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Back button focusing - thoughts and experience?


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So I finally got around to changing my camera to back button focus and I felt all grown up. The benefit being that you can leave your camera on AF-C (autofocus-continuous) and if you want to do the equivalent of AF-S single shot focus and recompose, you just stop pressing the back button that controls the focusing and your focus is then fixed. Rather than going into camera menus to change your focus type.

 

Then I watched a YouTube video (I know!) and the photographer was recommending instead to leave the shutter release as also controlling focus as normal, and to change the button on the back of the camera to switch off the autofocus. This way, you don't need to press two buttons to focus and take a picture all the time; you can simply just switch off the autofocus with a single press and then you are focused on your subject and can recompose when you want - you have 'focus lock'.

 

Then, something else occurred to me (I have time, it's the weekend and lockdown!), I have a relatively modern camera - A7iii - so I have a 3rd option of AF-A (Autofocus Automatic) so the camera automatically switches between AF-S and AF-C depending on whether it detects that the main subject is moving or not. Which renders the whole back button thing moot anyway??

 

 

...So, has anyone got any thoughts or experience with this?

Edited by Steve F
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I've been using BBF for years and love it, it suits the way I shoot. I don't have a camera with AF-A but what I like about BBF is that it gives me control and using AF-A seems, to me at least, to be relinquishing some of that control back to the camera.

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Simple back-button focus for me. One button to focus, one to shoot, suits a simpleton like me

For moving objects I pump the back button to keep the subject somewhere close in focus while I'm not ready to shoot and then when ready, pump the back button and shoot a couple of frames, then re-align, pump again and shoot. Unless the object is moving across me then I just hold the back button in and spray away as AF is not likely to drift as much. 

 

The second part may work but can't really see the advantages over the traditional back button. Also not sure how that would work with my current technique above (which works for me).

Also I have never really liked the 'focus on part shutter release', The amount of 'focus here - click-damn -unnecessary shots' I've had particularly using film with no back button focus was really annoying.

 

For the third part I couldn't really imagine relinquishing control over what is moving to a camera. I take............oops Robz got in there first

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Going back to prehistoric times I always had my Canon DSLR set to back button focus, following too many occasions when the auto variety failed to hit the target.

 

These days I mainly shoot manual focus glass on my Sony CSC, and, that way, the desired part of the subject is always in focus.

 

But different strokes for different folks, whatever works for you. I don't do news or anything requiring else a rapid response.

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Thanks everyone. I like being in control 😇 so I'll stick with BBF. Will try alternative too and see how I get on.

 

 

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Definitely recommend using BBF. You acquire the muscle memory very quickly to the point that focusing using the shutter button becomes unnatural.

 

I am only familiar with the Nikon system and the DSLRs are different to the Z mirrorless. With the D850 for example and a good AF lens, setting the camera to continuous AF and choosing one of the AF tracking modes (3-D is excellent), you only focus once and the AF should track a moving subject without having to pump (as Martin L describes) although for fast moving subjects or if something gets in the way of the subject, it is often necessary to refocus. 

 

AF-A varies from camera to camera as well. I never use it with the D850 for stills. With the Z series cameras you have to use AF-A to use eye detect AF so it may be similar with the Sonys?

 

Shooting video though AF-A really comes into its own as it will track a moving subject very well as long as it is not moving too fast. It is similar with the D850. You set it to AF-A, then focus on the subject, start the tracking and then the video recording. So it is worth having a deeper look in the Sony manual or elsewhere at what AF-A can do. It may not be a simple hand over control to the camera feature.

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I thought the whole point of continuous auto focus was that you don't need to "pump" the button? Using the D850 I don't have to. 🤔

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i think it depends of the circumstances.  I like BBF, but i have to say in cold weather i started missing to many shots of things i was tracking because my numb finger wasn't responding, so i've reverted to some form of camera controlled focusing.  Having an XT3 with so many buttons i have set my front button to change from single and range focus, and i know my other front button to go from AF-C to AF-S to manual (BBF) from instinct when situation calls for it.

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2 hours ago, MDM said:

you only focus once and the AF should track a moving subject without having to pump

'should' is the operative word, many times it doesn't even if you have the speed of re-focusing after losing focus down to slow. Probably more down to my skill at keeping the focus point on the correct part that I want but I have a lot better control doing it myself then allowing the camera to decide

 

2 hours ago, Sultanpepa said:

I thought the whole point of continuous auto focus was that you don't need to "pump" the button? Using the D850 I don't have to. 🤔

So did I, but on my Canon kit, I get better results that way.

Maybe AF speed on your Nikon set up is far superior to my Canon kit.

As I said not an issue on something coming across you and the distance doesn't change. Just push and hold the AF and fire away, something flying towards you at speed is another matter.

