Focus Points on the Canon 7D {and other models}


Focus is quite possibly one of the most vague and mysterious things I’ve ever had to suss out in my photographic journey. It got ever-clearer (pun intended) when I got my Canon 7D. Even now, just admitting that I have one makes my heart skip a little beat. Ok…reeling in my inner geek. Let me tell you about the focus points available on the 7D. Many of them are available on other Canon models so just have a browse through your manual and your settings to see what you’ve got but the concepts remain largely the same.

Spot Auto Focus. This is a totally new feature available on the 7D. With this mode, you choose the focus point for pin point precision. This setting is much like the one I will explain next, but as you can see, there’s a focus point within the focus point on the screen display. This is the most precise option and excellent for macro photography, the top of a newborn’s head or the ‘ring shot’ at a wedding. Although this gives you the ability to focus on a very tiny and precise area of the scene, it is not good for moving subjects because the area of focus is just so small.


Single point Auto Focus. Although this is the second option on your screen, it is probably the most widely understood mode by EOS users. You just move the square where you want your image to be focused. You can get precise and accurate focus, although you don’t have to be as concerned about some movement in your subject. As with any of these modes, you can move your focus point while looking through the viewfinder. Just press the AF point button with your thumb (the little round button, furthest to the right on the back of the 7D) and move the wheel to change your focus point. This allows you to continuously control your point of focus without losing momentum in your session.


Auto Focus Point Expansion. I totally love this mode. It’s my go-to focus mode. Although AF point expansion isn’t new to the 7D, it’s the first time it’s been available in a mid-range camera. Before now, it’s been available on cameras like the 1D (you know the one…costs, like, four grand?) What AF expansion does is allow you to choose a focus point (the middle) and the immediate surrounding points become active. This means if you’ve focusing on something that moves, the surrounding points will quickly pick up the slack and grab focus so focus is not lost. Which means that you can even track a moving subject in AI Servo and maintain the exact area of focus you decide.

Zone Auto Focus. Zone AF is another totally new feature for the 7D (or any EOS for that matter!) Simply put, it’s like using single point AF but you can choose a cluster instead of just one point. The camera will focus on whatever is closest in the zone you have chosen so watch your focus. When using any of these modes, I have turned on the option (in my setting menu) of having the camera display with a red square the point of focus on each image as I look at them on my camera’s screen. Then I will know if I need to reshoot the image for the focus I planned. The only draw back to this mode, in my opinion, is that there are only 5 pre-set zones (center, far left, far right, top, bottom) so you can’t just move the zone over by one point like you can the AF expansion mode. But then, I suppose that’s what we have feet for!

19 point AF. This is the fully auto focusing mode. Although available in manual, this is also the mode your camera would use if you set it on the full auto. The 7D has 19 available focus points and in this mode, you’ll see all of the little squares bouncing around in your viewfinder as they continually re-set to whatever your camera thinks is the main focus of the image you have composed. I see so many problems with this, greatest of all the complete loss of control. That said, I have found the 7D extremely adept at making this decision, although all the brain power it’s putting into focusing makes getting the shot take a few seconds longer than I’d like.


You can set everything beautifully in your manual mode, but if you image isn’t focused on the subject, what’s the point? It’s for this reason that I believe mastering your camera’s focus system is one of the first things you should set out to learn when you pick up your camera for the first time.

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Elizabeth Halford is a photographer and advertising creative producer in Orlando, FL. She wrote her first article for dPS in 2010. Her most popular one racked up over 100k shares!

  • ken

    i have an EOS DSLR canon 7D , i only just noticed a thin black line vertical on the right hand side when viewing the picture , it is there all the time , about 2 mm in, has anybody had this problem before . this camera only 2 years old and never noticed this line before .

  • ken

    I have Canon EOS 7D DSLR camera and on the LCD screen when viewing my pictures , i only just noticed a thin black vertical line showing 2mm in on right hand side.
    This has never been there before. I took this camera to china and took many pictures and never noticed this before , only bought the camera new 2 years ago.

Some Older Comments

  • santhosh karivannur July 1, 2013 10:49 pm

    i have canon 7d lense 24x70 2.8 . when iam taiking photogrph the photos left side always focus out .. any solution for the prblm ???

  • Cuzza May 6, 2012 11:21 am

    Veon, the light you refer to is a sensor for the image playback screen. If brightness is set to auto, this sensor calculates how bright or dim the screen needs to be so you can see you captured images clearly.

  • ukwolfgirl March 31, 2012 12:42 am

    Hi guys,

    I'm probably being really thick here but my 7D just went in to be serviced etc with Jessops .... never again.... anyway - the camera was resent back to factory settings etc and now for some reason when I go into the AF point selection some of the options are greyed out. Could you tell me how I'm supposed to enable them again? As far as I was aware I never had to enable them before but now it's really annoying.


