Rudy Winston
Rudy Winston

Rudy Winston has over 16 years experience with Canon USA's Pro Products team, and has been responsible during that time for training Canon's staff on new products, creating presentations for customers and dealers, numerous writing projects, and providing technical assistance to professional and amateur photographers.

Memorizing and instantly returning to an AF point

August 28, 2013

One of the many benefits of the multiple-point AF systems in recent EOS cameras is the ability to be working with one particular AF point and, at the press of a button, instantly jump to another point you previously memorized.  We’ve discussed this feature before, in the overall context of what’s possible with the 61-point AF system in Canon’s high-end SLR cameras, but it’s a feature so powerful that it warrants a separate and more application-based review.

Memorizing an AF point makes it easy to quickly focus upon off-center subjects without requiring locking focus and recomposing. It’s potentially even more valuable when focus tracking moving subjects with AI Servo AF because you can instantly switch to a different AF point and immediately pick up focusing upon the same or a new moving subject

Several different EOS cameras allow for “registering,” or memorizing, an AF point. These will be the cameras we’ll be discussing in this article:

  • EOS-1D X
  • EOS-1D Mark IV, EOS-1D Mark III, EOS-1Ds Mark III (discontinued models)
  • EOS 5D Mark III
  • EOS 7D

Other EOS models do offer shortcuts for quickly moving from one AF point to another, but not the ability to memorize a specific AF point that is covered in the following text.

The process to memorize an AF point

While the procedure does vary slightly from model to model, there are basically two steps involved:

  1. Manually select an AF point you want to memorize and press a pair of buttons to lock it into the camera’s memory (Canon’s term for this is “registering” the AF point).

    Navigate to any particular AF point, either by pressing the rear AF Point Select button and then turning the top Main Dial and/or rear Quick Control Dial, or via any shortcut you may have already set in your camera. (Multi-controller direct, for instance, is one way to manually move around the AF point array without having to press the AF Point Select button first).

    Once you reach that desired AF point you want to memorize, press and hold in the AF Point Select button, and simultaneously press either the illumination button (EOS 7D, 5D Mark III) or the ISO button (EOS-1D X). This memorizes, or registers, that AF point. You’ll see the viewfinder and top LCD panel switch from “SEL AF” to “SEL HP” as you do this. “HP” means Home Position, and it’s another way for the camera to alert you that the AF point has indeed been memorized.

  2. The second part of the process is setting up a button to allow instant recall of that AF point. On current EOS models, you have a choice of several different rear buttons, which can be configured using the “Custom Controls” within the camera’s Custom Functions. We’ll discuss this momentarily.

    With previous EOS-1D models (Mark III and Mark IV series), a separate pair of Custom Functions can be set, allowing immediate recall of a memorized AF point when the Multi-controller is pressed straight in, when any of the AF Stop buttons on high-end super telephoto lenses are pressed, or (EOS-1D Mark IV only) when the AE Lock button is pressed.

Here’s the general procedure for EOS 7D, 5D Mark III and EOS-1D X cameras, using Custom Controls (within the Custom Functions menu):

  1. Enter the Custom Functions menu and select “Custom Controls” within the “Operations” group of custom functions. Press SET to enter the Custom Controls screen.
  2. Scroll to a button you want to dedicate to instantly returning you to the AF point you memorized:

    AF-On button; AE Lock button (asterisk icon); or Multi-Controller

    On EOS 5D Mark III and EOS-1D X, additional options to assign to a memorized AF point include: Depth-of-field preview button; Lens AF Stop buttons (on select EF super-tele lenses); and the Multi-function 2 button (EOS-1D X only)

  3. Press the SET button and the option for that control you’ve chosen now appears. Select either the “Metering and AF start” icon or (depending on the control) the AF point/HP icon, which means “switch to registered AF point.”
  4. If the control’s choice was the “Metering and AF start” icon, now press the camera’s INFO button. You’ll drill down to a new menu screen, giving you a choice of Detail Settings.

    AF point + SEL icon: back-button AF, using whichever AF point you’re currently on. In other words, it does NOT jump you to a memorized AF point.

    AF point + HP icon: back-button AF and instant switching to the registered AF point. This is what you want, if you are memorizing an AF point and want to set this control to get you back to that point. Highlight this and press the SET button to lock it in. Press SET one more time and you’re done.

You’ve now assigned that button to instantly call up that AF point you’ve memorized. With most of these controls, when you activate that control, the AF point will switch to your registered AF point and when you let go of it, you return to the point you were previously using. If you’ve set the Multi-controller to return you to a memorized AF point, it acts as a “toggle” when you press it straight in. Press it inward once to go to the memorized point and press it again to switch back to the point you were previously using.

The viewfinder display

This has confused more than one EOS shooter, so it’s important to be aware of this feature. Once you memorize an AF point, the Intelligent Viewfinder Display on cameras like the EOS 7D and 5D Mark III shows you that point, so that you know where you can jump back to by pressing the control you’ve assigned for return to a memorized AF point.

EOS 7D does this by showing the memorized point as a tiny square on the focus screen, while your active AF point (any of the remaining AF points) appears as a normal sized square on the screen. 

With the 61-point AF system, however, the memorized AF point appears as a second normal sized, single AF point… but it blinks on and off. This blinking AF point simply tells you the location of the memorized point, so you can place it upon a subject as you move your thumb or finger to the control you have assigned to switch you to that new AF location. Unfortunately, if a shooter forgets that he or she has memorized an AF point, that blinking point in the finder may lead them to think something is wrong. It isn’t. And if a memorized AF point is no longer needed, it can be easily removed.

