The focus options available on Nikons can be bewildering, but there is method in the madness – let us explain…
Lock the focus and reframe
If your subject is off-centre in the frame, you can move the autofocus point to line up with it – but most of the time it’s quicker to stay with the centre AF point, place that over the subject and half-press the shutter button to lock the focus. Reframe the shot how you wanted it and press the button the rest of the way to take the picture.
Centre your AF point
If you’re using manual focus point selection and you’ve moved the AF point off-centre to photograph a particular subject, it’s a nuisance to have to keep clicking the navipad buttons to bring it back to the centre when you’ve finished. Happily, you don’t have to! Just click the OK button to centre the AF point automatically.
Lock your AF point
It’s also a nuisance to find the AF point has moved and the wrong part of your image is the sharpest just because you’ve accidentally pressed the navipad buttons. Some Nikon D-SLRs, such as the D300s, have a locking switch around the navipad; if you flick this switch to the ‘L’ position, the focus point position is locked.
Why not Auto area AF?
Auto Area AF is fine for when you’re shooting from the hip because it automatically selects the focus point – and most of the time it’s right, because it chooses the one over the object nearest the camera, which is most often the thing you’ll want to focus on. Where it breaks down is if you want to focus on something different.
Focus in Live View
Focusing in Live View is certainly slower than it is when using the viewfinder, but it has advantages, especially when you’re using a tripod. You can place the focus point where you like in the frame, and you can zoom right in to check the fine detail, which is especially useful for shooting close-ups and still life subjects.
Get up close
The minimum focus distance on almost all zoom lenses is constant across the zoom range, so if you want to fill the frame with a small subject, use the maximum zoom setting. The standard Nikon 18-55mm kit lens has a 3x zoom range, so at full zoom you can shoot from the same distance, but objects will be 3x large in the frame.
Live View might be slower for focusing, but it’s ideal for checking sharpness at 100%
For off-centre subjects, it’s often quicker to focus and re-compose than to move the autofocus point