Yesterday our friend Melissa Jill wrote a blog post about using back button focus to achieve the sharpest possible images. Because she shoots with Canon equipment, she posted a link to a thread on Open Source Photo that talked about back button focus for Nikon equipment. What’s kinda of funny about that thread is that it all started because we couldn’t figure out how to make this work on our Nikon cameras back in 2007! Wow, things have changed a lot since then! Denise and I have been using back button focus for years now and it has made a huge difference in the way we work.
By separating the act of focusing with taking the actual photo (shutter release), it allows you to choose your focus point, lock it in, and have the ability to recompose your image without refocusing. For all you Nikon users out there, here’s how you can set it up in camera because unfortunately it is not the default setting. These settings should be pretty much the same on the D300 & D700 and possibly the D3 model.
Separate Your Focus & Shutter:
Step 1: Go into your custom settings menu
Step 2: Select A (autofocus)
Step 3: Select A5 (AF Activation)
Step 4: Choose AF-ON only
Now, you can use your AF-ON button to set your focus and the shutter button will only release the shutter. Once your focus is set you can release the AF-ON button and reframe the shot. By separating those two functions, it allows you to be more creative and think outside the box when it comes to composing your images. It also, helps in getting the sharpest possible photos.
Lock Your Center Focus Point:
We also used to manage our focus location by moving the focus points all around with the dial. When your camera has 51 focus points, this method is slow and frustrating. Once we started shooting with back button focus, we locked the focus in the center by turning the lock focus dial to the L position and never touched it again. This part of the set up isn’t required to use back button focus but we have found that it works well for us and simplfies the process even more.
Now you can simply put the subject in the center, lock in the focus, release the button and have the freedom to recompose them in the frame. If any of our fellow “Nikonians” have any other questions about this, feel free to leave us a comment or send us an email. Hope this has been helpful!
NOTE: Based on the comments below, we thought it may be helpful to add a quick note about a few common questions:
1) If you’ve set all of your camera settings as we’ve described above, but you can’t release your shutter, try changing your Focus Priority Selection (Custom Settings, Autofocus). If it’s set to focus priority you will probably have some issues getting things to work right. The priority selection needs to be set to “release” not focus. This will allow your shutter to fire even if the camera doesn’t “think” the shot is in focus. (Menu A2 AF-S priority selection on the Nikon D700)
2) Using back button focus does take a little practice. If you’re images are turning out soft when you release the AF-On button, you may be inadvertently changing the distance between you and your subject. You can only recompose the shot after locking in the focus – if you move too much (take a step forward, lean in closer, etc.) than your focus will need to be locked in again. You have to be mindful of this at first, but knowing how much you can move does become second nature after using it for a while.
3) BBF works in either AF-S or AF-C mode. We shoot in AF-S because we feel like this setting produces more consistent results, but others have said the same about AF-C. We’d suggest that you try both and see what you’re more comfortable with.