5 Troubleshooting Steps for When Your Nikon’s Autofocus Stops Working

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You’re in the middle of a photoshoot and suddenly you notice nothing in your viewfinder is in focus. Your shutter and AF-ON buttons (if using back-button focusing) do not seem to work. All eyes are on you, and the pressure is on to quickly fix the problem. Where do you start? Or perhaps you have just changed lenses and suddenly nothing works. Where might you have gone wrong?

This has happened to me one too many times, so I have now come up with a system of troubleshooting in the quickest time possible on the spot. It goes without saying, of course, that your camera needs to be switched to ON and the lens cap needs to be off.

nikon-autofocus-troubleshooting-photo-tips

#1 Autofocus not Manual

Check that both the lens and the camera switches are both pointing towards Autofocus. On the camera it must be set on AF, not M, and on the lens put it to M/A (A stands for Autofocus and M for Manual, M/A allows you to use both). Flicking the lens switch to Manual can be done unwittingly and fairly easily, especially if you are in a rush to change lenses.

nikon-autofocus-troubleshooting-photo-tips

nikon-autofocus-troubleshooting-photo-tips

#2 Back dial is not Locked

Check that the dial is pointed towards the camera icon and not the L, which stands for lock.  You can easily flick this dial, especially if you are back-button focusing and your dial sees so much action.

nikon-autofocus-troubleshooting-photo-tips

#3 AEL / AFL

Check your AEL/AFL button that you haven’t locked focus. Clicking it once locks focus so click it another time to unlock focus.

nikon-autofocus-troubleshooting-photo-tips

#4 Check the lens

Remove the lens. Inspect the front and rear lens aspects for smudges or dirt. Check also that no part of the lens is broken. If you have filters on your lens, check that they are clear and there are no cracks. When you re-attach the lens, make sure you hear a click once the lens is twisted in place.  If there are any smudges on the lens, make sure you clean it with a lens cloth, and do not blow on the lens.

Lens cloths are usually lint-free pieces of material, and should be used with a lens cleaning solution, rather than anything with solvents. Blowing on the lens can contribute to lens damage since a person’s breath can contain harmful acids. If you feel you have to blow, use a lens bulb blower and a brush.

nikon-autofocus-troubleshooting-photo-tips

#5 Viewfinder

Finally, check your viewfinder and make sure there are no oils, smudges or dirt covering your sight. You can clean the viewfinder the same way you clean your lens. If your viewfinder is very dirty, your camera will still focus and the image won’t be affected but you won’t be able to see anything in focus!

nikon-autofocus-troubleshooting-photo-tips

#6 Bonus

This applies to any camera, not just Nikons. If something is going on with your camera that is odd – turn it off for a few seconds, then turn it back on. It’s like a reboot for your camera, just like you do with your computer. If that doesn’t work you can also try removing the battery for a minute or more (remember to turn the camera off before removing the battery). As a last ditch effort you could try resetting all functions and settings on the camera to factory default. If it still isn’t working test the camera with another lens, if that one works you may need to take your lens in to get serviced. If the

I hope this little troubleshooting guide helps when you get stuck with focusing problems. Do you have any other quick focus troubleshooting tips to share?

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Lily Sawyer

is a wedding and portrait photographer based in London. Her absolute favourite past time is going on “mummy” dates with her kids and husband. Other than that, as a homebody, she is content curled up on the sofa, hot chocolate in hand, watching films with her family whenever she has a free weekend. Check out her work on www.lilysawyer.com Follow her on her fave social media platform Instagram.

  • #5 ROTFL

  • Lily Sawyer

    Ha Ha me too! Obvs a mistake and will be rectified! Well spotted! Thank you!

  • AKH

    Shouldn’t the headline be “5 troubleshooting steps for when you fumble, don’t know what you are doing and are not prepared” ?

    Well, you website has some fantastic images, so I have a hard time imagining that you run into those kind of problems and that you are not prepared ?

  • Lily Sawyer

    Thanks AKH! I agree – “steps when you fumble” yes, but things happen no matter how prepared one is and know what they are doing! Makes preparedness even all the more important because when the unforeseen happens then we can find a way to troubleshoot quickly. I try to be prepared as best as I can for every gig. One time I left my bag with my daughter sitting still watching the event while I covered the action in her school. When I came back and changed lenses with one from the bag, I could not focus. camera won’t focus. Everyone was waiting for me. I had to think on my feet and check everything within a minute. It turned out my daughter had her thumb on the back of the lens the entire time and it was now too smudged! Lucky I had a lens cloth to quickly clean it after I discovered the cause!

  • AKH

    I can imagine that it must have been quite stressful. I had problems with the flash commander mode with a couple of flashes, when I was photographing for the local sports club. Pretty stressful even for an amateur like me, but I guess I didn’t prepare well enough 🙂

  • This was cool.
    I totally panicked last weekend. Stepped back, check my camera, and I was fine.
    Anything can happen when you have a multitude of factors to consider.

