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How-to's Camera Reviews

Understand the Multi-Cam 1000 Auto focus

Darrell Young (DigitalDarrell)

Keywords: nikon, d200, camera, bodies

Page 2/6 show all pages

Release Priority vs. Focus Priority (Custom Settings a1 and a2)

Let’s consider a couple of very important custom settings that can affect how many images you get that are truly in sharp focus. They’re Custom Settings “a1” and “a2,” which sets the camera to either FOCUS PRIORITY or RELEASE PRIORITY. These apply to AF-C (Continuous Servo AF), and AF-S (Single Servo AF). AF-C uses custom setting a1, while AF-S uses a2.

Nikon D200

Nikon D200 Digital SLR set to AF-C

Focus Priority simply means that your camera will refuse to take a picture until it can reasonably focus on something. Release Priority means that the camera will take a picture when you decide to take it, regardless if anything is "in focus" or not. (Read the last paragraph a few times for clarity until it sinks in.)

Now, you might ask yourself “why is there such a setting as Release Priority?” Well, many professional photographers are shooting high-speed events at high-frame rates, taking hundreds of images, using depth-of-field (or experience and luck) to compensate for less than accurate focus. They are in complete control of their camera’s systems relying on a huge amount of practice in getting the focus right where they want it to be.



So, clearly, there are valid reasons for certain photographers not to use Focus Priority. But, most of those same photographers do not let the shutter release button start the autofocus either, since the focus would change every time the shutter button is pressed. They set Custom Setting a6 so the autofocus does not even activate until the AF-ON button is pressed. (see manual page 151) They then use the AF-ON button for their autofocus, and the shutter button to take the picture. They separate the two functions instead of using the shutter button for both.

You need to ask yourself, “What type of a photographer am I?”

If you are a pro, shooting hundreds of pictures of fast race cars, focus priority may not be for you. But, for the average photographer taking photos of his kids running around the yard, a beautiful landscape, flying birds, or a bride tossing a bouquet, Focus Priority is the best choice. For most of us, it’s better to have the camera refuse to take the picture unless it is able to focus on your subject.

When shooting quickly, focus priority may cause your camera to skip a series of out-of-focus images. Focus Priority will slow down your camera’s frame rate so that it will not reach the maximum 5 frames per second. But, I have to ask, what is the point of 10 out-of-focus images and 5 in-focus images? Why waste the card space, and then have to weed through the slightly out-of-focus images?

In Figure 1 below are pictures of the series of menu screens used to set Release vs. Focus Priority.

For AF-C Mode using Custom Setting a1:

Figure 1– Custom Setting Menu screens for a1

The factory default is for “FPS Rate” priority. Most of us will want to change that to “Focus” priority. (FPS = Frames Per Second)

“FPS rate” and “FPS rate + AF” are both forms of Release Priority, with “FPS rate + AF” giving “improved” autofocus while still allowing the image to be taken no matter what. For reliably sharp focus in AF-C mode, use Focus Priority. On this menu, it’s the bottom “Focus” selection.

Now, let’s turn our attention to AF-S mode and Custom Setting a2. We need to verify whether Focus or Release Priority is set. Examine Figure 2 for the correct sequence of menu items.

For AF-S Mode using Custom Setting a2:

Figure 2 – Custom Setting Menu screens for a2

In figure 2, your choices are “Focus” and “Release.” Since the factory default is Focus Priority, it may already be set to “Focus.” If not, then select Focus. Now, your D200 is set up to take an image ONLY if it can focus on your subject, no matter what AF mode you choose.

(3 Votes )
Page 2/6 show all pages

Originally written on October 25, 2005

Last updated on October 28, 2016

1 comment

User on December 24, 2014

Nice work Daryl! I still use the d200. Thanks for taking the time to write this.