An Aston Martin Vantage GT4 rounding Druids hairpin at Brands Hatch, Kent

Back Button Focus

In How-to, Photography by GaryLeave a Comment

Proving you can teach an old dog…

…New tricks. This is a tip for DSLR & mirrorless cameras that allow you to disable the two stage shutter button

Let me explain. I had started to see the term 'back-button focus' on so many photography forums my ears pricked up and thought "What's all this then?"

If you've read my photography story you'll know I have been semi-serious about photography for over 25 years. I have a reasonable collection of kit built up over this time. However, always the amateur, and as an interest it had come and gone. I like to think I can take the odd decent photograph, and despite the grey hairs, I am also constantly learning.

So what's this Back button focus then?

It's actually exactly what it says. It is that simple. It's the assignment of a button on the back of the camera to perform the focusing function of the camera, and separate that from the shutter release.

So why would you want that?

There's a few reasons really.

  • Set a focus point

    And then frame a shot. I know there are other techniques, such as selective Auto Focus Points, plain old manual focus - but by far this is the easiest method to combine the different methods into one.

  • No need to switch between AF & MF on the lens

    You're free to shift the focus with the focusing ring without the camera trying to autofocus for you (unless you press your assigned focussing button).

  • You only to use the servo autofocus.

    So most DSLRs have a single shot focus, and an intelligent autofocus that constantly adjusts the focus point, great for moving subjects. However you need to switch between the two. This method you set your camera to servo, and you control your focusing.

  • Focus on the shot

    You spend more time looking at your composition, rather than trying to switch modes.

  • Reduce shutter shake

    Okay, I know it won't do that on its own, you need the correct camera handling techniques along with the right exposure. However for me it helps because it keeps my balance correct - I'm applying pressure on the AF-On button, as well as the shutter release.

The joy at completing the Pretty Muddy Cancer Research event, Cardiff, UK

I used the BBF method to capture family at a charity event in normally difficult conditions.

So how do I…?

Well that's the tricky bit, and I am going to avoid trying to provide a solution for every brand & model. I'm a Canon guy, and I know across the models it differs. So I have to suggest you Google your model and try 'back button focus' or 'BBF' or 'Autofocus lock' and there should a resource out there to walk you through your individual configuration.

The AF-On Button on a Canon camera

So should I…?

Hmmm, that depends on your experience level. If you've just unboxed your first camera that supports it, then I would say probably not. If you're reasonably experienced with your camera I'd say give it a try. However, try it somewhere safe, don't test it on you once-in-a-lifetime travels. Go to your local park, or regular shooting ground and give it a go. It might work for you.

It worked for me

After all those years, I found a new trick and it works for me. It allows me to spend more time looking through the view finder, focus on composition and capturing the perfect shot. That's why I'm sharing it with you.

An Aston Martin DB4 rounding Druids hairpin at Brands Hatch, Kent

Have You?

Tried the technique? Did it work for you? Let me know your thoughts.

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