Need help with shutter speed

I am trying to learn the ins and outs of my new D3300, and I'm struggling with the amount of time it takes to capture a photo on auto focus. When I switch to manual the speed is more to my liking, but the pictures are fuzzy.
I purchased this camera to take pictures of my little kids, and they move quick so the speed of the shutter is really important to capture the shot I'm looking for.
What am I missing? I'm starting to think I bought the wrong camera.


  • edited May 2016
    Auto focus speed depends on several factors, and it's true that the AF speed of the D3300 with its kit lens is not the fastest there is. However, some of the problem is related to technique, and some might be related to what AF mode you're using.

    First of all, it helps a great deal if you can anticipate the location of a subject. When you first turn on the camera, it has no way of knowing where your subject will be, and must move the focus from wherever it was last left to where it must be, and that does take some time. If you have an idea that your subject will be coming close to a particular point, prefocusing nearby can speed that process up.

    Second, there are several different auto focus modes, and each has its virtues. Your first choice is single or continuous servo mode, or "automatic" which allows the camera to figure out which. For a stationary subject, single servo mode will lock onto focus, and remain at that initial point regardless of what happens in the frame. If you keep your finger on the shutter button, you can recompose a photo and the focus will remain the same. For a moving subject, Continuous servo focus will continue to operate the AF until the picture is made. You cannot recompose with this, because whenever you move the frame, the focus will operate again. If a subject is moving, the focus will move (in a manner dependent on the next setting) to follow it.

    The default for automatic use is multi-area focus, and this looks all around for a subject to focus on. It generally does pretty well for snapshots of people, looking mostly for the closest recognizable face. It may not do so well for isolated subjects. The other modes are single area stationary, "dynamic area" focus and "3D focus", variously available depending on which servo mode you choose. Single servo allows only a single, one shot focusing. In continuous servo, the modes available will determine how the AF follows a subject. "A" mode allows the camera to decide which mode is called for. It works pretty well. It occasionally guesses wrong, but it's useful as a default.

    Dynamic area focus starts with a single point, and if the subject moves, it will follow that movement to a certain point. 3D does much the same thing, but uses a more sophisticated system including color information. It can do better at times, but if its color sensing is tricked, it can jump to the wrong subject.

    Getting good and consistent results with AF can take some time and practice. If you're going after moving kids, I suggest you switch to AFC and dynamic area focus as a starting point. Try 3D too, especially if the kids stand out well from their background. Make sure the focus point remains where you want it, as it's rather easy to move by accident. The [OK] button on the back recenters it. You can move the focus point off center, but the center point is the most sensitive and fastest acting.

    Finally, it is also true that some lenses and cameras focus faster than others, and the kit lens, though not bad, is not a top performer. The best and fastest focusing lenses, of course, are pretty expensive, so you're best off I think trying to perfect technique with what you have. More expensive camera models also have somewhat faster and better AF, but outside of sports and bird watching, the D3300 should work pretty well. You'll miss some shots that you would not miss using a D5500 or a D7100, but you should get many.

    Try to practice anticipation of where your subject will be when you shoot. If you are following moving children, practice panning, that is moving the camera with the subject. The better you get at this, the more time your camera will have to lock onto focus well.

    Also remember that no matter how good you get, or how good your equipment is, you'll probably miss some shots. If you're racing after kids, put the shutter on multiple-shot mode, and take more shots. You can erase the bad ones later. Even the sports shooting pros do this. They call it "spray and pray".
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