Back Button Focusing – Easier than you think!

Great photography tip on back button focusing for sharper photos

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One of the most frequent questions I have received in the last month has been about back button focus and how to use it on Canon and Nikon DSLR cameras.  In this article you'll learn what back button focusing is, and how to back button focus for Canon and Nikon cameras.

What is back button focusing?

The camera usually focuses when the shutter button is pressed half way down, and then the photographer takes the picture when the button is pressed in fully.  Back button autfocus makes it so the shutter button doesn't control the focus activation at all, but instead assigns another button on the back of the camera (hence the name) to activate focusing on the camera.

What is the purpose of back button focus?

The best way to explain the benefits of back button focusing is through two examples.

Example number one

First, suppose you are shooting portraits.  The person who you are shooting is standing still and you want to take several different shots of the person.  You take your first shot, and then change your composition and need to move your focus point to be on the person's eye.  If your camera has 40+ focus points like many DSLRs do, you have to use the four-way selector to tediously move the focus point to the correct spot, focus, and then take the photo.  How annoying!

You can use back button focusing to solve this problem because the distance between the photographer and the subject stays the same between both shots, but the composition changes.  With back button focusing, the photographer activates focus for the first shot, and then is able to recompose infinite times as long as the distance between the camera and the subject remains exactly the same.

You'll note that there are other ways to solve this problem, such as focus and recompose (equally tedious, but sometimes it's your best bet), or holding the AF-L, AE-L button, but that is just plain annoying.  Back button focusing is superior in this instance as long as the photographer is careful not to change the distance between the camera and the subject (which would throw off the focus) when using shallow depth-of-field.

Example number two

While I was shooting wildlife in Yellowstone earlier this year (read about that trip here), I came amazingly close to a pack of wolves one morning (well, close as in it filled the frame with a giant 800mm lens… I wasn't THAT close…)  and I shot as fast and furious as possible as the famous Alpha 06 wolf played in the snow in front of me.

Just as I was shooting madly, another photographer scooted too close in front of me and my 800mm lens began to focus on the photographer's shoulder!  Focus on such a long lens can be somewhat slow, and by the time I readjusted my heavy tripod and lens, the wolf was running away and all I got was butt shots.

In the same situation, back button focus could have saved me.  When the photographer's shoulder appeared in the frame, my focus would have been locked on the wolf still and I could have shot to the side of the photographer and still got sharp shots as soon as I shewed him out of the frame.  Instead, I had to find focus again in low light with a plain white field of snow in front of me (meaning focus was tough to acquire).

Tutorial: Back Button Focus for Canon

Canon was the first camera manufacturer to implement back button focus in 1989 and has put the feature in all DSLR models made in the last 8 or 9 years (yes, even the Canon Rebel XT and XTi).

In the Canon camera menu, you'll look for an option called “Shutter/AE Lock Button” and then in that menu you'll see a whole host of options.  The one you're looking for is called “Metering Start / Meter + AF Start.”  Could they have possibly made that any more confusing for us photographers?  No… I think not.

The following is a cheat sheet from the Canon Learning center where you'll find the menu option on your Canon camera to set up back button focus.  If your camera isn't listed here, just poke around a bit and I'm sure you'll find it easy enough.

EOS Rebel T3: C.Fn 7 (option 1 or 3)
EOS Rebel T3i: C.Fn 9 (option 1 or 3)
EOS 50D: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)
EOS 60D: C.Fn IV-1 (option 1, 2, 3, or 4)
EOS 7D: C.Fn IV-1 (Custom Controls — Shutter, AF-ON, AEL buttons)
EOS 5D Mark II: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)
EOS-1Ds Mark III: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)
EOS-1D Mark IV: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)

More advanced Canon cameras have a dedicated button on the back of the camera that will be the button used to activate the focus on the camera, and other Canon cameras (such as Canon Rebels, Canon 60D, etc) will use the AF-L, AE-L button as the button that will activate focus after this option is selected.

how to back button focus your DSLR camera

Some advanced cameras (for both Canon and Nikon) like the 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 have a dedicated button for AF-On. Other cameras (like a D7000 or a Canon Rebel) allow the photographer to program the AE-L, AF-L button to work for back button focusing.

Tutorial: Back Button Focus for Nikon

On a Nikon camera, it is a bit easier to set up back button focusing than it is on a Canon, but you still have to know exactly what to look for.

There are dozens and dozens of Nikon model DSLR cameras, so I can't go through each of them, but if you follow one of the tutorials below for a similar camera to your model, I'm sure you'll get it set up easy enough.

Back Button Focus on a Nikon D7000

1) You need to assign the AE-L, AF-L button (yes, that button that you've never used before and always wondered what it does) on the back of the camera to be AF-On. To do this, go to your camera menu and look in the custom setting menu (the pencil).  In the custom setting menu, go to Controls, and then choose F5 “Assign AE-L/AF-L button.”  Within this menu, choose “AF-On.”
2) Now you need to set up the camera so it will take a picture even when focus has not been achieved.  This is preferable in most situations because you may have focused and recomposed the shot.  To do this, go to your Custom Setting Menu and choose Autofocus.  Within this menu, select A1 “AF-C priority selection” and set it to “release.”  Then set AF-S priority selection to “release” as well.

Back Button Focus on a Nikon D3100, D3200, or a D5100

Check out this video tutorial that explains step-by-step how to do it.

Should all photographers use back button focus?

Definitely not!  If you're not yet 100% comfortable with operating your camera or if you don't quite understand how focus works, then head for the hills, hide yourself in the corner, and grab a teddy bear for protection.  Back button focusing will only make using your camera more complicated–which is why camera manufacturers for decades have used the half-press shutter method of focusing.

If, however, you're a confident photographer and you're ready to try an advanced technique that can definitely improve your focus in some situations, then meet back button focus.

