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Got a New Camera? Take Control of Autofocus

If youre like me, you got a new camera and dove in, shooting like a madman and making all kinds of pictures of all kinds of things. After a few gazillion pictures, I was starting to figure out a few things about my camera and how it worked. I remember that my world really changed when I learned how to use control the autofocus. I stopped having soft focus pictures and pictures with the background sharp and started getting the tack-sharp focus I saw in others work.

Focus is one of our most creative tools in photography. Its the power to draw your viewers attention to one specific thing out of the whole world, and thats pretty incredible. Right now Ill give you some suggestions thatll help you take control of your cameras autofocus. These tips work for all DSLRs and Mirrorless cameras, but the names may be slightly different on your model. Please weigh-in in the comments with other autofocus tips that have helped you.

Cameras Don’t Focus On Things

The first thing thatll help you understand autofocus is realizing that cameras don’t focus on trees, or basketball players, or mountains, or any one thing at all. Cameras focus at a certain distance, and everything that far from the camera will be in focus. If a person is six feet away, and that person is in focus, then so is everything else six feet away. When you use your new camera and press the shutter button halfway to focus, you see a bunch of squares light up in your viewfinder. Those don’t mean that all the camera is focussing on all those things, it means that all those things fall within the field of focus. Chances are, though, that many times those squares don’t fall on the things you most want in focus. Lets fix that.

Focus Area Mode: Single or Manual

In order to get the focus to fall on the thing you want in focus, you need to change the focus area mode. The default setting gives you all those squares that light up randomly. When you change it to Single, or Manual then you can choose where to place the focus point in the viewfinder. You can move it using the arrow keys or dials on the camera. On some models of cameras you’ll need to press another button first in order to move the focus point. My favorite thing about Lumix cameras is that you can move the focus point while looking through the viewfinder by moving your finger on the back LCDits so easy to adjust focus on Lumix cameras.

Focus Mode: One Shot or AF-S

Now that youve got control of your what your camera is focussing on, you need to change the kind of focus its using. Most cameras have a default setting that is supposed to sense when the subject is holding still or when its moving and adjust focus accordingly. It may be called AF-A, or AFF, or AI Focus. The trouble with this mode is that many times we need to focus in one place then move the camera to adjust our composition and this focus mode interprets that move as the subject moving, so it changes focus for the new place, and the subject is left looking soft. That is incredibly frustrating. I never use this mode.

To get the sharpest focus under most circumstances, change the focus mode to AF-S, which means Autofocus Single, or One Shot. In this mode, the camera focuses where the point in the viewfinder is located, and then as long as you keep the shutter button depressed halfway, it won’t change focus even if you move the composition. This mode will enable you to get a much greater percentage of sharp photographs.

The other mode is AF-C or AI Servo, and its designed for moving subjects that may get closer or farther from the camera. To use this mode, you must be sure to keep the focus point over the moving subject. Even if you keep the focus point on your subjects eye in a portrait, I don’t recommend this mode for most portrait situations because the camera is expecting your subject to move and so it is constantly making small adjustments to focus and I find that a still subject usually ends up soft.

Youve got other focus setting in your camera like 3D tracking, and facial recognition, etc. I encourage you to study these find the situations when they work for you, but I betcha that using AF-S/One Shot most of the time will serve you best.

One More Focussing Tip: Use the Middle

Your camera has all those focus points in the viewfinder, but they are not created equally. The focus points in the center are more accurate for two reasons. Firstly, they are more sensitive and can actually do their job better than the outer areas. They are called cross-type and you can look in you manual to see where your cross-type focus points are.

These cross type points work better in low light. Also, your lens is actually brighter in the center of the lens and that makes it easier for the camera to focus in low light. If your camera is not focussing well, if its hunting back and forth and not focussing on anything, try using the center focus point, keep the shutter button pressed halfway down, and then recompose your picture so that your subject isn’t in the dead center.

Conclusion

Autofocus is one of the best things about modern cameras. I often meet photographers who say theyre just beginners and they still use autofocus. Well, Ive got news for you: all the pros use autofocus, too. The difference is that the pros have learned which situations call for which autofocus settings. try the tips above and you’ll be on your way to mastering autofocus, too.

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