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Back Button Focus

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Videos, whispers and rumours about back button focus are everywhere. I’ve had shed loads of emails and messages asking to do a video about back button focus. Is it better? When should it be used, do I recommend it…?

So what is back button focussing?

Basically it’s the ability to separate focus activation from the shutter button and re-assign it to a button on the back of the camera. Pretty much all cameras can do it. Or to put it another way, I haven’t yet seen one that can’t.

back-button-focus

I can’t tell you how to set it because all cameras are different. You’ll have to look in the dreaded handbook for back button focus, or search online. Someone somewhere has probably made a video explaining how to set it up on your camera.

Once set, you use your thumb to focus instead of your finger. Full auto, single point, single shot, continuous, modes work just the same, so you can combine them as you wish for the shot you want to take. But now they’re separated from the shutter button which now only takes the photo.

Some say it’s faster and easier to use. Often quoting sports as an example.

Let’s say you’re in continuous mode. When you press the back button the camera is continuously focussing as you compose shots. If you’re in full auto it chooses where to focus just as with the front button, in single point it continuously focusses on your chosen point. When you release the back button, focus locks and stays at that distance until you press the it again.

In single point, single shot, it focuses on on your chosen point, release the back button and it stays locked on that focal distance.

What are the benefits?  

Only you can say because In reality it’s only a benefit if you prefer it as a method of working. Like everything on a camera the only way you can learn is to give it a go for yourself. Test and practise until you know if it’s right for you.

I know how tempting it is to look for short-cuts by taking someone else's advice. When any of us are starting out, we have to ask those who are already experts how they do it. Learning from the experience of others makes complete sense and I wholeheartedly support it.

But remember it’s only their advice which they’re likely to be passionate about because it works for them. It doesn’t mean it’s the right way or the only way. In photography there are many ways to achieve the same result so begin by trying what the experts suggest, learn how to control your camera and make it do what you want it to and then you can make an informed choice about what is best for you.

There’s tons of free stuff out there online (my own included) but as beginners, wer don’t know which information we need in which order to be efficient and make things work seamlessly. We don’t know which order we need this mass of information. As a trainer I specialise in delivering it in sequence so the learning curve is smooth and fulfilling.

Going it alone is false economy because of all the wasted time, being overwhelmed and frustrated by too much - too soon. If you’re trying to get out of auto exposure, my beginners course will get you there on week 1 alone. It’s less than the cost of a cheap used lens and you can even get a free sample. If you’ve read down this far you’re serious, so go check one out.

Do I use or recommend back button focus?

I certainly recommend you try it out and see if you like it, see if it fits what you like to photograph and is easy and comfortable for you to use.

Personally I hate it. My thumb gets in the way, I find it awkward, uncomfortable and there’s nothing I can do at the back, that I already do from the front (including sports) by setting up my AF appropriately which takes just seconds. To me back button focus is the work of the Devil!

I use the back button for exposure lock because I find it invaluable for fast moving situations in changing light when there’s no time to fiddle with exposure settings.

But that’s only my opinion. You might try it and completely disagree!

Until next time..

mike signature clear

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Comments

Back Button Focus
Never knew it existed but keen to try it out.
ivm 22, Sep 2018 @ 18:49
Never knew it existed but keen to try it out.
0
Back Button Focus
I've never seen the advantages of this at all. In fact, I have the relevant button set to focus lock (press to lock, press again to unlock) on all my cameras. I don't use it a lot, but certainly more than back button focus with my thumb would ever get used.
meachp 22, Sep 2018 @ 19:09
I've never seen the advantages of this at all. In fact, I have the relevant button set to focus lock (press to lock, press again to unlock) on all my cameras. I don't use it a lot, but certainly more than back button focus with my thumb would ever get used.
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Back Button Focus
I kinda like the back-button focus on my T6s. Or, put another way, I didn't like the camera re-focusing every time I half-pushed the shutter release. Sometimes if I'm on a subject watching for something to happen -- just the right lick on the ice-cream cone; the valve-gear on a loco to be in just the right position -- I'll be holding the shutter release half down in expectation. If the scene is moving in-and-out of focus it is confusing. Similarly in continuous shooting I generally know where I want the focus to be and I just want shot after shot. And if I need to change focus my thumb is pretty close to the back button anyways. But I agree, it's not for everyone: my son never uses it.

