Focusing on Nikon Cameras

When photographing, along with the settings excerpts, aperture, ISO and image quality, one of the most important parameters for a SLR camera is the correct setting of the focus mode and method.

Focus on Nikon

Focus on Nikon

Nikon has many focus options with different combinations of focus modes and focus areas. Usually focusing on modern Nikon DSLR cameras occurs when pressing the shutter button halfwayor by pressing the dedicated AF-ON button.


Focus Modes:

'AF-S' or 'S' (Auto Focus Single) - focus mode camera, in which the camera, when the shutter button is pressed halfway, focuses on focus, and when a successful aim is achieved, it stops focusing. Once pressed - once focused... In the manuals for cameras, the mode is often translated as'Single AF Tracking'. To change the aiming accuracy, release the button and press it again. The mode is suitable for static scenes.

Focus Mode Switch on Nikon D700

Focus mode switch Nikon D700. The same is available on cameras Nikon D300, D300s, D200, D1, D2, D3 etc.


'AF-C' or 'C' (Auto Focus Continuous) - tracking continuous (continuous) mode of automatic focus of the camera (in the instructions it is often translated as'Continuous AF Tracking'). When the shutter button is pressed halfway, the camera constantly tries to focus correctly. Pressed the button - and the camera constantly monitors the focus. A very useful mode when subjects are moving or composition changes.

This selects the focus mode on cameras of the type D800, D600, D4

So the focus mode on cameras is selected by type D800, D600, D4


AF-A (Auto Focus Automatic) - automatic focus mode selection camera. In this mode, the camera can choose to work in AF-S or AF-C mode. Basically, all amateurs shoot in AF-A mode and often do not even suspect the presence of other modes. I noticed that the mode AF-A more often behaves like the AF-S mode.

AF-A, AF-C, AF-S mode selector on Nikon D90

AF-A, AF-C, AF-S mode selector on Nikon D90


AF (auto focus) - general auto focus mode. The mode is enabled on the camera itself, not to be confused with the 'A' mode on the lens itself.

AF focus mode switch on the camera

AF focus mode switch (lever) on the camera


MF (manual focusing) - manual focus camera... The mode is activated using the camera menu. Usually only cameras without a focus motor have this mode. In this mode, you need to manually rotate the focusing ring on the lens to achieve correct focusing. On the one hand: manual focus can be difficult for beginners, on the other hand: it is A vital focus method for advanced photographers and professionals. Manual focus on the CZK is one of the major advantages over conventional digital cameras (soap dishes). Very often, the automation of the camera and the lens cannot determine how to focus correctly and to achieve optimal focus, just switch to manual mode and point the camera manually for precise focus.

Focus Mode Switch Using the Nikon D500 Camera Menu

Focus Mode Switch Using the Nikon D5100 Camera Menu


M (M - manual focusing) - manual focus on the lens or on the camera. Same as MF. Attention: Not all lenses have a focus mode switch, such as a lens Nikon 50mm f / 1.8D AF Nikkor It has no focus switches at all. It's important: in order to switch to manual focus mode MF with a lens that does not have a focus mode switch, you need to switch the focus lever to mode M on a camera with a focus motor; on a camera without a focus motor, only the MF mode with such a lens will always be available. About different types of lenses and cameras is described in detail in the section Nikon Lens Differences.

Lens with focus mode switch and lens without focus mode switch

Lens with focus mode switch and lens without focus mode switch


A (Auto) - auto focus mode lens. In this position of the focus switch on the lens, only automatic focusing with the lens is available. Attention: not all lenses have such a focus operation switch, for example, the switch on the lens is shown below Nikon 85mm f / 1.4D AF Nikkor.

Example of a manual or auto focus lens

Example of a manual or auto focus lens


M / A (autofocus with manual override) - automatic focusing lens with priority of manual control. Attention: not all lenses have this focus mode, the example below shows the switch on the lens Nikon 85mm f / 1.4GN AF-S Nikkor. This mode implies auto focus with instant manual focus adjustmentand the lens does not need to be set to focus mode 'M'. You can read more about this mode. here.

