Auto Focus problem?

Understanding your camera’s Auto Focus system

Is there something wrong with my camera auto focus system?

Photo Tip Friday May 9, 2014

Have you ever wondered why your camera doesn’t always focus on your subject? Or thought there was something wrong with the Auto Focus function of your camera?

In this article we are going to look at Auto Focus features for new digital cameras. There are several options available for Auto Focus and we cover most of them in our Digital Photography Bootcamp classes but for this article I am going to discuss two different settings which can affect your camera’s auto focus performance.

In single Auto Focus mode you can select the focusing point
In single Auto Focus mode you can select the focusing point

Auto Focus Auto or Auto Focus Single

By default almost all digital cameras are set to Auto Focus Auto.  What this means is your camera “sees” the scene and compares it to its memory bank (not the memory card, but the information manufacturers add to camera processors) and makes a decision on where to focus. That doesn’t seem good, does it? So why do manufacturers set Auto Focus Auto as the default setting? Because they think their cameras are more intelligent than we are!

In Auto Focus Auto your camera may select any of these focusing points.
In Auto Focus Auto your camera may select any of these focusing points.

How does Auto Focus Auto work?

In this mode the camera has a wide focusing area and searches for items inside that area to find a main subject. Manufacturers make different data available to enable a camera to recognize possible main subjects; some examples are Face recognition, Contrast priority, Brightness priority, Distance, etc. It will select one object in the scene as the main subject for focusing; usually it’s the closest, most contrasty and brightest item. If you want to take a photo of your child in a park and there is no one else in the scene, the camera will do a decent job. What if there are other children in the scene and your child is furthest away from the camera? Here comes room for focusing error: your camera does not know your child, so it focuses on the nearest kid with a brighter T-shirt!

What is Auto Focus Single?

Auto Focus Single is the setting I recommend in our photography classes because I believe that even the most expensive camera does not have the talent that the human eye and brain has. In Auto focus Single, your camera still focuses automatically but you control where it should focus. Auto focus single allows your camera to focus faster (it’s not searching for data) and more accurately (it’s using your choice of subject).

How does Auto Focus Single work?

It is very simple. You select the focusing point and your camera will focus on this point regardless of brightness, contrast, or even face recognition system. So you are in full control!


If you’d like to learn more about the many different hidden features in your digital camera consider joining us for our Summer Digital Photography Bootcamp.  Please see information for registration included below.


Have a great weekend!

Ted and the Omnilargess Team


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