Canon DSLR

Making the most of Canon’s new autofocus – 5Dmk3 and 1DX

The new autofocus systems that are found in Canon’s 5Dmk3 and 1DX are the best that the company has yet offered.  Both cameras offer accurate, stable and fast autofocus that is state of the art.  Both cameras share the same AF sensor, with its 61 point layout.  In the 5Dmk3, AF is driven by the camera’s Digic 5+ processor, as well as a second, unspecified AF processor.  Actual autofocus performance is very, very good, (comparable to the Canon 1Dmk4).  In the 1DX,  a pair of Digic 5+ processors assisted by a Digic 4, combine the AF function with a more advanced metering system, to deliver AF performance that has to be experienced to be believed, it is that fast and accurate.

Aside from any differences in how fast the AF functions, setting up the AF between the two cameras is fairly similar.  Where I have found performance differences, I have described settings for each camera separately.  Most of the AF menu options and layout are identical.



Carmine bee-eaters – Canon 5Dmk3, Canon EF 300f2.8 IS lens. Shutter speed 1/3200sec at f/8.0, Iso 800

There is also a tremendous amount of AF fine-tuning available to 5Dmk3 and 1DX users, more so than ever before.  Importantly, Canon have worked hard on the new menu systems that help configure the workings and customizing of the new AF system.  Some of the fine-tuning options that are found on the 5Dmk3 and 1DX were available in prior high-end Canon’s dslr’s like the 1Dmk4 and the 7D, but finding and understanding the settings was not always intuitive.

With the 5Dmk3 and the 1DX, Canon have made it easier for users to take full advantage of all the settings.  Despite these efforts at simplification, the AF system remains fairly complex, and I wrote this guide with the aim of making it easier for wildlife photographers especially, to better understand the available options and what they mean.  To this end, the text is focused on those parameters controlled by the AF Configuration Tool, as well as the Ai Servo priority settings.  Most of the content in this post is relevant for Ai Servo focus operation rather than One Shot focus, and for photography of subjects that may be moving.

Grant Atkinson Canon 5D3 autofocus menu

The new dedicated AF menu on the 5Dmk3

With the 5Dmk3 and the 1DX, Canon have grouped several of the most important autofocus settings together.  This new, dedicated AF menu is colour-coded a purple colour, and located second along the row of menu items, giving some idea of how important Canon consider autofocus.

The very first menu tab, AF1, brings up the AF configuration tool.   With this, there are three parameters that can be adjusted to optimize just how the AF works.  Two of these parameters are different or new, compared to those in the 1Dmk4 and 7D.  Canon have taken the parameters, and created six different combinations of settings, each suited to a different action photography requirement, and named them, Case 1 to Case 6.

The first one, Case 1 (Versatile multi-purpose setting) will work very well for you in most situations.  If you a photographer who really does not want to experiment with the autofocus and are happy with how it performs out of the box, leaving it on Case 1 is a good option.

If you are wondering why I am not describing each Case in detail here, it is because they are intended for sport photography scenarios, and I found it quite confusing to try and decide exactly how a particular Case might match up to my AF needs, which are for wildlife.  It is possible to go into a Case and modify any or all of the parameters, but I still found this time consuming and more tedious than it ought to be.

Instead, I went to the My Menu option, which is colour-coded green and located at the far right end of the camera’s main menu tab.  The ‘My Menu” tab allows you to choose whichever items you consider important to you, and group them under a single menu.

Grant Atkinson Canon 5d3 menu

Selecting ‘Register to My Menu’ allows you to choose which menu items you want to group together yourself.

By choosing My Menu Settings, and then Register to My Menu, I was able to scroll down the complete list of menu items.  I then selected the three AF parameters, Tracking sensitivity, Acced./decel tracking, and AF pt auto switching.

Grant Atkinson 5Dmk3 menu screen

Scroll down the list of all menu items until you find those three that are controlled by the AF Configuration tool and select them.

I now have these parameters neatly arranged one below the other in My Menu.  My camera defaults to the My Menu tab when I switch it on, so no more digging my way through Case 1 to 6.  Importantly, this change also allows me to concentrate on using these settings for my shooting situations, without having to modify the presets with their sport photography descriptions.  And it means that by thinking about what I am doing each time I change a parameter, I am now hopefully making considered choices when fine-tuning my AF, rather than taking a guess with a preset.

Grant Atkinson Canon 5Dmk3 rear lcd

This is the My Menu options chosen for my own 5Dmk3. Tracking sensitivity, Accel/decel. tracking and AF pt auto switching are grouped together.

It helps to describe what each of the three AF parameters do:

