Back Button Focus

July 24, 2020  •  Leave a Comment

What is Back Button Focus? Why do we use it? 


View the video transcript below

What is Back Button Focus? Why do we use it?

Hey guys, this is Janine. Thanks for joining me today on the Chobe River. It’s going to be a stunning day. It looks like we got some fantastic cloud formations and today I want to show you how to use back button focus and what it is?

If you do enjoy our videos, please don’t forget to subscribe and press the bell button to get notifications whenever there’s a new video coming out.

So today I want to talk to you about back button focusing. What is it, when is it good to use and why would it be any better than using our front focus?

So, most of the time people focus up here on the top right-hand corner. You press halfway, in order to get focused, and you press full, in order to shoot. Back button focusing simply means that my focus button sits separate from my trigger button. So, I have my focus button – here the on the back of the camera – where my thumb falls naturally when I grip up around this camera, and then I trigger still with the same initial button…the top right button. So, while you press the AF-on button in, you’re busy continuously focusing, and you can track anything that moves around. As soon as you let go, it remembers the last point of focus for you. It is a little bit funny to get used to at the beginning. It’s like swapping from Windows to Mac, or from iPhone to Samsung, but if you give it a good two or three days, it feels like second nature.

If I pick up a camera nowadays, I struggle because I first have to remind myself, please focus on the top.

So why would I use back button focusing?

Well, the number one reason for that is because you can get your two autofocus drives basically combined in one button. In wildlife photography, we most of the time shoot on continuous focusing. With Canon, it would be AI-Servo rather than on one shot…because you want to track our animals, and we want to be able to move alongside, when there’s lots of  movement. That has a disadvantage that we’re going to have to shift our focus point in order to recompose our photograph. And that can take a lot of time, and a lot of time to get used to for quite a few photographers. So, if you have to shift your focus point, sometimes it just takes a while. We have a beautiful blue-cheeked bee-eater over here, and he’s actually a perfect example. I have quite a few reeds in the way, and it becomes difficult to focus. So, there are a few things you can do. If I’m on back button focusing, I can focus on my bird. And if the bird is stationary, and the boat is stationary, I let go and it will keep the focus. It will remember the focus from previously.

As long as none of the two parties is moving. I can now go straight back to him. I’ve just focused on him and actually shoot. He’ll still be in focus, which is phenomenal. So when you have trouble with fishing or your lens searching, because there’s lots of reeds in the way, and it finds it and it falls off, and it finds it and it falls off. I focus once. I let go of the button…and now I can just watch him and wait until he’s in the position. I want him to turn his head towards me. There we go. That I like! Without having to lose the focus all the time, which is really handy. With, respect to shuffling your focus point around, as I mentioned before. As you can see, um, a lot of the cameras have a limited focus point field. Some of them have 64 focus points, some less. Depending on what you shoot, some only have seven. So, you’re quite limited as to where you can position your bird within your screen. If you, and the animal is stationary. In this case, the blue-cheeked bee-eater. I can focus on it. And because it remembers the focus that I took. I cannot recompose my picture without having to shift my focus point. So, I can put him in the bottom right corner. Or, I can put him in the top right corner. Top left corner. Bottom left corner.

All the areas that the focus point can’t even reach. While I would take a tremendous time to shuffle my focus point around. I can now reach through back button focusing. I focus…and I can let go! Without having to switch to AF-S. Or one shot. I stay on AF-C the entire time, because as soon as I let that back button go, it remembers the last focus. Another really handy thing with back button focus, is that if you really have problems with focusing on something –  because there’s a lot of reeds in front – we usually tend to go to manual focus. We have another video on manual focusing. Check out the link in the description below.

It’s with Danielle. She did a great job on that. I don’t have to switch to manual focus anymore. I can just let go…and start manually focusing with my ring, at any given time. …and the reason being is, that when I trigger, I don’t activate my focus button again. So, I can trigger without trying to focus, and therefore, what I do with my manual focus, is completely independent of my trigger. Really handy thing. By the time you stopped to manual focus, usually the situation is over anyway. So, that helps tremendously. The last thing that I really enjoy with back button focusing, is that I can pre-focus. That little blue-cheeked bee-eater that’s sitting there. If I would want to catch him in flight – and he flies towards me – I’ll have no chance. Bee-eaters fly at such a rate, there no way I can actually refocus quick enough throughout the different layers. As it’s a bit cloudy today, I cannot push my f-stop any higher to gain a bigger depth of field. I’m shooting here on and yeah, I’m around 2000 ISO already. I don’t want to go to f/10 or f/11. So I don’t strain my ISO too much. So, if I assume he would fly towards me…maybe the wind is coming from that direction. I would find one of these reeds that’s just about 20 cm in front of the bird…and there’s plenty of that. I focus on it. I let go…and now I wait. The bird looks entirely out of focus at the moment. It looks pretty wrong, but I know if he happens to fly towards me…he’s gonna fly through the point of focus, that I just placed on the read in front of him…and I will have him sharp, despite me probably being too late. That’s how fast they are. Let’s see if he wants to fly. He’s been very patient with us, actually. He’s been sitting there for a good half an hour, so chances that he’s going to take-off right now, are very limited, but you get the concept.

Back button focusing is great, because you can use your trigger independently from your focus. That means, if you’re stationary and the animal is stationary. You can focus. Let go of your focus. It remembers the focus. You can recompose. You can sit there. Wait for something flying, without having to look through your viewfinder the whole time, because you know you’ve set your focus correctly. Just wait for it to fly. You can pre-focus on things and wait for them to fly into your focus. All these things are possible with back button focus. Give it a good two days of continuous shooting. And you will get used to it pretty quickly. Getting used to it as usually the biggest hurdle to overcome. If you want to know how to set your back button focus – both on your Canon, or on a Nikon, please check the videos we have done on setting up a Canon EOS-1D X, and setting up a Nikon D750, and you will see how to do it right there.

I hope you enjoyed this blog.

Have a great day!



No comments posted.

January February March April May June July (2) August (1) September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December