Focusing Quick Tip: Single Point AF Methods

Focusing Quick Tip: Single Point AF Methods

One of the biggest leaps towards tack sharp images you can take is using single point auto focus to hone in on your subject and nail the shot. Using the automatic grid focus system can sometimes be like throwing a handful of darts and hoping to hit the bullseye, especially when shooting at an extremely shallow depth of field like f/1.4. In fact at f/1.4, if you’re subject is 5 feet away and you’re shooting with a 50mm prime, your depth of field is only 0.09 feet! Do you want to leave .09 feet up to a handfull of focus points? No, I didn’t think so!

If nailing focus is important (and it always is) then you need to start using single point auto focus. I touched on this method briefly in my past article Advanced Tips for Tack Sharp Images, but in this article I’m going to expand upon this method and give a new tip to make things a bit easier (Note: This tip was taken from my ebook over at Tack Sharp – A Step By Step Guide to Nailing Focus)

NOTE: The camera used in the examples below is a Canon 5D Mark II. Most Canon cameras will have very similar menu options. For Nikon users, I’m not sure this will work. If you’re a Nikon user and know if there’s a way to do this, please let us know in the comments. 

Single Point AF Method 1 (Old School):

A lot of photographers don’t even know there’s a way to use a single AF point rather than the entire grid. Of those that do know, I am going to guess that about 80-90% of them use this method here to select a single point. It doesn’t involve any custom functions or anything like that. Simply hit the button (step 1) to activate the entire grid, then move the joystick (step 2) in the direction of the focus point you want to use. Once this is done, hit the AF- ON button and you should see the AF point you chose flash red in the viewfinder and focus on whatever the point is hovering over.

Single Point AF Method 2 (New School, what the cool kids are doing):

Method 1 isn’t bad or evil but I do believe method 2 is much easier, much faster, and much more useful than the former. Method 2 involves going into your custom functions and changing some things around a bit. When you select the proper function, you will essentially disable the grid focus button as a means to selecting focus points. Now, instead of using step one to activate the grid for selecting focus points, just move the joystick at anytime to select the focus point you’d like to use. If you want to go back to the entire grid, that’s when you hit the focus grid button.

Setting Up Method 2

To set method 2 up for use, go to the custom functions located in the second to last section of menu options. Select ‘C.Fn III:Autofocus/ Drive.’ Be sure to hit the set button on the control wheel to the right to go into the next menu.

The default setting here is “0:Normal,”  which means that you have to hit the grid button on the upper right part of the camera back, then select a focus point using the joystick. To change this to method 2 just scroll down to option 1 (Multo-controller direct) and select it using the SET button. Once you’ve done this, look through the viewfinder and move the joystick around. You should be selecting a new focus point each time you move it. Voila!

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James Brandon is a landscape photographer and educator residing in Dallas, Texas. Join 20,000+ photographers and get access to his free video tutorial library at his website. James also has an online store full of video courses, ebooks, presets and more. Use the coupon code "DPS25" for an exclusive discount!

Some Older Comments

  • ERIC June 16, 2013 02:31 pm

    Thank you soooo much!!! REally helpful!!!

  • risa May 29, 2012 05:09 am

    :) didn't know about that 1st (old school) option :D

  • shari May 3, 2012 04:12 pm

    "focus & recompose" works great...when you are on the same focal plane. If you recompose at a different angle, your focus is now thrown off. Stick with selecting your focal point.

  • Christian February 29, 2012 08:21 am

    Thanks! Been using single point with the middle point on my 50d most of the time and recomposing. Generally works fine. But your method 2 seems like a very useful alternative.

  • Metehan January 30, 2012 09:44 pm

    it also works on Canon EOS 40D

  • David December 31, 2011 06:51 pm

    here is a video on the 7d procedure.

  • Dewan Demmer December 29, 2011 11:19 pm

    Nice article and vert valid.
    I almost always use single point focus, its nice to know I can set the focus which may not be what the camera considers important.

    Each one of my photos is using these methods and fully manual, what can I say I am a control freak. :P

  • DANIEL December 29, 2011 11:13 pm

    Does anyone know how this works on an EOS 600 D?

  • Neville B December 29, 2011 11:29 am

    one does not compose according to the positions of the focal points. the chances that one or other point will be exactly on say an eye, is nil. you will still have to lock your focus and recompose no matter which point you wish to use. imagine a coronation with carriages, etc coming past and you fiddling with say seven focus points besides the usual battery of camera settings. you'll end up with the queen blurred and the ice-cream vendor in focus plus if prince william comes past on his charger, and you miss his head with your point, you will blur him and have the peanut vendor, 300 meters behind him, eating his peanuts, in focus.
    forget what's suitable for streetname poles and use the centre point and recompose. not many of us use f1.4 lenses anyway. anyway, you don't want to fiddle too much with your equiptment. the centre point and recompose method is quick, easy and it works. i've never had any trouble with it.

  • Bing December 8, 2011 07:51 am

    If you apply these kinds of techniques for increasing traffic on your own blog, I am certainly you will see the variation in few days.

  • Kim November 8, 2011 05:04 pm

    LOVE this tip-I, too, have always been a "focus and recomposer," but then I bought faster glass and the focus really gets thrown off by that method.
    Thanks again to the author!!

  • Jason Reed September 6, 2011 12:18 am

    The author is correct. When i purchased a 50mm 1.2 prime for my MKII it was something I had to figure out. When I was close to my subject shooting wide even the slightest reposition of the camera would impact focus. Stopped down a bit, sure center point recompose works great. I will say that I opted out of the joystick. I used the Quick Control Dial instead, just a personal preference.