I thought back focus was a bad thing!

Back focus and back button focusing are two very different things.  Back focus is when the lens focuses behind the intended target, and back button focusing is a technique used by advanced photographers to focus by separating the focus and shutter activation of the shutter button.

Before you run off, I want to share with you some of my very best Youtube videos.  These are all on-location videos where you can see how I'm using the color in sunsets, choosing my compositions, etc.  Enjoy, and don't forget to hit subscribe so you can see my future Youtube vids!

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  1. Hi

    Another great tip and article – as I am a NIKON D7000 owner, I will try this for sure!

    Thanks, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

    1. hi there! I’ve been using canon 7d for 4 years already and I really loved it’s double AF point back button feature. That means that you can assign a certain AF point to focus on when you press the (*) button and the other regular AF point that you can change anytime is activated when you press the AF-ON button. for example, you want to focus the upper right most AF point, just press the (*) button. and if you want to focus the upper left most AF point, just press the AF-ON button which is really a great and fast thing to do when you frequently shift from one AF point to the other that you used most of the time. is this feature also available in Canon 5D Mark II? am asking this because i bought my friend’s 5d mkii but i can’t find the feature i mentioned above. back button focusing in 5d mkii still possible but with only one settable AF point. is it possible to have 2 AF points instead?

  2. Couldn’t you just leave your camera on manual focus? Is there an advantage of using this technique over manual focus?

    1. Manual focus has nothing whatsoever to do with this. This is how to set with auto focus pre-shot using the built in focusing mechanism.

      1. Not necessarily true. With many AF cameras, you can set the camera (via S/C/M button) to manual focus but use the back-button AFL to auto focus while in manual focus mode. If you need to use the half-shutter autofocus (like handing your camera to a stranger), just take it off manual to single-servo mode.

  3. In answer to Ren. If you use back button focus you can leave your finger on the focus button when in servo mode and it’ll automatically tracks the subject but if you take your finger off you then have instant manual focus. Also if you’re doing macro work you can just focus with the lens and not have two keep changing your camera from autofocuse to manual focus.

  4. Great aarticle! Thanks for the cheatsheet on setting Nikon aand Canon cameras for this feature. I tell all my students about this focusing option. I set my wife’s camera to use the AF-ON button, she gets less photos of branches. She feels like she has much better control. See I am right once in a while!

  5. I’ve been using this approach for a while now, and I find that it is very convenient.

    I set the AE-L/AF-L button as you suggested, and leave focus on Continuous focus. As long as I have the button pressed it focuses, when I release it it stops.

  6. Ohhhhh, thank you so much! I have been reading about back focusing but couldn’t figure it out on my d7000! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  7. great article.. would you know if sony cameras have this feature ( I own the A-350) thanks 🙂

  8. Very timely article. I’ve switched to back-button focus lately but really have not figured out the options for the button, and the manual says practically nothing. I don’t know the difference between:

    Metering Start
    Meter & AF Start

    My understanding is I should be able to use the shutter-halfway-down for metering, and the AF-ON button for focusing only. But I don’t see anything that looks like focusing only. Help?

  9. Wow! that’s a really very intersting article.
    I always wonder what that button do but I never figure out. I can’t wait to use the back-button.
    Thank you very much for such a good article!

  10. i guess, its now almost an year I switched to back button focusing on my Canon 500D, now I don’t feel like returning to normal focusing by any chance. Of course in the start it took me quit a deal to get used to it, but I always thought of the advantages of clear focus when I felt returning to old ways. Now I m really used to it, its fun to use, feels like pro and plus your images come tack sharp focused.

    there is one more advantage in this type of focusing, you can set the focus in a group shoot and ask someone else to take the camera and click without worrying about the focus, bcoz its already set.

    anyone who has used a decent DSLR camera at-least for some time I would suggest to give back button focusing a try…

  11. Author

    @Nepali – Did you try it using the Nikon D7000 directions? The menus are almost identical for those models.

  12. It doesn’t feel very comfortable for me as a left-eye shooter. :/

  13. Thanks for this article, Jim.

    Can you or someone comment on the issue of losing the focus when doing a focus-and-recompose (like you mention in example 1) like you are suggesting? Is that only an issue with shallow DOF and/or smaller focal lengths?

  14. I have a canon 60d, so does that mean that i only have tp press the af on on the back od my camera and as long as i do not change positions or move fart her away, it will always stay focuswd on the subject, thanks so much for the info. I live in the far north and often tumes there are animals, sometimes they will get behind buildings or trees and i have to focus again. Thanks

  15. I think I’m just not cut out for back button focus. I tried it for a few months and it felt awkward the entire time. I switched back and was much happier. I just do snapshots anyway-I am comfortable with my camera but I’m still a terrible photographer so bbf didn’t really help me.

  16. It’s definitely out of my comfort zone, but I think this article has convinced me to try it for awhile. After all, if I’m not willing to try new things, I’m not growing as a photographer or as an artist, right?

    Thanks for the gentle nudge, Jim.

  17. 3 Things,

    Once I became adjusted to using the AF button rather than the 1/2 press for focussing I fell in love with it and couldn’t imagine going back.

    One draw back is handing your camera off to someone else unfamiliar with this set up, if you forget to change the settings then you get a bunch of OOF pictures and a confused photographer.

    Jim, why don’t you get back to me about coming on the Camera Campus? 🙂

  18. I applaud you for highlighting some features of using the AF-on button to focus. I am a big fan. Thank you.

    But I have a question. You mention it is easier to set up on a Nikon, then detail nearly the exact same process as on a Canon. Why would you suggest it is easier? I know on the 5DmIII it took me a few seconds to enable. Other cameras couldn’t have been much longer, though I can’t recall back that far.

