Camera Basics – Understanding Focusing on Photography

One important technique that is often overlooked when you just starting out, is the focus. It is a powerful tool where it brings a detail/subject into focus to achieve a great image. If you don’t focus properly, the photos will be blurry even when all the other camera settings are accurate. It can be easy and difficult at the same time, especially when capturing a still and a moving object. Therefore this post serves as a guide for photographers to know the basics of focus in order to capture sharp and unique images.

Datei:Daisies-Focus.jpg – WikipediaImage – Google

What is Focus?

Focus is the sharpest area of the image. To go in-depth, focusing on photography is the process of making adjustments to the lens to find the maximum resolution, sharpness, and contrast for your subject. It is a combination of your lens aperture and light where the lens works to highlight an object, a person, or a situation. Focus is one of the pillars of photography, along with ISO, aperture, and shutter speed. It can be used in automatic or manual focus. Autofocus, is when the camera system drives a motor automatically to move elements in your lens to change focus while manually, you need to adjust the ring in your lens to get the desired focus point.

Many photographers tend to rely more on Autofocus due to them being faster, more convenient, and more accurate in capturing a moving subject. But the manual focus still remained popular where photographers are able to adjust further in certain conditions that affect the whole image. For example, in dark conditions where photographers are able to make precise changes that the camera may have missed out on. Manual focus can also be locked for a series of photos in a row which brings them an advantage.

Focus modes in photographyImage: Capturetheatlas

Autofocus is categorized into different modes, as known as AF area modes where the setting determines how the focus point is selected. While they are versatile, it’s best that you know each mode and applies them to prevent the image from getting out of focus. These are the common camera auto-focus modes:

  1. Single Autofocus Mode
  2. Continuous Autofocus Mode
  3. Hybrid Autofocus Mode

Single Autofocus Mode 

Nikon camera: AF-S Mode
Sony camera: Single-shot AF

Single autofocus mode (AF single) is the most basic autofocus mode where the camera will lock the focus on the subject that you want to photograph. But the downside of this mode is that the camera will only lock the current focus and will not automatically adjust focus if the subject moves. You’ll have to re-focus again on the subject. It’s usually best used for static subjects such as portraits, macro, and architecture.

Understanding Normal and Cross-Type Focusing PointsImage: Google

Therefore, if you wanted to take an image with moving objects, it is recommended to use Continuous Autofocus Mode, also known as AF-C.

Continuous Autofocus Mode 

Nikon camera: AF-C Mode
Sony camera: Continuous AF

Continuous autofocus (AF continuous) modes are best for capturing non-stationary objects/subjects where the focus will continue tracking the subject within the same frame. Although it tracks the object’s movement, this mode may not be perfect and sharp due to the camera technology as there are other factors that can contribute to the flaws. Factors such as the subject’s movements, lens speed, lighting conditions, and many more. They are usually best for sports and wildlife.

Sports photography: tips for setting up your camera to shoot anything | TechRadarImage: Google

Hybrid Autofocus Mode 

Nikon camera: AF-A Mode
Sony camera: Continuous AF

Lastly, we have Autofocus Hybrid mode which is the perfect choice if you can’t decide on using a single autofocus mode or continuous autofocus mode. The camera will automatically choose continuous autofocus mode if the subject is moving and will keep the Single Autofocus mode as its preset. Therefore they are great to use when there are sudden fast movements in the subjects or if their movements are unpredictable. An example is taking pictures of both stationary and moving objects.

Hands-on Review] EOS R6 in Dance Concert PhotographyImage: Google

There are also Autofocus Area Modes which help fine-tune how and where the camera seeks to focus within a scene.

What are the Autofocus (AF) Area modes?

There are 3 main AF area modes which are:

  1. Single-point
  2. Dynamic-area AF and 
  3. 3D tracking 

as well as other AF area modes which are:

  1. Auto-Area AF Mode
  2. Group-Area AF Mode

Autofocus (AF) area modes determine how the AF points should be placed and used to achieve focus. From the diagram below from the top left clockwise: Dynamic-area AF (51 pints), Dynamic Area AF (21 points), 3D tracking, Single-point AF and Dynamic Area (9 points).

AF Area Modes Definition - What is AF Area Modes by SLR LoungeImage: Google

1) Single-point AF

Nikon Camera: Single Point

Canon Camera: Manual AF Point

Single-point AF gives detail and points accuracy that allows you to choose a specific AF point. The camera will automatically detect precisely where you want it to be in focus. They are usually very convenient for stationary or slow-moving subjects, as any tracking movements can make it difficult to keep the image aligned. Therefore, if you’re working with a static subject (portraits, landscapes, architectures), then the Single-Point AF area mode is best.