  • Bob Matthews September 5, 2011 02:11 am

    Thanks for that, it'll be useful in some circumstances.

  • Pete September 2, 2011 11:18 pm

    Not sure if this was covered in an earlier commment...

    On an EOS400D / XTI it's possible to create the shortcut allowing you to select the focus point with the cross keys

    Go to Menu.
    Scroll across to the 2nd set of tools.
    Select Custom Functions
    Choose Custom Function 1 - SET button/Cross keys function
    Change it to 4:Cross Keys:AF Frame Select

  • surfnux September 2, 2011 01:31 am

    I tried this new method, it works. But Before, by pressing the joystick middle button, it brings up the controls screen. Now, the middle button is to choose the center focus point. In this case, how to get access to the controls screen?

  • Lisa Johnson August 31, 2011 08:10 pm

    On the 7D, you have to enter via C.FnIV: Operation/Others => 1 => "AF point selection"

  • James Brandon August 30, 2011 05:56 am

    Oh man, this thread has gotten a bit heated! Anyways, I just finished writing a follow up article to this piece here about the problem with focus-recompose. I'll submit it and hopefully it will go live in the next week or so. Keep your eyes peeled.

  • Glen August 27, 2011 12:58 am

    Oh, I am fine with a quick switch, using the existing way, I was just thinking that eliminating the one step would be that much better. Thank you for your confirmation.

  • EDO August 26, 2011 01:56 pm

    @glen unfortunately no, that's the only way i know to do it as per the manual.

    It does/will trip you up at certain times, the best way to get used to it is to use the camera repeatedly in situations where you have to track a subject without physically moving- you will force your hand to learn the button placement and will occasionally ace it.

    For instance, if im on the center focus point, shooting a person walking towards me, i will hit that top button and mash the 4 way buttons to switch to a upper/lower focus point depending on if im trying to hit face or body when they get closer. For my street photography, i like to shoot people walking pas me, so im still pointing the camera forward but im shooting to my left or right.

    This is much easier to do on a wide lens, but i manage it even on my 85 1.8

  • Glen August 26, 2011 03:58 am

    @design.edward (or anyone else) Edward, I was wondering if on the XSI I can do what the article suggested and eliminate the need for pressing the first button and just use the joystick.. I don't see the menu options to switch. Does that exist in there somewhere?

  • Adela August 23, 2011 11:06 am

    When I go into autofocus/drive I don't have the option for multi-controller direct? I'm using canon 7D

  • Sharon August 23, 2011 12:54 am

    Wow, I am amazed at how this thread, that was meant to help others improve their skills, has been turned into a childish debate over which is better...Canon or Nikon! What even amazes me more is that the ones doing this claim to be professionals....uhhhh.... hope your clients don't read this. Come on folks, there are people really trying to learn here. If you want to act like 2nd graders, start your own thread, Maybe you could title it: "Professional Photographers acting like 2nd graders!"

    And thank you for the article! It is good to see that people are out there who want to help others improve their skills!

  • Design.edward August 21, 2011 10:27 pm


    To switch focus points on the xsi, it's the same method as shown in the first photo/diagram . Easy as pie. Personally, I would never use focus and recompose because my depth of field and focus heavily depends on what kind of shot im actually taking

  • Carmen August 20, 2011 03:33 pm

    thanks so much, what a time saver for my 50D

  • Glen August 19, 2011 01:06 pm

    Is there any way to do this with the XSI?

  • Ade August 18, 2011 03:00 pm

    @ Mark........I don't use point and shoot!............ I use different lens / cam combos, depends on what I am shooting. I have been shooting for over 30 years, both am and pro. I learned old school, with film. Yes, I understand f2.8 on full frame sensor. I too, spend many hours shooting and editing. So I am qualified to speak here. I am not damning the original piece, I have respect for other opinions too. I Does that answer your

    btw, just where was I rude?

  • Eric Schlienger August 18, 2011 08:41 am

    Hey folks, a little perspective please. I wrote a focus and recompose post. For the picture in the article, focus and recompose is appropriate. There must be a foot of depth of field, and the shift in the focus point as you swing the lens (which looks fairly long ) to recompose would be negligable. For a shallow depth of field, such as you might choose for macro photography, I agree that the best method is to shift the focus point. I think that part of the misuderstanding is that the example photo is not perhaps the best one to illustrate the value of the technique. Personally, I am guilty of a quick reading, noting the DoF arguement, looking at the picture and thinking "why bother, just focus and recompose". When shooting fast lenses, wide open, near their close focus limit, moving the focus point becomes mandatory for sharp focus where you want it. At f8 and a long distance, why bother. Somewhere in between is a gray area. Personally, I think the discussion has added tremendously to the value of the article and James should be proud. Perhaps James could put together a brief follow-on article with a fast, short macro lense example that could hilight the issue between moving the focus point and focus & recompose techniques. Since I believe that the methods are complimentary, (as opposed to either or), folks might also find value in a reccomendation as to which technique to use when.

  • Mark August 18, 2011 07:10 am

    @john leftwich -- thanks for the very useless comment. kum-by-yah back at ya.

    @ade -- do you understand what f/2.8 or f/2.0 on a full frame sensor is???? What camera/lens combo are you talking about that works fine for you??? This is the root of my original comment: the useless comments that are OFF TOPIC to the article. A point and shoot camera has nothing to do with this article and yes you can focus and reframe on one of those just fine. BUT AGAIN THAT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ARTICLE AND YOUR COMMENT TO THE AUTHOR WAS RUDE!!!