This is how the switch of focus modes on the lens with support for MA-M mode looks

This is how the switch of focus modes on the lens with support for MA-M mode looks


AF-F (Full Time Servo Auto Focus) - continuous tracking focus mode for video shooting. Attention: This focus mode is only available on modern cameras with the ability to record video. This mode does not work when taking pictures. Usually you cannot find the mode in the menu AF-F, it is only available in live view when entering the info menu. This is a very useful mode, it allows you to record with constant auto focus. This mode is available only in cameras starting from Nikon D3100.

AF-F mode for shooting video

AF-F mode for shooting video


Important: due to the fact that all Nikon CZKs have different controls and different menus, each camera switches its focus mode in its own way. In the general case, M, AF, S, C is responsible for choosing the focus mode switch near lens mount for cameras with a focus motor and settings in the menu of the camera itself. For non-powered cameras, the focus mode is selected only through the camera menu. Different combinations of settings for different types of cameras are shown in the diagrams above.


Damn important: if you use a camera with a focus motor, and on it is a lens with auto focus but without a focus motor and without a focus mode switch on the lens itself, for example, a bunch Nikon D90 (camera with motor) and lens Nikon 85mm f / 1.8D AF Nikkor (without focusing motor and without focusing mode switch) - for manual focusing, be sure to switch the lever near the camera mount to the 'M' position, otherwise when focusing manually can damage the camera.


A number of cameras from Nikon have a built-in rangefinder (focus indicator in the viewfinder). The rangefinder in the viewfinder can tell in which direction you need to rotate the focus ring on the lens in order to achieve the correct focus. The range finder works both with automatic and manual focusing. Rangefinder is in the cameras Nikon D3100, D5100, D700 etc. In general, on older lenses that could not focus automatically, there is a special focusing scale, which indicates the distance to the focusing object. It's a pity when using the old AI-S optics on younger Nikon cameras, the rangefinder refuses to work. With manual optics, the rangefinder only works on older Nikon cameras.

The principle of operation of the electronic rangefinder

The principle of operation of the electronic rangefinder


On any Nikon CLC camera, the green circle in the viewfinder in the lower left corner of the viewfinder is responsible for the accuracy of focusing on the selected focus point. When it is on, this means that the sharpness at the selected point is normal. The green dot (focus confirmation point) is an indispensable tool when working with old class lenses AI-S and similar, for example, such as Nikon 100mm F / 2.8 Series E MF

A green dot that confirms correct focus

A green dot that confirms correct focus


Advanced cameras have fine-tuning the focus: Release priority and Focus priority in AF-C and AF-S mode.

Usually in AF-C mode, the choice is:

  1. FPS frequency - the shutter release is more important for the camera than the focusing accuracy, this is called Release priority
  2. FPS + AF frequency - the shutter is more important for the camera, but it also takes into account the focusing accuracy (not available on all cameras)
  3. Focus - the focus is more important for the camera, not the shooting speed.

Using the priority setting, you can set what is most important when shooting - focus, and then release the shutter, or release the shutter and ignore focus. I set AF-S priority to focus priority mode, AF-C to shutter priority mode.

Setting Focus Priorities

Setting Focus Priorities


Important Note:

Younger Nikon cameras do not support shutter priority mode (Release priority). The exact list of cameras, as well as other useful information on limiting priorities, can be found in the section “Unpleasant restriction of Nikon entry-level cameras and its solution", As well as in the section"Restructuring AF-S, AF-C modes when working with an external flash. Features Focus Focus".


