How far we’ve come! My first professional job was as a reporter/sportswriter/photographer for a daily newspaper (back when a backslash really meant something) and focusing to achieve a sharp image was a manual process accomplished by turning a ring or knob on the camera or lens until, in one’s highly trained professional judgment, the image was satisfactorily in focus. Manual focus was particularly challenging when shooting sports.
Today, modern digital cameras like the EOS R5 and R6 can identify potential subject matter, lock in on human faces, if present, and automatically focus faster than the blink of an eye. Usually. Of course, sometimes a camera’s AF will zero in on the wrong subject, become confused by background pattern, or be totally unable to follow a fast-moving target like a bird in flight. While autofocus has come a long way in the last 30-plus years, it’s still a work-in-progress that relies heavily on input from the photographer. Your camera can calculate and set focus for you quickly and with a high degree of accuracy, but you still need to make a few settings that provide guidance on three of the Ws of autofocus: what, where, and when. Your decisions in how you apply those choices supplies the fourth W: why. This chapter will provide you with everything you need to put all four to work.
This chapter will explain how the R5 and R6 attain focus and describe each of the options available along with descriptions of when to use particular settings and when not to use them. You probably would not want to wade through 50 pages of descriptions detailing each and every parameter available in the AF 1–AF 5 menus to glean the important details you need to work with manual and auto focus. So, this chapter concentrates on focus strategies and techniques. You’ll find detailed menu entry descriptions in Chapter 12.
Advances in autofocus technology have given photographers the confidence to rely on AF most of the time. For the average subject, the camera will do an excellent job of evaluating your scene and quickly focusing on an appropriate subject. Interestingly enough, however, the switch to mirrorless technology has actually revived interest in old-school manual focus.
There are five reasons why manual focus is being used more by creative photographers these days.
Simply put, focus is the process of adjusting the camera so that parts of our subject that we want to be sharp and clear are, in fact, sharp and clear. We allow the camera to focus for us, automatically, or we can rotate the lens’s focus ring manually to achieve the desired focus. Manual focusing is especially problematic because our eyes and brains have poor memory for correct focus. That’s why your eye doctor conducting a refraction test must shift back and forth between pairs of lenses and ask, “Does that look sharper—or was it sharper before?” in determining your correct prescription. Too often, the slight differences are such that the lens pairs must be swapped multiple times.
Similarly, manual focusing involves jogging the focus ring back and forth as you go from almost in focus, to sharp focus, to almost focused again. The little clockwise and counterclockwise arcs decrease in size until you’ve zeroed in on the point of correct focus. What you’re looking for is the image with the most contrast between the edges of elements in the image.
The autofocus mechanism, like all such systems found in modern cameras, also evaluates these increases and decreases in sharpness, but it is able to remember the progression perfectly, so that autofocus can lock in much more quickly and, with an image that has sufficient contrast, more precisely. Unfortunately, while the camera’s focus system finds it easy to measure degrees of apparent focus at each of the focus points in the viewfinder, it doesn’t really know with any certainty which object should be in sharpest focus. Is it the closest object? The subject in the center? Something lurking behind the closest subject? A person standing over at the side of the picture? Using autofocus effectively involves deciding exactly what to focus on.
Learning to use the autofocus system is easy, but you do need to fully understand how the system works to get the most benefit from it. Once you’re comfortable with autofocus, you’ll know when it’s appropriate to use the manual focus option, too.
As the camera collects focus information from the sensors, it then evaluates it to determine whether the desired sharp focus has been achieved. The calculations may include whether the subject is moving, and whether the camera needs to “predict” where the subject will be when the shutter release button is fully depressed, and the picture is taken. The speed with which the camera is able to evaluate focus and then move the lens elements into the proper position to achieve the sharpest focus determines how fast the autofocus mechanism is. Although your R5 or R6 will almost always focus more quickly than a human eye, there are types of shooting situations where that’s not fast enough. For example, if you’re having problems shooting a sport with many fast-moving players because the autofocus system manically follows each moving subject, a better choice might be to switch Autofocus modes, or shift into Manual and prefocus on a spot where you anticipate the action will be, such as a goal line or soccer net.
Autofocus is generally achieved using two different technologies called contrast-detection autofocus (CDAF) and phase-detection autofocus (PDAF). I’m going to provide a quick overview of contrast detection first, and then devote much of the rest of this chapter to the complexities of the phase-detection system.