  • John Leftwich August 18, 2011 05:49 am

    There always seems to be someone who wants to put the kabosh on a lively conversation. I say if you don't like an airing of diverse opinions then go find a warm and fuzzy group and sing kum-by-yah.

  • Mark August 18, 2011 05:40 am

    @ade .... You also ignored my main point in my first post - SHOW SOME RESPECT TO THE AUTHORS THAT CONTRIBUTE HERE!!!! They have helped me immensely in the beginning of my journey and they do it for the sake of helping others! These guest contributors take their time to try and pass on what they know without remuneration to contribute to the state of the art of photography and we should respect that and not criticize their efforts unless it is totally, verifiably wrong!

  • Design.edward August 18, 2011 05:34 am

    I see dudes, and even grandmas fiddling with 5d mark II's all over the place here in Manhattan. i had to help a guy with his settings just last week- he didn't have a clue. in a camera shop, many folks, especially europeans (because of the favorable exchange rates), tend to say "give me the better one". Little do they know there's tons of options available to them in those dep, dark setting menus :)

    I still cant fathom how someone wouldn't think of simply selecting another focus point. if you are shooting a tall image and you want to focus on a persons eyes, how does one rationalize focus and recomposing? Like someone else mentioned, with tons of depth of field it makes less of a difference. but with selective focus that's just insane and wrong.

    That's a heck of key piece of info to leave out.

  • Mark August 18, 2011 05:33 am

    @ade.... It was mentioned several times that at "shallow depth of field" you cannot reposition as you will lose focus on your main subject, yet many more comments "recommended" recompose! They obviously were not listening or did not understand "shallow depth of field"!!!! This article was about a method to overcome that obstacle and yet they continued to "not get it" so yeah I think they need to be told to LISTEN AND LEARN. The point about 18 MP is that YOU CAN CROP A LOT AND STILL HAVE A GOOD IMAGE!

    You are also much kinder to those who insisted that "NIKON WAS BETTER". One even commented that the students he teaches generally switch to Nikon after he is done with them!!!!! Talk about extreme!!!

    It might be time for me to unsubscribe here since everyone has an opinion even if they never shot a DSLR in their life and have not done the learning that is needed, yet feel their opinion is EQUAL OR BETTER than those who have!!! I have been avoiding the comment sections for this very reason - they are mostly full of useless opinions!!!

    To answer your question - I am someone who has devoted the last few years to learning photography by reading and studying about 20 hrs per week PLUS shooting three days a week PLUS editing two or three days per week PLUS traveling to five states for shoots. I am 100% devoted to getting this craft down for my purposes - Wildlife Photography. So I don't really value all of these useless comments that add nothing to the article. I shoot a Canon 7D and nothing but L series lenses so I am not very impressed with Nikon. Nikon may be great in other styles of photography but I am totally happy with Canon for my purposes. And I know what most of the buttons do!!! When someone knows that as well, I tend to listen to their opinion with respect. That is who I am.

  • Ade August 18, 2011 04:21 am

    @ Mark........ all are entitled to their opinions, and all work in different ways, so who are you to speak like you have here.
    Bully for you, so you have 18 MP to work with! .....they do say it is not the size of it, but how you use it that counts :-)

    And, I do not see it here as a Nikon / Canon fight, you musty have been reading something else.

  • Mark August 18, 2011 04:15 am

    I really hate that this became a Nikon/Canon squabble. I for one have tried Nikon and would through the darn thing in the river if it was mine. Canon works for me, but I don't fault others for liking NIKON!!!! There is more than one brand BECAUSE there are different kinds of people!!!! To each their own.

    And for those that kept saying "center point and recompose" even after it was explained, LISTEN AND LEARN. You obviously don't know enough and have much to learn about photography. Center point and recompose will work with a point and shoot camera. It will also work with most kit lenses as they don't have extremely low depth of field available to them. You are just showing how little you know so be quiet and listen for a change!!! At f/2.8 and below you cannot recompose without losing focus!!!! This recommendation in this article is good unless you are in extremely low light. In that case, I would use center point to take the shot as it is more accurate in low light. Then I would compose by cropping the final image. Of course I have 18 MP to work with and a little cropping does not hurt too much.

    And thanks to the author for this tip. While I am not going to act on it (the default setting works fine for me), it is good to know this is available. We should all be thankful for the authors that submit on this site instead of criticizing their contributions! IT IS FREE TO US AFTER ALL!!!!

  • Malcolm August 16, 2011 08:26 pm

    Thanks for the tips. Tried it on my 60D and prefer the method 1 with the battery pack on as its quicker and easier to do without moving the camera away from the shot. Keep passing the tips on they are great.

  • Ade August 16, 2011 04:10 pm

    That depends upon your requirements, and is your opinion. It is a method I have been using a long time now, and works fine for me and, I dare say, many others.

  • James Brandon August 16, 2011 07:40 am

    Jason St. Petersburg: Nikon does some things better, Canon does other things better. They wouldn't split the market if one was definitively better than the other.

    David Memphis MOJO Smith: I don't catch your drift and have no idea what you mean :-) Please enlighten me!

    To everyone saying just use focus-recompose: This is not a good method and fails often. Although it works at times when you have a deep enough depth of field, it's a terrible idea for shallow DOF. Readjusting the angle of camera (recomposing) shifts the plane of focus and moves it behind the subject in most cases. I'm happy to write an article about this in the next week or so. Be on the look out.

  • 50D August 16, 2011 12:58 am

    @ lea & bob
    Set your setting to option 2 in the menu. Quick control dial direct instead of joystick.It is much easier to control with the large dial on the back instead of the joystick.