  • Anna

    I don’t understand why people have to post comments like that which are insulting to those who may just be starting out and read these articles for tips. I hope you’ve made yourself feel better by making others feel badly. BTW, I’ve been shooting events for many, many years and even I ran into an issue at my last one where, when things were happening quickly, I had bumped something and the camera wasn’t focusing. Luckily, I knew what to check, but if I didn’t, the points she brought up would have been very helpful to know.

  • AKH

    Strange thing to write: “I hope you’ve made yourself feel better by making others feel badly”. I thought the headline was a bit misleading, but that is probably just me. Did you really feel bad about my post? if that is the case i apologize.

  • Anna

    I appreciate your response. Yes, I felt the part of your comment about if you are having a problem with focusing, you don’t know what you are doing and aren’t prepared to be the insulting part. If it wasn’t meant that way, then I am the one who will apologize, but that is how it came across. That’s the problem with forums – you never know the tone in which things are being said. What I took as condescending to those who are learning may not have been meant in that spirit.

  • Pat Worster

    I have a nikon d3200 and want to reset everything to factory defaults. Could someone please tell me how to do that.

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  • RickDeNatale

    I notice that your D610 is missing its rubber eyecup just like mine. 😉

  • Ted Dudziak

    Thanks for posting the list, Lily. I find that #2, the Locked condition, happens more often than I would like. Also, #3 since I instinctively treat AE-L/AF-L like the AF-ON button.

  • David Ewers

    learn to focus manually, its not that hard

  • Pablo8paul

    I was checking my grandsons camera with the fish-eye lens he was borrowing from me. Everything in the viewfinder was blurred (???) Yes …his viewfinder dioptre setting was much different than mine.

  • Alan D Granger

    I am manual focus challenged and been that way since 1968.

  • Alan D Granger

    Your diopter has mysteriously adjusted itself.

  • Anthony Smith

    I was a bit disappointed. My D750 has trouble focusing on occassion. The focus spins all the way out out and spins all the way back in. I set the auto focus to S and focus on a single point with the most contrast. and it seems to start working again. Some times I do a green button reset. In defense of the beginner. I was at Disney World and I saw a guy with a D3000 kit. He was very rude when I started talking and I asked him if his camera wasn’t working. He got real calm and said “no it’s not”. I pointed at the switch on the lens that was set to manual and told him to switch it to A. He tugged on his wife’s arm and said never mind it’s fixed. She was calling her son to find out what to do.

  • Darryl Lora

    Wow, all those ‘problem’ comments! I don’t have any camera issues at all ~ oh, that’s right, I have a Canon! .. ok guys, please just take this post as a ‘can’t resist’ post……..no insult or anything intended….:^)

  • happens all the time 🙂

  • mine gets filthy

  • Frank Nazario

    LOL>>> yes… go to the menu of the little wrench and select factory reset… click ok and that is it…

  • Wayne Keller

    Another thing that has caused me to have an auto focus problem has been that the camera / lens picked an object that was BETWEEN the camera and the subject and focused on it. In that case you may need to do some careful focusing or change to spot focus. I have also learned to like manual focus more now that I have a camera that does it better and more easily. But take my comments with a grain of salt because I’m shooting with Sony camera and Sony and Sigma lenses. ( tongue in cheek, like the writer said, these tips work with all cameras and lenses). And always remember, today all cameras are a lot smarter than the operators.

  • Lily Sawyer

    The rubber eyecups on all my cameras have disappeared hence missing on the photo. I’ve put it down to the way I shoot!

  • Lily Sawyer

    I wouldn’t do this in a hurry especially if you have customised some of your settings. But as a last ditch resort yes.

  • Scorpio

    I had the exact problem a week ago, my diopter moved and I was going nuts thinking my lens and camera was at fault, I even took off my glasses and kept cleaning them, rubbing my eyes, plus it was dusk so that made it even worse….lmao. I figured it out after I got home.

  • Eric Laurie

    I have run in to my lens not communicating with the body. I have found that turning the lens like I’m taking it off a few times will get it to work again.

  • Raden Adams

    I have to rely completely on auto focus because I am half blind and just can not see well enough to focus manually. Also, if you are hot and a little sweaty, your glasses will fog up so bad that they are useless. So, I use and rely on back button focusing. I shoot raw, full manual, spot meter, shooting in AF-C, etc. To make things even more challenging, my favorite subject is shooting birds and especially the rather small Warblers that hang out in the canopy shade, mostly. I just do my best to see to focus but usually I just hold down my back button focus button and fire away in several burst. I do check my histogram after each shot but usually I don’t know what I have captured until I download the photos into my computer and view on a larger screen. I always end up with at least one photo in focus but usually most all of them are in focus and sharp. I am challenged more with noise control, and the birds fluttering from shade to harsh direct sunlight just one limb over. Its a lot of fun though.

  • megkar

    damn! for 5 months now i thought my dslr is broken! hahah thank you lily #3 did the fix on me. thank you

  • megkar

    lol it’s not be that simple

  • Ana Lima Torres

    Wonderful comment!
    I’m a beginner and had my first wedding a week ago and this happened to my d750
    I went to a panic attack
    but luckily I recovered quickly before anyone noticed!

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