Live View

Live view allows you to turn a complex SLR camera into an ordinary soap box, that is, you can focus (photograph) using the large display of the camera itself, and not through the optical viewfinder (peephole). In Live View, focus is based on contrast. This method is much slower for normal focusing through the optical viewfinder. Moreover, the difference in focusing speed in Live View mode and through the optical viewfinder can be tens of times. Some cameras have two focusing modes in Live View mode. The first one is “tripod” focusing, it is done as on conventional digital cameras (dichotomously, in contrast). Second, you can frame the frame through Live View, but when you press the shutter button to focus, the camera turns off Live View, focuses through the usual focusing system, and then turns on Live View again or takes a picture. For a simple description of how Live View works, see Dmitry Evtifeev’s blog.

How Live View Works

How Live View Works


Important:

camera Nikon D700 и Nikon D300 in Live View and Tripod sub-modes, focus only when AF-ON button is pressed.


Focus Points and Focus Areas

Each camera has a different number of points and areas through which it can focus. A special module is responsible for focusing in the camera, which is located at the bottom of the camera’s mirror. The focusing module just calculates the phase values, on the basis of which it gives a command to perform focusing. In fact, modern central control valves have two mirrors, the second mirror serves to perform focusing through the focus module, in more detail here... Usually, a focusing module consists of a certain number of points (zones) on which focus analysis is performed. For 2012 Nikon has cameras with 3, 5, 11, 39, 51 focus points. The number of points affects the usability and focusing accuracy of the camera. You can read in more detail about focus systems on Nikon cameras.

The image shows the focus point where focus is achieved.

The image shows the focus point where focus is achieved.


For working with focus points, the settings are responsible. AF-area mode.

  • Automatic (auto-area AF), denoted as a white rectangle. Focuses on the closest subject using all available points.
  • Dynamic (dynamic-area AF), focusing works on only one point, but takes into account information with adjacent points
  • Single Point AF, focuses on only one point.
  • Additional: 3D-tracking, or the choice of several zones. Such settings are not available on all cameras and often they are sub-functions of the dynamic focus area selection.
Points and focus method: AF-S single point

Points and focus method: AF-S single point


Important:

It’s very convenient to set the choice of the focus area method for amateur and advanced amateur cameras using a soft key (as I did on Nikon D90) This will allow you to quickly switch between focusing on a single point, automatic zone selection, dynamic mode, 3D tracking, etc. On Nikon professional and flagship cameras, a special zone switch is provided, which simplifies the work with professional equipment.


Attention:

in manual focus mode (M, MF), only one focus point is available.


Important:

A number of cameras can show in the image at which point or group of points the focus was performed. When viewing a picture, you can activate a mode in which the focus points are indicated by squares. This mode is supported only by professional cameras of the type D200, D300 and all full-frame. This is convenient because when setting up a quick preview of the image on a 1 to 1 scale, scaling is done exactly at the focus point at which the shooting was performed. This allows you to quickly check and select good sharp pictures. On advanced amateur and amateur cameras, to view the correct focusing, press the zoom button, and then use the selector to find the area in the image by which focus was performed. If your camera does not have a function that shows at which point the focus was performed, you can use ViewNX, which comes with the camera. Focus points can be displayed on the computer display. This is sometimes very helpful. In the sample photos, I just copied the work of ViewNX 2.


Important:

ViewNX only displays focus points on the computer when the picture was taken in AF-A, AF-S, AF-C modes with focus priority. If AF-S, AF-C with shutter priority is selected, the program will show focus points only if the camera was sure that the focus was correct.


Important:

Not all Nikon cameras allow you to change the area and type of focus when using the automatic modes (green mode). In modes P, A, S, M, everything can be customized to your taste.

Single point focus. AF-C focus mode

Single point focus. AF-C focus mode


Focus point loop function

This function simply allows you to move the focus point in a circle, thus looping it around. When the rightmost point is selected, when you press the selector right, the focus point will go to the leftmost position. This function simply allows you to speed up the work when focusing on a single point.


Wide and standard focus area

In some cameras, you can choose a wide focus area, in contrast to the usual. A wide focus area reduces the number of focus points (zones). For example, for Nikon D200 With 11 focus points, 7 wide areas are created. Optically in the viewfinder, the zones will be larger in size than the dots. This sometimes simplifies the work with the camera.