  • Edward O. August 15, 2011 01:08 am

    It also strikes me as odd that many more people don't know this. My guess is that there are those who want ultimate control over their camera and the rest who just want to shoot good shots but "don't have the time" to go through all the features.

    I'm not sure why anyone who would focus with center point and switch- it doesn't even sound like it makes much sense to do so. Smply switch your focus point, then fire away. Is that really that hard to think of?

  • Redskull August 14, 2011 10:49 pm

    Thanks for this tips !

  • ArianaMurphy August 14, 2011 09:54 am

    I too have mostly used focus-recompose with my D60, but this article might explain why I don't always get the focus I want, especially with closeups. I also sometimes focus, then switch off the autofocus on the lens, then recompose (for extreme closeups and macros); however this only works if the camera is mounted on a tripod. Otherwise there is too much random movement and focus is lost. I'm definitely going to try some of the alternative options mentioned in this article!

    Thanks for the great article, James, and for the informative contributions of everyone else!

  • Maria-Lynn Turi August 14, 2011 05:49 am

    I have a Canon 7D, and have always used single point focus. I couldn't find the quick focus point shift feature outlined in the article.

    There are a couple of additional focus modes that are worth mentioning, subsets of single point focus - expanded point point and fine point. One expands the focus point which is useful if the object you are focusing on doesn't have a lot of detail. The fine focus point makes the point even smaller, so you can focus on something really small, like the eye of a person. You can still move the focus point around.To get these you have to add them by going into the custom function mode and adding them. I have no idea why they weren't added into the standard focus mode list.

    The 7D also has servo focus, which will keep the subject in focus as it moves, provided you keep the focus point on it.

  • Don Meder August 14, 2011 03:50 am

    My Nikon D80 has a single point focus option under the shooting menu

  • Ade August 14, 2011 12:22 am

    As someone has already said, use single point focus, point it at the subject, keep your finger down and recompose the shot. so much easier than beggaring about with joysticks and much faster. Why risk losing the shot!!

  • Brian Sheppard August 13, 2011 05:34 pm

    I've now set up my Canon 50D in this way. It's a much faster way on working. Thank you.

  • John Leftwich August 13, 2011 01:40 pm

    Why go to all this trouble when all you have to do is pick single point autofocus?

  • gipukan August 13, 2011 07:23 am

    Hey Nancy,

    Check out I took photo of my 7d's lcd screen with the custom controls in view. Hope this helps you. I use the joystick in mode 2

  • Gipukan August 13, 2011 03:54 am

    I most always use center focus point on my xsi and 7d. For moving subjects I use the 9 point grid on my 7d and for BIF and no clouds i use all focus points. Do remember that when you turn your 7d from landscape to portrait mode your af pont also moves! Not the one you use in landscape but the one you've setup to use in portrait mode. I setup both to use center af and i change them while shooting. Also make sure you have enough DOF when it's important.

  • enoch August 13, 2011 02:58 am

    can someone show me how the PENTAX K200 works in this regard

  • enoh August 13, 2011 02:53 am

    i never knew i could move my single auto focus point. thanks for your article.

  • Katie P August 13, 2011 02:39 am

    @Michael Sharman -

    I'm curious - never heard of calibrating lenses to a camera body... I have fallen prey to all sorts of focusing trouble... specifically back focusing. I use a D7000.

    Should I try calibrating?

  • Rob Gonzalez August 13, 2011 02:31 am

    @Craig Steed - I agree with Craig. I have a Canon T3i (600d) which doesn't have that option in the Custom Function menu so I typically use the center focus point, focus on what I want focused (duh) then recompose, hitting the lock focus button with my thumb and then snapping the shot. So it goes aim the center dot, hit the AF button, hear a beep, keep holding the focus (lock it), recompose, take shot. I often end up using exposure lock as well if I'm using an exposure mode that pays attention to the subject in focus. It all works out into a smooth process for me and I get tack sharp images nicely exposed. I would like the options that the 5d has but, I'm doing ok without it atm.

  • tkitek August 13, 2011 01:34 am

    Yup thanks Alex !!! Nikonians forever...

  • nancy August 13, 2011 01:10 am

    Tomas - add a little more for the 7D - Which of the 10 controls do I want?

  • Tammy August 13, 2011 12:45 am

    Just bought your tack-sharp ebook. Just what I was looking for. Can't wait to read and learn what the heck I'm missing! :)
    Thanks for the article.

  • Justin Burke August 13, 2011 12:31 am

    I have a Sony A-350, and for those who love using the center focus point and recompose, it offers the best of both worlds. When AF Area is set to "Local", it allows you to keep the focus point in the center, and for those times that you want to change it, all you have to do is push the direction you want on the d-pad. When you want to go back to shooting center focus point, just set it back and leave it. I find this feature works really well.

  • melissa August 13, 2011 12:15 am

    thank you! i love the single point AF, though on my 7D it seems to have problems... at least it works most of the time. :) bypassing the 'select grid' button will really speed things up, thanks!

  • Reddy August 12, 2011 11:19 pm

    @ Jason St. Petersburg Photographer, I totally agree with you. I have 4 Nikon Camera. They are all different but just the same thing. We just got the new brand D3X for my work site. There is no telling which is better but all are just a great camera. I've tried to work with Canon but have no taste for it since it has the different style and such a light weight too. Cant figure how to work with Canon. I've taken some great photos under flickr.
    I have make the suggestion about the NIKON but they kept saying Canon is the # ONE which is better than NIKON. That's not absolutely true. Nikon is doing their best to make their business successful. :) WAY TO GO NIKON.....

