Focus Modes in Photography: A Simple Guide

Focus modes are an essential feature of modern cameras, allowing you to control the way your camera focuses on your subject. Understanding the difference between manual and auto focus, and the different focus modes available, will help you make sure you always get the shot you want.

Whether you're working with a mirrorless or DSLR camera – Canon, Nikon or any other make – there are a few standard focus modes to choose from. Let's take a look at these different focus modes and how they work.

Focus modes in Camera

Single Autofocus (AF-S)

Single autofocus mode (AF-S) is the most basic focus mode available on most cameras. When you half-press the shutter button, the camera will focus on the subject and lock the focus until you take the shot.

This mode is ideal for still, stationary subjects, as it allows you to take your time and compose the shot carefully.

Continuous Autofocus (AF-C)

Continuous autofocus mode (AF-C) is designed for moving subjects. When you half-press the shutter button, the camera will continually adjust the focus to keep the subject in focus, even as it moves.

This mode is ideal for photographing sports, wildlife, or in any other situation where your subject is in motion.

Camera showing focus modes

Automatic Autofocus (AF-A)

Automatic autofocus mode (AF-A) is a hybrid mode that combines AF-S and AF-C. In this mode, the camera will automatically switch between AF-S and AF-C depending on the situation. If your subject is still, the camera will use AF-S. If your subject begins moving, the camera will switch to AF-C.

This mode is useful for situations where your subject is switching unpredictably between stillness and motion, such as children playing or animals in the wild.

Manual Focus (MF)

In Manual focus mode (MF), it's up to you to manually adjust the focus of the lens to achieve the desired focus.

This mode is useful in situations where your camera's autofocus system is struggling to find the right focus point, or if you simply want complete creative control. Some photographers also prefer to use manual focus to produce interesting effects, such as deliberately blurring the background of a shot.

Focus modes switch on camera

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Understanding the different focus modes available on your camera will help you take better photos in a wide range of situations. Whether you're shooting still subjects or fast-moving action, there is a focus mode that will help you achieve the desired result.

The more confident you become with your camera, the more comfortable you will be experimenting with manual focus, and the more creative you will get.

To learn more about focus modes, download our free 90-page eBook, An Introduction to Photography.

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