This is a slower, but potentially more accurate mode, best suited for static subjects, and was originally the only kind of autofocus available for mirrorless cameras and for dSLRs when shooting in their live view and movie modes. The recent innovation of adding phase-detection pixels to the sensor itself converted contrast detection from a main system into a fine-tuning option for designers creating a hybrid system that used both. I’m going to give you a brief overview of how contrast detection works, which will help you appreciate Canon’s sophisticated PDAF system.
Contrast detection is very easy to understand, and is illustrated by Figure 5.1, a close-up of some weathered wood. At top in the figure, the transitions between the edges found in the image are soft and blurred because of the low contrast between them. Whether the edges are horizontal, vertical, or diagonal doesn’t matter in the least; the focus system looks only for contrast between edges, and those edges can run in any direction at all.
At the bottom of Figure 5.1, the image has been brought into sharp focus, and the edges have much more contrast; the transitions are sharp and clear. Although this example is a bit exaggerated so you can see the results on the printed page, it’s easy to understand that when maximum contrast in a subject is achieved, it can be deemed to be in sharp focus. Although achieving focus with contrast detection is generally quite a bit slower, there are several advantages—and disadvantages—to this method:
The phase-detection pixels in the sensor split incoming photons arriving from opposite sides of the lens into two parts, forming a pair of images, exactly like the rangefinders used for surveying and in rangefinder-focusing cameras like the venerable Leica M series. The dual images are separated when out of focus, and then gradually brought together to achieve sharp focus, as shown from top to bottom in Figure 5.2.
This process tells the camera when the image pair are “in phase” and aligned. The rangefinder approach of phase detection calculates exactly how out of focus the image is, and in which direction (focus is too near, or too far) thanks to the amount and direction of the displacement of the split image. The camera can quickly and precisely snap the image into sharp focus and match the lines.
The PDAF sensors are all line sensors, horizontally oriented, which means they work best with features that transect the sensor either perpendicularly or at an angle, as visualized in Figure 5.3, top. It’s easy to detect when the two halves of the vertical lines of the weathered wood—actually a 19th century outhouse—are aligned. However, when the same sensor is asked to measure focus for, say, horizontal lines that don’t split up quite so conveniently, or, in the worst case, subjects such as the sky (which may have neither vertical nor horizontal lines), focus can slow down drastically, or even become impossible. One such scenario is pictured in Figure 5.3, bottom left. A possible solution is to incorporate vertically oriented AF sensors, which can easily focus horizontal subject matter (Figure 5.3, bottom right). The line sensors arranged perpendicularly to each other are called “cross-type” sensors.
However, there are no cross sensors, as such PDAF pixels are difficult (expensive) to embed in today’s image sensors. The company feels that the high density of AF positions virtually insures that the line sensors will still find enough detail crossing the sensor at an angle conducive to autofocus. (There are 1,053 individual focus zones on the sensor, and a maximum of 6,072 positions within the frame that can be used to focus. More on that later.)
In typical competing cameras, a given sensor pixel must be either a PDAF detector or an imaging pixel—not both. But Canon’s Dual Pixel technology means that any given sensor can include both an AF sensor and an imaging photo diode and perform both tasks, so they have fewer limitations on the placement and number of PDAF detectors included in a sensor like the one found in your R5 or R6. I’ll tell you more about the Dual Pixel technology later in this chapter.
Of course, as with any rangefinder-like function, phase-detection accuracy is better when the “base length” between the two images is larger. (Think back to your high school trigonometry; you could calculate a distance more accurately when the separation between the two points where the angles were measured was greater.) For that reason, phase-detection autofocus is more accurate with larger (wider) lens openings—especially those with maximum f/stops of f/2.8 or better—than with smaller lens openings and may not work at all when the f/stop is smaller than f/8. As I noted, comparisons can be calculated very quickly.
Because of the flexibility of the Dual Pixel technology, Canon has been able to spread the AF area to fill nearly 100 percent of the vertical frame, and about 90 percent of the horizontal area, when working with RF (native) lenses. EF-mount lenses attached using a mount adapter may not produce that full coverage; Canon says some may provide only 80 percent horizontal coverage.