    Also you don’t comment on, what I believe to be, the single best reason for back button focusing. So that you can use AI-servo (or continuous focus for Nikonians) when you hold the button down but have focus locked if you let go. I.e. you get the effect of single shot focus once you let go of the button, but holding it down gives you full focus tracking. This way you never have to choose between the different focus modes (unless you shoot canon and use flash and want that red AF assist grid, but that is another story).

    Also, you allude to it but don’t quite nail it down, the other killer feature is that once you set focus and take your finger off the AF-on or * button (whatever its set to use) you don’t have to focus on every single shot anymore thus speeding up multi shot scenarios, low light shooting, tricky focus scenarios, etc. Not having to worry about focus changing every time you touch the shutter is a huge plus in my book.

    Again thanks for the intro into back button focus.

  19. I discovered back button focus from Thom Hogan’s D700 tome,and love it. I’m intrigued by Matt’s comments on using it with Continuous Focus—could you elaborate? thanks.

  20. Ahh ha!! This could help explain why I´m having OOF issues. I have a Canon Mark II and am new at this….

    How do I know if the AF-ON function is activated or not? When I press the button nothing seems to change and I don´t see any indiacators on display panels. I have the feeling that it´s on though as my shots have been out of focus these last few days.

    Any help/info would be greatly appreciated.

  21. Back button focusing has saved so many images since I started using it years ago from bad focus errors for me. I recommend this whenever bad focusing is brought up especially when zoom lenses are used.

  22. Help I have a 450D (prequel too 600D) do i have these options, Ive been trawlling my cameras functions, but no joy. Thanks

  23. Any advice for a cannon powershot sx30is user? I’m still learning the camera. Not a techical person at all.

  24. In answer to Debbie and following up on what Matt says Continuous Focus is the way to go. It’s amazing. Not only is your focus on the back button, seperated from your shoot button, but when you press the back button to focus and let go it stays focused on that spot no matter what you do with your shoot button, which only controls exposure. So, you can recompose whatever way you want, including keeping the exposure the same by holding the shoot button half way – not both exposure and focus together – big advantage. Excellent for stills, portraiture, landscapes.
    And better still, if you keep your thumb pressed down on the back button you bring in continuous focus for that pack of wolves that just shows up, and you can keep shooting knowing that exposure is looked after.
    And finally, if that’s not enough, the camera will shoot even if it’s not perfectly focused, because it’s not dependent on focus. So in poor light or action situations the camera will keep shooting and not stop on you. It’s the only way to shoot. I can’t believe anyone would do it any other way.
    On my Nikon you need to go into the menu to AE-L/AF-L and set AF on, and then AE Lock set Release Button on and finally Autofocus AF-C. That’s it – a whole new world opens up and you will never go back. Hope that helps.

    1. I agree, Woody. I shot 500+ photos with an 80-400 zoom at a regatta yesterday. It was windy and wavy and, using AF-C, almost every shot was perfectly focused. This was the first time I ever used that feature . . . and I’m ecstatic!

  25. Just a followup. I’ve been using back button focusing for a month now (my daughter even learned how to do it – my wife…not so much) and I think I’m hooked. No- I’ll own it… I’m hooked. I’m amazed at the speed at which I was able to pick it up and how much more crisp my images are now. I’ve shot two newborn shoots since then using back button focusing and it made things SO much easier.

    Thanks again, Jim.

      1. Ciao friends, I took few images on canon …. and on the setting P, i was able to view the images on the camera… and when transferred to PC, I am unable to view on any photo viewers, and on the camera it is the same now… shows “unable to playback image:’…… could you please advise… the pics are so precious to me, thanks

  26. Your info about back button focus is awesome. What a time saver! Many Thanks!

  27. Great info. Found you on pininterest. Always looking to improve.

  28. Yay! I finally got comfortable with that arrangement. AI Servo + Back button focus means I can actually take a breath and compose a shot when time permits, and track a pack of wild children when needed. Thanks.

  29. Thank you! And I thought I’d read my manual inside and out. I think I just didn’t know about back-button focusing until this good description and video. My first trip to this site and it’s great. (Even though feed burner won’t let me subscribe….)

  30. I read about back button focusing a while back but never really tried it. I currently have a Canon 40D with the AF-On button so I’ll be giving it the old college try on my next outing! 🙂

  31. No captioning on the video. Five minutes of massaging the camera and I can’t figure out how to set the button for my D3100. Not everyone who photographs has working ears.

  32. Jim

    excellent article, it is the way that I focus, 98% of the time, except when I am using manual focus. I teach this to Mike disciplines in my workshops. It really makes a difference.

  33. So I have a Canon 5d Mark II and it has the AF-ON. So do I hold down this button and focus and then just click the shutter???? Do I have to use the menu option also????

  34. This sounds very interesting. I’ll definitely try it. But I guess it wouldn’t work for shooting sports, where your subject is continually moving and you want to use the AF-C focusing mode.

  35. I’ve been using the back button on Olympus DSLRs for years. Combining back button focus with selecting focus points gives incredible control of focus.

  36. I love back button focusing. It lets you lock in and then recompose. awesome!

  37. I can`t understand it when you say : 2)”Now you need to set up the camera so it will take a picture even when focus has not been achieved. This is preferable in most situations because you may have focused and recomposed the shot. To do this, go to your Custom Setting Menu and choose Autofocus. Within this menu, select A1 “AF-C priority selection” and set it to “release.” Then set AF-S priority selection to “release” as well.”
    Surely if you have focussed on whatever and immediately released the back button and then recomposed the initial focus would be locked in. Is this not so or am I missing something here?

  38. Thanks so much for your article! I read about using the back button to focus a little while ago, and I did my first shoot today in a primary school on their sports day, so lots of action to capture, and lots of practice with the back focus button. Your article has confirmed that I was doing the right thing, and the photos turned out good. I understand this better now. I’m using a Canon 60D. Thanks again

  39. Awesome article Jim. I’ve owned the Canon Xti for three years and never realized. Thanks for the great info and I’m sure it’ll be handy for next weeks wedding.

