What is Back Button Focus?

What is back button focusing and why is it such a game changer?

So the reason I want to do a blog on this is -

When I have been on safari, a number of individuals don't know what it is and end up hacking through settings, switching between AI servo(AF-C) and single shot(AF-S) which results in them missing shots. This is just one of many issues that changing to back button focus will resolve.

Let me begin by stating that this has has got nothing to do with any focusing issues such as back focus which refers to when your camera is focusing behind your focal point/intended target. Back button focus refers to the technique where focusing and the shutter button is separated.

What are the Advantages to using back button focus?

1 - You can shoot in AI SERVO (AF-C) and One Shot(AF-S)

This is a huge advantage to wildlife photography, having continuous focus out in the field and being able to lock focus(for single shot) can be done by either holding in back button focus for continual focusing or simply released when single focus is required(subject that is stationary).

2 - No precious time wasted in changing modes.

When it comes to wildlife photography, there are many external elements that are out of our control, such as light and animal movement just to name two. So, we need to make sure that we are in control of what we have power over and one of those elements is focusing. You don't want to be hacking through all your settings when there is action on the go and back button focus allows you a little bit more freedom.

3 - Manual focus.

There is no need to adjust from auto focus to manual focus on your lens, which definitely helps when you find your auto focus struggling to focus on your subject(e.g. if there are other elements such as grass moving in front of your subject, auto focus often focuses on the grass instead of your main subject).

4 - IT JUST WORKS and makes life so much easier.

How It Looks On Canon

What is Back Button Focus?
What is Back Button Focus?

How It Looks On Nikon

What is Back Button Focus?

Things to Remember:

  • Make sure you spend a bit of time practicing using the back button focus before you head out into the field, It needs to be practiced as much as possible to create the muscle memory needed in the heat of the moment.
  • Using back button focus will still take photos even if there is no focus, remember we have separated the shutter and focus function which are now two different buttons.
  • If shooting at a shallow depth of field and are very close to your subject, rather manipulate the focal point to aid in composition instead of locking focus and moving the camera. The reason why I say this is because if you using an aperture of 2.8, with the shallow depth of field, readjusting the whole camera can make it difficult to keep you exact focus on the intended subject or area of the subject.

So that is pretty much the basics to back button focus and I urge you to give it a try, as mentioned before it will feel strange at first but once you have built up that muscle memory, it will become second nature and you won't look back.

Until next time,


4 thoughts on “What is Back Button Focus?

  1. Tracey


    Thank you for this interesting blog.
    I really learnt a lot.

    • Trevor McCall-Peat

      You are welcome and I am glad you found it useful

  2. Michael


    I don’t know what all the hype is about back button focus, I dislike it. I use servo with continuous focus and then to reframe hit the back button freeze focus.

    • Trevor McCall-Peat

      Hi there,

      It all comes down to personal preference, and when it comes to wildlife photography, for me, I find it a lot easier and quicker to manage.

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