Focus adjustment (alignment)

Sometimes the lens may malfunction and focus behind the subject (back) or in front of the focus object (front). In the people, such a lack of lenses is called back focus, front focus (back and front focus). Some cameras may adjust to the “wrong” lens. To do this, you need to find the focus adjustment in the camera and adjust the focus. Only have tuning Nikon D300, D300s, D500, D7000, D7100, D7200, D7500, D700, D750, D780, D800e, D800E, D810, D810a, D3, D3s, D3x, D4, D4s, D5, Df, D600, D610.


Focusing with Dark Lenses

Almost all Nikon cameras can focus without problems automatically only when using lenses with apertures up to F / 5.6. This is indicated in the camera manual. When using lenses with a smaller aperture, such as the Tamron 28-300mm F / 3.5-6.3 XR Di VC LD Asph (IF) Macro, it may be difficult to focus on the F / 6.3 aperture. Also, when using teleconvertersthat decrease the effective aperture value of the converter lens, focusing problems may also occur. Only a few cameras can focus without problems with F / 8.0 lenses. The limitation is related to the number of focus points that can work normally at F / 5.6-F / 8.0. You can find more details about which cameras and which focus points (zones) are used to work with 'dark' lenses here.

Focusing

Single-point focusing with the Nikon D2Xs


Cross-shaped focus points (sensors) vs regular focus points

How many times I didn’t use one-point focusing, I did not find the difference in the quality of focusing using the cross-shaped point and the usual focusing point. Basically, cross-shaped focus points (sensors) are said to do a much better job of focusing than regular focus points. It is generally accepted that cross-shaped focus points are better at handling 'wire against sky' scenes.


Focus light

Nikon cameras have a special light bulb that helps focus in dark conditions. The light bulb simply illuminates the subject in focus and autofocus is easier to focus on. The backlight may not come on in AF-C mode. The focus light is often called the “spotlight” and is recommended to be turned off. Personally, I have the backlight turned off, but in poor lighting conditions I use a flash that has its own "red spot" with a long range. More details about the flashlight in photo tricks section.

Focus light

Focus light


Important:

Some Nikon CLCs for some reason do not illuminate the subject with the AF-assist lamp in single-point focus mode, if a non-central point is selected. As far as I know, all Nikon cameras provide auxiliary illumination with a lamp in single-point focus mode, if the center focus point is selected.


Important:

Flagship Niko camerasn such as Nikon D1, Dh, D1x, D2h, D2x, D2hs, D2xs, D3, D3s, D3x, Df, D4, D4s, D5 don't have a focus backlight at all.


Interesting:

Nikon cameras can be implemented very simply focus trap.

AF-S single-point focusing mode

AF-S single-point focusing mode


My experience and recommendations on focusing on Nikon cameras can be found here.


Is everything complicated and little understood?

Then just turn on AF-A and the icon with a rectangular focus area. Automation copes well with the main tasks. I recommend fully automatic focusing for home use. Sometimes fine-tuning the modes of the focus points does not justify itself.


Which Nikon camera focuses best?

Focus best Nikon D5 и Nikon D500 with the most advanced focus modules.


In the comments, you can ask a question on the topic and they will answer you, as well as you can express your opinion or describe your experience. For the selection of photographic equipment, I recommend large catalogs, for example E-Catalog. Many little things for the photo can be found on AliExpress.

Conclusions:

Learning how to deal with focus modes will help you more accurately and quickly achieve the desired result. I strongly recommend experimenting with the modes and focus areas on your camera.

The material was prepared by Arkady Shapoval. My Youtube channeland Radozhiva's group on Facebook и VK.

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Comments: 610, on the topic: Setting focus on Nikon cameras

  • Victoria

    Tell me how to adjust the focus point in the Nikon d700 so that you can move it in the viewfinder yourself?

