Using the Nikon® Autofocus System


Using the Nikon® Autofocus System


Lesson Info

Autofocus Settings

Now, let's get into the camera menus. Now that we know the servo modes and the patterns let's get into the menu system. I'm going to talk about the most important menus inside of your camera and I can't of course hit on every single Nikon camera in the line up but I will touch on the ones that are significant for us. And while I'm doing this I'm actually gonna put the camera on the tripod here and every once in a while I will reference the menu system from the camera. So I'll set this up. I'm gonna start with something called autofocus continuous priority selection. Again, go to your menu, push your menu button. Navigate around until you find this menu item. It's called the Custom Settings Menu. It looks like a pencil. You're gonna go there, go to the right and now we're going to work mostly in the segment called autofocus. A couple of points before I start on this. If you have a consumer level camera like the D3000, the D3300 or the D5000 series you don't always have these menu items ...

available but you can sometimes track them down from your information screen or your other menus. In the higher end cameras almost all of the higher end cameras that I have here in the class today, you can access these right from menu group A. So let's start with AF-C priority. Autofocus continuous priority. So I'm out taking a photo and I'm photographing something that's moving, I'm in autofocus continuous mode. How do I want the camera to respond to me? In other words do I want the camera to take the picture, bam, as soon as I push down the shutter like now? Or do I want the camera to wait, to wait until I have acquired focus? Well, that's what this menu item really does. It allows you to tell the camera, hey camera, take the picture as soon as I push down the shutter release or at the other end of the extreme wait to take a picture until my subject is in focus. Well, there's a lot of people who have different opinions on this menu item. My opinion is this, I generally like release priority. I use release priority because I do a really good job or I try to do a really good job of keeping my focus sensor on the subject. And as long as I keep my sensor on the subject and I'm actively focusing I just say camera take the picture as soon as I push down the shutter release button. Other people say, you know what? I don't even want a photo unless it is in focus. So, camera don't take a photo unless it's in focus. So that would be called focus priority. The two in the middle are hybrids of that. You've got focus priority first and then it moves into release priority. In other words, it won't take a picture until it gets it in focus and then the rest of them it'll just take no matter what. Or this one which says, hey camera, start taking pictures at the instant I push the shutter release, like don't hesitate, do it now. But then slow down the frame rate until you get it in focus and then pick up the frame rate again. So, some people really like this release priority. It's a little frustrating though sometimes because it won't keep up the frame rate. Like if you're used to seven frames per second or maybe 10 frames per second, it'll slow down the frame rate until it gets and acquires focus. So I don't really have an overall arching answer for everyone who's watching the show today but I recommend in general to say release priority, but recognize that you will get blurry shots if you're not careful with your focus technique. Okay, next. Let's go to the next item down which is AF-S priority. It looks almost the same but the difference here is that we're in AF-S mode. In other words we're in single servo focus. AF-S. So, here think of it as life has slowed down, right? We're doing portraits, we're doing flowers and macro, that type of stuff. So AF-S, we're not worried about take the picture now because I might miss the action. No, you're not worried about that. So here, I actually choose focus priority. In other words, camera don't take the picture until my subject is actually in focus. So, that's my number one recommendation for that item. All right, let's go to the next slide. This is cool. So this one is called focus tracking with lock-on. And I've only got a scene here in the handouts from the D500 series camera so I'm actually gonna switch this camera out real quick and show my D750. Okay. So this menu item, whoops, there we go. This allows you to modify the behavior of the focus system if something interrupts your focus, okay? So, here's the D and I'll call this the legacy camera. It's not really legacy since it's current but it's before the new autofocus module that came out in the new cameras. But this one has basically six levels of delay. So, off, short, normal, long and then some intermediate ones. So let's say that you're taking, you're photographing your daughter's soccer game. So she's out there, she's playing soccer and then let's say this other kid gets in between you and your camera, all right? You're shooting the photos, here's your daughter and then this other kid comes in between you and your daughter. Like oh no, the focus jumped to that kid in the foreground and I missed the shot of my daughter after she left. This allows you to program in a delay. For these cameras that have these delay options you have to decide, do I want a long delay before the camera jumps to the subject in the foreground or do I want an off delay. In other words, jump to the foreground subject immediately and then when that subject's out of the frame go back to the background subject. So if you're obviously, I mean, obviously if you're photographing your own kid in sports you want a long delay, right? You want the other kid to be allowed to pass while the camera remembers the focus distance and maintains focus on your kid. So, anytime I'm