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Autofocus Modes Explained

Most modern digital cameras are equipped with advanced autofocus systems that are often hard to understand. Whether you are shooting with an entry-level or professional camera, knowing how to use the autofocus system effectively is essential to get sharp images. A badly-focused, blurry image can ruin a photograph and you cannot repair it in post-processing.

If you learn how to focus correctly, you will end up with sharp, perfectly usable images each time, which will make yourself, your family, and your clients happy. Simply put, accurate focus translates to sharper images and that is something everyone is looking for in photographs today. I know some photographers will argue with me on this, saying that sometimes image blur yields a “creative” look, but it is one thing when you do it on purpose and another when you consistently mess up just because you don’t know how to focus well with your camera. Once you learn how to properly focus with your camera, you can then decide whether you want to blur something on purpose.

Great Blue Heron in Flight

Great Blue Heron in Flight NIKON D700 @ 420mm, ISO 500, 1/2000, f/5.6

In this article, I will teach you everything I know about focus modes on modern DSLR and mirrorless cameras. Since autofocus functionality depends on what camera type and model you are using, I obviously cannot go over all the available AF modes, so I will only go through a few camera systems. Since I am a Nikon user, I will put a little more emphasis on Nikon cameras.

1. How Camera Autofocus Works

The nice thing about digital cameras today is that they come with all kinds of sophisticated autofocus features. If back in the day one had to master both manual focus and autofocus features of their cameras to get images that were in focus, today, one can simply switch to the correct autofocus mode and let the camera do all the hard work. Autofocus systems have gotten better and better over the last decade – even the cheapest cameras are now equipped with rather complex algorithms that are capable of automatically