  • Bonnie August 12, 2011 09:33 pm

    Sam Cox- THANK YOU!!! I have a T1i and you figured out how to do it!!! I am so excited to go get some pics of my kids now.

  • amy August 12, 2011 08:59 pm

    excellent tip - after trying this a few times and feeling like i was really stretching (literally) to get my thumb to the joystick - i tried using 'setting 2' (quick control dial direct) and found it easier. might be useful to know for other 'small-handed' folks out there. thanks for giving me the courage to try these options.

  • Joe August 12, 2011 08:23 pm

    I can't believe people spend a couple of grand or more on a 5DMkII & don't read the manual on how to change focus points. Focus & recompose doesn't work very well because you are moving the camera from your original focus point, so it has to be somewhat out of focus. It might work for P&S cameras because they have smaller sensors & greater depth of field.

  • Andrea August 12, 2011 06:42 pm

    Like lots of others said, I focued on the center point and then recompose. Focus on the eyes usually and then I recompose the image as to my preferences.

    I guess Nikon users are a step ahead of others. That's what it seems from the comments

  • Ade August 12, 2011 05:46 pm

    Great for Canon users................. what about the rest of us.

  • Ceri Vale August 12, 2011 04:36 pm

    I get fed up with photographers who believe the photographic world revolves around Canon and Nikon - Olympus cameras have had this feature for years...and combined with the 12-60mm SWD, the E3 or E5 STILL holds the record for the fastest AF.

  • Terry August 12, 2011 03:45 pm

    been using old school all the while and now that I know a new trick will be using new school, thanks James for the great tip

  • Andy Lim August 12, 2011 02:10 pm

    I use my center button on my Nikon 4-way controller (they should call it an 8-way controller because that's how it really works) to quickly choose the center AF point whenever I need to, or to quickly find my bearing in case I forgot which AF point is currently being selected. Does Canon have that quick-access function?

  • Raelara August 12, 2011 11:12 am

    With my Nikon D3100, enabling the single point autofocus mode automatically sets the camera to method 2. Either look through the viewfinder or simply at the back display and press the arrow keys. A little red light will appear in the viewfinder at each focus point as you hit the arrow keys. Press the shutter and the red light will illuminate your focus point when the shot is in focus. The only drawback is that you have to turn on the single point autofocus each time you turn the camera on. The D3100 also has a dynamic autofocus that takes your given set point and, should your subject move, it will refocus using surrounding focus points, though I haven't tried that mode.

  • Mei Teng August 12, 2011 10:34 am

    I have started using the single point AF method 1 recently. Thanks for sharing on method 2.

  • Ilona Nelson August 12, 2011 10:28 am

    @Tomas thank you for 7D info :)

  • Joce August 12, 2011 09:13 am

    I have a Pentax K-x and take many sport shots- football, soccer, athletics cricket. I seem to have trouble achieving focus on the moving figure and at times camera has focused on people /cars behaind the action. Any suggestions welcome for what settings I should use. I use manual focus as too much noise in long range shots with auto.

  • Michael Sharman August 12, 2011 07:45 am

    @John Mark

    Make sure you're on AF-S. If you're on AF-C focus will continually try to "find" focus if you use the focus and re-compose technique.

    Apart from that some lenses might need calibrating with your camera body, unfortunately you can't do this on the D90.

    Remember that at 1.8 (depending on how close to your subject you are) the dof is VERY shallow. We're talking centimeters here.

    Try practising focusing on something and not re-composing first imho.

  • RobbieP August 12, 2011 07:35 am

    @john mark: I have the same issue with my 50mm/1.8 at than f/2.8 or better on my D80. I thought it might be just needing a steadier hand, but am starting to doubt that.

  • David Memphis MOJO Smith August 12, 2011 06:51 am

    James Brandon is a lover of iced tea, Chipotle and his wife Kristin (but not in that order)

    And I see that he is also a wise man, if you catch my drift.

  • Photobury August 12, 2011 06:48 am

    Jason St. Petersburg Photographer;
    Sorry - I make it a rule never to take camera brand recommendations from anyone with a moustache...;)

  • Bob August 12, 2011 06:34 am

    ...or you could set the camera to the centre focus point, use back button focus and re-frame the shot as required, this takes the autofocus function away from the shutter control and leaves your focus point where you set it.

  • eric August 12, 2011 06:26 am

    nice tip but it is much easier to center focus and just recompose your shot. i usually do this on paparazzi photoshoot. :)

  • Terri Porter August 12, 2011 06:15 am

    I have been having focus problems using the focus and recompose method when I am shooting with a very shallow dof. As stated by a few people above, when recomposing, if I move even slightly forward or backward I end up with an out-of-focus shot. I am going to try this second method and see how it works for me with my Canon 5D (not Mark II) camera. I have never heard of doing it this way, so I'm excited to see if it solves my problem.

  • Bob August 12, 2011 05:23 am

    @ Lea - I have a 40D and it works just fine. You have to press the shutter button half-way to activate the focus points, then use the joystick to select a new focus point.

  • paul August 12, 2011 05:18 am

    Jason is correct ,in earlier post i talked about using menu to set single focus point on nikon D90 the easy way is with dedicated button on top of camera,this will change you focus point to single from auto area.

  • Sue August 12, 2011 05:03 am

    I wholeheartedly agree with Kevin on this one.

    Kevin Says:
    August 12th, 2011 at 3:03 am

    For all the people saying focus-recompose…that’s great. We all know about focus-recompose. But it’s not accurate for shallow depth of field. If you want tack sharp images, you have to manually select focus points.

