to Manual. Remember to switch it back!

In the Autofocus Modes you change how often to auto-focus while you are pressing the shutter halfway.

  • Focus once = Single-servo AF (AF-S/One Shot AF). To focus once when the shutter is pressed halfway and keep (lock) that focus until the shutter is released. Don't confuse this with Single-point AF from the Area Modes.
  • Keep focusing = Continuous-servo AF (AF-C/AI Servo AF). Camera keeps refocusing as long as the shutter release button is pushed. Use this to get sharp photos when the subject is moving quickly.

Where to find it? Sometimes this is hidden in the menu, sometimes it's just a button combination. Check your manual.

Release Mode or Drive Mode defines how many photos are taken when you push the shutter

  • Single Frame (S) = one photo each time you push the shutter
  • Continuous shooting mode (C) = the camera takes photos until you release the shutter

Where to find it? There is often a dial on your camera with S, C and other things like Self-Timer. If not check the menu.

If you want to let the camera fully control this or do it yourself, depends hightly on the situation. Most of the time I recommend setting the aperture and letting the camera select the shutter speed. Check out The only 7 camera functions you need to know for more on Aperture Priority Mode

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