Focus Modes On A Digital Camera

Manual Mode

Focus modes are the various modes available in a digital camera where the lens shifts its elements until sharpness is obtained in a specific part of the subject. Simply put, it can be defined as finding optimal sharpness for a given subject.

There are two types of focus modes:

  1. Manual focus mode
  2. Autofocus mode

Manual Focus Mode (M)

Is a photography focusing mode that allows individuals to manually change the point of focus of the camera rather than the camera changing the point of focus.

Autofocus Mode (AF)

Is a modern camera focusing system that can control the optics in a lens to bring a subject into focus automatically. The best autofocus mode depends on your subject, available light, the limitations of your camera technology, and other factors.

These are the main Camera Autofocus modes in photography:

Single Auto Focus Mode (AF-S / One–Shot AF)

This is the most straightforward choice that is offered. Your camera will lock focus on the object you want to capture by choosing the single autofocus setting.  If you have focused on a subject and it moves, the camera will not adjust the focus to compensate, you'll have to refocus. 

The ideal AF mode for still objects, like portraits, macro, and architecture, is single-AF.

Continuous Auto Focus Mode (AF -C /AI Servo AF)

AI Servo AF is the best AF mode for subjects that move. Once you've set your focus, your camera will track the subject even if it moves around within the frame. Camera AF Continuous mode is ideal for keeping focus on moving subjects such as eyes in portraits, sports, and wildlife.

Hybrid Auto Focus Mode (AF -A / AI FOCUS AF)

This is an autofocus mode that uses the combination of the Single Auto focus AF and the Continuous Auto Focus modes. When your camera detects subject motion, it will switch to AF continuous to track them, then back to AF single when they pause.  Autofocus Hybrid camera mode is the best choice in situations when the subject’s movement is unpredictable.

In Canon mirrorless cameras, the Auto focus modes include:

Face/eye Tracking

This feature allows the camera to keep a moving subject in focus. This is especially useful when photographing fast-moving subjects, such as sports or wildlife. To use eye/face tracking, the photographer must first select the subject that they want to keep in focus. The camera will then track the subject and adjust the focus accordingly.

1-Point AF

The camera focuses using a single AF point

Spot AF

The camera focuses using an even smaller area than 1-point AF

Expand AF Area

There are two options here. With either, the camera focuses using a single AF point, but if it is unsure, it uses another AF point to assist or may switch to that point instead - either the next point horizontally and vertically, or the next point diagonally as well. Both of these are effective with moving subjects, which are difficult to track with 1-point AF.

Zone AF

This uses auto-selection AF within a larger area, optionally focusing on the nearest subject or using various criteria such as faces, subject motion, and subject distance