    I was shooting some portraits for a friend, wide-open, and have traditionally always used the center-point focus and recompose method, but when I looked at my shots later, was VERY disappointed that her face was soft while her body/clothing was sharp. This method will be a lot faster, especially when switching between portrait and landscape orientation while shooting.

    Looking forward to getting better results!

    I found the settings on both my 20D and 40D. Custom function 13 on the 20D and "3.3" on the 40D. It was pretty easy to find -- you just have to look for it. I can't imagine the 7D doesn't also have this ability in the custom functions.

    As for the Nikon-loving Canon h8r above, gripe all you want, but I've been using Canon for over 10 years, and one of the best things about them is the CONSISTENCY in settings and menus from model to model. I can pick up a different body and figure out where all my functions are pretty quickly. Give me a Nikon and even with the manual, I've had trouble finding certain settings and options (many of which are quite obvious on even older Canon Rebel bodies) for my students. It's a PERSONAL PREFERENCE dude, so get over yourself.

  • Tim August 12, 2011 04:58 am

    I mainly use the center focus point, but I just set this up as a a quick way to give the others a try when needed. The shallow DOF is a problem sometimes with the center point, and it also can lead to less than optimal composition when shooting quickly (even stationary people sometimes need to be captured quickly). And I never really got the hang of setting the other points quickly enough to be useful for me.

  • Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead August 12, 2011 04:57 am

    James -I have just looked at your shots; I wish I was half as good as you! Both technique and composition-wise. I do the same on my Nikon D7000, particularly with primes. Of course the settings and buttons are different. In such a well-written article as yours, and especially as a pro, you should have phrased the Nikon users differently.
    Tiberman - Mauritius

  • Eric Schlienger August 12, 2011 04:48 am

    Interesting discussion. I can't leave it alone.
    In my opinion, if DOF is so tight that you can't focus and recompose, then manual focus is the way to go. With manual focus you can compose and then choose your focus point. Otherwise with the limited number of focus points you may have to compromise the composition to put the focus where you want. Having said that I will sometimes frame the shot, move the focus point to my subject, and then refocus automatically... Depending on the lens, it can be easier to move the focus point than to switch the lens to manual focus (newer nikon AFS lenses don't have this problem so I can just grab the lens to start manual focusing)

  • James Hall August 12, 2011 04:12 am

    On my 60D the settings are slightly different go to:

    Custom Settings > C. Fn III > Select option 2 (on the left to right section) > Select option 1 on the bottom section.

    It didn't start working until I took a shot and the auto focus kicked back in, then I could use the joypad (inside the main wheel) to set a focus point.

    Fantastic tip DPS!!!

  • Jim August 12, 2011 04:01 am

    To those of you saying "center point focus only, always", you really need to rethink your methods. If I shoot a freestyle swimmer going left to right and center point focus on the eyes, I will have a LOT of wasted pixels on the right hand side of my photograph if I want the swimmers legs in the picture. Crop you say? That will reduce the image quality if I want to blow it up as a poster.

    I used center point only for a long time...then I learned better techniques and my photographs are MUCH better. Go to B&H Photos website and watch Rudy Winstons videos on the Canon cameras.

  • malc August 12, 2011 03:57 am

    On my Nikon D90 I always use centre single point AF and recompose - accurate, quick and simple

  • Jason St. Petersburg Photographer August 12, 2011 03:50 am

    I do not know why the title of this article does not say "For Canon DSLRs only." I will not try to hide my thoughts: I think Canon DSLRs have far, far inferior button functionality/ergonomics than most Nikon bodies, especially when comparing bodies $1,000 and over.

    To do what this article shows (moving a single focus point) for me on my Nikon D300 this is a one step process that can be done without looking, by simply moving the focus point by pressing the large rear D-pad. Likewise, if I want to switch from a single focus point to multiple focus points, there is a dedicated switch on the back of the body to do that. No going into menus necessary. If I want to make sure I do not accidentally move the single focus point, there is a dedicated lock button for the focus point.

    If I want to quickly get the focus point back to the center, I just press the center of the D-pad.

    That's how simple it is to change focus points on a Nikon.

    I would be glad to go on with the rest of the list of ergonomic advantages Nikon has over Canon (changing focus modes, use of two dials, WB button, etc) but this post is only about focus points.

    About just using an off-center single focus point, I only ever do that when photographing moving subjects. To do it for still subjects to me seems a waste of time as I could much more quickly set the focus (centered) and recompose as needed. However, for moving subjects, for example a newly married couple walking down the beach at sunset, I do not want to center the couple, I want them to the far right and the sun to the far left of the frame, so I move the focus point to the far right on the couple in AF-C so that I can get them in focus, while moving, and not have them centered in the frame.

    I teach 1-on-1 DSLR lessons multiple times a week. I have had several students switch to Nikon just because of the ergonomics and they have only been thrilled at the improved functionality. I have no idea about which make of camera produces the best image quality etc, but I think there can be no debate that Nikon easily wins the functionality and ergonomics battle over Canon (at least with $1,000+ bodies).

  • Sarah August 12, 2011 03:47 am

    I must be missing the point as I don't understand the fuss over this article. Maybe it's because I'm a Nikon user.

  • Naveen August 12, 2011 03:47 am

    I have checked the method of centre focus point and recompose. In my experience, this method works with some cameras and lenses only. With Canon 5D-II and L series lenses I have observed that when you recompose the image after focussing, the lenses are too quick and start refocussing.

