Rear Button Focusing

After hearing a number of photographers talk about rear button focusing, I decided I’d give it a go. As it’s something I’m currently playing with, I thought it would be an ideal first proper post for Bushtography. Below I’ll run through what it is, how to set it up on a Nikon D7000 and finally how I’ve found it so far.

What is rear button focusing?

Rear button focusing is fairly self descriptive but for anyone that still isn’t sure what I’m talking about, it’s basically the assigning of one of the buttons on the back of the camera to activating the cameras auto focus instead of using the shutter button. By changing the activation button, it supposedly aids composition over the “focus, recompose” method of composing your images. The idea is that you can set the focus where you want it and then forget about it whilst you compose the image and go through the rest of your mental check list. The “focus, recompose” method is what most photographs I’ve actually met before seem to use, whereby you compose your shot, semi depress the shutter button to lock in the auto focus and exposure, and then fully depress the shutter to capture your image.

Reassigning Auto Focus on the D7000

In order to reasign the autofocus you need to set:

  1. Menu
  2. Custom Settings Menu
  3. Controls
  4. f5 Assign AE-L/AF-L button
  5. AF-ON

Once this is set, you need to press the AE-L/AF-L button to activate the autofocus. If you’re using AF-C focusing mode, you’ll need to keep this button held to continue the focusing.

One other setting that I found I wanted to change to go with the reassignment was the “AF-C/S priority selection”. The two options you get for these settings are “Release” and “Focus”. “Release” will cause an image to be captured as soon as the shutter button is fully pressed whereas “Focus” will stop the camera taking the image until the camera has determined the image is going to be in focus.

The problem with the “Focus” setting when you’re using rear button focusing is that once you come to take your shot, the area at your selected focus point may well not be in focus so the camera won’t take the picture. However, as you’ve conciously set the focus before pressing the shutter button you just want the image to be captured. “Release” mode will do this.

You can find the “AF-C/S priority selection” options at:

  1. Menu
  2. Custom Settings Menu
  3. Autofocus
  4. a1 and a2

My Thoughts

Once I’d changed the priority selection setting to “Release” I started to appreciate the value of Rear Button Focusing. It seems to tick off one major item on the mental check list at an earlier stage making the composition and image capture slightly easier. However, I have found that I’m capturing more out of focus images than I used to previously. At the moment, I’m putting that down to a change in habits and that I just need to get used to a new technique.

I’d also question how useful this technique would be for sports/wildlife photographers or anyone that regularly uses continuatl autofocus. It could be down to which button you’re able to assign the autofocus activation to but I find the “AE-L/AF-L” button more awkward to hold down when continually focusing. Also, if you ever pass your camera to someone else to take a photo, they’re going to thing your camera is either rubbish or broken.

In general, I think that this technique is going to be a winner and I’m certainly going to continue working with it. However, I accept it might not be for everyone.


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