Thanks for the vid. Ride safe!
bikertrash 22, Sep 2018 @ 20:54
I kinda like the back-button focus on my T6s. Or, put another way, I didn't like the camera re-focusing every time I half-pushed the shutter release. Sometimes if I'm on a subject watching for something to happen -- just the right lick on the ice-cream cone; the valve-gear on a loco to be in just the right position -- I'll be holding the shutter release half down in expectation. If the scene is moving in-and-out of focus it is confusing. Similarly in continuous shooting I generally know where I want the focus to be and I just want shot after shot. And if I need to change focus my thumb is pretty close to the back button anyways. But I agree, it's not for everyone: my son never uses it.

Thanks for the vid. Ride safe!
0
Back Button Focus
5 stars, Mike, great video! Thank you! I got the Big Back Button Lecture a while ago. Why folks say it's better for someone who doesn't have 20/20 I have NO idea.
On my Nikon D90, I don't use it (but I shoot mainly dogs in action with that one), and I'm not sure why I use it on the Nikon D7100.. Maybe, as someone suggested, I could use that darn button for a focus lock?? Or an exposure lock? Hmmmm...I must think about this. I know it's darned inconvenient when you hand your camera off to someone so they can take a picture of me and I have to explain the back button thing to them. Have you done a video about using that button as an exposure lock or focus lock? Is this something that's covered in your Ultimate Beginners Course? I have the 7 Steps course but I can't remember if that's in that one. Thank you Mike and crew for all you do!
miaharted 22, Sep 2018 @ 22:44
5 stars, Mike, great video! Thank you! I got the Big Back Button Lecture a while ago. Why folks say it's better for someone who doesn't have 20/20 I have NO idea.
On my Nikon D90, I don't use it (but I shoot mainly dogs in action with that one), and I'm not sure why I use it on the Nikon D7100.. Maybe, as someone suggested, I could use that darn button for a focus lock?? Or an exposure lock? Hmmmm...I must think about this. I know it's darned inconvenient when you hand your camera off to someone so they can take a picture of me and I have to explain the back button thing to them. Have you done a video about using that button as an exposure lock or focus lock? Is this something that's covered in your Ultimate Beginners Course? I have the 7 Steps course but I can't remember if that's in that one. Thank you Mike and crew for all you do!
0
Back Button Focus
5 stars, Mike, great video! Thank you! I got the Big Back Button Lecture a while ago. Why folks say it's better for someone who doesn't have 20/20 I have NO idea.
On my Nikon D90, I don't use it (but I shoot mainly dogs in action with that one), and I'm not sure why I use it on the Nikon D7100.. Maybe, as someone suggested, I could use that darn button for a focus lock?? Or an exposure lock? Hmmmm...I must think about this. I know it's darned inconvenient when you hand your camera off to someone so they can take a picture of me and I have to explain the back button thing to them. Have you done a video about using that button as an exposure lock or focus lock? Is this something that's covered in your Ultimate Beginners Course? I have the 7 Steps course but I can't remember if that's in that one. Thank you Mike and crew for all you do!
miaharted 22, Sep 2018 @ 22:44
5 stars, Mike, great video! Thank you! I got the Big Back Button Lecture a while ago. Why folks say it's better for someone who doesn't have 20/20 I have NO idea.
On my Nikon D90, I don't use it (but I shoot mainly dogs in action with that one), and I'm not sure why I use it on the Nikon D7100.. Maybe, as someone suggested, I could use that darn button for a focus lock?? Or an exposure lock? Hmmmm...I must think about this. I know it's darned inconvenient when you hand your camera off to someone so they can take a picture of me and I have to explain the back button thing to them. Have you done a video about using that button as an exposure lock or focus lock? Is this something that's covered in your Ultimate Beginners Course? I have the 7 Steps course but I can't remember if that's in that one. Thank you Mike and crew for all you do!
0
Back Button Focus
Oh I tried it! Two or three times but just could not get use to it. Went back to basics and use the shutter button now.
And by the way, Mike, Great hair cut.
ralphh 23, Sep 2018 @ 01:10
Oh I tried it! Two or three times but just could not get use to it. Went back to basics and use the shutter button now.
And by the way, Mike, Great hair cut.
0
Back Button Focus
I agree with you, Mike. Back button focusing is just much ado about nothing.
frankstyburski 23, Sep 2018 @ 16:13
I agree with you, Mike. Back button focusing is just much ado about nothing.
0
Back Button Focus
5 Stars for the Video Mike. Good attempt at being unbiased - :)
I've used back button focusing for 7 or 8 years now. I use it because I find it easier to control what the camera focuses on. I often like to focus off the centre of the frame, and I can't abide faffing about moving the focus point or points to where I'd like to focus so I tend to use just use the centre focus point. Releasing the button retains that focus setting so that after I recompose the frame if the focussing point is no longer on my subject it doesn't matter. This comes from having a camera whose auto focusing provided only a few focus points (7 I think), and only the centre one was a cross-point or good in low light focusing point.

