Which AF Mode Should I Use?

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Your camera has many functions to master, and at times it could seem as complicated as flying a helicopter or putting together an Ikea furniture piece. We recommend learning the main functions by practicing until you find what works best for your photography style and becoming familiar with the settings so they become second nature – just like riding a bike!

This photography blog post will look at the AF modes and drive modes on your camera.

What Is AF Mode?

AF Mode means autofocus mode. Different focus settings suit certain situations better than others.

For example, single-shot mode, which you can find on Canon, Nikon, and Sony, takes only one shot when you press the shutter release, while other modes will take multiple or continuous shots. Single-shot is good for still-life photography or objects that aren't moving. Al Servo for Canon users is better for moving subject matter.

The continuous-servo autofocus system can track your subject. If you are trying to take a photo of your kitten bouncing around the room, this setting could help you nail the shot. Or maybe you are photographing young children who rarely stay still for long. On Nikon and Sony cameras, the same function is called AF-C (auto focus-continuous) mode. When you press the shutter release and hold it down, the camera will continue tracking the subject while taking continuous shots. You can think of this setting as burst mode. During the editing process, you can go through the images and find the one that looks the best.

You can also use manual mode to have complete control over your camera. If you are shooting in low light and feel your camera is struggling to focus on the subject you are shooting, you might switch to manual mode. 

If you use single-shot mode on fast-moving subjects like animals or sports, you are likely to get a collection of unwanted blurry shots. Changing to al servo or continuous mode will ensure more sharp images, and hopefully, you can capture the great shot you envisage. While many issues can be corrected in Lightroom or Photoshop during the editing process, technology hasn't been able to correct blurry photos yet. Slightly out-of-focus images can be improved by downsizing, but if you have clients who want to print or enlarge your image, it won't be acceptable. So the best way is to shoot using a mode that will get the most out of your camera and your creative eye. Of course, there are times when creative blur is the goal, but most of the time, we are aiming for a pin-sharp focus on the main subject.

Many cameras have a low and high setting for continuous shooting. Save the highest setting for the fastest moving subjects like sports photography and use the slower settings for moving objects that are not too fast, lifestyle portraits of people working, for example. Only use continuous shooting modes when you need them. They take up a lot of memory card space and use up your battery faster. Also, you don't want to unnecessarily increase your editing time by having heaps of images to cull.

Different Drive Modes

You can use the drive mode button and your LCD monitor on your camera to change the settings. Some other modes your camera might have are self-timer, mirror lock-up and auto-exposure bracketing mode.

When you set the self-timer drive mode, your camera will give you time before the shutter is released. It is often used for selfies or when the photographer wants to be included in the shot. Most cameras allow 5-10 seconds and some offer flexible time settings. It can also be used as a substitute for a remote release to decrease camera shake if you are shooting in low light or with as low shutter speed.

The mirror lock-up mode is designed to reduce camera shake. You may have to search for it in your main menu if you can't see it under the main drive mode settings. On this mode, your camera will take the photo after the mirror has lifted and is favored by photographers taking landscape, macro, still life and nighttime imagery which needs longer shutter speeds. When the mirror is lifted first, it reduced the chance of vibration, which can result in camera shake and blurred images. Usually, you would also use a tripod and remote release or the self-timer mode. 

Many camera brands, including Nikon, have an exposure delay mode also which gives similar results.

Your camera's auto-exposure bracketing mode is another handy setting. This lets you take a series of images with varying settings so you can choose the best one during the editing stage. If the light is changing rapidly or you are uncertain which setting is best, this function can be great. Take an educated guess at the setting that is best, and your camera will take images on either side of that setting which maybe turns out better. Experiment with this setting that can cover all your bases and see what a difference it can make to your work.

Auto-focus systems are getting more advanced and precise as technology constantly improves. Even cheap cameras are capable of achieving impressive results if the user knows how to operate the functions to their maximum potential.

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Practice Makes Perfect

You don't need to know every single function your camera is capable of. Not many photographers use all the functions that are mentioned in that long camera manual. A professional photographer who used Canon all their life might pick up a Sony and feel lost with the functions that aren't familiar. Like when you drive someone else's car and spend five minutes trying to find how to move the seat back.

Today you learned all about AF mode and drive modes, so now you can try out the different settings and master them before we chat again to learn about another important function that we use during almost every photo shoot. Practice as often as you can and don't hesitate to experiment as photography is a constant learning curve for every single photographer, from beginners to professionals.

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