photographing let's say like football, soccer, maybe a single male mallard duck in a group of female mallard ducks that are going around the male, anytime you wanna focus one thing in a group of others keep a long delay. On the other hand, let's say that you wanna photograph something, you photograph a scene, you just want the camera to jump to focus no matter what then you go to an off delay. That's the D750 side of things. Let me show you on the D500 and the D5. This is brand new on these cameras and what we see here, I'll bring those cameras up here. That camera up here onto the tripod. We have a new system for this, a new menu system. It's still called focus tracking with lock-on and it's still in menu group a but now we have two options. We have what's called blocked shot autofocus response and we have another one called subject motion. So blocked shot autofocus response, this is exactly what I was describing before. Your kid is here, the other kid comes in front of the camera and how much time do you want the camera to wait until it refocuses on the close kid. You basically have five options. Like quick response like (fingers snaps) immediately. Here's the other kid, focus now. The other kid moves out, go back to your kid so the focus is going here to here to here. Or a delayed response like please allow that kid to pass, don't even change the focus. Kid passes through and the focus stays on your own daughter. So, for sports use or for sports where your kid's playing and that's a priority use delayed response. For anytime you want that fast response go to quick, all right? Now below there we also have another option and that option is subject motion. Erratic versus steady. It's kind of self-explanatory. What is your subject doing? Are you photographing a puppy or are you photographing a 10-year-old dog, right? So the puppy's gonna be erratic, all over the place so in that case what you want is you want erratic behavior. And what that does is it programs the camera to say in dynamic mode move the sensor very rapidly, okay? I'm expecting that subject to be all over the place. Versus steady like I'm not expecting a lot of rapid movement side to side. Camera, before you choose other sensors give it a little more time, you know? This is a slow moving object. So, this is pretty cool. The new Nikon cameras allow much more manipulation for your focus tracking. It makes me really happy actually, I'm happy they did that. It's more in line with another camera manufacturer out there and what they do with their autofocus system. Next one that I want to cover is focus wrap, W-R-A-P. So what does focus wrap do? Why do we care? To explain this, let's see here, what's the best way for me to explain this? I don't think, yeah, this camera doesn't show it. What I was gonna try to show is my sensor points but you'll get the idea as I talk through it. So, focus wrap depending on your camera it is somewhere around like a9, a10 here on this camera. So the D500 it's on the menu item called a11. You have two options, wrap or no wrap. Let's say you're focusing and your focus point for some reason you have over here on your left side of the screen. Maybe you're tracking basketball player, focus point's over there. The player's running this way and you're moving the camera like that. So, you're tracking the subject with your focus point there. Now let's say the ball gets stolen and someone starts running that way with the ball. What you wanna do is you wanna reframe your photograph, right? You wanna reframe your photo like this so now the subject is over here so you got to move that sensor from this side of the screen all the way over to that side of the screen. How many sensors are in your camera? 51, 153. There's a lot of sensors. So what that means is you have to push this button a lot, your multi selector, you have to really push it left, left, left, left, left, left, left until your focus sensor gets back to where the subject is located. Well, wrap allows you to literally push your multi selector one time that direction and then your sensor will wrap around the back side to the other side of the frame. So it's a much faster way to move your sensor from the left side all the way over to the right side. So use wrap in your dynamic and your sports photography. Okay. Next. Number of focus point. This is also very confusing for a lot of people so we're going to look here in, it's a6 on the D and on other cameras it's in the general vicinity. I mentioned earlier that you have 153 focus points in some cameras, you have 51 in some cameras. You have 39 in other cameras. This allows you to pick how many points are available for selecting the position of your priority sensor. So, maybe you are a sports photographer and you're always moving your sensors around the scene, and it's really tedious to go tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick and move it around, then (mumbling) back and forth. If that's you then you should limit the number of home positions for your sensor down to and this is the D500. So, 15 home positions are available versus 55 home positions are available. So how many sensors do you want available to you to move your sensors around in the scene. And for me since I don't do a ton of sports, I usually like to have all of my sensors available as my home position. So, I'm gonna leave that at 55 points. All right, next. Let's talk about store by orientation. This is pretty cool but when you move your camera to vertical orientation like this versus horizontal orientation, you can have the camera actually remember the physical position of the sensor whether it's up here for vertical or down there for horizontal. I'll go here to a7 and you can pick store sensor location by orientation off or you can choose one that says store the focus point like literally just remember that when the camera's vertically I want