  40. Rosemary

    Thanks Jim,

    Got to the back button process . . . I’m not sure I’ve reset my defaults. How do I reset to defaults?

  41. Hi, I am looking for the bbf option on my t2i and I found the ae/af lock but not “Metering Start / Meter + AF Start.”. can you help?

  42. Jim – I use the BBF quite often now. You have omitted to mention that in BBF mode the shutter release does the metering only. But BBFing on one point and recomposing may result in a different metering to that on the point of focus. So when time is my side, I note the meter settings on my point of focus,switch to manual exposure and maintain the meter values, recompose and shoot. Am I talking sense? I am 2.5 yrs beginner.
    Best Regards from Mauritius.

  43. Anyone know if back-button focus on a Nikon D3200 affect all modes or only the PSAM modes? Hoping it still keeps shutter focus active on Auto mode since that way I can give it to others to still act as their p&s does. Will try it out this weekend.

  44. I have a Sony a500 any tips on back button focusing or anything else I should know that my camera has hiding?

  45. This is very interesting but I would think this would only be good using say a F/8 or higher setting. You already said using a low F-stop can be in or out of focus with in an inch. By the time they change position it would not take much to move an inch right? Especially with portraits where you really need the eyes in focus.

  46. thank ……
    i do not have word ….

  47. Assuming the AF lens has MF override, would back button focusing be the same as just flicking the AF switch off on the lens before pressing the shutter button again? Pros/Cons?

  48. Awesome. I love this feature. On my d5000 it seems to have protection built in so if I recompose with a shallow depth of field, it won’t allow the shot. (I’m assuming the rangefinder is responsible) Preventing me from firing off a series of out of focus shots. Great info. Thanks.

  49. I just used your instructions on my new D7000 to set up back button focusing. I always had my (now dead) D200 set up like this and was having trouble getting it set up on the D7000. I followed your instructions but the camera was still stopping me from taking a photo when the centre was out-of-focus.

    I discovered that the auto-focus also needs to be set to AF-S or AF-C, and not the default AF-A. At least on my new D7000, AF-A prevents me from taking a photo with back button focusing then reframing.

  50. Help!! I have a Canon t1i and cant find this feature. I have read everything!! All articles I find says it should be there but I am not finding it!! Help! Please 🙂 Thank you!

  51. I’m with Fredo, why not just switch the lens from AF to MF once you’ve acquired the target. I don’t see why that wouldn’t do the exact same thing, plus you don’t have to keep your finger on the button.

  52. Funny, I was Sep/Oct in Yellowstone and had the same experience with a person coming into my view while shooting a bison herd. I know I should have read the manual better, so thank you so much for this great tip !!!! Your first email already made it worth to have subscribed!!!

  53. I started using back focusing not to long ago, but it’s what I always use now on all my shoots. I started using it when I was in Aruba and found myself missing out on some key photos because of automatic focusing. I knew about back focusing but just never used it. Well, to speed up my response time to grab photos I started using the back focus and was hooked immediately. Once you focus you can rattle off a lot of photos without the AF interfering.

  54. I disagree. Why change the AF-C and AF-S to release? I do not want out of focus images as a result of recomposing. I merely press the back focus button again if I recompose. If I miss the shot because this take a second or two to refocus–oh well. Please correct me if I am missing something because I respect your advice.

    1. @Patrick: I think you did not get the full meaning of the use of “independent” shutter actuation – it is suitable in cases where you have recomposed the scene so that some OTHER spot is in a focus now (and you want to keep it like that, and not being restrained from shooting), while the previous spot (“still kept in a camera’s memory) is slightly out of focus (which does not matter, because it needn’t be).

  55. Just thought I would throw this out there, BBF does allow for more flexibility and also keeps you from accidentally hitting the half-shutter and having to refocus, but also keep in mind(if this hasn’t been stated earlier) that on some lenses, when BBF(AF-On) is selected, it will not allow the VR/VC to work at all, as is the case on my 18-200mm VR. Also, remember that if it does work, the shutter still needs to be half pressed to engage the VR on most lenses/bodies.

  56. In your article, you say, “You can use back button focusing to solve this problem because the distance between the photographer and the subject stays the same between both shots, but the composition changes. With back button focusing, the photographer activates focus for the first shot, and then is able to recompose infinite times as long as the distance between the camera and the subject remains exactly the same.”

    Let say if you are shooting with a fast prime indoor/outdoor with aperture wide opened at F/1.4 or F/1.8. The DOF will probably be probably be really really thin. How can you “recompose infinite times” or a couple of times without changing the distance between the camera and the subject, since a slight movement will likely push the object out of the DOF? Thank you for any explanation!

  57. Back focusing is useful in situations where something or someone passes between you and your subject as might happen in a game. Your auto-focus won’t try to refocus on the passing person or thing.

  58. I am curious as to if you need to hold the back focus button the whole time or if you just press it once and then if you move around it will still keep the same focus??? or how exactly does this work??

    1. You just press it once and it locks the focus point but will allow you to re compose. Example: I have a child who I want to focus on the eye but i also want to re compose to have the child off center in the frame. By pressing my bbf on the eye it locks that focus point and then i can re compose my shot to be off center but the eye (the most important focal point) is still sharp. Hope that helps.

  59. Jess,

    Once you pressed the Back Focusing Button, the camera will do the smart metering calculation, get you the desire exposure and focus, just like web you half pressed the shutter button, then you should be happily firing the shot away (Provided you do multiple shot on a same subject like panning). There is no much benefits of using the back focusing button if you just want to take single photo, apart from protecting your shutter button.