This very broad coverage of phase-detect pixels provides several significant advantages for mirrorless cameras like the R5 and R6. The separate non-sensor-based PDAF systems of traditional dSLRs typically cover a much smaller area of the frame and may have only a few hundred AF points (at most), compared with the 1,000-plus available with your camera. Canon’s PDAF system has many of the strengths formerly the province of contrast-detection AF technology:
Figure 5.4 is my rough approximation of the layout of the autofocus pixels, based on Canon’s descriptions. At top left, the blue squares represent the location of the 1,053 AF zones available with both the R5 and R6. As I noted, they cover virtually 100 percent of the frame, and are arranged in a 39 × 27–zone array. In movie mode, the top three and bottom three rows are cropped out, giving your 819 zones in a 39 × 21–zone array.
At bottom left, the green squares represent the positions you can select using the Multi-controller. These cover roughly 90 percent of the frame horizontally and 100 percent vertically. The coverage areas are effectively identical in both cameras. There are 5,940 positions (in a 90 × 66 array) for the R5 and 6,072 positions (in a 92 × 66 array) in the R6.
Those figures don’t mean that your camera has roughly 6,000 phase-detect pixels. That humongous figure and the green squares just enumerate the locations you can use to specify your focus point using 1-point AF. When the camera is choosing an AF area, it will use the smaller number of sections of the sensor, roughly represented by the blue squares. At right in Figure 5.4 you can see the layout of the AF pixels and available selectable AF positions overlaid.
Understanding contrast and phase detection helps you appreciate the marvel that is Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF system. Used while shooting both stills and movies, as I’ve noted, it works much more quickly than traditional contrast-detection systems.
The sensor’s pixel array includes special pixels that provide the same type of split-image range-finder phase-detection AF that all PDAF modules use. The most important aspect of the system is that it doesn’t rob the camera of any imaging resolution. It would have been possible to place AF sensors between the pixels used to capture the image, but that would leave the sensor with less area with which to capture light. Keep in mind that CMOS sensors, unlike earlier CCD sensors, have more on-board circuitry which already consumes some of the light-gathering area. Micro-lenses are placed above each photosensitive site to focus incoming illumination on the sensor and to correct for the oblique angles from which some photons may approach the imager. (Older lenses, designed for film, are the worst offenders in terms of emitting light at severely oblique angles; newer “digital” lenses do a better job of directing photons onto the sensor plane with a less “slanted” approach.)
With the Dual Pixel CMOS AF system, the same photosites capture both image and autofocus information. Each pixel is divided into two photodiodes, facing left and right when the camera is held in horizontal orientation (or above and below each other in vertical orientation; either works fine for autofocus purposes). Each pair functions as a separate AF sensor, allowing a special integrated circuit to process the raw autofocus information before sending it on to the digital image processor, which handles both AF and image capture. For the latter, the information grabbed by both photodiodes is combined, so that the full photosensitive area of the sensor pixel is used to capture the image.
While traditional contrast detection frequently involves frustrating “hunting” as the camera continually readjusts the focus plane trying to find the position of maximum contrast, adding Dual Pixel CMOS AF phase detection allows the camera to focus smoothly, which is important for speed, and essential when shooting movies (where all that hunting is unfortunately captured for posterity). Movie autofocus tracking is improved, allowing shooting movies of subjects in motion.
An interesting adjunct to the dual pixel autofocus approach is the EOS R5’s ability to save Dual Pixel RAW image files, which allow including the rangefinder-like focus information in RAW files. These files can later be manipulated in the Playback 3 menu’s DPRAW Processing entry (to perform Portrait Relighting and apply Background Clarity Effects, as discussed in Chapter 13). With Digital Photo Professional, Dual Pixel RAW files can be manipulated to provide focus microadjustment during post-processing, adjustment of bokeh (the out-of-focus regions of a photograph in both foreground and background), to reduce flare and ghosting effects. and make sharpness adjustments. The important thing to keep in mind is that while Dual Pixel CMOS AF is active whenever you are using autofocus with either the R5 or R6, only the files captured in Dual Pixel RAW mode with the R5 can be manipulated.
My guides emphasize getting great pictures in the camera, rather than through post-processing, so I generally don’t cover software tools like the EOS Utility or Digital Photo Professional in any detail. However, most of you will be curious about the focus enhancements that the Dual Pixel RAW format makes possible with Digital Photo Pro, so I’ll provide a brief overview here. A more complete discussion of what you can do with this format can be found in the Digital Photo Professional PDF manual available for download from your country’s Canon website. I’ll discuss the Playback Menu’s DPRAW Processing option in Chapter 13.
