Many of these settings are locked-out when the D5300 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 D5300 only autofocuses with the latest AF-S (and older professional AF-I) lenses. Most traditional (screw-type) AF lenses from 1986 through today will not autofocus on the D5300. If your lens says "AF-S," you're fine; most lenses sold today for the D5300 are AF-S.
Most non-Nikon lenses from Tamron, Tokina, Quantaray, Sigma and anyone other than Nikon may not autofocus at all on the D5300. Good luck; I rarely suggest these. If money is tight, I buy used Nikon lenses via eBay.
Autofocus systems are fast, but not usually instantaneous. You have to hold the shutter down halfway 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.
The great news is that the D5300 is set-up right out of the box to work great under almost every situation. Unlike earlier cameras, this tutorial is going to be easy.
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My Favorite Settings top
Here's how I set my D5300 for various conditions. I'll explain how to set these in the next section.
The D5300 is set perfectly by default.
I leave the D5300's autofocus settings as it came from the factory for most of my shooting.
I'll go to one of these other settings only if the default settings of AF-A and Auto Area (explained below) aren't working for me.
Still Subjects top
For still subjects, I leave it as above, or might set it to AF-S and Single Point if the default isn't selecting the correct things all by itself.
Moving Subjects top
For sports and moving subjects, AF-A and Auto Area as set by default usually work, but if I'm going to be shooting sports all day, I'll set it to AF-C and 3D-tracking. This lets the D5300 track action as it moves around the frame and towards and away from the camera!
Select an appropriate AF area with the control on the back of the D5300 to select your subject, then as you keep the shutter button pressed halfway and keep shooting, the D5300 will keep that subject in focus as it moves all around the frame!
Handing Your D5300 to a Non-Photographer top
The D5300 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 D5300 is even better.)
When I hand my D5300 to a non-photographer (like my wife), I leave the D5300 at its defaults of AF-A and Auto Area. This lets the D5300 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.
Focus Mode Switch top
The D5300 has no Focus Mode Switch of its own. This is one of many ways the D5300 saves money so it can do pretty much the same thing for $800 as a $6,500 Nikon D4s does.
AF-S and AF-I lenses have their own AF Mode Switches.
On the lens, 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 or M/A is autofocus, which is how I use the D5300, and what I'll describe below.
If your lens has a switch, leave it in AF or M/A.
Older AF and AF-D lenses have no AF Mode switch, but that's OK, because they can't autofocus with the D5300: they are always in Manual focus mode anyway!
Focus Mode top
This is where you select Auto or Manual focus.
You set the Focus Mode by pressing the i button to display the INFO screen.
Once the INFO screen is displayed, press the Multi Selector and highlight the second option along the bottom of the INFO screen.
When the AF selection is highlighted, press OK to adjust it.
Your choices are:
I use AF-A, the D5300's default.
AF-A means "Auto Focus — Automatic" mode selection.
AF-A magically selects between the AF-S and AF-C modes explained below. This clever AF-A mode looks at the subject: if it's holding still, the D5300 locks the focus in AF-S mode, and if the subject is moving, the D5300 tracks it as it moves nearer and farther in AF-C mode.
You cannot set the AF-S or AF-C modes directly in the D5300, as you can on fancier cameras. You only can select the AF-A mode and then it selects the AF-S or AF-C modes for you.
AF-S is "AF-Single."
The D5300 focuses once, and then locks AF for you to recompose and shoot.
AF-A is smart enough to set this automatically for you if the subject is still.
AF-C is "AF-Continuous."
The D5300 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 for you if the subject is moving.
M is Manual focus.
Set this on your lens if you can, not here in this menu, since if you select it on your INFO screen, you're now stuck in manual focus regardless of how you set your lens. If you're like me, you'll forget you set this, think your lens or camera is broken and send it in for repair!
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.
Set MENU > CUSTOM (pencil icon) > a3 Rangefinder > ON and an additional bar graph will help you focus manually.
These modes select how the D5300 uses its 39 AF sensors. These are the little black squares that pop up as you press the shutter.
Left at its default setting, the D5300 chooses and uses whichever it needs, automatically.
When the AF-Area Mode selection is highlighted, press OK to adjust it.
Your choices are:
[xxx] Auto Area (default)
Auto Area lets the D5300 guess which AF area to use.
In Auto Area, the D5300 almost always gives a great, in-focus shot.
I use this setting almost all of the time.
I only use the settings below if Auto Area isn't guessing my subject properly, for instance, if it's focusing on a closer distraction instead.
[ o ] Single Point
The Single Point mode is most helpful for still subjects.
In Single point, the D5300 uses only the AF area you select.
I use this (or 3D tracking below) if the Auto Area mode isn't picking the correct sensor for me.
In the Single Point mode, you can select which AF area is used with the Multi Selector.
Press the rear multi-selector in any direction to choose any sensor. The sensor lights only for a moment to let you know you've selected it.
To re-select the center sensor, press the middle OK button.
[ 9 ], [ 21 ] or [ 39 ]
This is an older mode left over from earlier cameras; the 3D mode below does this even better.
These let you select which sensor to use to start, and then the D5300 is allowed to use any of the sensors around the one you selected as it sees fit. The bigger the number, the broader the area.
You'll see a picture showing which sensors will be permitted to be used by the D5300 on the INFO screen just after you set this. As you select different sensors, you'll see on the rear LCD the ones around it which you'll allowing the D5300 to use.
In these settings, the D5300 first uses whichever area you select with the rear multi-selector, and proceeds to select other areas automatically if the subject moves around.
You won't see which area is selected in the finder, but you can see it on playback if you use the right software.
[3D] 3D-tracking (39 points)
3D-tracking is marvelous. It lets the D5300 track things as they move around the frame, and shows you which sensor is selected as it tracks your subject.
The rear multi-selector is also used to select the first AF area from which the D5300 tracks.
With 3D tracking, you may prefer always to focus with the middle sensor, and then move the camera to recompose. The selected AF sensors move around by magic, saving you the trouble of selecting them!
This really works. I use the 3D mode for sports, running animals and birds in flight if Auto Select isn't working for me.
Thanks for reading!
See also my Nikon D5300 User's Guide:
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Thanks for reading!