  • Mike August 12, 2011 03:22 am

    @Kevin: I have not noticed any focus issues with that method, though, it takes some practice to rotate the camera with maintained distance to the subject. I guess it comes down to preferences in the end.

  • Marcos August 12, 2011 03:21 am

    I use the 2nd method all of the time.

    What I'm curious about: where do people stand on the center point vs. use the outer points for AF on the 5D Mk II?

    I can see using the center point in low light or other situations where you want maximum AF performance. That's the point that is a cross sensor.

    Personally, I found the outer ones were fine for the usual stuff I do (i.e., not extremely shallow DOF shots of people). Haven't had enough experience to see how reliable they are for more critical focus situations.

    Anyone find any issues using the outer points vs. camera orientation?

  • tomas August 12, 2011 03:16 am

    Method 2 setup on the 7D is under cfn 4-1 ( operation/others - custom controls).

  • tomas August 12, 2011 03:13 am

    method 2 setup on the 7D it is under custom function 4 operation/others, called custom controls.

  • BFeldman17 August 12, 2011 03:10 am

    I have never thought of what Eric mentioned but it seems like the 'way' to do it. To the various Nikon users who are asking how this is accomplished my advice: RTFM. One of the best educational tools I used (also have a D90) was the users manual and Ken Rockwells guide - though you have to pick and chose what you like there. There is only one manual I have ever read and that is my Nikon D90 Users Manual.

  • Ranbir Singh August 12, 2011 03:07 am

    I , nearly always use the single point AF system on my Nikon D7000.
    On rare occasions when I have to shoot a flock of birds or the like do I use the automatic Grid focus.
    I rarely have to delete my shots due to focus issues.

  • Kevin August 12, 2011 03:03 am

    For all the people saying focus-recompose...that's great. We all know about focus-recompose. But it's not accurate for shallow depth of field. If you want tack sharp images, you have to manually select focus points.

  • beatriz August 12, 2011 02:49 am

    thank you! you have no idea how frustrated i would get when trying to focus on a particular spot. this makes things so much easier.

  • Hilde August 12, 2011 02:45 am

    Kevin: I had a hard time finding this option on my 7D, but I found it at last. You have to get in to the meny where you set ut custom button functions. Here you can select the joystick and enable Multi-controller direct for that button.

  • paul August 12, 2011 02:42 am

    On aNikon D90 Go to cutom menu settings a Autofocus hit ok then a1 AF-area mode hit ok then selct single point,you then move focus point same as canon with multi selector joy stick whatever you want to call it.
    Dynamic area will also let you select a single focus point.

  • Jeff Wright August 12, 2011 02:22 am

    The Rebel XS doesn't have the step 2 functionality. Now I have another reason to upgrade!

  • Lea August 12, 2011 02:09 am

    I have a 40D and method 2 doesn't seem to work. I did as you prompted but no matter what you select, it would seem you still have to hit the button to activate the grid and only then can you use the joystick to select an AF point. If someone else with a 40D knows how to accomplish this, I'd love to know!

  • Mike August 12, 2011 02:03 am

    I agree with the first post, and think that it's actually both simpler and faster than what the article describes. Always using the center- focus-point and the recompose is much faster and accurate than messing with the buttons.

  • Michael Daniels August 12, 2011 02:01 am

    On all my Canon's (5D MKii, 7D, 50D) I press the grid button and rotate my back adjustment wheel (Quick control dial) for it scroll around the focus points to the one I want. I find this faster than fiddling with the joystick because my hand naturally lays on the quick control dial. The Canon 7D is a bit more difficult in this area as it has different focusing modes that allow you to select single points or grid groups. The joystick is actually a little easier to manage on it, but I'm still getting used to it.

    One comment about using the middle focus point and then recomposing which is an excellent idea. You do have to be careful with shallow depth of field because where you move the center point to in the re-composition may not leave what you intended to be in focus still in focus due. That has been my experience at least.

  • Eric Schlienger August 12, 2011 02:01 am

    On my Nikon, I set the camera to single point focus and autofocus single (not continuous). I leave the focus location centered. I center the subject, push the shutter release halfway, focus and then while holding the shutter halfway, I reframe and shoot the photo. This is simple and easy. I can easily move the focus (method 2) point as that is the default, but why bother. For me, it seems much more natural to put the subject in focus and then simply move the camera to define the framing. This is what I always did with manual lenses and it is seamlessly supported with AF lenses. Framing and moving the focus point feels like extra work. Personally I will usually just Focus, Frame, Shoot.

    The exception is if I have a moving target and have a good idea of the desired framing. Then I will move the focus point and set the camera to coninuous autofocus. In this case as long as I keep the focus point on the subject, the camera does the work... Since the article has a moving subject, perhaps this is the point. Or perhaps I'm just showing my age.

  • Doug Sundseth August 12, 2011 01:59 am

    For the Nikon D7000 (at least) you can use continuous 3D focusing with a single focus point. The camera will attempt to keep the chosen point in focus even if the camera or subject moves after the half-press of the shutter. This allows you to focus and recompose while adjusting for any change in distance during recomposition (within limits, anyway).

    I don't know which models have this 3D mode, but certainly with a D300 or D300S set in single point autofucus you can move the chosen focus point with the control disk while your eye is on the viewfinder. (You have to make sure you're not reviewing photos when you do this, as the disk controls review as well.)

  • sara sue August 12, 2011 01:58 am

    Love this! This would be great when you need speed and don't have to worry about the first step. I'm trying this today! thanks!

  • João Dullius August 12, 2011 01:56 am

    Center Focus Point Only. Always.
    Just focus and recompose.