Dual Pixel RAW is a special double-size RAW format that can be manipulated in an image editor (as I write this, only Digital Photo Pro has that capability) to make microadjustments to the focus plane, slightly improve bokeh effects (the smoothness of the out-of-focus areas of the image) and make corrections to ghosting and flare and sharpness. Dual Pixel RAW files also offer the opportunity for advanced users to recover up to one additional stop in the highlights. When activated, Dual Pixel RAW saves, in effect, two different RAW files (and takes twice as long to do so), combined into a single file on your memory card. One half contains information from both sets of pixels (call them Sets A+B) while the other half includes information only from the pixels in Set B.
To use Dual Pixel RAW, you must select RAW or C RAW or RAW+JPEG/HEIF or C RAW+JPEG/HEIF as your Image Quality, and then enable the dual-pixel feature in the Shooting 1 menu. You cannot use DPR if you want to shoot multiple exposures, use automatic HDR, the electronic shutter, or One-Touch image quality. The two highest continuous speeds (H+ and H) are not available.
We’re primarily concerned with the focus plane microadjustment feature here. DPR doesn’t improve the resolution of your image: those 45-megapixel split pairs don’t give you 90 megapixels of resolution. What the DPR file does do is make use of the sensor’s phase-detection information.
What you can do is make very small adjustments in the plane of focus, amounting to just a few millimeters in front of or behind the original plane. This is similar to what Lytro’s light field photography did before the company closed in 2018 (Google it for more information), although on a reduced scale. These are micro adjustments. As a practical matter, a portrait photographer who discovers that an image captured wide open with a portrait-friendly lens or focal length that has been focused on the subject’s eyelashes, can move the plane of focus back to the eyes instead.
You’ll locate Start Dual Pixel RAW Optimizer in the Tools menu of Digital Photo Pro, with an image area and tool palette like the one shown in Figure 5.5. There are four palettes, and you can activate only one of them (plus sharpness) at a time for a particular image by putting a check mark in the box at upper left of the palette you want to work with. Your options include:
As you might expect, any adjustments you make to a Dual Pixel RAW file are implemented only in the file you save from DPP; the original RAW file remains untouched, so you’re free to play around with this feature as much as you like.
Canon notes that the effects produced can vary depending on the particular lens in use, shooting conditions, and whether the camera is held in vertical or horizontal orientations. For example, the tool is most effective if the lens is used at its maximum aperture. That makes sense, because depth-of-field is less when the lens is wide open, so adjustments in focus plane, bokeh, sharpness, and perhaps ghosting/flare will be more obvious.
You know that increased depth-of-field brings more of your subject into focus. But more depth-of-field also makes autofocusing (or manual focusing) more difficult because the contrast is lower between objects at different distances. This is an added factor beyond the rangefinder aspects of lens opening size in phase detection. An image that’s dimmer is more difficult to focus with any type of focus system, phase detection, contrast detection, or manual focus.
So, focus with a 200mm focal length may be easier in some respects than at a 28mm focal length (or zoom setting) because the longer lens has less apparent depth-of-field. By the same token, a lens with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 will be easier to autofocus (or manually focus) than one of the same focal length with an f/4 maximum aperture, because the f/4 lens has more depth-of-field and a dimmer view. That’s yet another reason why lenses with a maximum aperture smaller than f/5.6 can give your autofocus system fits—increased depth-of-field joins forces with a dimmer image that’s more difficult to focus using phase detection.
To make things even more complicated, many subjects aren’t polite enough to remain still. They move around in the frame, so that even if the camera is sharply focused on your main subject, it may change position and require refocusing. An intervening subject may pop into the frame and pass between you and the subject you meant to photograph. You (or the camera) have to decide whether to lock focus on this new subject or remain focused on the original subject. Finally, there are some kinds of subjects that are difficult to bring into sharp focus because they lack enough contrast to allow the AF system (or our eyes) to lock in. Blank walls, a clear blue sky, or other subject matter may make focusing difficult.
If you find all these focus factors confusing, you’re on the right track. Focus is, in fact, measured using something called a circle of confusion. An ideal image consists of zillions of tiny little points, which, like all points, theoretically have no height or width. There is perfect contrast between the point and its surroundings. You can think of each point as a pinpoint of light in a darkened room. When a given point is out of focus, its edges decrease in contrast and it changes from a perfect point to a tiny disc with blurry edges (remember, blur is the lack of contrast between boundaries in an image). (See Figure 5.7.)
