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Using the Nikon Autofocus System

Lesson 11 of 17

Lens Switches

Mike Hagen

Using the Nikon Autofocus System

Mike Hagen

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Lesson Info

11. Lens Switches


  Class Trailer
Now Playing
1 Class Introduction Duration:05:53
2 Autofocus Defined Duration:04:45
3 How Autofocus Works Duration:06:39
4 Focus Servo Modes Duration:09:02
5 Focus Patterns Duration:17:20
6 Autofocus Settings Duration:19:55
7 Impacts on Autofocus Duration:16:17
8 Menu Banks Duration:04:47
10 The AF-ON & Back Button Focus Duration:12:45
11 Lens Switches Duration:07:31
12 Autofocus for Portraiture Duration:05:54
14 Landscape with Autofocus Duration:07:04
15 Bird in Flight with Autofocus Duration:05:30
16 Outdoor Sports with Autofocus Duration:08:05
17 Indoor Events with Autofocus Duration:09:18

Lesson Info

Lens Switches

Let's go into switches on the lenses. There are a lot of switches on the Nikon lenses. Some lenses have more switches than others, so I'm gonna pull my tripod over, I'm gonna grab my big long lens. And show off some of the stuff and explain what they are and why they matter. OK so this lens here I have is, it's an older 200 to 400 millimeter Nikon. And you'll see on that lens itself we have quite a few switches there. So we're gonna go through 'em, I'm gonna use the keynote here in a second to kinda guide us through that discussion. Other lenses like this one, this is the Nikon 24 to 70. It only has one switch. An MA slash M switch. So let's go ahead and start, start with that first one. OK. If your lens only has an A slash M switch, the only thing that does is it turns the lens from autofocus to manual focus. In fact I think this guy here, nope this one has this is the Nikon 85 millimeter lens. It still has an MA slash M. So some of the kit lenses only have a switch on there that say ...

autofocus or manual focus. That's all it does. The next one. Other lenses depends on, the really the expense of your lens, have switches on there that say MA, AM, and M, OK? Like the one I have in the keynote here actually has three positions there. MA, actually it starts on the left. AM, MA, and M, OK. So why do we care? Why all of those settings? Well these lenses are what are called silent wave motor lenses. And they're really cool because A, they focus fast and B, you can actually very rapidly go to manual focus by just rotating that front lens focus ring. So let's say I'm photographing a bird here. And I'm focusing with the back and then I want to fine tune my focus, all I have to do is just rotate that front lens, the focus ring, and now I'm just (snaps fingers) bam, that fast into manual focus. I don't even need to like switch any other switches or flip any switches, because the AFS lenses just allow me to do it by rotating that. So there's different levels of, sensitivity. A slash M means that it, waits a little longer, it stays in autofocus a little longer. So if you're this type of photographer if you're using your long lens technique like this, and you end up bumping the front focus ring, A slash M will ignore it for just a little bit of time, or just a little bit of movement. Maybe like ehhhh, that much movement. It'll ignore it. Whereas M slash A, the big M there, that means it's going to prioritize manual focus. So I'm focusing on the bird, and then as soon as I touch that and start moving it then it (snaps fingers) instantly goes into manual focus. And then of course the M switch, this one here, when I flip that, that moves the lens into manual focus mode, OK. So now amount of pushing buttons anywhere will cause the lens to go into autofocus. One other little idiosyncrasy, I get this question a lot, if I want my lens to be in manual focus, do I flip the switch on the camera body or do I flip the switch on the lens? And the answer is yes. Either one works. So if this is in manual or if this is in manual, then your lens is in manual focus mode. So either one works. I'm almost always in the habit of flipping this switch here. It's just a habit I've gotten into. Therefore um, I don't have to remember that, oh yeah, my lens has been switched to manual focus. So generally I keep my lenses set for auto and I just use my camera body to go between manual and auto. The next item here, there are often times on the longer lenses, especially, there's a focus limit switch. And it will say something like full versus infinity to I don't know, like six meters or two meters. Sometimes with your longer lenses, it actually takes a long time for the focus motor to cycle the lens from infinity down to minimum focus distance. So imagine you're photographing this bird and you miss focus on the bird, well now the lens like racks up to infinity, whoooooooosh, and then it racks back to minimum focus distance, whoooooooosh, and back to infinity. It takes a long time, so what we typically do for like bird photography, is we limit the movement from infinity to six meters. Therefore it doesn't go all the way back to the minimum focus distance. So that's a valuable tool for bird photography and even sports photographers, where the field is a long ways away. How 'bout these buttons on the lens? The lenses. I've got a lens wrap or a lens coat on here but I'll pull that away. Higher end lenses actually have buttons on them and there's one, two, three, up to four of them. And these buttons are designed so that you can do your long lens technique, and you can wrap your hand over it and actually push that button down. So what do we do with those buttons? Well they're programmable. And they're often programmable from these, these switches here in the back. AEL, memory recall, or AF on. OK, AEL, I'm sorry. AFL. Autofocus lock. So I could lock focus using that button, OK that's one option. The middle option here is memory recall. So let's say that I'm a baseball photographer, and I'm in the pit behind the players, and so I know that first base is a priority base for my photography. So what I'll do is I'll take the camera when the action's not happening, and I'll actually aim the camera over at first base, I'll focus and then I will push um, memory recall. I'll lock that in. And now as I'm over here photographing the batter, you know photographing the batter as he swings, all I need to do is swing my lens out to first base, push this button and the camera automatically now will focus at that first base distance. So it's just a way to get to a predetermined focus distance (snaps fingers) rapidly. Really cool cool button. And then the last one is AF on. Hmmm, well where else do we have AF on buttons? On the back, that's an AF on button. Also your shutter release can be an AF on button, but Nikon has also allowed us to program this button to be an AF on button. There's no good answer here, there's only preference. So use the buttons as you see fit.

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.



Good course! I am a beginner and this course helped me a lot. I agree with some students that a better work could have been done in preparing the presentations. It seems to me that Mike is great in having informal live workshops. However, for recorded classes like the ones we buy in Creative Live, the teaching technique should be adjusted. Overall I am glad I bought this course.

Cindy Manly-Fields

This was a great course. I just got a Nikon z5 and I also shoot a D750 and your explanations helped me understand how the autofocus works. I pulled out the cameras while you were teaching to follow along and now I have a better understanding. i appreciate at the level you teach, you keep it simple and practical which is helpful. Good job and thanks.

Catherine Lucas

After having my camera D800 for 5 or 6 years and never really got the focussing down I can finally do it. This video should be included with every Nikon sold. I am so happy that I am finally get the fullest out of this great camera, I am more of a visual person. Reading the manual is not the same as actually see it done... Thanks Mike, you rock! I have watched the sequences over and over and learned so much. Thanks. And always welcome when you pass in New Mexico...