That said, I use just the centre point even now when I have 45 focus points available, and most of them if not all of them are the very sensitive and most accurate cross type. (I haven't really checked what the focusing points are - and nor do I care as long as the centre one is of the all-singing and dancing type). I find that putting the centre focus point where I want the image to be sharpest, pressing and releasing the back button with my thumb, then re-framing and releasing the shutter; becomes automatic and its very fast. I know there is some time between starting this procedure and actually releasing the shutter, but in practice if you are not taking pictures of formula one cars speeding down the track, either away from you or towards you or across the width of the frame, this time is insignificant in the main with a little practice. I have used this technique to take pictures of party guests, studio type portraits, and landscapes and traffic. In addition, my enthusiasm for using this technique is mainly due to me taking landscape photographs etc. at night! Once you have no daylight, the whole photography process is slowed down, and I'd like to thank the camera engineers who provided me with Live View.

This slowing down the process is also true of using a big-stopper (and I really mean any 6, 10 or 15 stop neutral density filter), but it's much worse oddly enough. Since you cannot see any of the subject through the viewfinder during the day once you have attached a big stopper you need to focus after you frame the shot and before you attach the filter. The danger is that while you fiddle to attach the big stopper, it is so easy to move the focus ring. If you do this, you will experience one of two issues for sure. The first is you notice you have moved the point of focus and you have to remove the filter, refocus on the image and re-fit the filter. This can be a time consuming task if, like me, you use the screw on type of filter. The second is you don't notice you've bumped the focus ring, then you stand around waiting for the 30 second or longer exposure to complete and when you look at the rear screen you find that the image you have captured is blurred on the still objects that should be sharp. Then you realise you have to remove the filter and perform the focusing, the re-framing, attaching the filter (carefully this time), checking the exposure settings, and finally capture the image again for another 30 seconds plus! I have heard some photographers utter profanities at this point! (It was me, I confess, I'll come quietly.)

So what most experienced low light photographers do is to engage Auto-Focus on the lens to lock the focus ring just BEFORE they start to attach the dark black filter. This is quite a good idea, it overcomes the previous two issues entirely. HOWEVER!!! After all the prep for the shot is done it is quite easy to release the shutter (using a remote release so no camera movement occurs) only to hear the faint sound "Bzzzt Bzzzt" or whatever other sound your autofocus makes. This is when all photographers utter profanities!! (Yes it was me again "drat-drat-and-triple-Drat"!) Because the lens focus has moved between it's nearest to its farthest setting in an instant the image will be completely blurred if you release the shutter. At least this is much easier to spot.

So, back button focusing is a good way of preventing this. You can leave the lens set to autofocus all the time. You can move the camera so that the centre focusing point is on the hyperfocal point in the image, or it is where you want the image to be sharpest, and and let it set the lens' focus for you. Then you can re-frame, attach the filter, ensure your settings are correct for the light minus 6, 10 or 15 stops, and then content in the knowledge that operating the shutter will not affect the focus you set and it is effectively locked, you can release the shutter using your remote release, and all will be well! (unless the sun goes behind or emerges from behind a cloud, or you made another as yet undocumented blunder! There are plenty to make I assure you. I'm still finding ways to screw up.)