Clearing a memorized AF point completely

Once you’ve memorized an AF point, it stays in the camera’s memory bank until you either change to a different point and repeat the registration procedure above or completely clear it from the camera’s memory. To totally clear a memorized AF point:

  1. Navigate to the memorized AF point — not by pressing the control button you setup to jump you back to it, but by pressing the AF point selection button (rear of camera) and using the Multi-controller or top/rear dials to scroll to that point.
  2. Press and hold down the AF point selection button.
  3. While holding down the AF point select button, press either the ISO button (EOS 7D and 5D Mark III) or the ± compensation button (EOS-1D X). These buttons are on top of the camera, just forward of the top LCD panel.
  4. That clears the memorized point from memory. Navigate back to any other point you want, and you’re ready to take more pictures. (Just to avoid any possible confusion: this doesn’t remove the AF point altogether – it simply means it’s no longer memorized for instant access… you are always able to reselect it manually and, if you want, rememorize it at any future time.)
Working with a memorized AF point

Once you’ve memorized an AF point and assigned a control button to it, you’ll often be delighted at how quickly you can change composition and still hold focus by just pressing that button. Users who frequently like to use the center AF point, for example, can still immediately move off-center and continue to focus at the new AF point — and do so far more quickly than ever possible by the default manual AF point selection process.

A sports shooter taking horizontal shots at a football game, for instance, might use the center point at the start of a play and realize that a running back is coming toward the camera on an end run. If the shooter knows the offense is moving right to left, he or she could memorize a far right side AF point. Now, as soon as that runner moves toward the sideline, it’s easy to switch to that right side AF point and continue to follow the runner with AI Servo AF. The benefit? A composition that has the runner moving into the frame, with blockers and possibly defenders setting up elsewhere in the frame. The entire frame is filled with useful information, not just a sharp central subject, with action to the left and space to the right of the frame.

Why not just lock focus, with the center point, and recompose? That can work effectively for stationary subjects with One-Shot AF but for moving subjects, it’s simply not possible without losing the ability to continue to focus track that subject. Memorizing an AF point lets you do exactly that.

Manually selecting an AF point to one side of the center and memorizing a different point to the opposite side of the center can be a powerful way to get variety in situations where numerous shots will be taken quickly. It can be especially advantageous to pick points above the center, so that whether using the memorized or non-memorized AF point, you’re focused closer to a subject’s face. This can be valuable for fashion shooters, event shooters, portrait shooters, wedding photographers, nature work, etc. – nearly anything where there’s a benefit to quickly positioning a subject to a different part of the frame and still be able to focus upon it quickly. Variety in compositions suddenly becomes easy to achieve and the only camera operation involved is occasionally pressing the control that’s been assigned to call up that memorized AF point.

Two buttons for “back-button AF”

Here’s another interesting spin on working with one AF point and memorizing a different one — especially for users who like working with back-button AF. Set up one of the rear buttons (either the AF-On button or the AE Lock button) as your primary back button. Then, memorize a different AF point and assign its activation to the other back-button.

Now, by simply switching from the AF-On button to the AE Lock button, or vice versa, you can instantly jump from one AF point to the other and maintain nearly uninterrupted AF, even if you’re using AI Servo AF to focus upon a moving subject.

If either of these buttons are assigned to a registered AF point, remember that the camera only uses that memorized point while the relevant button is pressed. As soon as your thumb comes off that button you assigned to that point, the AF system switches back to the original point you’d selected.

Orientation Linked AF

We’ll discuss a separate AF feature in recent EOS SLRs, Orientation Linked AF, in detail in another article on the Canon Digital Learning Center. But if you understand the basics of what the Orientation Linked AF does, you can combine it with the Memorized AF point system we’ve been discussing here and have yet another option available to instantly move from one AF point to another:

  • Manually pick any AF point and use it as your “primary” point (for horizontal or vertical shooting).
  • Memorize a different point, as discussed in this article, and have instant access to it when you press a button you’ve assigned for that purpose (again, discussed here).
  • Activate Orientation Linked AF (in the AF menu of the EOS 5D Mark III or EOS-1D X; C.Fn III-12-1 in the EOS 7D) and navigate to yet another AF point with the camera turned to the opposite orientation of how you’re normally shooting.

Now, you have two AF points you can quickly move between during your normal orientation (for example, horizontal shooting). And if you switch to vertical shooting, you can have the camera instantly switch to yet another AF point as the camera is rotated (just press your normal AF activation button to focus with this new AF point). And, the Orientation Linked AF feature lets you even pick a different AF Area mode when you pick that third AF point. For instance, you could work with a single AF point for your primary and memorized points and when the camera is rotated, the system could switch to AF Point Expansion or Spot AF at a third focus point location.

Summary

Let your mind wander a bit and think about the possibilities of moving beyond just focusing with one single AF point. Memorizing a separate AF point and being able to call it up at will is just one example of using the technology in today’s cameras to make our lives as photographers easier, let us work more quickly and efficiently. Whether our craft has us taking candid pictures on the street with a wide-angle or long telephoto lens, shooting wildlife or photographing sporting events, there are numerous ways this feature can be applied to give photographers new ways to get great, well-composed shots.

Memorizing an AF point isn’t hard to do. It can be practiced in your living room or back yard, reset as needed and be at your fingertips the next time a real shooting opportunity arises. Especially if combined with back-button AF at two buttons and/or with Orientation Linked AF (as described above), it adds power to your camera’s focus system and power to your photographic potential.

We urge users of the EOS 7D, 5D Mark III, 1D X or previous EOS-1D and EOS-1Ds Mark III and Mark IV series cameras to give this technology a try and see if it opens new possibilities.

The CDLC contributors are compensated spokespersons and actual users of the Canon products that they promote.

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