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“Auto” focus is more than one button on your camera. There are actually two functions and multiple combinations that on one hand give you the best possible chance of getting sharp focused photos. And on the other hand, when there are multiple choices, which one do you use when? Here are the two functions and optimal settings for various wildlife photography situations.

  1. Auto Focus Mode. Determines whether the camera focuses once or continuously when the shutter is pressed halfway. Choose either S (Single Shot/Single Servo) or C (Continuous Servo/AI Servo).
  2. Auto Focus Area Mode. Determines the area of the frame the camera will use to focus, represented by the number of focus points. Focus points are the little empty squares or dots you see when you look through your viewfinder and press halfway down on the shutter release. Options vary by camera model, but typically there is Single (one focus point), Dynamic Area (aka. AF Point Expansion)and Auto Point Selection. Dynamic Area options may offer 9 points, 11 points, 21 points, 52 points, 100+ points and 3D Tracking, and everything in between.

It’s easy to understand why people find Auto Focus confusing!


Wildlife Situation

Auto Focus Mode

Auto Focus Area Mode

Subject occupies a small area of the frame and/or is a similar color tone as the background

Subject behind a fence and not moving



Subject is moving slowly and in a predictable pattern

Subject behind a fence and moving



Subject is moving fast and in a predictable pattern


Dynamic 9 points

Subject is moving fast and in a unpredictable pattern


Dynamic 11, or 22 points

Subject is moving fast and erratic. It is very difficult to follow the movement.


Dynamic 52+ points or 3D Tracking


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