The other gripe I have with autofocus is that when I only had 7 focus points, I noticed that the camera would end up focusing using the focusing point that over the nearest element in the image. This I found this quite annoying, and I had lots of reject pictures as a result until I realised what was happening. Changing to only using the centre focusing point point and the back button to trigger the focusing process increased my hit rate substantially.

However, since digital cameras seem to be supplied with shutter release button configured to start the autofocus activation and exposure meter activation on half depress, most photographers will have discovered this and used the camera as delivered. They will have become accustomed to it and quite happy with it. If this is you and you are happy with it, that is absolutely fine. I'm not trying to convert anyone away from using front button autofocus at all, I'm just making the point that I prefer it because it suits MY photography and i's the way I like to take photographs, which is basically with an air of serene calmness and without all that unnecessary swearing! :) There is no right or wrong with either mode of working, everyone will have their own preferences and camera operation styles. If it works for you, it must be right for you. But if you have experienced the trials and tribulation of putting on the ND filter and taking it off as you've inadvertently triggered the autofocus in mid process, or you've discovered other ways in which autofocus annoys you, give back button focusing a try. If you don't like it after that, then ditch it! It's a personal thing.
harry 23, Sep 2018 @ 18:26
5 Stars for the Video Mike. Good attempt at being unbiased - :)
I've used back button focusing for 7 or 8 years now. I use it because I find it easier to control what the camera focuses on. I often like to focus off the centre of the frame, and I can't abide faffing about moving the focus point or points to where I'd like to focus so I tend to use just use the centre focus point. Releasing the button retains that focus setting so that after I recompose the frame if the focussing point is no longer on my subject it doesn't matter. This comes from having a camera whose auto focusing provided only a few focus points (7 I think), and only the centre one was a cross-point or good in low light focusing point.

That said, I use just the centre point even now when I have 45 focus points available, and most of them if not all of them are the very sensitive and most accurate cross type. (I haven't really checked what the focusing points are - and nor do I care as long as the centre one is of the all-singing and dancing type). I find that putting the centre focus point where I want the image to be sharpest, pressing and releasing the back button with my thumb, then re-framing and releasing the shutter; becomes automatic and its very fast. I know there is some time between starting this procedure and actually releasing the shutter, but in practice if you are not taking pictures of formula one cars speeding down the track, either away from you or towards you or across the width of the frame, this time is insignificant in the main with a little practice. I have used this technique to take pictures of party guests, studio type portraits, and landscapes and traffic. In addition, my enthusiasm for using this technique is mainly due to me taking landscape photographs etc. at night! Once you have no daylight, the whole photography process is slowed down, and I'd like to thank the camera engineers who provided me with Live View.

This slowing down the process is also true of using a big-stopper (and I really mean any 6, 10 or 15 stop neutral density filter), but it's much worse oddly enough. Since you cannot see any of the subject through the viewfinder during the day once you have attached a big stopper you need to focus after you frame the shot and before you attach the filter. The danger is that while you fiddle to attach the big stopper, it is so easy to move the focus ring. If you do this, you will experience one of two issues for sure. The first is you notice you have moved the point of focus and you have to remove the filter, refocus on the image and re-fit the filter. This can be a time consuming task if, like me, you use the screw on type of filter. The second is you don't notice you've bumped the focus ring, then you stand around waiting for the 30 second or longer exposure to complete and when you look at the rear screen you find that the image you have captured is blurred on the still objects that should be sharp. Then you realise you have to remove the filter and perform the focusing, the re-framing, attaching the filter (carefully this time), checking the exposure settings, and finally capture the image again for another 30 seconds plus! I have heard some photographers utter profanities at this point! (It was me, I confess, I'll come quietly.)