  • Michel August 12, 2011 01:56 am

    Like Jae, I also use the center point and recompose. Faster and easy.

  • Ron Hasty August 12, 2011 01:56 am

    I shoot wildlife with a Nikon D700. Leave the grid on and select spot focus and spot metering. The Center point may be the sharpest but it takes a really big print to see it. Set the point to your situation. For example shooting birds, put it in the lower left point of the grid if the birds are flying up and left to right. Set your AF button to on and turn off the focus on the release button.

  • Tracy Eau Claire August 12, 2011 01:54 am

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I used to be a focus and recomposer, but have been frustrated with the changed focus (or lack thereof!). Trying to find, then hit the grid button quickly and then picking a focus point was really screwing with me, so this sounds as if it will be a great answer to my frustrations. Going to leave this feature on for a while and see if it can become my new normal. As another poster pointed out, I have also heard the center focus point is usually the sharpest. Going to do some tests today to see for myself if it's that critical.

    Thanks a bunch for sharing these tips!

  • linda August 12, 2011 01:46 am

    This is a super setting, once of the first things before f stops and shutter speeds I learned how to use properly on my camera!

  • Kevin August 12, 2011 01:42 am

    This doesn't look like it's an option on the 7D.

  • Andrew August 12, 2011 01:39 am

    Hi James, Thanks for this great tip. If you change the settings to Method 2 the Canon 5D mkII, how do you then go about changing the aperture in manual mode if the multi-controller now only controls the AF-points?
    Thanks, Andrew

  • Kristie August 12, 2011 01:32 am

    Along with John I am also waiting to see comments on how to set this up with a Nikon D90. In the mean time I'm going to see if I can figure it out. Thanks!

  • Sam Cox August 12, 2011 01:27 am

    @xavier who wrote, "Unfortunately, it looks like the Canon Rebel T2i doesn’t have the functionality for Step2."

    With the T2i, press the AF Point Selection/Magnify Button (see manual) while looking through the view finder to enable this feature. When enabled, use the arrow keys on the back of the camera to select your focus point and then press shutter button half-way to confirm that point and focus the camera. Pressing the shutter at least half-way will select that focus point and disable the focus point roaming mode. The focus point will remain selected for all future shots until reset. The focus point will remain set even through a camera power cycle.

    -- Sam

  • Keith August 12, 2011 01:27 am

    Assumption of lack detail camera operation right on!
    One tends to capture and end up with a majority of excellent images and we rest upon those laurels, but over time your scope widens with use and your luck hits the wall.
    I use a 50D and custom set but I had focus issues.
    After reading blogs and DPS tips on focus I discovered the problem is knowledge and operational issues NOT equipment.
    THANK YOU for making clear and functional instructions on this matter.
    I am now set on Method #2. Frustration level down a notch. This is a valuable service and site, I recommend to those who I have instructed.
    I always begin with show me your manual~ "Read your Manual and take on shoots" ~ " Tag the page which shows overall ops and then any others but forget due to small usage."
    Thanks again!

  • Simon Lunn August 12, 2011 01:19 am

    I miss my old 35 mm EOS 5 it could be calibrated to your eye and would focus on what you where looking it was lovely why did Canon drop this in their digital SLR's ???

  • Patches August 12, 2011 01:17 am

    Great article, James. I wanted to chime in and say a few things. I've got a Canon Rebel XSi and a EOS 5D (not Mark II). The Rebel does not have this function at all. On the original 5D, the function you'll look for is custom function #13. So I suspect that only a select few Canon DSLRs are going to have this custom function available, possibly just the professional DSLRs (non-Rebel lineup).

  • Craig Steed August 12, 2011 01:06 am

    Surely the easiest form of single point autofocus is to set the camera to the centre point focus (usually the fastes one anyway) focus on what you want and then re-compose the shot?

  • ErikKerstenbeck August 12, 2011 01:03 am


    Good tips! For any critcal still images, I always use manual focus. For action shots, such as this surfer, Nikon has a 3D Mode that works great!

  • Dr. J August 12, 2011 12:53 am

    This tip is usually useful, but becomes more cumbersome when you have a battery grip and switch to portrait orientation. Then it is a pain because the only way to switch is with the joystick, and it's a much longer reach from the portrait/grip side. Found this out the hard way in the middle of a shoot and quickly switched back to the non-cool-kids method :-/

    Also, @Jae: center focus and recompose is great for small apertures and/or long subject-to-camera distance (deep depth-of-field). But it does not work for shallow DOF (wide aperture/short focus distance) due to the change in angle from the original focus to the new composition.

  • John Mark August 12, 2011 12:49 am

    I have a Nikon D90 and getting my 50mm 1.8 to focus when it's wide open is very hit and miss. I'm anxiously awaiting comments from a NIkon user on how to achieve what this post talks about. thanks!

  • Amy August 12, 2011 12:49 am

    This is a very good piece of information. Thanks for sharing.

  • Reddy August 12, 2011 12:46 am

    I totally agree with you ALEX.... :)

  • Xavier August 12, 2011 12:42 am

    Unfortunately, it looks like the Canon Rebel T2i doesn't have the functionality for Step2.

  • Bob August 12, 2011 12:42 am

    Sweet! I love this! Thanks.

  • Jae August 12, 2011 12:35 am

    Just use center focus point and then recompose.

    Not good for action shots of course but how often are you shooting live action?

    The center focus point is the most accurate and most sensitive in most cameras.

  • Alex Paleczny August 12, 2011 12:29 am

    This is the default way it works on Nikon. See - we Nikonians were the cool kids all this time! ;)