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Focus mode and af area mode.

edited November 2015 Posted in » Nikon D3200 Forum
Hi all, newbie here. I have just purchased a Nikon D3200 and I am very pleased with my purchase, but I am confused how to set up the focus mode and the af area mode. I mainly take pictures of people and landscape type, so mainly static non moving subjects. Any suggestions how to set up this area of my camera would be most helpful.
Thank you.


  • edited November 2015
    The scene modes and Automatic don't allow you to change much, but the A, S, M and P modes do, and for the moment we'll assume (and hope) that you're using these, which give you many more options for control.

    Automatic Area mode may get what you need, but has certain ideas about what you want, and will sometimes get it wrong. It uses computer programming to try to figure it out, and tends to aim for the nearest face or the distance that satisfies the most focal points at once. You can't control what you focus on.

    For control, you're better off usually with one of the other modes that uses a single point as a starting point.

    Single point does exactly what you'd expect. It focuses on the point you've chosen and stays there without regard to whether things move.

    Dynamic area starts at a single point, and tracks a moving subject from there. If the subject does not move, it stays. Nothing in the display will tell you what it's doing.

    3D starts at a single point and tracks, but uses more sophisticated software to track, including color information. The red lights in the display will light as it tracks.

    For truly static subjects, AFS will focus on a single point, and as long as you keep your finger on the button, it will stick with that point, allowing you to focus and then recompose without refocusing. The two dynamic modes do not work with AFS at all.

    For moving subjects, AFC will also start on a single point but will continue to operate the focus motor. Whenever you move the camera, it will refocus. Single point will not follow a moving subject but will refocus as the camera moves.

    AFA lets the camera choose between S and C. It does pretty well on this, but you cannot focus and recompose reliably. Most of the time it gets it right, and is a good "set and forget" option for quick use.

    For general use, I've found AFA and Dynamic Area seem to work most reliably. Dynamic Area does well with subjects that move fairly regularly, and which are hard to distinguish from their background. 3D works better with subjects that move erratically, and it uses color information, making it better if the subject is distinct from its background, but if it is hard to pick out it can jump to the wrong subject. For a bluebird on a branch, yes; for a bee in a hive, not so good. For a quarterback with a helmet on, yes; for a whale in a foaming sea, not so good.

    The focus point on the D3200 moves with the back directional control. It's very easy to do this by accident, so check for the lit pixel in the viewfinder, and use the [OK] button to recenter it. It's really easy to forget and then wonder why it focused on a cloud or a treetop instead of your subject. There is only one "cross type" sensor here, in the center. It's a bit more sensitive and fast acting than the others. For most occasions, you're best off aiming for the center point.

    For portraits of a single person, nothing beats AFS and single point. Aim for an eye, recompose as needed, and shoot. If you're not moving around, you can move the focus point and focus off center. AFS also works fine for landscapes. Decide just where you want your focus point to be, recompose as needed, and shoot. If you're using a tripod, chances are AFS will be appropriate too.

    For birds in flight, animals on the move, and other scenes where your subject might be moving, AFC or AFA and dynamic area seem to be most consistent.

    AFC and 3D are probably best for sports and subjects that move unpredictably.

    In all these settings, the camera works in "focus priority", which means that it will not shoot if it has not found a focus point. The tracking modes may stall if you lose focus on the initial subject. You must release the shutter and press again, to re-establish the subject.

    There is another option altogether, called 'back button focusing', which decouples the AF from the shutter button. I will not burden this post with that option, which can take some learning and requires that you focus with the AE lock button. You get the ability to focus and recompose in AFC, and release, rather than focus, priority that allows you to shoot out of focus whether you mean to or not. I like it, but it's an acquired taste. It's also not very well documented in the D3200 instructions, but if you're interested, I'll discuss it in another post.

    Adding to an already too long post: make sure you download the full PDF manual from the CD that came with the camera, or from The paper manual that comes with the camera is incomplete.
  • edited November 2015
    Thank you for your reply. Your explanation is far more comprehensive and more understandable for a beginner like myself. I feel more confident in using the settings now that I have more of an understanding in what they do.Thank you.
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