If this blurry disc—the circle of confusion—is small enough, our eye still perceives it as a point. It’s only when the disc grows large enough that we can see it as a blur rather than a sharp point that a given point is viewed as out of focus. You can see, then, that enlarging an image, either by displaying it larger on your computer monitor or by making a large print, also enlarges the size of each circle of confusion. Moving closer to the image does the same thing. So, parts of an image that may look perfectly sharp in a 5 × 7–inch print viewed at arm’s length, might appear blurry when blown up to 11 × 14 and examined at the same distance. Take a few steps back, however, and it may look sharp again.
To a lesser extent, the viewer also affects the apparent size of these circles of confusion. Some people see details better at a given distance and may perceive smaller circles of confusion than someone standing next to them. For the most part, however, such differences are small. Truly blurry images will look blurry to just about everyone under the same conditions.
Technically, there is just one plane within your picture area, parallel to the back of the camera (or sensor, in the case of a digital camera), that is in sharp focus. That’s the plane in which the points of the image are rendered as precise points. At every other plane in front of or behind the focus plane, the points show up as discs that range from slightly blurry to extremely blurry until the out-of-focus areas become one large blur that de-emphasizes an unattractive textured white background.
In practice, the discs in many of these planes will still be so small that we see them as points, and that’s where we get depth-of-field. Depth-of-field is just the range of planes that include discs that we perceive as points rather than blurred splotches. The size of this range increases as the aperture is reduced in size and is allocated roughly one-third in front of the plane of sharpest focus, and two-thirds behind it. The range of sharp focus is always greater behind your subject than in front of it.
The following sections concisely describe the important settings you’ll need to use your camera’s manual focus and autofocus features. You’ll find in-depth descriptions of all AF menu entries in Chapter 12.
Now that you understand the basics of how the autofocus system works, it’s time to jump into the actual settings and options you have at your disposal. To achieve tack-sharp focus every time, you’ll need to master focus modes (when to evaluate a scene and lock in focus) and focus area selection (you or the camera decides what to focus on).
The AF Operation focus modes tell the camera when to evaluate and lock in focus. They don’t determine where focus should be checked; that’s the function of other autofocus features. Focus modes tell the camera whether to lock in focus once, say, when you press the shutter release halfway (or use some other control, such as the AF-ON button), or whether, once activated, the camera should continue tracking your subject and, if it’s moving, adjust focus to follow it.
The camera has manual focus, plus magnified (up to 10X manual focus), and two AF modes: One-Shot AF (also known as single autofocus) and Servo AF (continuous autofocus). I’ll explain all of these in more detail later in this section. Choosing the right autofocus mode and the way in which focus points are selected is your key to success. Using the wrong mode for a particular type of photography can lead to a series of pictures that are all sharply focused—on the wrong subject.
When I first started shooting sports with an autofocus SLR (back in the film camera days), I covered one game alternating between shots of base runners and outfielders with pictures of a promising young pitcher, all from a position next to the third base dugout. The base runner and outfielder photos were great because their backgrounds didn’t distract the autofocus mechanism. But all my photos of the pitcher had the focus tightly zeroed in on the fans in the stands behind him. Because I was shooting film instead of a digital camera, I didn’t know about my gaffe until the film was developed. A simple change, such as locking in focus or focus zone manually, or even manually focusing, would have done the trick.
To save battery power, focus doesn’t initiate until you partially depress the shutter release (unless you’ve activated Continuous AF in the AF 1 menu). But, autofocus isn’t some mindless beast out there snapping your pictures in and out of focus with no feedback from you after you press that button. There are several settings you can modify that return at least a modicum of control to you. Your first decision should be whether you select One-Shot or Servo. With using one of the non-auto modes, use the Q button to summon the Quick Control menu and navigate to AF Operation (second from the top in the left column). Then spin either dial to toggle between One-Shot or Servo. (The AF/M switch on the lens must be set to AF before you can change autofocus mode.)
In this mode, also called single autofocus, focus is set once and remains at that setting until the button is fully depressed, taking the picture, or until you release the shutter button without taking a shot. This mode is best for subjects that are not moving around a great deal. So, for non-action photography, this setting is usually your best choice, as it minimizes out-of-focus pictures (at the expense of spontaneity). The drawback here is that you might not be able to take a picture at all while the camera is seeking focus; you’re locked out until the autofocus mechanism is happy with the current setting. One-Shot AF/single autofocus is sometimes referred to as focus-priority for that reason. Because of the small delay while the camera zeroes in on correct focus during focus-priority operation, you might experience slightly more shutter lag. This mode uses less battery power than the other autofocus modes.