    • Arkady Shapoval

      Select one focus point in the menu, settings in the menu under the name 'a8', turn the zone selection lever to the lowest position (near the INFO button), and turn the lever near the joystick to the point position (position opposite to the 'L' mark). Then use the joystick to move the point.

      • Victoria

        thanks for the quick reply. But something is going wrong, attached files

      • Victoria

        did everything turn right?

      • Victoria

        not working, dot in place ((what could be the problem?

  • shufryga

    Hi Arkady! Thanks to you, a rather large collection of lenses and cameras has already been collected over the year. There is one problem. The Sigma 50mm 1.4 lens does not want to work autofocus on Nikon d4. And only this pair is the problem. The latest firmware was made by the camera. If you put the same lens in D40, D200, D5200 autofocus works. If you put lenses from Nikon 4mm 50, Sigma 1.8-17, 50-50, 200, 85, Yongnuo 105mm, Tamron 35-24 and others in the D70, then all have autofocusing. I don’t have such skills and practice as you do. Where to look for inconsistencies with D4 & Sigma 50mm? Thanks in advance for your answers. All this was bought with the money saved when quitting smoking for 10 years and from alcohol completely for 2.5 years. True, everything is used, but it works fine.

  • Michael

    The d7000 has a focus adjustment. Cameras younger than seven thousand, namely the d5300, do not. Tell me you often come across nikon, nikkor, tamron, sigma lenses with front / back focus? It turns out that the seven-thousandth will be much preferable in this, but nothing good will come of the younger ones?

    • B. R. P.

      Third-party vendors have a back-front more often. You can try to adjust the smaller carcass together with the lens in the service.

      • Michael

        But the camera can be adjusted only for this lens and only use it? Thank you.

        • Alexey

          1. AF in the camera can be adjusted according to the reference lens in the ASTs.
          2. If some lens then misses, then it can be adjusted separately, by itself.
          3. if it is a screwdriver lens, then it is adjusted only by changing the number and thickness of spacers under the mount.
          4. if this is a lens with a built-in focusing motor, then it can be adjusted programmatically in the SC.

  • Sergei

    Hello. There is a Nikon D600 running under 200 thousand. frames. Recently, I began to often go into back focus. Those. back focus is not constant, but happens somewhere in 15-20% of the total number of frames. This has not happened before. Tell me, what could it be?

  • Vladimir

    Health to all!
    I wanted to ask. I have a Nikon D5600. Is it possible to use the Focus Trap function on this camera?
    I did everything according to the instructions, but the trap does not want to work in any way. When you press the shutter button, the camera takes a picture and there is no trap as such.

    • B. R. P.

      Quote from article (https://radojuva.com/2012/12/focus-trap/): “Note: some newer Nikon cameras cannot be set to focus trap mode. No reliable list known. " Perhaps this is your case.

      • Arkady Shapoval

        Most likely it is.

    • Michael

      What lens? It won't work with manuals

  • Still

    Question about focusing the D7100 in LiveView video. When focusing in LiveView, the camera “highlights” the image on the display if there is not enough light. However, this does not happen when video recording is enabled. Those. focusing takes place without increasing the brightness of the picture. Question. Is it possible to make the focus behave in the same way without turning on video recording, not “highlight” the picture. I will explain why it was needed. By itself, the 7100 is useless when recording video to a card. But it delivers via HDMI 1080p at 4: 2: 2, and when recording to a recorder, that's a completely different story. But AF with jumping brightness, as you know, is not an option, and pressing the REC button on the camera itself is a 20min limitation.

  • Mariana

    Hello! I'm having a problem with my Nikon D7500, Can't select autofocus modes. The manual says "To select autofocus mode, press the AF-mode button and rotate the main command dial." After scrolling the main dial, only the exposure settings change. I would be very glad to receive any information! Just mastering the camera)

    • Alexey

      The AF mode button must be kept pressed while rotating the control wheels.

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English-version of this article https://radojuva.com/en/2012/05/nikon-autofocus/