Nikon D7000 Autofocus Settings
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I usually leave my D7000 in its default AF settings, which today work great for almost every sort of shooting situation. Left alone at its default settings, the D7000 usually figures out what is the subject, focuses on it, and even tracks it if it moves.
I only pull the D7000 out of its defaults if it's not picking the correct AF area by itself, or not tracking.
Here's how you set all this, what this all means, and why and when you might need to change what.
The D7000's AF system works in four dimensions at once. The first dimension obviously is distance. The second dimension is time, which we control with the AF-system mode settings. The two other dimensions are up-down and left-right, which are dealt with by having 39 different AF sensors spread all over the finder. We control how the D7000 uses all its 39 AF sensors with the AF-Area mode controls.
First I'm going to show where to find the controls, then explain what control sets what and what each setting does, and finally I'll explain what settings to use for what sorts of pictures.
There are only two external controls dedicated to setting the AF system:
Nikon D7000 AF Controls. bigger.
The D7000's AF-Area modes (all, some, 3D, etc.) and AF-System modes (AF-S, AF-C and AF-A) are selected by pushing an unmarked button and holding it while spinning the front and rear control dials. This unmarked button is inside the simple AF-M lever.
Press and hold this button, and the front dial controls AF-Area modes (all, some, 3D, etc.), and the rear dial selects among the AF-S, AF-C and AF-A modes.
The viewfinder displays what you're doing as you set it, so you can see all of this without taking your eye from the finder.
These modes are also saved in the U1 and U2 positions.
Let me now explain what this all means.
In the beginning, AF cameras had only one AF sensor, yet they still had many ways to control what was done with that one sensor.
All Nikons use these same AF System modes. The innovations over the past 25+ years come from adding more AF sensors.
M (select on lens or with AF-M mode switch)
M means manual focus. You turn the focus ring yourself.
AF (select on lens and with AF-M mode switch)
Once you've set the mechanical switch on the outside of the D7000 to AF, you still have more to set if you like.
Even Nikon's first AF cameras of the 1980s had two AF modes: AF-S (single) and AF-C (continuous). The D7000 has three, adding a newer AF-A (auto) mode:
AF-S (hold AF settings button and turn rear dial)
AF-S, or AF-single, means that the camera focuses, and then locks.
This is used for things that don't move.
You point the camera at the subject, hold the shutter halfway until the OK light lights, and then move the camera to recompose your photo while the focus stays locked.
AF-C (hold AF settings button and turn rear dial)
AF-C, or AF-continuous, means that the camera focuses, and then keeps focusing as the subject moves in and out.
This is used for action.
AF-C works great, but on older cameras, only if your subject stayed in the middle of the frame, right under the single AF sensor.
Used with careful selection of many AF points under AF-Area modes, the D7000 can select different sensors to track motion around the finder, while this AF-C mode lets the D7000 track focus in and out to keep the subject sharp.
AF-A (hold AF settings button and turn rear dial)
AF-A, or AF-auto, is a new mode. It means that the camera focuses, and then based on the subject, is smart enough to lock if it's still, or keep tracking if it's moving. This is the mode I use most of the time. It really is this smart.
These AF-system modes apply to one sensor. They don't apply to how we use more than one sensor at a time. The management of multiple sensors is set via the AF-Area mode settings explained next:
I use AUTO select most of the time, and change to 3D and select one point if my D7000 isn't selecting what I need automatically. In this 3D mode, once you assign an AF point to a target, it tracks and moves around the finder automatically as the target moves.
In 3D mode, you don't even need to move the AF point. You may find it easier to use the center point, point the camera so the center point is on the target, and then move the camera and let it move the AF point for you, instead of selecting a different point with the thumb control.
AUTO select (hold AF settings button and turn front dial)
Auto means the D7000 picks which of its 39 sensors it will use, all by itself. It works very well. I use this mode all the time, and only use another setting if for some reason my D7000's Auto AF-Area selection isn't picking the AF areas I need.
