Nikon D80 AF Settings
This is specific to the Nikon D80 and setting its autofocus system.
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.
There are four exterior controls: one on front, one on top, and two on the back.
Focus Mode Switch (front)
Nikon D80 Focus Mode Switch.
The front Focus Mode Switch selects between auto or manual focus.
M is manual focus, like the 1950s. Turn the ring and look for the focus confirmation dot in the finder.
AF is autofocus. The rest of this article refers only to autofocus.
AF Mode Selector (top of D80)
Nikon D80 AF Mode Selector.
The three AF modes, AF-A, AF-S and AF-C, are selected with the AF Mode Selector. Press it and spin the rear dial to select among them.
AF-A, the default I use, magically selects between the next two modes. More expensive (and older) Nikons don't have this clever mode, ha ha. This clever AF-A mode looks at the subject. If it's holding still, the D80 locks the focus. If the subject is moving, the D80 tracks it as it moves nearer and farther.
AF-S stands for AF-Single. The D80 focuses once, then locks AF for you to recompose and shoot.
AF-C stands for AF-Continuous. The D80 keeps focusing as the subject changes distance. Use this for sports and vehicles in motion, like cars, birds and aircraft. For clarification, this is only tracking in the z (distance) directly. This isn't related to x-y motion, which refers to selecting various AF sensors across the finder as covered below.
AF Sensor Selector (rear)
Nikon D80 Rear AF Controls.
On the back, the AF Sensor Selector selects among the many AF sensors, if you want to. The L, or lock, position, prevents you from knocking the adjustment. The lock doesn't prevent you from navigating the menus, which is clever.
AF Sensor Modes (in menus)
The D80 has 11 AF sensors. You tell the D80 how to use them in the Custom Setting menus. You get to this selection by pressing MENU > Custom Settings > 02 AF-Area Mode.
You'll want to use different settings for action, still subjects or handing your camera to a non-photographer. I wish the D80 had a dedicated switch as more expensive Nikons do, because this is a setting I change often. On the D80 we need to go into this menu every time our subject changes.
[ o ] Single Area is for still subjects. I use this most of the time. The D80 uses whichever area you select with the rear AF Sensor Selector.
[ x ] Dynamic Area lets the D80 automatically select which sensor to use as a subject moves around the frame. It really works! I use this for sports, running animals and birds in flight.
The D80 first uses whichever area you select with the rear AF Sensor Selector, and proceeds to select other areas automatically if the subject moves. You won't see which area is selected in the finder, but you can see it on playback if you use the right software.
[xxx] Auto-Area AF selects AF areas by magic, usually the closest one. Use this when you hand your camera to a non-photographer, or if things are moving too fast for you to do your own AF selection. This feature works great. I'm always surprised at the great results I get in this mode.
TRICK: You can program the FUNC button to change this setting, which would be great except I prefer to use my FUNC button for Flash Exposure Lock.
My Favorite Settings
I set AF-A with the Mode Selector on the top of the D80. I'll set the AF Sensor Mode in the Custom Setting menus to Single Area. I'll select AF sensor with my thumb on the AF Sensor Selector.
If this isn't working for me, I'll go to one of these next two settings, one for still subjects, and one for moving things like sports.
For still subjects, I set AF-S (single focus and lock) with the Mode Selector on the top of the D80.
I'll set the AF Sensor Mode in the Custom Setting menus to Single Area.
I'll select AF sensor with my thumb on the AF Sensor Selector, and usually use the center AF sensor.
I set AF-C (continuous tracking) with the Mode Selector on the top of the D80.
I'll set the AF Sensor Mode in the Custom Setting menus to Dynamic Area, which lets the D80 track subjects as they move across the frame (or as you change framing).
I'll select AF sensor with my thumb on the AF Sensor Selector. Once chosen, the D80 will move it around to track the subject, but it won't light up in the finder as it does.
Handing the D80 to a Non-Photographer
If handing the D80 to a non-photographer, I set it thus:
I leave it in AF-A, as set with the Mode Selector on the top of the D80. This isn't critical, any setting will work about as well as the others when handing the camera to a normal person to take your picture. If handing it to someone to use for the whole day, I'd make sure it was at AF-A so they'll get great results for both sports and posed shots.
I set the AF Sensor Mode in the Custom Setting menus to Auto-Area AF. Now the D80 chooses the correct sensor by magic! This really works; you won't get photos focused behind the subject as you will in the other modes when handing your D80 to people who aren't going to know what an AF sensor does.
See my complete plain-English D80 User's Guide.
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