Edited by Martin L
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Every time I have tried BBF I seem to poke myself in the eye.🥴

Allan

 

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25 minutes ago, Martin L said:

'should' is the operative word, many times it doesn't even if you have the speed of re-focusing after losing focus down to slow. Probably more down to my skill at keeping the focus point on the correct part that I want but I have a lot better control doing it myself then allowing the camera to decide

 

So did I, but on my Canon kit, I get better results that way.

Maybe AF speed on your Nikon set up is far superior to my Canon kit.

As I said not an issue on something coming across you and the distance doesn't change. Just push and hold the AF and fire away, something flying towards you at speed is another matter.

 

It will of course depend on the camera and lens so this could be a case of comparing proverbial apples and oranges. The D850 that Sultanpepa and I are referring to is exceptionally good at tracking autofocus with the right lens, moreover given the D850 has a 45MP sensor. If we are talking about fast or very fast moving subjects such as running people, dogs or horses, then it can be should but I find that it generally does keep track using a Nikon D850 and 70-200 or 24-70 Nikkor lens. I find it best for subjects coming towards or away from the camera than moving laterally across the field of view. In the latter case, refocusing will obviously be necessary if the subject is moving out of the field of view.  If a slow moving subject such as a person or couple walking slowly then it does keep track with the same camera lens setup. The crucial thing then is the buffer and how quickly the camera can write to the card. Again the D850 with a fast XQD card does the business admirably. 

Edited by MDM
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1 hour ago, MDM said:

 

It will of course depend on the camera and lens so this could be a case of comparing proverbial apples and oranges. The D850 that Sultanpepa and I are referring to is exceptionally good at tracking autofocus with the right lens, moreover given the D850 has a 45MP sensor. If we are talking about fast or very fast moving subjects such as running people, dogs or horses, then it can be should but I find that it generally does keep track using a Nikon D850 and 70-200 or 24-70 Nikkor lens. I find it best for subjects coming towards or away from the camera than moving laterally across the field of view. In the latter case, refocusing will obviously be necessary if the subject is moving out of the field of view.  If a slow moving subject such as a person or couple walking slowly then it does keep track with the same camera lens setup. The crucial thing then is the buffer and how quickly the camera can write to the card. Again the D850 with a fast XQD card does the business admirably. 

Ahhh, that's probably it, smaller lens like 70-200 is a lot easier. My orig 300mm was not so much of a problem, my action lens I use now is 600mm.

Anyway this is a bit off topic, sorry Steve

Edited by Martin L
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17 minutes ago, Martin L said:

Ahhh, that's probably it, smaller lens like 70-200 is a lot easier. My orig 300mm was not so much of a problem, my action lens I use now is 600mm.

Anyway this is a bit off topic, sorry Steve


Yes definitely lens dependent. I have nothing longer than a 70-200 as I don’t do sports or wildlife. don’t think it is really off topic though. These sorts of discussion can be enlightening. 

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1 hour ago, Martin L said:

Ahhh, that's probably it, smaller lens like 70-200 is a lot easier. My orig 300mm was not so much of a problem, my action lens I use now is 600mm.

Anyway this is a bit off topic, sorry Steve

 

Ha ha no worries, I've done it myself and it's all enlightening as MDM says. I'm now feeling like a noob for not using BBF before after all this feedback!

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I have a Canon 5Ds and have 3 memorized setups for still photography.

 

Setup one is for tele AF lenses, auto AF 1/2 press of shutter keeping a moving subject on centre autofocus point so the AF tracks the subject. No BBF

 

Setup two is BBF used for still subjects on all lenses. My normal and wide angle lenses are Zeiss and are not autofocus. However when I use BBF and manually focus these non autofocus lenses the centre point flashes in the viewfinder to confirm when the subject is in focus at the centre point. Much more accurate than my eye determining precise focus through the viewfinder.

 

Setup three is for shooting on a tripod using the back viewing screen. BBF also flashes on the back screen to confirm focus but I do not use it much. I usually just magnify the screen view to manually focus.

 

In all these memorized setups I also bake in other various ISO, multiple shooting, single shot, mirror up or down settings depending on setup. I can also override the memorized setup through camera controls. However when the camera sleeps because of lack of use and is on one of the setups, all settings revert to that setup when I wake it up.

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4 hours ago, Allan Bell said:

Every time I have tried BBF I seem to poke myself in the eye.🥴

Allan

 

 

Have you considered thumb-reduction surgery? 👍

 

I've actually never tried BBF. Perhaps I'll give it a shot (so to speak).  I usually keep my Sony a6000 on DMF (Direct Manual Focus), so that I can tweak the AF, which I use as a starting point. I've never liked continuous AF, but then I generally don't do action photography. That said, AF-A (automatic) seems to work well on Sony cameras. I use that setting sometimes.