When sharp focus is achieved, the selected focus point will flash green in the viewfinder and the camera will beep (unless you’ve disabled Beep in the Set-up 2 menu). If you’re using Evaluative metering, the exposure will be locked at the same time. By keeping the shutter button depressed halfway, you’ll find you can reframe the image while retaining the focus (and exposure) that’s been set. You can also use the AE Lock/FE Lock button to retain the exposure calculated from the center AF point while reframing. If the camera cannot achieve focus, the focus point will turn orange, and taking a picture is not possible even if the shutter release is pressed down all the way.
However, you may find yourself deciding to take a picture quickly without enough time to lock in focus with a half-press of the shutter release. If that happens frequently, and “getting the shot” is more important than “getting sharp focus,” you can switch from focus-priority to release-priority using the One-Shot AF Release Priority entry in the AF 4 menu. The camera will henceforth go ahead and take a picture when the shutter release is pressed down all the way, even if sharp focus isn’t confirmed.
This mode, also known as continuous autofocus, is the mode to use for sports and other fast-moving subjects and is often used with continuous shooting modes. Once the shutter release is partially depressed, the camera sets the focus on the point that’s selected (by the camera or by you manually), but continues to monitor the subject, so that if it moves or you move, the lens will be refocused to suit. When focus is achieved, the AF point turns blue; there is no Beep signal however, as it would be intrusive if there was a chirp each time refocusing occurred.
As you might expect, focus and exposure aren’t really locked until you press the shutter release down all the way to take the picture. You’ll find that Servo AF produces the least amount of shutter lag of any autofocus mode: press the button and the camera fires. It also uses the most battery power, because the autofocus system operates as long as the shutter release button is partially depressed. If you’re using Scene Intelligent Auto mode, the camera switches automatically to Servo AF if it detects subject movement.
You’ll often see continuous autofocus referred to as release-priority, because that’s the way it has been traditionally used. In that mode, if you press the shutter release down all the way while the system is refining focus, the camera will go ahead and take a picture, even if the image is slightly out of focus. Servo AF uses a technology called predictive AF, which allows calculating the correct focus if the subject is moving toward or away from the camera at a constant rate. It uses either the automatically selected AF point or the point you select manually to set focus.
Note that release-priority mode does not result in many out-of-focus images. It simply means that a picture will be taken even if the camera has not confirmed sharp focus. Your image may very well be sharply focused at the moment of exposure, or, perhaps, close enough.
Manual focus is possible if you slide the AF/MF switch on the lens to the MF position, allowing you to set the focus yourself. There are some advantages and disadvantages to this approach. While your batteries will last longer in manual focus mode, it will take you longer to focus the camera for each photo, a process that can be difficult. Canon does give you some help in focusing manually.
What Canon dubs the “AF Method” is actually a feature that specifies which areas of the frame are used to collect autofocus information. There are seven AF area modes you can use to select the initial point or zone of points (with variations on what additional points will also be deployed, if needed). An eighth mode, Face+Tracking, allows the camera (not you) to choose and track the focus point, giving priority to face/eyes of people, animals, or neither.
Switching among the AF modes is easy: press the AF selection button on the upper-right corner of the camera’s back panel (to the right of the * button), and then press the M-Fn button repeatedly while the available modes cycle on the display similar to the one shown in Figure 5.10. If you’d rather use the Main Dial rather than M-Fn button to change AF methods, the AF Method Selection Control entry in the AF 4 menu will let you do that. Should you generally use only a few of the available total modes, Canon gives you the ability to “hide” the others using the Limit AF Methods entry in the AF 4 menu. I’ll describe the parameters and use of each of these entries in Chapter 12.
The Touch & Drag AF entry in the AF 1 menu allows you to specify moving the AF point or Zone AF frame by tapping the screen or dragging the point/zone on the screen to a new location. In addition to using the touch screen to position the AF point, you can actually take a picture by tapping the screen by activating the Touch Shutter using an icon that appears in the lower-left corner of the screen in shooting mode. The same icon can be used to disable the touch shutter feature.
If you choose this mode, the camera will search for and focus on faces; if none are found, the entire autofocus area will be used. A box appears around a located face, and the face is tracked as it moves around the frame. (See Figure 5.10.) When using Servo AF mode, you can specify the initial AF point. The camera will first use the AF point you have set, and if no face is found will search elsewhere in the frame. That could be useful when shooting a series of photos when you know that your main subject will probably be located in a particular area of the frame, but still want the camera to refocus as the subject moves. This helps reduce AF confusion from movement elsewhere in the frame that is not your main subject.