    Yes, you have to keep holding the back focusing button to get your target lock in focus. Once you release, the camera will have to search for new focusing point. Hope this explain.

  60. ounce a camera autofocuses, doesn’t it stay in focus as long as the distance remains the same wether using back button or shutter button?

  61. Still trying to understand if this a technique I really want to use. 1) If you change your camera to back button focus, do you always use that for your focus? There is no focus ability on the shutter button? 2) Is this designed to be used with continuous servo AF? I guess I still don’t see the benefit.

  62. hmmmm…I thought I was already “back button focusing”. I use the “AF-On” button on the back of my 40D. Rarely the shutter button.
    I never set anything in the menu for it though.

  63. Thanks for clarifying this. I’ve had issues with my 5300 and I’m thinking this may be related, wondering if someone activated the back button focus by accident (including me 🙂 ) thanks

  64. Love your podcasts, websites, tips, and videos… Wondering if I will ever get this down. A newbie. Nomenclature is still an issue, but I am getting better. I am still trying to figure out how to pick the right lens for the picture.

  65. Hi, been using BBF since I read this article recently. I love it! However, this morning I was doing the stills on a TV shoot, and the talent was walking towards the camera (Nikon D800). I couldn’t change back to shutter button focus quickly, so had to thumb focus then shoot, thumb then shoot. It was awkward. I need to learn how to reset the the shutter button focus quickly! But as for everything else, I find it intuitive. Like in the old days when you manually focused, then composed and then shot. Really has changed the way I shoot (for the better!) Thanks.

    1. Mike, set your focus mode to AF-C instead of AF-S. As long as you hold the button down the comera will continue to focus.

  66. Me again. By setting the AF to continuous, seems I have solved that issue. Now I can just hold the back button down and shoot. Should have read the instructions more carefully. Wish I had known that this morning!

  67. It’s very hard to BBF with arthritic hands. I went to a Nikonian Seminar and learned this technique, but have had to revert.

  68. Can you tell me what the process is for back button focusing for Sony cameras?

    I believe they have them but do not know the steps to implement. many thanks, va

  69. Started using back button focusing a week ago and won’t be going back. Love it!

  70. I’ve been using back button focus for about 2 months. A friend explained it to me and now I’m hooked. Love it. It makes life so much easier.

  71. I thank God for some video I saw on Youtube that explained back button focusing to me many months ago. Bottom line: couldn’t live without it (couldn’t enjoy photography without it)! Can’t get my daughter interested in it…hard to take advice from dad.

  72. Hi any body could tell me how to act the af-on button on the canon 5d my iii? I tried it but it won’t work.


  73. You guys are probably going to think I’m a jerk but, if you don’t understand how this works or understand the benefits, you should probably pass on it until you’re more experienced. Also, some of you are answering other people’s questions incorrectly.

  74. I am interested in photography and I have a Cannon EOS-350D,for some years. I am a learner. Your article is interesting but incomplete.
    1. I have got 2 small buttons just behind the on & off switch. One has the * mark and the other has a mark that is not possible to create here. Which one of these is “Back Button”.
    2. When exactly do I use this back button? How many times do I press it? and when do I press it?
    This will help me. Be kind enough to explain this to me, if you have tiem.

  75. Hi! I’m really trying to learn this technique as I was told that it is great for wedding photography (example…the kiss) so that you can continuously shoot without losing focus. So, I would love to know, how do I go back (QUICKLY)after using BBF? Do I have to change my menu settings back to what they were? I changed my menu settings like the tutorial says to and the the BBF works, however, once I BBF, my camera will not focus normally when I press down on the shutter halfway. HELP!

  76. I’ve been shoot using BBF for just over 9 months now and would go back to using the shutter button, sharpness in my images have also increased 10 fold.

  77. hi Jim,

    Thanks for the fantastic write up on back button focusing.I’ve a question which I hope you are able to advise. To use bbf, meter, recompose and take a shot on a tripod how should one do it? I shoot Canon and I’m using only center AF point. I typically shoot AV.

    1.So first, with cam on tripod but not tighten, I’ll bbf on the object with center AF.

    2.Then meter (could be different from focused object) with half press shutter also with center AF.

    3.Recompose my shot, still holding shutter half pressed.

    4.After recompose, tighten tripod, still half pressing shutter.

    5.Once tripod tighten, finally then taking the shot.

    There’s so many steps, would there be a more finesse way? Many thanks in advance!!

  78. If you’re a Nikon shooter, some Nikons have Quick User Profiles on the dials. I use a D7000 and I have U1, U2 on my dial. What I usually do is have one of those User-saved settings as BBF and all the rest as Automatic.

  79. I av problem of understanding back boton on my D90 nikon for me to get a better sharpness .need your advice.

  80. I have been using the bbf for a while, and really like it with the exception of one problem. I have a Nikon D7100 and when in bbf mode, it seems that I cannot use the four way button to choose my focus point. Is there something that I am missing in the set up? I have used the AE-L/AF-L button for the bbf, but it appears to deactivate the focus point chooser. Any thoughts?

  81. I’m a new photographer too but he makes it clear in the video. Once you have it selected through the settings, the half-press auto-focus on the shutter button is disabled. You’ll have to use the back button to auto-focus for every shot until you reset the settings back to how it was.

  82. If I understand you correctly you are almost totally right, however the camera stays focused until the subject to camera distance changes, and when it changes you have to use the BBF button again to achieve focus. If the subject to camera does not change you can continue to take pictures as long as you need .I use this for taking Sunsets on a tripod until I move the camera, at which time I refocus and keep shooting. Good Luck

  83. Michele… Set up the BBF and any other settings and save it to a Custom User Setting like C1 for example. Then change the menu option back for Shutter Focus… leave everything else the same and save to Custome User Setting C2. Thenits easy to flick back and forth between the two… just moce the dial to C1 or C2 as the case may be. Hope that helps.