S: Single (hold AF settings button and turn front dial)
If you want to use only one sensor, select S, or single.
In Single AF area mode, use the big rear thumb control to select which of the 39 sensors to use.
Once selected, the sensor will not move with this setting.
d9: Dynamic 9 (hold AF settings button and turn front dial)
d9 is like the S selection, except that it uses a 3x3 sensor matrix centered around your selected sensor.
As a subject moves a little, the D7000 will use its choice of any of these 9 sensors to arrive at the best focus.
I never use this. It is a good setting if you have a subject with some motion, but I prefer the 3D setting instead for moving subjects.
d21: Dynamic 21 (hold AF settings button and turn front dial)
d21 is like the d9 selection, except that it uses a flock of 21 sensors centered around your selected sensor.
As a subject moves a bit, the D7000 will use its choice of any of these 21 sensors to arrive at the best focus.
I never use this. It is a good setting if you have a subject with moderate motion, but I prefer the 3D setting instead for moving subjects.
d39: Dynamic 39 (hold AF settings button and turn front dial)
d39 is like the S selection, except that it uses any of the sensors as it sees fit.
I never use this.
3d: Three-Dimensional Color Tracking (hold AF settings button and turn front dial)
3D allows the D7000 to choose any sensor it likes as a subject moves all over.
Once you select 3d, select a sensor with the rear multi-control switch, and as soon as the D7000 gets something in focus, the D7000 will track that sucker all over the frame.
The D7000 is the smartest camera on earth for doing this, at least as I write this in January 2011. Once it gets focused, the D7000 uses distance, motion and even color information to track your subject all over the frame, and keep the correct sensor selected and the focus locked to it like the bite of an angry pit bull. Once you select a sensor and the the D7000 grabs focus, it's not letting go until you've got your shot.
I use this mode if the AUTO mode won't pick the correct sensor for me. I use this even for still subjects because it allows me to recompose and watch the D7000 keep my actual subject in the AF system's crosshairs, saving me from having to move more buttons.
There are more controls in the menus, but I find Nikon's defaults to be right as I want them.
To set these, press:
MENU > CUSTOM SETTING MENU (pencil) > a Autofocus.
I leave all of these at their defaults.
I explain them in great detail in the menus section of my Nikon D7000 User's Guide.
My Favorite Settings
Most of the Time
I use Nikon's default AF-A and Auto-AF area select modes most of the time.
The D7000 picks the correct sensors, and gets great focus on still or moving subjects most of the time, all by itself. It's amazing.
If the D7000 isn't picking the AF sensors I want automatically, I change to 3D and select the point I want myself. In this 3D mode, once you assign an AF point to a target, it tracks and moves around the finder automatically as the target moves, allowing the subject to move, or you to recompose.
In 3D mode, you don't even need to move the AF point. You may find it easier to use the center point, point the camera so the center point is on the target, and then move the camera and let it move the AF point for you, instead of selecting a different point with the thumb control!
For still subjects, I leave it as above, or pick one sensor in S mode if the Auto AF-area select feature isn't working well.
For moving subjects, I leave it as above.
If and only if the D7000 isn't picking the desired AF sensors all by itself, or isn't tracking movement, only then will I change the settings.
If the AF areas aren't tracking well, I'll select 3d.
If the focus isn't continuing to track in and out automatically, only then will I select AF-C.
The D7000 easily should be able to track a player running around on a field, or birds in flight, and most other things that move, all by itself in its default settings.
Handing the D7000 to a Non-Photographer
The D7000 makes great photos, even when used as a point-and-shoot.
When I hand my D7000 to a non-photographer like my wife, I leave it at its default of AF-A and Auto.
The D7000 is the first Nikon that does all this without needing any additional settings away from its default.
More Information: See my complete plain-English D7000 User's Guide.
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