Long lens newbie: when the autofocus in the camera spins and spins.

auto-focus nikon photography

This is a photography post. I have a new long lens for my DSLR camera, and especially with moving subjects the autofocus just spins and spins and never ‘coverges’ (for lack of a better word, code switching a bit into my academic world). I was missing a lot of shots.

The way the camera and lens was configured, I had it in autofocus with the lens in the auto with manual override setting. Press the shutter release button down halfway and the autofocus is enabled. If autofocus returns ‘yes’, then you can then release the shutter by pressing all the way. But even with shots where the auto focus was not spinning through all of the options, and I thought the focus was good enough to attempt a shot, I was not able to. Manual override was not working as well as with my other lenses.

It turns out there are ways to set up your camera to overcome this problem! This podcast, by Martin Bailey(there’s a transcript), got me going. He uses a Canon camera, and I use Nikon, so I just went through and found the complementary settings and changed them. A week later, and I am used to the new way of using the camera.

manual screenshot describing shutter priority and focus priority

The key things I am going to mention here, that were in Martin’s podcast/transcript and I haven’t seen other places, concern switching functions of some of the camera’s buttons. First, change the camera from ‘focus priority’ to ‘shutter priority’. So you don’t have to wait until the indicator says that the camera is in focus (which doesn’t work great for moving subjects). Now the shutter release button will only …. release the shutter. But! how to autofocus?

manual screenshot describing the different options for the autofcus lock button

For this function, reassign the autofocus/exposure button on the back of the camera to be autofocus, option “The AE-L/AF-L button initiates autofocus. The shutter- release button can not be used to focus.” Then, to compose your image,

  • press the AE-L/AF-L button to autofocus,
  • refine with manual adjustments on the lens for your subject, particularly if it is moving,
  • press the shutter release.

image of a grey cat bird perching on a post It took me a little while to get used to this way of capturing the images, but I like it a lot better. Before, I was sometimes autofocusing static scenes many times when I had made a small adjustment physically, because I had not locked the autofocus. Now, autofocus is more like a tool than an impediment. Oh! and I was finally able to get a bird image I was happy enough with to share on Twitter, a Gray Catbird (left).

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