The AF-ON technique
Important camera settings
2. AF area mode: Dynamic area AF. This is the other selector that can be left alone once set.
3. Custom setting A1, AF-C priority selection: Release. This option is already set by the factory to Release, so leave this alone or set it to Release if you have already changed it in the past.
4. Release mode dial: Continuous high/Low speed. You will be better off leaving this set to continuous shooting and learn to jab momentarily if you need one frame, though I don’t recommend this. Personally I usually shoot 2-3 frames when I need only one. This way I usually get a sharper pic since a sequence allows for any vibrations to disappear. Usually the second or third pic is the sharpest.
5. Custom setting A5, AF activation: AF-ON only. This setting is the key to the AF-ON technique. Now a lot of you have probably come across this recommendation before but didn’t think much of it or tried it briefly and thought it was too awkward to get used to - but this is where the magic lies. The best and most efficient way to utilize a Nikon camera is to deactivate the AF activation from the shutter release and to set it by the AF-ON button only. I urge you to invest the appropriate amount of time that it will take for you to get used to this method of shooting. Once you get used to this technique, you are bound to become a better photographer. How is this? Because you will have more control of the AF system, without losing your concentration on your subject. So set Custom setting A5 to AF-ON only.
What you get
The finer selections
Which initial focus point?
15 cross-type AF points: I should remind most of you that out of all the 51 AF points, the 15 that are concentrated in the middle three columns are made up of the cross-type AF sensors. These are more powerful, precise and work more reliably than the others under low light conditions. So initiating focus using any of these cross-type sensors is the more reliable way of shooting, especially for sports. So with center AF point selected as your starting position, the camera can then track the subject using the rest of the available AF points if needed. You can now see why Nikon kept all cross-type focus points in the center of the frame – so as to not lose the focus on the subject as soon as it moved off the center AF point. Let the camera utilize the other cross-type points to your advantage as you, the photographer, can later crop the frame a little to help for a more dynamic composition if needed.
Difference between 51 and 51/3D: With all 51 points you choose the initial focus point and the camera will follow the action utilizing all 51 points to track the subject as it leaves the initial focus point. With 51/3D tracking the camera will utilize information from the matrix metering sensor as well to help pick colors from the subject. This can be more effective if you have a distinctive subject (color wise) and a neutral and different colored background. 51 AF points with 3D tracking may be the future but for mow its underpowered (needs a faster processor) and buggy (needs more advanced and intelligent software)
How many AF points: No matter how much one tries to explain his experience with the AF points, it’s all pretty much what works on the day. I usually find myself using either 9 or 21 points no matter what I’m shooting so Custom setting menu A3 is my most often used setting and this is why its first on the “My menu” list as well.
Sports with busy scenes: I might be shooting at a soccer game with a long tele so my first choice would be 9 points. But at some point while I’m shooting, I find myself shooting a lot of close shots of a single player so I might find that I need the space coverage of 21 or even 51 points so I can follow focus the face easier.
BIFs and motor sports: For easy subjects such as BIFs and motor sports you could try 51 points with 3D tracking. This is the future and I can’t wait for the next generation of Nikon cameras that will feature the next generation of this technology. You will have more misses than you would like and you probably shouldn’t be using this option for a paid assignment, but when you do get it to work you will be amazed by the results and wishing it worked like that more often. Of course if you can get it to work reliably and consistently, then by all means use it professionally (I know a few who are!). But in all seriousness, for more reliable results start off with 21 or 9 points. And don’t forget that fewer AF points also mean faster focus acquisition and better lock-on so if the action is very fast and you can feel the camera having a hard time locking-on, try fewer points.
Wedding and street: Personally I again start off with 9 points and rarely find myself deviating from that. I use the focus and recompose technique a lot with weddings utilizing the above setup of course. It’s so easy and I get nearly 100% focused results every time. With the center AF point sensor locked, I always know where it is and don’t have to fumble with the thumbwheel to get it in position. The only time I may choose a different AF point is if I want to track a moving subject that’s off center.