  • Veon March 9, 2012 07:38 pm

    Between the joystick and the rear wheel on the 7d there appears to be a light...anyone know what that is meant for?

  • Maddie March 5, 2012 01:53 pm

    Robin, you can change the type of focuse without going into the menu. Just press the button on the upper left corner on the back of the 7D, the one with the Q inside the square. Its the Quick menu button, and it lets you change a ton of settings quickly.

  • Chris February 4, 2012 06:43 am

    Thanks guys, Particularly, Chris smith's tip on unlocking the Auto Focus points (spot auto focus and single point auto focus) in 7D really helped me. I was wondering what happened to my camera. During the past 1year i have missed many wildlife pics due to this drawback in focusing...

  • Robin Dayley January 8, 2012 05:45 am

    Thanks for helping me figure out the issue that has been driving me crazy since I bought my 7D! One question though, in the custom function menu where you select these options, you can select just one or you can select all of them. Is there a way to change the type of focus you are using while shooting? Or do you have to go back into that menu each time?

  • Christina September 1, 2011 10:08 am

    This was a great explanation. Thanks.

  • Kevin Price June 5, 2011 03:54 am

    For goodness sake.....a Camera can have 4000 blooming focus points 'IT DONT MATTER' any fotog only has the centre one in use.....what is the point of them all...its like Megapixels, the manufacturers are trying to get you all sucked into the marketing hype...

    Focus EXACTLY where you need to then recompose...shoot the shot. Job done.....please can anyone give me a REAL reason for not doing this.

  • Wick Smith April 26, 2011 09:54 am

    Another interesting feature is that you can set up different default focus point settings for portrait and landscape camera orientations. Normally, if I hold the camera vertically, I am shooting a portrait and would want the AF point cluster toward the top of the frame. By setting Custom Function 4 to allow different AF settings for each orientation, you can have the camera automatically set the focus type you want for each orientation. Henry's Cameras in Canada has a YouTube video that shows exactly how this is done.

  • pax February 23, 2011 05:15 pm

    oh sorry michael
    i meant the NOISY KAREL DRONK

  • paxx February 23, 2011 05:00 pm

    well michael mcgrath
    ignorance is bliss
    karel dronk has never held the mighty 7D

  • Eugene February 20, 2011 07:58 pm

    Hi Babettte,

    I think you have some settings in the menu "wrong". Go to C.FnIII: autofocus/drive Sel. pag 6 of that menu the AF areaselectionmodus (naam can differ becuase I translated is from my language. In that menu you see al the AF menu's to choose from, some of them have a "V" and (whem i guess it correct) on your cam
    the Spot Auto Focus or the Single point Auto Focus haven't. Choose them to use them.

    Greetings Eugene

  • Babette February 16, 2011 06:18 am

    On my Canon 7D, I am not able to choose the Spot Auto Focus or the Single point Auto Focus. They are grayed out...I don't know why. Does it have to be in a certain mode?

  • |Michael McGrath February 15, 2011 04:22 pm

    The Canon 40D is BETTER than the Canon 7D ! The 40D is better than the 5D ! And it could even equal some of the 1D models !!!


  • paxbell February 11, 2011 10:02 pm

    cant beat 7D but advise a weight lifting course if you want to a 72 -200 2.8 is 11usm" flag ship of canon lenses"
    but not even a horseman camera can take sharper picks

  • Bridget Casas October 4, 2010 08:59 am

    I loved my 20D, but I REALLY LOVE my 7D!

  • J. Mark Springer October 2, 2010 02:15 am

    For Chris who loves his 40D and backup XTi. I had the same kit and have had the 7D for about a month.I loved my 40D too and still love it as a backup, but I love my 7D even more.Try it, you'll like it - I promise!

  • AKC October 1, 2010 11:31 pm

    Focusing system in a DSLR is really a very important point, which does not seem to get enough importance.

    I have done some comparison between the one provided by Nikon D700 and Canon 5D Mk2. The feeling that i get is that Nikon has much better focusing system (51 point) when compared to Canon (15 point) and generally for all comparable models. In that context i came upon the fact that 7D has the best focusing system in Canons (apart from 1D series that have good focusing system); much better than the 5D Mk2. In fact a lot of people have been waiting for Canon to correct this anomaly wrt 5D Mk which otherwise is a star product. I am one of them.

    Just one more thing that to me is a big let down from Canon is the fact that 5D Mk2 does not have a built-in pop up flash. I for one would not want to attach a external speedlight for shooting at home, where a pop-up flash is good enough.