  84. I have just tried it and it worked for me in (P-S-A-M)
    modes, but when I changed to auto it stropped working , hope this helps
    Cheers and keep clicking

  85. Great article, thanks for posting. BBF is certainly an excellent aid in certain circumstances. I’d likely use all the time except for the one thing not mentioned… whether or not you are right or left-eye dominant. For those of us who are left-eye dominant, using the AE-L/AF-L button on a D7000 is pretty inconvenient – when shooting with left eye over viewfinder, using the button means tilting camera away from face to be able to reach it. I’ve tried shooting with right eye and BBF becomes a cinch but it also feels unnatural. Not sure whether this is an issue on other Nikons (or non-Nikons) but it’s one of my few frustrations with my D7000.

  86. Jim, great article! I tried it but I have an issue w/ the focus moving around like crazy. It does not stay in one place…how do I get it to stop moving? I’ve set the AF-C to release but I’m annoyed that the focus point doesn’t stay still…I have a Nikon D600 w/a 24-70mm lens…Thanks

  87. I agree, terrible for left eyed shooters on a D7000. and as far as i’m aware only button available for the AF-ON option

  88. Nathan, I had the same issue with my d4,so I tried turning my head slightly to the right and found that it gave me a little more space ,look through the view finder from left corner of your eye. It works for me. Good Luck.

  89. I’m thinking about setting the back focus button on my t3i. My question is if I set the back focus button and then decide that I don’t like it will I be able to default back to using the shutter button to lock in focus again?

  90. Using BBF you are also able to combine single shot focus and AI Servo (“Continuous” on Nikon) focus on one button. Hold and release for single shot, or hold it down for AI Servo. BBF also gives you full time manual focus with the lens ring, provided you disable AF on the half-press of the shutter button.

  91. I agree with the difficulty of using BBF for left eye dominant people! I wish we had another option!! But I also have a question…do you have to maintain your hold on the BBF button or just press it and release?

  92. When using BBF, what happens to metering? Is it still with the shutter button or it goes with the Back button?

  93. Hi Tammy
    What focus point selection mode do you have? YOu should set it to single point, not the auto method where the camera chooses the point.


  94. I’ve been using BFF on my 60D for about a month and love it. I just want to point out if you’re going to use your remote trigger be sure to switch back to allow focus at the shutter button or you won’t be able to control the focus with the remote. Took me awhile to figure that one out :/

  95. Great article. I tried your option BBF and use it on my Nikon D700 and the Nikon D7000. On the D7000 however I find it difficult to use in the portrait stand. The button there is hard to reach.
    Is that just me or are there more people who have difficulties with the BBF on de D7000?

  96. I started using bbf a few moths ago and found it useful. went back to shutter release button method afterward and it now seems annoying to use shutter release button. I am again using bbf. I haven’t had any problems reaching the back button on my d7000 but maybe it is a difference in finger length or hand size?

  97. I have a question about BBF on Nikon when using a remote shutter release. In another article on t he subject, there was a caveat that one needed to restore shutter-based focusing in order to use remote shutter release and the MUP mode. In this mode, could I not simply focus using the re-assigned AE/AF button to AF-ON, push the shutter all the way down and then release the mirror with the remote?

  98. I don’t know If I understood right the concept of Back Button Focusing, but couldn’t you do the same thing by just switching to manual focus after you’ve achieved sharp focus with autofocus of the same subject, so it wouldn’t move anymore? Or I misunderstood something?

  99. You could, yes, but then you would have to remember to reactivate AF on the lens every time you want to refocus. This way there’s one less step to mess up. Plus on most lenses the focus switch isn’t the easiest to reach or operate (on most Nikon VR lenses, it’s right next to the VR switch which feels the same). The AE-L/AF-L button, however, sits in a very natural place to use with your thumb on most cameras.

  100. Hi I have a canon rebel t3i and you said i need to find in the menu “Shutter/AE Lock Button, i have looked and looked and do not see that option, is it under some other name, please help as I would love to use this option. thank you.

  101. Hi Shawna I have the t3 and under settings it is labeled “custom functions (C. fn). Click that and then scroll to function 9 and choose the proper option for you.

  102. Hi,

    Ive been trying to use BBF for about a week but my problem is that I sometimes (often) cant tell if the camera is focused already or not. Ive got Nikon D80 so I use the cameras AEL/AFL button to focus; the camera also needs to be in AF-C (continuous) mode to allow taking pictures when it decides the lens is not focused.

    When using the half-shutter focusing and AF-S, I always know if the camera has finished focusing (or failed to focus). But with BBF (and AF-C) its not that certain. For example, when focusing something slightly moving (like a tree branch), I usually dont know if the lens is still focusing (asi in “focusing to the general distance to the branch”) or if its only adjusting to the little movements (which can be unimportant thanks to the aperture). Also, when I tried to focus my 70-300 the other day, I was too close to the subject (even on 70mm) and on AF-C I didnt know that – the lens kept focusing but I thought it was caused by not enough contrast on the subject – which wasnt the culprit.

    Any hints, please? I know that adjusting to a new focusing technique would require month – and I really like the fact I dont need to refocus every time I want to take the shot – but this “i dont know if its focused” problem is like dragging me away.

    Thanks for a great article, it was in fact the first one about BBF I bumped into! 🙂

  103. I have a Nikon D7000 and recently set it so that I can use the AE-L/AF-L button as explained in this article. I also have the MB-D11 battery accessory attached to my camera. Is there a way to assign its AE-L/AF-L button? Thank you!

  104. Does anyone know if the Canon Rebel eos xsi is capable of back button focusing? I can’t figure out how to set it up! Help!

