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Focus Modes Explained

by | Learn

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A Sneak Peek Into Camera Focus Modes For Budding Photographers

Whether you’ve just stepped into professional photography or simply want to improve your photography skills, understanding focus modes is vital. While a complete understanding of camera focus modes can upgrade your photography game significantly, not all photographers have taken the time to learn. Here we have different camera focus modes explained to help you start capturing sharper images than ever before and grow as a photographer.

Focus Modes Explained

There are basically two ways photographers can focus when trying to capture an image. They can either use manual focus or rely on the focusing technology of their camera to focus on their desired object.

Both focus modes are very much in use today in professional photography, and you’d want to use them both in different situations. Let’s run you through each of them and try to understand how they work.

Manual Focus

Manual focus allows the photographer to override the autofocus mechanism of their lens. In manual focus mode, you would adjust the focus using the ring on their camera’s lens barrel. With manual focus, you are in total control and can twist the focus ring of the lens to change your point of focus.

Generally, manual focus is a more reliable option as compared to autofocus when you are shooting stills, macro, and architecture or in low-light situations.

How It Works

Manual focus is all about using the distance properly. Your lens’s barrel has distance markers that help you adjust your focus as preferred. You simply have to turn the focus ring (usually around the lens’s front section). When you turn it clockwise, it will focus on the subjects closer to your camera. And if you turn it anticlockwise, the focus will move to distant subjects.


Autofocus automatically focuses the lens on a selected point in the frame or a specified area of the frame.

How It Works

The autofocus sensors of a camera are critical to focusing accurately. These sensors are laid out in different arrays across the image frame. Each of them assesses contrast changes to measure relative focus at its point of reception in the image, with points with maximal contrast corresponding to maximal sharpness.

Here’s how the process usually works:

·   An autofocus processor slightly changes the focus distance

·   The processor then reads the autofocus sensor for assessing any improvement in focus

·   With this information, it changes focusing distance again

·   The steps above are repeated iteratively until it achieves satisfactory focus

A fraction of a second is required to complete the entire process, and you get crisp, accurate images.

The Common Autofocus Modes

While most photographers use autofocus to make life easier and let the camera decide what to focus on in an image, there are different autofocus modes available to choose from. It is important that you choose the right autofocus mode to get the desired results. Below are some common autofocus modes explained.

Single Shot

Single shot mode locks the camera focus on the subject you want to capture. When in Single Shot autofocus mode, the camera automatically focuses on the subject in the image when the shutter release button is pressed halfway. It doesn’t make any continuous adjustments afterward, making it a great choice when capturing still subjects.

Zone / Area

The Zone/Area mode provides you with a range of points centered around a specific area. You would then need to select the area of the image you want in focus. The autofocus processor will then adjust the lens focus to ensure everything in the selected area is in perfect focus.


Spot mode gives you a small, precise area to focus on in the frame. It is ideal when you have obstructions between your camera and the subject you want to capture, or if you have a specific part of the subject you intend to focus on.


Servo, or Continuous autofocus mode is the best option when shooting moving objects. With the focus point selected, the camera continuously tracks the moving subject within the selected frame.

3D Tracking

The 3D tracking focus shifts the point of focus automatically to follow the subject’s movement. As you press the shutter release halfway, you will notice in the viewfinder that the lens keeps focusing on the subject as it moves.


Hybrid autofocus mode is for situations when you are not sure whether you should choose continuous or single autofocus mode. In this mode, the camera automatically switches to ‘continuous focus’ when it detects the subject is moving. Once the subject stops moving, it switches back to the single autofocus mode.


When using wide autofocus, your entire screen is in focus, and the subject can be anywhere. If you want the entire frame in focus, you should use the wide autofocus mode. In this mode, the camera selects the closest object, one in the middle of the frame, or determines if there is a face to focus on. 

Generally, the choice of the autofocus mode depends, primarily, on your subject’s movement and the lighting conditions. In the most challenging situations, the Hybrid Autofocus would be your best bet. But you can always choose your focus based on the focus modes explained above.

That’s it from us this week. Keep an eye on our Facebook and Instagram social channels for updates next week, and be sure to subscribe to our exclusive newsletter for bi-weekly updates.

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