Focusing – which autofocus mode to choose?


On your camera you have different autofocus modes with which you can focus. Depending on the motif, it is worth switching to the appropriate autofocus mode so that focusing works optimally. I will show you the differences.

Focus – which method to choose?

By focusing we mean manual (by hand) focusing or the use of autofocus. In difficult light or subject situations, manual focusing is worthwhile: night shots, shots with a gray filter, macro photography, selectively setting small levels of sharpness with a large aperture, portraits, landscape photography with hyperfocal distance, etc.

Compact cameras usually work with a contrast autofocus (contrast metering), SLR cameras or system cameras with the much faster phase autofocus, which splits the incoming light into two images. These are compared by the AF sensor. If these two images are congruent, they are in focus, if not, they are out of focus. With analog cameras, this was the cut indicator, with which both semicircles had to be brought identically on each other. However, as soon as you switch to live-view mode, even with the SLR and system cameras, the contrast measurement in action, which is much slower than phase metering. For this reason, the live view mode is not suitable for fast reactions such as in sports photography. In contrast metering, you can set the focus point at any point in your image frame. This is quite practical for static shots (landscape, macro photography).

autofocus modes

The following autofocus modes are usually found on every camera:

AF automatic (nikon: AF, canon: AI focus)

Your camera decides on the basis of your subject whether the single autofocus should be selected for stationary subjects or the tracking autofocus for moving subjects. This setting is especially useful for snapshots – or generally when you need to react very quickly.

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AF-S single focus (nikon: AF-S, canon: oneshot)

Single focus is especially useful for subjects that are not moving. When you half-press the shutter button, the camera locks the focus point. Pressing the shutter button takes the photo. You can choose in your menu between shutter priority or focus priority select. With the shutter priority the photo is taken even if the focus was not able to focus, with the focus priority the shutter only goes off if the focus could be determined correctly (or was set correctly manually). Focus priority can be used as a focus trap with a combination of another setting depending on the camera model.

AF-C continuous AF

With continuous autofocus – also called tracking autofocus – the moving subject is automatically tracked as soon as you hold the shutter release button halfway down.

This setting is for moving subjects (sports photography, wildlife photography, action photography, etc.).) optimal.

camera moves with the subject

camera pulled along with the subject, nikon D7000, sigma f/2.8-4 17-70 mm, 50 mm KB, 1/30s, f/13, ISO 100

Predictive focus tracking

Better equipped camera models feature predictive focus tracking. This works when continuous AF-C or generally the autofocus AF have set. The camera electronics try to predict where the subject will be when the shutter is released.

Combined focus

A very practical function is the combined automatic-manual setting. With the shutter button pressed halfway, the camera focuses on the subject. As soon as the focus point is found, the automatic mode is switched off and the camera is set to manual mode. You can use finetuning to determine the perfect plane of focus. The function is available, for example, in the noble compact sony DSC rx100iii and is called DMF.

Manual focus

If you are working with very small planes of focus, as in macro or portrait photography, it may be worthwhile to adjust the focus manually. In macro photography, just a few – or just one – millimeters are crucial.

If you want to focus on the hyperfocal distance, switch to manual as well. the same applies to night shots or shots taken with a strong gray filter.

Macro photography snail eye, Nikon 750, Sigma f/2.8 105mm Macro, 1/250s, f/6.7, ISO400

macro photography snail eye, nikon 750, sigma f/2.8 105 mm macro, 1/250s, f/6.7, ISO 400

Auto focus measuring fields

autofocus is controlled by sensors scattered over the image field. A distinction is made between contrast autofocus and phase autofocus. Contrast autofocus is integrated in compact cameras and smartphones, SLR cameras additionally work with phase autofocus, which is significantly faster. With system cameras, but also with noble compacts, they can influence the focus sensors.

Some of the autofocus sensors are lines-, other cross sensors. The latter work much more accurately with low light and low contrast subjects. Depending on the camera model, more or less of the more expensive cross sensors available. line sensors detect only vertical or horizontal structures, cross sensors both.

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You can determine the number of measuring fields to be used by the autofocus within a certain range. If you have set the tracking autofocus, you will achieve more accurate results with more metering points. If the subject is not in the center of the frame, select a single focus area or small group.

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Christina Cherry
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