Nikon Z9 Camera Review | Thom HoganImage: Z System User

2) Dynamic-area AF

Nikon Camera: Dynamic

Canon Camera: AF Point Expansion

Dynamic-area AF allows you to be in control in choosing the focus point from the different point placements between 9, 21, and 51-point placements. The camera uses a larger AF area to retain the focus even when the subject moves within the frame. If you want to only track a small portion of the whole situation, it is recommended to use the smallest point placement of 9 instead of 51 which will track the entire frame. However, the camera will utilize the surrounding focus point and select a different AF point and capture the intended focus point. Therefore there is a need to pan the camera together with the subject to ensure that the subject stays close to the selected focus points. They are great for capturing fast-moving subjects like flying animals and birds as it is difficult to keep them on focus in flight.

Focus modes explained - Understanding camera autofocus modesImage: Capturetheatlas

3) 3D tracking mode

Nikon Camera: 3D-Tracking Mode

Canon Camera: 3D-Tracking Mode

3D tracking mode allows you to pick the Af point and will automatically select as many focus points needed to track the subject’s movements. The system will recognize the subject and be programmed to track them making it easier for photographers to capture while the subject moves. For example, when you are capturing an image of a small bird with a background image of many birds, the 3D Tracking system will automatically focus and track the small bird even when there are movements from the bird/camera itself.

Z9: Best Autofocus mode for wildlife – Tom Bol Photography, LLCImage: Google

Many people will think that Dynamic-area AF and 3D Tracking are the same as the camera will focus on a moving subject but indeed there’s a difference. 3D tracking mode will allow the camera to select the possible focus points available for the camera to track the subject but Dynamic AF area mode categorized the focus points into different sections/parts. For example, if you choose the 9-point placement, the camera will only track the subject within the 9 focus points including the surrounding that you’ve picked. The camera will not automatically focus on the subject if it moves away from the 9-points. in 3D Tracking mode, on the other hand, the camera will continue to track the subject even when it moves away from the first focus point. Therefore, this creates a difference between choosing Dynamic-area AF and 3D Tracking mode.

Smaller focus points = Dynamic-area AF mode

Bigger focus points = 3D Tracking mode 

4) Auto-Area AF Mode

Nikon Camera: Auto-Area AF mode

Canon Camera: Automatic AF Point Selection

Selecting the AF Point when Shooting (EOS-1D X Mark II)Image: Google

By using an Auto-area AF mode, the camera helps to inspect and scan the whole scene and choose the subject to focus on. In a way, they help assist us in manually choosing the focus point in the shot but may choose the wrong subject to focus on. Therefore they are usually used for general point photography and not when taking a scene with a specific focal point. The camera also decides to pick an image based on other factors such as the contrast which then auto-locks the control focus and standardizes all photos based on the settings. If there are multiple people in the frame, it will focus on those that are closest to the camera. It is recommended only if you are not taking control of where to focus manually.

5) Group-Area AF Mode

Group-area AF mode will choose several focus points from a group of people and also track the subject. The camera will recognize the face and lock the eyes feature while tracking the subject when they move. They are better than choosing a Dynamic-area AF because they give 5 focus points to track the subject and consistent/accurate results. As you can see from the picture below, there are 4 red boxes (focus points), and the 5th in the center of the box.

Nikon Group-Area AF ModeImage: Google

The camera will always prioritize the central focus point and will go to the other autofocus when the center didn’t get its detection. For this instance, when the central focus fails, the camera will focus on the other 4 point which is closer to the main subject. As compared to Dynamic-area AF, if the central focus point fails, the camera will focus on 9, 21, and 51-point placements which can be furthest from the main focal subject. Referring to the picture above, when using Dynamic-area AF, if you point the camera slightly off due to constant/sudden movements, the camera will focus and detect the branch/background instead of the bird (main subject). Meanwhile, by using Group-Area AF, it uses all 5 focus points simultaneously and will attempt to focus on the nearest subject, without giving preference to any of the 5 focus points.

In conclusion:

It is best to explore and practice taking control of your camera in capturing an autofocus point to ensure that the photos are properly focused. Practice definitely makes perfect and enjoy your explorations of the different focus modes to get your desired focused image. We hope that this blog has been helpful for you and stay tuned for more blogs crafted for our viewers.

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