So what most experienced low light photographers do is to engage Auto-Focus on the lens to lock the focus ring just BEFORE they start to attach the dark black filter. This is quite a good idea, it overcomes the previous two issues entirely. HOWEVER!!! After all the prep for the shot is done it is quite easy to release the shutter (using a remote release so no camera movement occurs) only to hear the faint sound "Bzzzt Bzzzt" or whatever other sound your autofocus makes. This is when all photographers utter profanities!! (Yes it was me again "drat-drat-and-triple-Drat"!) Because the lens focus has moved between it's nearest to its farthest setting in an instant the image will be completely blurred if you release the shutter. At least this is much easier to spot.

So, back button focusing is a good way of preventing this. You can leave the lens set to autofocus all the time. You can move the camera so that the centre focusing point is on the hyperfocal point in the image, or it is where you want the image to be sharpest, and and let it set the lens' focus for you. Then you can re-frame, attach the filter, ensure your settings are correct for the light minus 6, 10 or 15 stops, and then content in the knowledge that operating the shutter will not affect the focus you set and it is effectively locked, you can release the shutter using your remote release, and all will be well! (unless the sun goes behind or emerges from behind a cloud, or you made another as yet undocumented blunder! There are plenty to make I assure you. I'm still finding ways to screw up.)

The other gripe I have with autofocus is that when I only had 7 focus points, I noticed that the camera would end up focusing using the focusing point that over the nearest element in the image. This I found this quite annoying, and I had lots of reject pictures as a result until I realised what was happening. Changing to only using the centre focusing point point and the back button to trigger the focusing process increased my hit rate substantially.

However, since digital cameras seem to be supplied with shutter release button configured to start the autofocus activation and exposure meter activation on half depress, most photographers will have discovered this and used the camera as delivered. They will have become accustomed to it and quite happy with it. If this is you and you are happy with it, that is absolutely fine. I'm not trying to convert anyone away from using front button autofocus at all, I'm just making the point that I prefer it because it suits MY photography and i's the way I like to take photographs, which is basically with an air of serene calmness and without all that unnecessary swearing! :) There is no right or wrong with either mode of working, everyone will have their own preferences and camera operation styles. If it works for you, it must be right for you. But if you have experienced the trials and tribulation of putting on the ND filter and taking it off as you've inadvertently triggered the autofocus in mid process, or you've discovered other ways in which autofocus annoys you, give back button focusing a try. If you don't like it after that, then ditch it! It's a personal thing.
0
Back Button Focus
I think BBF is great. It makes action shots easy especially when firing multiple shots in quick succession. I also can't see any disadvantages when using it for normal shooting either!
pauledchapmangmailcom 23, Sep 2018 @ 19:54
I think BBF is great. It makes action shots easy especially when firing multiple shots in quick succession. I also can't see any disadvantages when using it for normal shooting either!
0
Back Button Focus
I think BBF is great. It makes action shots easy especially when firing multiple shots in quick succession. I also can't see any disadvantages when using it for normal shooting either!
pauledchapmangmailcom 23, Sep 2018 @ 19:55
I think BBF is great. It makes action shots easy especially when firing multiple shots in quick succession. I also can't see any disadvantages when using it for normal shooting either!
0
Back Button Focus
Hi. I have used back button focus now for about 5 years. It took me about 2 months and two attempts to get used to it. I really like it now. I do have a custom button set for front button focusing so other people can use my camera or when I am out doing street photography. You are quite right, it will not suit everyone. Celebrate the difference.
barrybadcock 23, Sep 2018 @ 23:27
Hi. I have used back button focus now for about 5 years. It took me about 2 months and two attempts to get used to it. I really like it now. I do have a custom button set for front button focusing so other people can use my camera or when I am out doing street photography. You are quite right, it will not suit everyone. Celebrate the difference.
0
Back Button Focus
I use back button to lock the exposure, then I have all the time to compose the pic and the camera is not making decisions on its own:-) (Works like a charm witha greycard too. Of course, it is useful only when I am not in manual mode.)
benkoerita 24, Sep 2018 @ 13:50
I use back button to lock the exposure, then I have all the time to compose the pic and the camera is not making decisions on its own:-) (Works like a charm witha greycard too. Of course, it is useful only when I am not in manual mode.)
0
Back Button Focus
I've uses a Back button for years and I absolutely love it.
panthip 14, Oct 2018 @ 15:08
I've uses a Back button for years and I absolutely love it.
0

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