  • Julian Hebbrecht October 1, 2010 09:31 pm

    The price is one big difference but if the money is not a problem, the 5D is full frame, which is great but you won't be able to use certain lenses that are made for the smaller frames. I also believe that the 7D is faster (at 6 shots a second), than the 5D. If you are an amateur you won't probably need the 5D so save yourself the money and buy a great lens with it. For many things i do, i use my old 30 D even.

  • Mark October 1, 2010 02:44 pm


    I mostly agree with you. In wildlife and landscape photography I always had that problem and quickly went to single point focus. Usually the center, but sometimes using others when tripod mounted and needing to use a lower one or such for the composition. From what I can tell of things, the main use for these multi-point focus settings is in shooting people especially group shots with many faces. I have also heard of using them when shooting sports events, but not sure on that either. If anyone else has information on these uses, let us know please.

  • Trisha Childs October 1, 2010 01:39 pm

    Can anyone please tell me the difference between the 7D and the 5Dll as I am unsure which one to buy.

  • Julian Hebbrecht October 1, 2010 01:39 pm

    The zone and the 19-point options are totally useless because they often focus on the wrong things. My favorite is the single point auto focus - the middle point that is.

  • Milan Kolarovic October 1, 2010 08:23 am


    .. and to continue your list, "one processor and the smaller cache" aren't even the biggest drawbacks in the 60D compared to 7D or 5D2. Imho the lack of autofocus micro adjustment option (which was in the 50D) is one big artificial weakening, as is the choice of going a plastic body instead of magnesium alloy (ok, I'm sure this is also a production cost -issue).

    btw, 5D has no 1.3 crop factor, it's 1.0x / full frame.

  • Patrik October 1, 2010 07:20 am

    I agree with those using only one point, locking and composing. Very natural and rather quick. For me there is only one time when I consider other focus modes, such as servo, and that's when there is way too much motion to keep up. like sports.

  • Tom October 1, 2010 06:31 am

    Harald - your point is made beautifully and succinctly! Sums up most of the discussion here.

  • Dave October 1, 2010 05:29 am

    For what it's worth the 5D is also full frame, not 1.3 crop, it just has fewer features than the 1D.

  • ddm October 1, 2010 03:02 am

    Excellant explanations. I have had the 7D for a month and continue to learn all it can do. I love this camera.

  • Mark September 30, 2010 07:10 pm


    I see your point. I am fairly new at this yet I have seen the same trend. I was very happy to start off with the Rebel 450D/XSi model, but even with good lenses, the low light performance is not good. I really cannot go past ISO-400 in most cases. Everything I am seeing on the 7D is that it is great in low light with the built in noise reduction, so that is tops on my wish list. I think the difference between the 60D and the 7D is about $500 US and i would not even think of buying the 60D with only one processor and the smaller cache for that small of a difference. I will just save a little longer for the 7D. Hopefully, I won't be disappointed. When I did a comparison of the 1D, the 5D and the 7D the main difference I saw was the size of the sensor. The 1D is full frame, the 7D is APS-C and the 5D was in between with a 1.3 crop factor. I know there is more features on the better pro cameras, but not really that much for the price difference. And the 1.6 crop factor works well for wildlife shots getting you more reach for your money.

  • Milan Kolarovic September 30, 2010 06:32 pm

    ^ Mark, the point was that the xxD series _used_ to be also in the prosumer class, same class as the 7D or the 5D (mk1 & 2). I've used xxD series since 2004 and until now you could have said that they had same features as the 5D for example in its time, but you can't anymore - not after 60D.

    For its offerings the 60D is off priced (=too expensive) and I cannot image anyone picking up a 60D when with 100-200$ more you could land with the 7D. Atleast here in Europe the prices are too close to eachother, and I cannot imagine why Canon chose to go back to the path of making intentional cuts and deteriorations in its products which offer no savings (or next to none) in the production costs. The xxD series is the new xxxD series in many ways, and the xD is the old xxD series.

    Canon, look at Nikon's example please.

  • Mark September 30, 2010 06:12 pm


    The 7D and the soon to be released 60D are completely different classes of camera. Canon separates them on their website. The 60D is considered a consumer quality, while the 7D is a mid-range they call prosumer quality. The 60D has one processor and limited cache, while the 7D has two processors and a much larger cache to enable large bursts even in RAW. Furthermore, the 7D has many of the same features as the 5D and the 1D like tighter fitting joints in the body with better dust/moisture seals and better noise control software built in for high ISO settings. It really is a no brainer if money is not a consideration! And even though money is a consideration for me, I will save longer to get the 7D as it will be much more useful for my needs!

  • Mark September 30, 2010 03:51 pm

    When shooting wildlife with my XSi, I find that single point focus (Usually the center) works best for me. Letting the camera decide the focus point caused me to miss very many shots at first. I almost always crop for composition later at the computer. The 7D's Auto Focus Point Expansion looks very interesting and might work better than what I use now.

