3 minute read

Introduction to Focusing Modes

Autofocusing takes care of a fundamental aspect of photography for you. But understanding how it works can help you know which modes to choose, and when to use them

When you half-press your camera’s shutter release button, it focuses automatically on the subject you’re photographing. This happens so quickly you probably take it for granted, but stopping to think about the behavior of your camera’s autofocus (AF) system is key to using it properly and creatively.

The first thing to realize about autofocus is that it can work in one of two modes: single or continuous. This is independent of choosing the focus area in the frame. You can switch between these (or into manual focus mode) using either a lever on the front of your camera, or options on the touchscreen.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Introduction to Focusing Modes

Let’s have a look at how the two modes differ from one other, and when you might use one instead of the other.

Single AF

When your camera is in single AF mode (also known as AF-S), it focuses on a subject when you half-press the shutter release button and locks the focus at that distance until you either completely press this button or release it. If your subject changes position after you’ve locked on it, you might want to let go and half-press again to ensure it’s properly sharp.

The big reason single AF mode is so popular is that it lets you focus easily on subjects that are not in the middle of the frame or under the focus points that are currently selected. After locking focus by half-pressing the shutter release button, you can recompose the image knowing the camera will not change this focus when you fully squeeze the shutter release and make the picture.

Woman posing among yellow flowers on sunny day against blue sky

Photo © Alison Conklin

Focus > lock > recompose is only one way of photographing off-center subjects (others include moving the active focus point and focusing manually), but it is arguably the fastest to use and the most intuitive – once you’ve had time to practice.

Another advantage of AF-S mode is that the camera won’t photograph until the subject is locked in focus. This reduces the chance of getting an out-of-focus image accidentally – at least with non-moving subjects.

AF-S is a great mode for portraits, landscapes, still life, and any other subject that doesn’t move.

Continuous AF

As the name implies, continuous AF (or AF-C) focuses non-stop while the shutter button is half-pressed, readjusting to match the distance of the subject in front of the camera. It’s most useful when you’re photographing moving subjects – from athletes running on the football field to kids playing on the beach. Your camera will adjust focus to keep the moving subject looking sharp.

Children playing on a sandy beach at sunset

Photo © Ben Chrisman

Obviously, you can’t use the focus > lock > recompose method for photographing off-center compositions (as soon as you recompose, the camera will simply re-focus on whatever is now at the AF spot), but AF-C is the mode to turn to when your subject is on the move.

Manual Focus

The third focusing mode is manual (or simply M). You can use this for any kind of photography, but it can take time to focus manually, which may result in you missing the moment. For this reason, we recommend using AF-S or AF-C in most cases. That said, manual focusing can be useful when:

  • You’re photographing at night.
  • You’re photographing still-life compositions.
  • You want to take precise control over where you are focusing in a scene.

Photo © Alison Conklin