Your DSLR offers a variety of autofocus points, which can be used in different ways. But which focus points should you use, and when?
Our quick cheat sheet below explains your different focus point options and when they are most opportune.
We used a Nikon camera for the purposes of this tutorial, but the same principle applies for other brands even though other cameras will have AF systems with a different number of AF points.
Auto Area AF: best for snapshots
In Auto Area AF mode, you’re leaving it to the camera to decide what to focus on. It will check all its focus points and choose either the object nearest to the camera or, on later Nikons, any faces the camera detects in the scene. This mode is a good fallback for novices, but the camera will sometimes focus on the wrong thing.
Single-point AF (51 points): best for precision
In single-point AF mode, you pick the focus point yourself. This gives the most control, provided you’ve got time to select the correct point (or you could use the ‘focus lock’ method, see overleaf). Single-point AF is ideal for relatively static shots where you’ve got a little more time to get set up.
Single-point AF (11 points): best for everyday
If you have a camera with a large number of AF points, you have a sophisticated autofocus system at your disposal, but it can take too long to select between them. On Nikons with 39-point or 51-point AF systems, you can restrict the number of AF points to 11 for quick manual focus point selection.
Dynamic area AF (nine points): best for action
Dynamic area AF mode is designed to make the autofocus system more responsive and more reliable for moving subjects. You still select the focus point manually, but the surrounding AF points act as backups to keep the subject in focus if it moves briefly away from your chosen AF point.
Dynamic area AF (21 points): best for erratic action
You can include more AF points in Dynamic area AF mode. Nine points offers greatest accuracy if you can follow your subject in the viewfinder, but for subjects which move more erratically, the 21-point option may be more effective. Try out the options to see which best suits your subjects.
Dynamic area AF (51 points): best for subject tracking
You can use all the camera’s focus points in Dynamic area AF mode. Some models offer 3D tracking, which uses information from multiple AF points to predict your subject’s movement. This suits shots where you want to keep the camera framing the same while shooting a moving subject.
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