the focus point there. And when the camera's horizontal I want the focus point over there. Or you can also say remember the focus point and the autofocus area mode for the orientation of the camera. This is getting really esoteric but sometimes you want like a dynamic area autofocus in the vertical and you want a single area autofocus in the horizontal. Maybe you do, I don't know. I haven't really come across that in my photography so you may or may not have a need for this middle position. But every once in a while I do want to use remember focus point by position maybe from doing an animal and the animal's looking off in this direction, right? And so, when the animal's looking off there I'm in horizontal mode, I want the sensor right there. But then when I move the camera to vertical mode I have to actually move the sensor up over to here. So, every time I switch between horizontal and vertical the camera will actually move the position automatically. That's cool, that's some good engineering in my mind. Next, autofocus activation. So this is again, here's another menu item. It's usually around, it's a5 on some cameras. On the D500 here it's a8, autofocus activation. This defining which buttons activate focus. The top selection here it says shutter and AF on. Shutter and AF on. In other words, the shutter button will activate focus and the autofocus on button will activate focus, okay? Either and both. Or you can say only activate focus with the AF on button. So, later today I'm going to actually show you how to use back button focus using just the AF on button. So I'm gonna save that for now, just now remember if you only want to be, if you only want to activate focus with your back button this is where you do it. It's in menu a8 or a5 or four actually depending on which camera you have. Next, the built-in autofocus assist illuminator. This camera, the D500 doesn't have that but my D750 does have that. So it's this little light right there, it's called the autofocus assist illuminator. I said earlier like one of the very first slides I talked about today was your camera needs adequate light and it needs adequate contrast, and it needs adequate lines. Well, this is what you can use to provide adequate light onto the scene. If you're in a dark environment maybe you're at a birthday party, you're at a wedding, if it's dark there you might have to sometimes shed light on the subject, and if you activate this menu item here in the camera it will actually go boop and shine the light on the subject to allow this camera system to focus. The D500 doesn't have this nor does the D5, actually nor does the D4s. The high end pro cameras do not have the autofocus assist illuminator. It's the lower end cameras that actually have this feature which is kind of interesting to me. The last menu item that I wanna cover here is this one, it's called focus point options. Not all the Nikon cameras have this menu item. Again, just the higher end ones do. There are a lot of ways that you can configure your focus points and what I mean here is how they appear to you or how they show inside of the viewfinder. And you might think at first blush that this is really not that important but over the years I actually have found it to be very important. For example, let's go into the menu item here on the D500. I'm going to go to that menu it's a12. There we go, focus point options and this is very similar on the D4s camera, the D5, the D810. A lot of these have these options here. The most important one that I want you to configure is this, it's called manual focus mode. What do you want the actual sensor, the little box inside of your viewfinder, when you look in there that sensor will turn red when you focus. Do you want that sensor to turn red if you're in manual focus? And I say no, turn that off. One of the worse mistakes you can make as a photographer is to take a bunch of photographs and forget that your focus is turned off. Trust me, I've done it and it's embarrassing. I actually shot half of a wedding one time with my autofocus turned off. It was really embarrassing. When I got back to my office and I was processing the photos I'm like why are these all blurry? I looked at my camera and like, oh no, I forgot. So, this is a great one to turn off so that when you press down your shutter release button the little red backlight won't turn on in manual focus mode. You've got other options there like what do you want the dynamic area autofocus to look like in terms of the viewfinder? What do you want your group autofocus display to be boxes or dots? And then focus point illumination like do you want them to automatically illuminate when it's dark and automatically not illuminate when it's light? In general I set that for on as in I always want my focus points to illuminate no matter how bright it is outside. So I'm actually gonna change that in my menu system here. So, that's configuring your autofocus sensors when you're looking through the viewfinder.

Class Description

The best photo moments often present themselves to us when we least expect it. Every photographer knows the feeling of lining up what they believe will be the perfect shot, only to realize after the fact that their focus was off. Nikon cameras have a built-in autofocus system for these situations. 

Join Mike Hagan, Nikonians Academy Director, to learn how to make the most of this often-overlooked function of your digital SLR. In this class, you’ll learn:

  • How to set your focus within the menu settings and overall various camera settings
  • How to use autofocus patterns and area modes
  • How to use servo modes and lens configurations
Mike will help you configure the autofocus system for portraits, sports, wildlife, and landscapes. Relying on autofocus will also let you concentrate on lighting and composition, and help you take advantage of those fleeting moments.