  105. will I need to change back to shutter release button to use remote function????? also How can I assign a preview button on Nikon d 7000 thanks Beverly

  106. Mick, if you haven’t found it already, it is in custom settings, controls, f10. I had to look around for it, too.

  107. My question is once you hit the AF-ON button on the back of my 7D Canon does it stay on and how can I tell if it’s activated? Does it show on the back display?

  108. It is worth noting that with the D3200 (and, I would suspect, for other cameras as well), the exposure setting is still set via the shutter release button. Prior to setting the camera to back focusing, both focus and exposure are activated when pressing the shutter release button half way down. After moving the focus from the shutter release button to a back button, the exposure is still set by the shutter release button.

    So you want to be aware that just because you’re focused, having pressed the back focus button, you still have to allow the camera to set the exposure by pressing the shutter release button half way down until you have it where you the exposure where you want it.

    1. Just want to clarify something…I have a Nikon D3200 and followed the instructions for assigning the AE-L/AF-L button to “on.” Does the Shutter-release button need to be turned to “off?” Please advise. Thanks!

    2. As soon as you press the back button to acquire focus, the camera set the exposure. You don’t need to half press the shutter.

  109. Hello! Thank you for this demo. I have a Nikon D3100. Following your tutorial, I set up the back button focus. The initial few shots of my in-focus subject worked. However, when I changed composition – shift the camera up, down sideways etc to get a different view – the shutter does not release, even though I’m still the same distance away from my subject. Inconvenient and potentially disastrous! What is going wrong with the camera (or photographer)? 🙂

    1. Hi Natalie,
      This seems to be a problem with the entry level Nikon DSLRs. I myself have a D5100 which has the same limitation.

      Seems like you’re most probably in the AF-S focusing mode where the camera will fire only when the scene is in focus. Basically in this mode, the camera only holds focus as long as you’re pressing the AF-on button. So when you’ve focused, I’m assuming you release the AS-on button and recompose, so now the scene “under” the active focus point is now out of focus and the shutter will not release when the scene is out of focus. If you want to recompose, you’ll have to hold down the AF-On button when recomposing…

      If you’re in AF-C mode, the camera will fire even when you recompose…

      Hope it makes sense.

      1. Right,but when you are in bbf you have best of both worlds (s and c). Press once and release when you want single focus hold the back button down for continuous. Set it to continuous first of course 😉

  110. Interesting, but where are your answers to the multiple problems posted here?

  111. This function is really I needed.
    Canon 5D Mark III has AF-On button back there, but I don’t know what this button for.
    So I was set another function for that button… I corrected now 😛

    Thank you so much!!

  112. I have a Nikon D7000 and the AEL/ AFL button on the back of the camera is a bit close to the Viewfinder and I find it not very comfortable to use as a back focus alternative to the shutter button, so I just use the shutter button to focus..

  113. I have a Nikon D750 and I use BBF. but does it work the same way in live view? My initial experience is that it does not

  114. Thank you! I love the way you write. Most entertaining as well as informative.

  115. Thank you so very much, very informative.! I have been try to find out for quite some time now how to use the back button as I like to try and get birds in flight. I have been lucky some times but most times very disappointed. I haven’t been out yet to see what I can do with the back button focus as yet but am looking foreword to trying it out.

  116. Nikon preferes to put its back focus button way TOO close to the viewfinder,which is hard to use.I have D7000 and D7100 is the same.I wish we could have set another button for this.
    By the way I have a question;I know what DOF preview button does,but does it really works?Cause I tried it but saw no difference.

  117. Hi, I have the d750. If I want to focus and recompose, and I back button focus, how do I do that? I don’t see “release.” Thanks!

  118. Question on the Nikon D3200, I see where the comment states that the shutter button still needs to be pressed half way down for Exposure. But can’t you set the AE-L/AF-L button to AE and AF BOTH, and would that not allow the back button to both meter for exposure and focus?

  119. Do Sony Alpha cameras have this option? or do you just ignore the fact they make cameras and your readers use that make. fed up of seeing the usual ‘canon and nikon’. definitely not a way to keep readers…

  120. Back Button Focus is a great thing. First, i was a little bit confused. But now i’m fine with this method.
    I have two little issues with the bbf. When i’m using the App “DSLR Controller”, i cant focus inside the app because the button the app is using is the half-down pressed shutterbutton to focus.
    The second problem is the use of a wireless remote controll. This also won’t work to focus when i set the camera to bbf.
    Anyone else who have this problems and how can i solve this?

    Kind regards, Sven

  121. Does back button focus work when using a remote control or do you have to revert to shutter again?

    1. Hi Mike! You mean, if autofocus works when using a remote control AF after setting BBF? In this case, the answer is no. I consider this as a plus, because I focus before using the remote (usually in low/very low light which means a lot of autofocus hunt or no autofocus at all) and then just actuate from remote without the fear that the camera will uselessly try to focus again. If I really want autofocus from the remote’s button, need to revert to shutter btn AF. At least that’s the way on the Canon I use 🙂

  122. Great lesson. I set up my D750 with BBF and love it. However, with BBF, do I set focus up as AF-S or AF-C? Or dies it depend on the whether the subject is moving or not? At the moment I have set up as AF-C for all subject types. Cheers.

  123. Thank you for the great lessons. I have always come across back button focusing but didn’t quite get the right place to instruct me how to do it. Bingo! i got it now. Thanks to you.

  124. I have a Nikon D610 & use BBF. I also would like to know when to use AF-S or AF-C mode. I shoot a lot of pics of my daughter when riding/jumping on her horse so it’s always on AF-C (using a 28-300 zoom).

    In addition, There are times I get so frustrated when I can’t get my zoomed photos sharp in AF-C using BBF & wonder if there are any other settings I should consider such as which of these focal points work best in above scenario 39, 21, 9, 3D or single?

    Your advise would be greatly appreciated. Thank you in advance for your time!