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Hello Steve,

I have been stuck in YouTube a lot myself lately and subscribed to one photographer's channel.  Have a look you might find this interesting and it is exactly on topic, talks specifically  about the Sony A7III and A7RIII Back Button Focus for Sony Alpha Cameras.  If you have seen it already, disregard.  But, if you haven't you might find his other videos useful as well, they have certainly been a great help to me and learning more about the Sony A7III. 

I'll just add that, I did try the BBAF and gave up on it that was a while back and it was with the Nikons, why I stopped using it I can't remember.

 

Helen

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I've been using Canon SLRs almost exclusively for 47 years and ever since I first got auto-focus (1996 I think) I've never used anything other than shutter release focusing, nor ever felt the need to. I've only had a failure to focus a couple of times, when I was trying to shoot in conditions so dark I could barely see the subject with the naked eye, and there have also been hardly any occasions when I've inadvertently pressed the release too far. I use back button AE sometimes but never AF.

 

It was a very different story when I tried Nikon for a year. The D80 regularly failed to focus and I lost many shots as a result. My return to Canon was rapid.

 

Alan

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12 hours ago, John Mitchell said:

 

Have you considered thumb-reduction surgery? 👍

 

I've actually never tried BBF. Perhaps I'll give it a shot (so to speak).  I usually keep my Sony a6000 on DMF (Direct Manual Focus), so that I can tweak the AF, which I use as a starting point. I've never liked continuous AF, but then I generally don't do action photography. That said, AF-A (automatic) seems to work well on Sony cameras. I use that setting sometimes.

 

Thanks for that tip John. I will give it a try next time out. Not today I am waiting in for the washing machine repair man. On top of that do not feel too good.

Be all better tomorrow.

 

Allan

 

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4 hours ago, Allan Bell said:

 

Thanks for that tip John. I will give it a try next time out. Not today I am waiting in for the washing machine repair man. On top of that do not feel too good.

Be all better tomorrow.

 

Allan

 

Get well soon Allan!

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14 hours ago, hsessions said:

Hello Steve,

I have been stuck in YouTube a lot myself lately and subscribed to one photographer's channel.  Have a look you might find this interesting and it is exactly on topic, talks specifically  about the Sony A7III and A7RIII Back Button Focus for Sony Alpha Cameras.  If you have seen it already, disregard.  But, if you haven't you might find his other videos useful as well, they have certainly been a great help to me and learning more about the Sony A7III. 

I'll just add that, I did try the BBAF and gave up on it that was a while back and it was with the Nikons, why I stopped using it I can't remember.

 

Helen

 

Hi Helen,

Great, this is just what I need! Think I need to watch through again, he went through a lot of stuff.

Steve

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1 hour ago, Steve F said:

 

Hi Helen,

Great, this is just what I need! Think I need to watch through again, he went through a lot of stuff.

Steve

 

Glad you found it helpful.  Yes, there is a lot of information there; I am biting off small pieces now.  Tried watching several vids in one sitting and it was information overload.

Helen

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9 hours ago, Allan Bell said:

 

Thanks for that tip John. I will give it a try next time out. Not today I am waiting in for the washing machine repair man. On top of that do not feel too good.

Be all better tomorrow.

 

Allan

 

 

Hope you're feeling better. Good luck with the washing machine repair person. Do you know a good plumber? Our kitchen sink is blocked.

 

With all the fiddly buttons to push and wheels to turn on cameras these days, I sometimes feel that I need to grow a couple more fingers. I miss the simplicity of my old film cameras. But that's progress for you... 🙃

Edited by John Mitchell
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21 hours ago, hsessions said:

Hello Steve,

I have been stuck in YouTube a lot myself lately and subscribed to one photographer's channel.  Have a look you might find this interesting and it is exactly on topic, talks specifically  about the Sony A7III and A7RIII Back Button Focus for Sony Alpha Cameras.  If you have seen it already, disregard.  But, if you haven't you might find his other videos useful as well, they have certainly been a great help to me and learning more about the Sony A7III. 

I'll just add that, I did try the BBAF and gave up on it that was a while back and it was with the Nikons, why I stopped using it I can't remember.

 

Helen

I tried it and found when I needed to take a picture, I was trying to do it the way I was used to and thought my camera was broken because it wouldn’t autofocus. A slap-myself-in-the-head moment. So I just went back to what I was used to, familiar with. Something I didn’t have to think about first and wonder how long using BBF would become second nature. Call me a fuddy-duddy.
Boy, auto correct had a field day with that word. 😊

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