Back button focus on a 5d Mark 3If you use a DSLR this is likely an option and something I recommend you consider.  I switched to back button focusing nine months ago and find it 186% better than the standard method of shutter focus.  Ok, so I totally made up that percentage but it seriously works way better for me- read on to see if it will work better for you.

Typically one presses the camera shutter halfway to focus, pressing it all the way takes the photo.  Pressing the shutter button also meters, that is the camera quickly determines the correct exposure for the image you are about to take.



Threading the Needle

Back Button Focus or BBF is simply assigning a button, on the rear of your camera, usually a button right where you right-hand thumb falls, to start focusing.   99% of the time I use a single focus point in the camera, I want to make sure I know what the camera is focusing on.  The few times I let the camera decide, by using all the focus points, I am often disappointed in the results.   So single point AF is great, me deciding what to focus on is great AND deciding when to focus is the cherry on top.  By using the back button for focus you can focus, compose and shoot a photo, and shoot another photo without worrying about the camera trying to refocus in-between shots.  I could even recompose slightly and shoot again, again without worrying or waiting for the camera to focus again.

Maybe a scenario will help explain: I was shooting a college commencement last weekend and framed the college president between the heads of two graduates, their mortar boards making a nice frame.  I framed the shot, focused and then waited for the president to look toward my side of the room, when she did I fired a few shots leaning to keep her framed as she and the graduates all moving.  The opening between the two graduates was very narrow and they were moving around, if I had used the shutter button to focus it would likely have grabbed onto one of their edges  and for each shot I would have waited a few frustrating seconds for it to focus on what I wanted, these few seconds add up for multiple shots.   I didn’t need to refocus for any of these shots because my basic distances remained the same.  Same idea for portraits or really any series of shots where you might recompose a bunch – even switching from landscape to portrait, you nail that first focus with your back button and then just snap away.


I have also experienced frustration shooting birds in trees – if there are a few branches between you and the bird your camera is going to waste effort on refocusing for each and every shot.  Using back focus you can get the focus nailed and take a few shots, at least until the bird moves again.


So give it a shot, it might not work for you but as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it has made me 187% happier!  Scientifically proven!!  yep, I added 1% because I realized as I wrote this post that it really is that great!  Here are some directions for Canon shooters .

  • EOS Rebel T4i: C. Fn 6 (option 2 or 3) – Watch Video
  • EOS Rebel T3: C.Fn 7 (option 1 or 3)
  • EOS Rebel T3i: C.Fn 9 (option 1 or 3)
  • EOS 50D: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)
  • EOS 60D: C.Fn IV-1 (option 1, 2, 3, or 4)
  • EOS 7D: C.Fn IV-1 (Custom Controls — Shutter, AF-ON, FEL buttons)
  • EOS 5D Mark II: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)
  • EOS 5D Mark III: C.FN 2 – Custom Controls, Set AF-ON to AF
  • EOS-1Ds Mark III: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)
  • EOS-1D Mark IV: C.Fn IV-1 (option 2 or 3)

Nikon Shooters I suggest you google back button focus and your camera model – directions are out there.


I hope this helps some of you- I invite questions and thoughts – leave them here or post on facebook.

This post brought to you buy my favorite budget tripod – all the features of a $200 tripod for less than $40 – Dolica Proline Tripod

Thanks for reading!




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 Way back in March we spent a few nights at the awesome #aurorabear yurt run by @frankstelges If you want to hang out at the coolest yurt while watching #auroraborealis reach out to him!! While waiting for the aurora to show up I ran the 80D in time-lapse mode and then stacked it all in #starstax which answers the question - what's it look like when you shoot the stars AND the full moon and StarStax it all. Captured with the #Canon #80D and 24mm f/2.8 lens. (Note - the 80D ran for 3 hours in near zero temps on one battery!)
 Left to Right - Mahtotopa Mountain(8,671 ft), Little Chief Mountain (9,514 ft), Citadel Mountain (9,035 ft) - as seen from Going-To-The-Sun Point #GlacierNP is awesome even if #loganpass is closed! I could tell you when it will open but we were sworn to secrecy :) #mckaylive
 Ponte Fabricio - one of many sweet bridges crossing the river Tiber.

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  1. Toby, I have just discovered your videos and I am so grateful that you take the time to provide clear and balanced and useful information! This video helped me to calm down about turning in my 60D. The t5i doesn’t shoot as well on the auto settings. The clarity is just not there. But this video helped me to immediately improve results. I am going to watch all of your tutorials and buy accessories and lenses through your links. Still might exchange the t5i for the 70d, but much of the information applies to both and your lens summaries are excellent. Truly appreciate your work! Thanks! Jennifer

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