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Autofocus modes

From: Photography 101

Video: Autofocus modes

All DSLRs have a variety of focusing modes. There's of course your manual focus, and then there's something called single focus, where the camera will focus and lock, and as long as you keep your finger pressed halfway down on the button, it won't refocus. And this is great if you're shooting something that's not moving, for example a portrait, someone standing there. You focus on them, the camera locks, and you take a picture. And then there's the continuous focus modes, and these are great if you're shooting any kind of moving action. Whether you're talking about a sports game, or just your kid running through the yard, the continuous modes allow you to track the focus of that subject as they move. It actually get's a little bit more advanced than that. There are a variety of continuous focus modes on different DSLRs. Typically you'll find two different modes.

Autofocus modes

All DSLRs have a variety of focusing modes. There's of course your manual focus, and then there's something called single focus, where the camera will focus and lock, and as long as you keep your finger pressed halfway down on the button, it won't refocus. And this is great if you're shooting something that's not moving, for example a portrait, someone standing there. You focus on them, the camera locks, and you take a picture. And then there's the continuous focus modes, and these are great if you're shooting any kind of moving action. Whether you're talking about a sports game, or just your kid running through the yard, the continuous modes allow you to track the focus of that subject as they move. It actually get's a little bit more advanced than that. There are a variety of continuous focus modes on different DSLRs. Typically you'll find two different modes.

Your particular camera may have more than that, but I'm just going to cover the two primary modes that you're pretty much assured to find on any DSLR today. The first is the standard continuous focus where the camera is constantly trying to refocus on whatever the subject is. Now, you might think you should just leave it in that mode all the time because, why not? The camera's just going to keep trying to focus on it. The problem is, that when you focus on a static object in the continuous mode, instead of the camera stopping and locking on that subject, it'll keep on trying to focus, refocus on it, just in case the subject moves. It's kind of like a boxer who's just ready to move in case he needs to. It's just going back and forth a little bit.

So you may not get that perfectly sharp image of a static subject. So that's your continuous mode. So if you are shooting continuous, action, then you do want to have it in that continuous mode. The second mode is kind of a hybrid. It's a continuous mode, often called a AI servo mode or something like that, that will allow the camera to focus and lock but then if it detects movement, to switch to continuous and start moving. And that can be great for your average, everyday shooting, where you don't really know what's going to happen because sometimes you have something that's standing still, and then suddenly your kid takes off and the camera needs to switch modes automatically for you. So for most shooting, that's the mode you want to be in. But if you know that you're shooting action, I recommend you don't leave it there.

Because what happens is the camera will focus and lock and only after it senses movement will it start to refocus. So, if you know something's moving, save yourself half a second and just go ahead and put it into that continuous auto focus mode so it's always trying to track that object. So, let's take a look at a variety of camera models and see where these focus modes are. We'll start with the Cannon. And up on top of the camera, you'll see a button that says AF and Drive. Drive is the Motor Drive function, but what we're focusing on now is the AF, or the Auto Focus function. When you push that button, you then have a couple different dials you can turn to change the modes.

In this case, it's the dial on top that switches between one shot. Which is your single mode, AI Focus, which is your continuously focusing mode, and then there's the AI Servo mode, which is the hybrid mode or the intelligent mode. On the Nikon it's a little bit different. You'll find a switch down here on the side of the camera that switches between Auto Focus and Manual, but if we put it in the auto focus mode, you'll notice that there is a button on the switch and that's the button that you press to switch between the focusing modes.

So, I'm going to go ahead and push that button and then rotate the dial up on top of the camera to switch between the different modes. So, here we have AF-S for single, AF-C for continuous and then AF-A which is that hybrid, or automatic mode. The Sony camera has the same functions. On here though you control it on the back of the LCD. So if I push the button to wake it up, and then push the FN for the function button, you'll see a variety of different modes that we can switch between. So what you're looking for is one that reads AF.

In this case there's AFS. And once you push the middle button to select that. You can move between the AFS for single. AFA for automatic again. Or the AFC for continuous. So again, pretty much any DSLR is going to have a variety of focusing modes. From single to continuous some type of intelligent mode. And then, of course, don't forget there's always the manual mode. If you're ever in doubt about your focus, and your subject isn't moving. Don't be afraid to switch it into manual mode. It can be a great way to get to know your camera a little bit more. Take a little bit a time with it and maybe get a different picture.

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Photography 101

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Joseph Linaschke
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