    When I am shooting landscapes or old barns or any other stationary object I am almost always mounted to tripod and will compose in camera first, so I use single point focus with the point chosen as the closest one to where I want it.

    I never shoot people, so I just had assumed that the multi-point AF was for those situations.

    Just reading some of these comments has me wondering if some are confusing AF with Metering. I do occasionally switch to spot metering when it is called for, but most often am very happy with Evaluative Metering. The terms used above about "spot focus" are kind of confusing to me. Do they mean "single point focus" or do they mean "spot metering"?????

  • Harald September 30, 2010 12:57 am

    Agree, focusing and than recomposing works perfectly when handheld and its my preferred way of doing it.

    Moving the focus points manually becomes really helpful when using a tripod where you compose first, lock the ballhead and than worry about focus and exposure.

  • Aaron September 29, 2010 05:46 am

    I have to agree with Karen... I'm right into travel photography and the environment and subject can change in an instant... For me, messing about in menus just isn't an option, spot focusing allows me to find my focus and then quickly frame my shot... It feels much more natural than what's described here.

    I will however take the time to investigate further... Maybe I'm wrong

  • Bridget Casas September 29, 2010 03:31 am

    This article is great. I will be saving it. I got my 7D a few months ago and I absolutely love it! There is still alot to learn and the information you provided here is very useful. Thank you.

  • Eugene September 29, 2010 01:35 am

    I may call myself a proud owner of a 7D and after some time I got very familar working with its muti focus points settings. Just try to think ahead about the photo you want to take and your choice of settings will be easy. Wanna focus on the eyes in a portrait choose one of the modes and select the focussing point were the eyes will be (this wil work well when your positioning the model always at roughly the same position) . And there will be thousands of examples which you could imagen to use this great option.
    For me its getting easier to work with the more pistures I take :-)

  • Dave Hinde September 29, 2010 01:03 am

    Thanks. Although I'd read about the modes in the manual, I haven't really tried any of them out, except for the second one. I'm headed out on a camera trip next week, so I'll take this as a reminder of things I want to experiment with.

  • Chris September 28, 2010 11:18 pm

    If I didn't love my 40D and my back up XTi so much I might consider trading them in for the 7D after reading this article.

  • Karen Stuebing September 28, 2010 08:11 pm

    I found this article confusing. It may be because I don't own a Canon. Or maybe some photos, illustrating the different types of focusing, would have helped.

    I use auto focusing almost all the time set to spot focus. That's one square in the viewfinder in the center. When the camera or lens locks focus, it turns red and beeps.

    One thing not mentioned here is you can lock focus by pushing the shutter half way and recompose the scene if need be but perhaps the author assumed everyone already knew that. To me that seems much faster than moving a little square box around but perhaps I didn't understand what she's saying.

    That doesn't mean that one little tiny spot is in focus. That depends on aperture and focal length. Wide open and zooming will decrease the depth of field. Is that the same as what is described above as using "spot auto focus" to get a macro effect?

    Well, I'm not spending $1500 for a new camera so it's all kind of academic for me anyway.

  • Andrea September 28, 2010 06:33 pm

    Good sum up. Just a note: to change the focus point you can enable the joystick on your thumb. It's faster e more accurate. You have to enable the joystick in option.

  • Steven Mileham September 28, 2010 06:03 pm

    Hey, I think you've missed a "mode" here. The manual focus on the 7d is out of this world! Set the lens to manual, turn on the live view and then zoom in up to 10x on the zoom area for pin sharp manual focus, absolutely amazing!

  • Milan Kolarovic September 28, 2010 05:48 pm

    ^ comparison between 7D and the "hamstrung" 60D is imho really a no-brainer, go with the 7D and forget the xxD series from here on out completely.

  • Gipukan September 28, 2010 03:50 pm

    Thanks for this detailed sum up. Makes it even more confusing to go for the 7D or the 60D soon to be released.

  • Tyler Wainright September 28, 2010 10:58 am

    I'm finding myself using manual focus more and more all the time. The D90 has plenty of AF points but they never seem to be in the spot that I need.

  • keller September 28, 2010 08:53 am

    I reckon that the 7D is not an ideal manual focusing tool to begin with. Canon hasn't even provided interchangeable screens as accessories for the camera! That says a lot. This would indicate that the 7D is not geared towards fine art photography, but rather sports, perhaps.

  • kirpi September 28, 2010 07:48 am

    I really still prefer manual mode 8 times out of ten. It simply works! -- 8 times out of ten :-)

  • Chris Smith September 28, 2010 07:19 am

    I think you have to unlock two of these AF modes. On the 7D, it's under C. Fn III:Autofocus/Drive pg 6

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