  125. BBF is a great option. I don’t have to change exposure again and again if I am on same distance from my subject. It gives me a strength to capture moments seamlessly in a wedding. Thanks for explaining it in detail!

    Siddharth Malkania
    Indian Candid Wedding Photographer

  126. Will definitely be trying this method since it has so many advantages : not having to focus on each shot if the camera-subject distance remains the same; not having to recompose and refocus if someone or something gets in your shot; automatically tracks subjects by leaving your finger on the button in AI servo mode; allows you to be more conscious of your photography; plus, you feel like a pro each and every shot.

    The fact that the camera does not focus when using a remote control is also a great advantage because I will then be able to be in “some” pictures for a change, not to mention that low light pictures will not have the AF go crazy (no more need to go in manual mode each time).

    The only downside is you must focus beforehand if you wish to have someone else take a picture (don’t try explaining them the bbf advantages…).

    As Matt said it : “Not having to worry about focus changing every time you touch the shutter is a huge plus in my book.” Of course, if you shoot wide open at 1.2 or 1.4, then I think you must refocus every shot, wether or not your using bbf. With such apertures, the margin of error is very thin and you can never be too careful.

    Thanks guys for this great article!

  127. In your “example number one”, first paragraph, you’re describing focussing once, shooting, then recomposing, focussing again (moving the focus point) and shooting again. But then in the second paragraph describing the back-button shooting, you assume that you don’t have to focus twice, even though you’re recomposing, because you assume that the focal plane remains at the same distance. So the two examples are different. In the first you assume that you DO have to refocus, and in the second that you don’t have to.

    If the distance between the photographer and the subject stays the same between both shots, then you don’t have to refocus in either example.

  128. Han, you do not have to keep your finger on the button to keep it locked. I believe it’s in your camera settings. Maybe under AE-L lock On?

  129. I have the 5D mark III If I hold down the BB will the camera keep focusing. Can I use that for movies

  130. Is there a shortcut that you could add to your custom menu to toggle between the 1/2 press focus and back button setting?

  131. I’ve always wondered why still cameras didn’t have a focus button like the Canon XL1 lenses did… leave in manual most of the time and have a momentary activator to lock in an auto focus.

    Seems like this takes care of that.

    I do second Martyn’s question… if I hand the camera off to someone else to take the occasional shot, I’d like it to perform as they’re used to…


  132. This is the first time I have even heard of back button focusing. OK so I am a novice with a teddy bear. However I am glad to find Improve Photography as I have a Nikon 3200 and this info is verrry helpful. Thanks a lot Jim Harmer.

  133. I only see the two manufactures listed doesn’t Sony make a DSL camera also does the t not have this feature on their cameras.

  134. I’ve changed back to release button focus. I thought my camera had back focus problems and got a focus calibration chart to test it properly. I found out that focus seems to be intermitent with Nikon D3200 and concluded that I really don’t want to be trapped into the faster is better deception. I returned to how it was built and it is working fine now. The Nikon isn’t anywhere near as good as my Fujifilm Xpro1 which is light years ahead in every way imho. Focusing the ‘normal’ way isn’t as inconvenient as trying to use a polarising filter on a twin lens reflex (that’s a hoot!) so I think ordinary focusing is ok. If you’re a profesional photographer it’s fine but for a hobby, for me anyway, I slow down on purpose so I can say ” the roses smelled good too” instead of “smell them? I haven’t got time for that!”.

  135. none of this is rocket science, most people that tell you how to switch to bbf . do a poor job of explaning it , i been using it for years , since the D90 nikon first came out . a have two of them and thats the only mode they have been in i take about 3000 photoes with each one of them a year , i havent found the reason to ever change back to tickling the shutter . if there is one i havent found the need to yet . i take a lot of BIF and other moving shots , horses cars , ball games hockey foot ball kids parties etc . it took me one hour shooting this way. and it was all i needed , i never looked back . just do it , it may take you a whole day shooting bbf.
    to get it down pat . but you wont be sorry , i get at least triple my keepers of B.I.F birds in flight . from bald eagles .

    it really boggles my mind how some people find this hard , i will be 76 this month and i have I.B.M. Google it this way

    I.B.M. (diesese)

  136. Thanks for the advice! I have tried it with my D7000 and separate focusing with back button feels more natural for me.

  137. Hai I am Vishwa from Sri Lanka,
    could you please cdvice me whether to buy !DX Mk11 or 5D Mk iv for predominantly wild life shooting and for street photographhy.
    I will be using 2.8 40-80 zoom and 2.8 300mm tele with 2x converter (when needed)

  138. So I’m guessing this option is not available on the Canon Rebel T5i? No mention or listing how to set up.

  139. I had to reset my Nikon D800 settings just before a family wedding this afternoon and lost my back button focus, which I’ve depended on for several years. Couldn’t figure out how to set it again, even though I found the whole 800-page Nikon manual online. Keep Goggling and found your tutorial. Voila. I was back in business minutes before they exchanged their vows. A million thanks.

  140. I’m just going to have to try it because the explanation and examples given don’t help me…and I am someone who DOES use the AE-L and AF-L buttons – they are intuitive! In fact your description of why to use back-button AF in the portrait example seems to be the same reason one would use AF-L!

  141. Hello, great article!
    I tried to put the settings in my Nikon D5500 to allow the autofocus a1, but the camera says “This option is not available in the current settings or in the current state”. What do I do?

  142. Been looking for this trick for a long time..thank you sir for the great sharing.

  143. I set my D7100 to back button focus to give it a try, but I find it really difficult to use. I’m a wheelchair user and have little core control, and when I move my thumb to the AE-L/AF-L button my grip on the camera is not as good and I get lots of shake/movement. I’d like to change back, but I can’t find details anywhere on how to set your focus back to the shutter release button. Could anyone help please?

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