Here are some guidelines for using Face+Tracking AF:
You can also tap the touch screen to choose a specific face; to cancel locked tracking, tap the Off icon that appears in the lower-left corner of the screen. Using a tap to specify a face also activates One-Shot AF, even if Servo has been selected for AF Operation.
In this mode, you can zero in and focus on a small box displayed on the screen (see Figure 5.12). This focus area can be moved in tiny increments to nearly any location on the screen using the Multi-controller joystick or the Main Dial (horizontal movement) or QCD-1/QCD-2 (up/down movement). Press the AF Point Selection button first to enable moving the focus point. (Figure 5.4 showed the selectable positions.) Press the Multi-controller or tap the Return to Center icon in the upper-right corner of the LCD screen (shown in Figure 5.10) to return the focus point to the center.
This precision can be too much of a good thing, however; camera movement (as when shooting hand-held, especially with a front-heavy long lens) and subject movement can easily move the focus spot away from your primary subject. This mode may be your best choice when you want to focus precisely on a subject that is surrounded by fine detail. It is most practical for scenes where you want to focus on a certain point, but your subject may be moving slowly. Position the active focus point with the controls. You can use Spot AF for everyday shooting where precision is needed, and the subject contains sufficient detail within the area covered by the sensor. If such a small area of your subject is a bit amorphous, you’ll want to use one of the selection modes described next, which allow the AF system to take into account surrounding focus points as well as the manually selected point.
In this mode, you can zero in and focus on a box that is roughly 3X larger displayed on the screen (see Figure 5.13). When speed is important, but you still want to specify the focus location with some degree of precision, this option is probably your best choice. I use it for sports when I want to be able to single out specific players who are not moving a great deal (say, an infielder covering third base). The focus point can be recentered as described earlier.
In this mode, the focus point you select is used, along with the points immediately above, below, and to either side of it (until the manually selected point reaches the edge of the array and one or more of the additional points scroll off). (See Figure 5.14.) This mode is better for moving objects, because the larger effective zone makes it easier to track subjects that are moving within the frame. As the subject moves outside the area defined by the selected focus point, three to four of the surrounding focus points can pick up and track the movement. In One-Shot AF mode, the manually selected focus point and expanded point used will be displayed.
This mode is similar to the one above, except that the eight points adjacent to the manually selected point are included in the focusing array. It is slightly better for subjects that don’t contain a lot of detail at the manually selected focus point, and the additional points surrounding the initial focus point improve your results. This mode is also better for larger moving objects, even though it offers a bit less precision. As always, while the active points are shown in the center of the frame in the figure, you can move the active area around while viewing the display. (See Figure 5.15.)
This is a zone-oriented point selection method, in which the AF points are divided in a zone, covering roughly one-sixth of the frame. When you move the focus “point” using the controls, you are actually simply moving the zone from one position to the next within the frame. This mode works well when you know the approximate area where your subject will reside and want to cover a particular zone. (See Figure 5.16.) This mode usually focuses on the nearest subject, and so lacks the precision of the other AF methods described so far. However, the camera will attempt to focus on any faces detected within the AF frame.
These last two methods use large rectangular zones oriented in the vertical and horizontal directions. Each might be useful for tall subjects (basketball action) or wide areas (motor sports or boat racing). The appropriate AF points within the frame will be selected automatically, generally from among those covering the closest subject. Both methods will search for and focus on any faces detected within the frame. See Figures 5.17 and 5.18.
You can check focus with magnified views of either 6X or 15X (R5) or 5X or 10X (R6) by pressing the Magnify/Reduce button in all modes (including Manual focus), except Face+Tracking. Just press the Magnify/Reduce button once or twice to zoom in, or a third time to return to non-magnified view. The magnification is centered on the AF point when using Spot AF, 1-point AF, Expand AF Area, Expand AF Area: Around, and Zone AF Large Zone: Vertical or Large Zone: Horizontal. AF is performed in magnified display if you press the shutter button down halfway in Spot AF and 1-point AF.
In other modes, AF is performed after restoring normal display. In Servo mode, the camera returns to normal view for focusing. Continuous AF and Movie Servo AF are not available in magnified view. Focus may be more difficult when magnified due to shake. When zoomed in, use the Multi-controller to move the magnified area. Press the Multi-controller button to center the magnified area in the middle of the frame. (See Figure 5.19.)
