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Nikon D5000 Autofocus Settings
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Nikon D5000

Nikon D5000. enlarge. I get my goodies at Ritz, Amazon and Adorama. It helps me keep adding to this site when you get yours from those links, too.


June 2009      Nikon D5000 Review     More Nikon Reviews



This is how you set the AF system of the Nikon D5000. See my Guide to Nikon AF Settings for other cameras.

Many of these settings are locked-out when the D5000 is in the green AUTO mode, set on the big top dial. I shoot in the P mode, which allows all these settings. For this page, use the P, S, A or M modes and you'll have access to all these settings.

If you're trying to do something below and it won't work, it's because you have the top dial set to AUTO.

The D5000 only autofocuses with the latest AF-S (and old professional AF-I) lenses. Most traditional (screw-type) AF lenses from 1986 through today will not autofocus on the D5000. If your lens says "AF-S," you're fine.

Most lenses sold today for the D5000 are AF-S, so no problem.

Most non-Nikon lenses from Tamron, Tokina, Quantaray, Sigma and anyone other than Nikon may not autofocus on the D5000.

Autofocus systems are fast, but not usually instantaneous. You have to hold the shutter down halfway as you compose the first shot so the AF system can focus and lock, and then the camera fires instantaneously when you press the shutter the rest of the way. See Preventing Shutter Delay for more.


External Controls         top

AF Sensor Selector (rear)

Nikon D5000 rear

Rear Multi-Selector, Nikon D5000. enlarge.

There is only one exterior AF control on the D5000 itself, the unmarked rear multi-selector.

This selects which autofocus (AF) sensor is used. Press in in any direction to choose any sensor.

To re-select the center sensor, press the middle OK button.

The active sensor lights up as you look through the finder.

If you press the MENU button, this same five-way control (four directions and OK) lets you change other AF settings in the menus. I'll cover these later.


Focus Mode Switch (on AF-I and AF-S lenses)         top

Nikon D80 Focus Mode Switch

Nikon Lens Focus Mode Switch. enlarge.

The D5000 has no Focus Mode Switch of its own. This is one of many ways the D5000 saves money so it can do pretty much the same thing for $750 as a $5,000 Nikon D3 does.

M is manual focus, like the 1950s. Turn the focus ring on the lens and look for the focus confirmation dot in the finder.

AF is autofocus, which is how I use the D5000 and what I'll describe below.

Many lenses, like the one shown above, say "A/M - M." A/M means autofocus, and that you may simply grab the lens' focus ring at any time for manual focus. M means manual all the time.


Menu and INFO Controls         top

Nikon is able to make the D5000 at a very low price with extremely high quality by eliminating many mechanical controls found on more expensive cameras.

By burying these controls in menus and/or the INFO screen, the few people who want to use them still can. Otherwise, everyone would have to pay for mechanical controls, even if they didn't use them.

The D5000 has the same controls as a $5,000 Nikon D3, just that you have to stop and piddle with menus instead of having direct controls.


Focus Mode (INFO screen)         top

You set these by pressing either the top or rear INFO [i] button to display the INFO screen. Once the info screen is displayed, press the rear INFO [i] button to change the settings.

Click over to the right side of the screen, and about halfway up you'll see either AF-A, AF-S or AF-C displayed. Select it, and press OK to set them.

Once here, your choices are:



I use AF-A, the D5000's default.

AF-A means Auto Focus — Automatic mode selection.

AF-A magically selects between the next two modes. This clever AF-A mode looks at the subject. If it's holding still, the D5000 locks the focus. If the subject is moving, the D5000 tracks it as it moves nearer and farther.

I don't think I've ever needed to select any of these modes below. The AF-A mode is that good!



AF-S is AF-Single.

The D5000 focuses once, then locks AF for you to recompose and shoot.

You can use this for still subjects, but AF-A sets this so you don't have to.



AF-C is AF-Continuous.

The D5000 keeps focusing as the subject moves. Use this for sports and vehicles in motion, like cars, birds and aircraft.

AF-A is smart enough to set this automatically if the subject is moving.



M is Manual focus. Turn the focus ring on your lens until the picture is sharp, or look for the electronic "Focus OK" dot on the lower left of the viewfinder.

It's stupid to set manual focus on the INFO screen, because you're now stuck in manual focus regardless of how you set your lens. If you're like me, you'll think your lens or camera is broken and send it in for repair!


AF Area Modes (INFO Screen or Custom Settings menu)         top

These modes select how the D5000 makes use of its 11 AF sensors spread around the viewfinder.

You set these by pressing either the top or rear INFO [i] button to display the INFO screen. Once the info screen is displayed, press the rear INFO [i] button to change the settings.

Click over to the right side of the screen, and about halfway up you'll see one of these funny symbols displayed. Select it, and press OK to set them.

Alternately, you set these in the Custom Setting menu by pressing MENU (go all the way to the left) > Custom Setting (pencil) > a1 AF-area mode.

Once here, your choices are:


[ o ] Single point

Single point is for still subjects.

I use this (or 3D tracking below) most of the time. In Single point, the D5000 uses only the AF area you select with the rear AF Sensor Selector.


[ x ] Dynamic Area

Dynamic Area means the D5000 first uses whichever area you select with the rear AF Sensor Selector, and proceeds to select other areas automatically if the subject moves in the frame. You won't see which area is selected in the finder, but you can see it on playback if you use the right software.

This really works. I use this for sports, running animals and birds in flight.


[xxx] Auto Area

Auto Area lets the D5000 guess which AF area to use.

In Auto area, the D5000 almost always gives a great, in-focus shot.


[3D] 3D-tracking (11 points)

3D-tracking is an improvement on Dynamic Area. It also lets the D5000 track things as they move around the frame, and shows you which sensor is selected as it works.

With 3D tracking, you can focus with the middle sensor, move the camera to recompose, and the AF sensor moves by magic!

I like the 3D mode.


My Favorite Settings         top


I use AF-A, Nikon's default (set on INFO screen).

I set Single Area or 3D-tracking (set in Custom Setting menu).

When shooting, I select a sensor and shoot away.

I'll go to one of these next settings only if my usual setting isn't working for me.


Still Subjects         top

For still subjects, I leave it as above, or sometimes lock it into Single point (set in Custom Setting menu).


Moving Subjects         top

For sports and moving subjects, I leave it as above (AF-A, set on INFO screen), but I set 3D-tracking in the Custom Setting menu. This lets the D5000 track action as it moves around the frame!

Select the appropriate AF area with the control on the back of the D5000 to select your kid, then as you keep the shutter button pressed halfway and keep shooting, the D5000 will keep your kid in focus as he runs down the field and scores his goal! Ditto for birds in flight and most other things that move.

If you're shooting sports all day long, you might want to lock the D5000 into AF-C mode (set on INFO screen), but I've never needed to. AF-A mode is smart enough to figure it out.


Handing the D5000 to a Non-Photographer         top

Ryan and Daddy

Ryan and Daddy, photo by mom. enlarge.

The D5000 makes great photos, even when used as a point-and-shoot. (OK, the shot above was shot by my wife on my D40, but you get the point. The D5000 is at least as good.)

When I hand my D5000 to a non-photographer (like my wife), I leave the D5000 at AF-A as above, but I return to the default of Auto Area in the Custom Setting menu. This lets the D5000 figure out where to focus, and it works great.

You can set AUTO on the top dial and it will choose this AF mode, as well as reset a lot of other things back to default.


PLUG         top

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