The options available for autofocus can be overwhelming at times, which is why I’m devoting this full chapter, and Chapter 12, to explaining them. I’m covering all the key concepts of autofocus in this chapter. Most of what you need to know to find and use the individual options is found in the bulleted list below. Your options include:
You can adjust two parameters of the preset cases. Just highlight the Case you want to customize and press SET. Then press the RATE button and highlight one of the two adjustments described next. Press SET once more and use the Multi-controller to adjust:
The guide frame can be moved by tapping the screen, pressing the AF Point button first, and then using the directional controls or centered by pressing the Trash button. If the AF Method is Face+Tracking and Eye Detection AF has been enabled, the guide frame will appear near any eyes that are detected for the main subject.
Once you’ve been using your camera for a while, you’ll invariably encounter the terms back focus and back-button focus, and wonder if they are good things or bad things. Actually, they are two different things, and are often confused with each other. Back focus is a bad thing and occurs when a particular lens consistently autofocuses on a plane that’s behind your desired subject. This malady may be found in some of your lenses, or all your optics may be free of the defect. The good news is that if the problem lies in a particular lens (rather than a camera misadjustment that applies to all your lenses), it can be fixed.
Back-button focus, on the other hand, is a tool you can use to separate two functions that are commonly locked together—exposure and autofocus—so that you can lock in exposure while allowing focus to be attained at a later point, or vice versa. It’s a good thing, although using back-button focus effectively may require you to unlearn some habits and acquire new ways of coordinating the action of your fingers.
As you have learned, the default behavior is to set both exposure and focus (when AF is active) when you press the shutter release down halfway. When using One-Shot AF mode, that’s that: both exposure and focus are locked and will not change until you release the shutter button or press it all the way down to take a picture and then release it for the next shot. In Servo AF mode, exposure is locked and focus set when you press the shutter release halfway, but the system will continue to refocus if your subject moves for as long as you hold down the shutter button halfway. Focus isn’t locked until you press the button down all the way to take the picture.
What back-button focus does is decouple or separate the two actions. You can retain the exposure lock feature when the shutter is pressed halfway, but assign autofocus to a different button. So, in practice, you can press the shutter button halfway, locking exposure, and reframe the image if you like (perhaps you’re photographing a backlit subject and want to lock in exposure on the foreground, and then reframe to include a very bright background as well).
But, in this same scenario, you don’t want autofocus locked at the same time. Indeed, you may not want to start AF until you’re good and ready, say, at a sports venue as you wait for a ballplayer to streak into view in your viewfinder. With back-button focus, you can lock exposure on the spot where you expect the athlete to be and activate AF at the moment your subject appears by pressing the AF-ON button. That’s where the learning of new habits and mind-finger coordination comes in. You need to learn which back-button focus techniques work for you, and when to use them.
Back-button focus lets you avoid the need to switch from One-Shot AF to Servo AF when your subject begins moving unexpectedly. You retain complete control. It’s great for sports photography when you want to activate autofocus precisely based on the action in front of you. It also works for static shots. You can press and release your designated focus button, and then take a series of shots using the same focus point. Focus will not change until you once again press your defined back button. (See Figure 5.20.)
Want to reframe after focus is achieved? Use back-button focus to zero in focus on that location, then reframe. Focus will not change. Don’t want to miss an important shot at a wedding or on a photojournalism assignment? If you’re set to focus-priority your camera may delay taking a picture until the focus is optimum; in release-priority there may still be a slight delay. With back-button focus you can focus first and wait until the decisive moment to press the shutter release and take your picture. The camera will respond immediately and not bother with focusing at all.
Here are some things to consider when using back-button focus:
The R5 and R6 implement back-button focus slightly differently from some other cameras, because they don’t allow you to assign AF Start (only) to a button like the AF-ON button. When you press AF-ON, the camera focuses and meters. But there’s a way to work around that.
The easiest way to activate back-button focus is to make a quick trip to the Customize Buttons entry in the Custom Functions 3 menu, as described in Chapter 15. Once you’ve activated this feature, you press the shutter release down halfway to lock exposure and press the AF-ON button when you’re ready to autofocus.
Here’s what you need to do:
Alternatively, you can define some other button with the Metering and AF Start function and use that for back-button focus instead if you find it more comfortable to access with your thumb.