Tracking sensivity – This setting controls how long the camera will ‘wait’ before refocusing, when a new subject/object moves between the camera and the original subject.  An example of this is when you are tracking a bird, and the bird passes behind a branch, momentarily.  With this setting on Responsive +2, it is more likely that the AF will quickly lock onto the branch.  If this setting is on Locked-On -2, it is likely that the camera will hold the focus for longer, without attempting to re-focus for long enough that the bird can once again be located once the obstruction has passed by and out of the line of sight.  Another example of just when this setting will help is when you are tracking a moving subject with an active AF point on the subject, and you accidentally move the camera so that the active AF point drops off of the subject.  With Tracking sensitivity set to -1 or -2, there will be more time available to you to re-locate the subject, without the lens having focused on the background.  Canon do mention that with Tracking sensitivy set to the Locked-On side of the slider, that it may take the AF a little longer to re-aquire focus if focus is lost.  Canon also state that initial AF acquisition is not affected by setting Tracking sensitivity to Locked-On (-1 or -2).  The key to avoid paying any possible speed penalty with re-aquisition is to try hard to keep the camera/lens focused while tracking the moving subject.  Tracking sensitivity  is probably the most important of the three parameters described here in that it can make a noticeable difference to how stable AF tracking is.  I have found this most noticeable, and most necessary when shooting very long telephoto lenses, from 500mm upwards.  When using such long lenses, and tracking a subject that is nearby, moving the AF point off of the subject can result in the AF locking onto the background.  When this happens, with some longer lenses it is possible for the image in the viewfinder to become so blurred that it becomes difficult or almost impossible to actually see where the subject is through the viewfinder.  This can make using such lenses very frustrating.  Tracking sensitivity can be very valuable in allowing the user more time to get the AF point back on the target, before it refocuses on the background or foreground.

With shorter lenses, the amount of defocus is not so great that you cannot still see the subject in the viewfinder, and then you can just aim an AF point in the general direction, and press the shutter button/AF-On button to make the lens search and lock on, so Tracking sensitivity is still very useful, just not quite as critical.

In my own use, I tend to set the tracking sensitivity to the (0) setting when using lenses up to about 300mm, or to (-1) if I am shooting against a busy, background that might be similar in tone and contrast to my subject.

If I am using lenses longer than 300mm, then I am more likely to set the tracking sensitivity to (-1), and on very long lenses over 600mm, may even use (-2) on occasion.

I am also finding other shooting scenarios, such as when faced with a subject moving rapidly, and directly toward the camera, that changing the tracking sensitivity to (0), or (+1) or even (+2) may deliver better results than the (0) or negative settings.  This may be more true with the 5Dmk3 than the 1dX.  Such head-on approaches are not encountered that often with the wild subject matter that I shoot, but as my time in the field with both of these cameras builds up, so I am able to continuously share findings.  There are also some valuable experiences shared by other 5dmk3 and 1DX users in the comments section that follows on at the end of this post.

Accelerate/Decelerate tracking – This setting allows the AF to be optimized to capture fast-moving subjects that might suddenly stop, or move in a random direction, or rapidly speed up or slow down.  The 0 setting for this parameter is suited for tracking subjects that move at a steady speed.  Most of the subjects that I shoot accelerate or decelerate whilst i am tracking them.  Also, if I have a subject coming towards me, even if that subject is staying at a steady speed, I have to allow for the relative increase in speed the closer to me that subject gets.  Think of trying to track a bird flying towards and right by you…your panning motion has to speed up dramatically as the subject gets closer to you and actually passes by.  As I like to try and shoot fast moving subjects whenever possible, I have started leaving this setting on (+1) with good results.  According to Canon, setting it to (+2) will make it very responsive but also a bit less stable.  At the time of writing I have not found need yet of using this setting on (+2).

AF Point Auto Switching – If you are an action photographer that prefers to always use the camera in Single AF point mode, or Single Spot AF, then you can disregard this parameter.  It’s function only applies when shooting with those AF mode options that utilize more than one AF point.

On the 5Dmk3 and 1DX, these are : AF Point Expansion (selected plus 4 surrounding), AF Point Expansion (selected plus 8 surrounding), AF Zone, and 61-Point Automatic Selection Point AF.

AF Point auto switching controls how rapidly the AF will switch to a new AF point whenever the initial or primary AF point (again, only when there is more than one AF point active) leaves the subject.  It will rapidly switch to surrounding AF points to continue to follow the subject.

The (+1 and +2) settings are used when shooting subjects with faster, erratic movement in any direction,whilst the (0) setting provides a more stable switching of AF points.  To date, I have not felt the need to change this setting from (0) on either the 5D3 or 1DX.  I tend to shoot mostly with a single manually selected AF point, but I do sometimes use the AF Zone grouping on both cameras, and have found the point switching to be fast enough to date on the (0) setting.  The action of this parameter is easy enough to understand.

Grant Atkinson Canon 5Dmk3 AF menu

The AF2 menu tab on the Canon 5Dmk3.

The next tab on the AF menu is called AF2:Ai Servo.  The parameters here control how much time is allowed for focus to take place, before a frame is taken. It is possible to select between  speed (with limited time allowed for focus) or focus priority (with more time given for focusing to take place).  This preference can be set separately  for the first image in a burst and then set again for the rest of the frames in the burst.  One might wonder why not just prioritize more time for focus to take place, as that should result in a higher percentage of in-focus images.  However, there is a trade-off  involved here, and more time for focus can slow down the frame rate and response.  My shooting requirements may not be the same as yours, but for the wildlife photography that I do, my preference is for a mix of speed and focus priority.

The settings are made after selecting the menu item Ai Servo 1st image priority as shown in the image above.

Grant Atkinson Canon 5Dmk3 screen

The Focus priority setting in the Ai Servo focus/release priority setting screen

5Dmk3 and 1DX

The control in this screen applies to the first shot in an Ai Servo burst.  The slider determines how much time is permitted for focus to take place before the image is taken.  If the slider is set to the far right, as in this  image, to Focus, then the maximum amount of time is allowed for focusing to take place.  This can lead to a hesitation before the shutter actually trips, and almost makes the shutter button feel ‘spongy’, especially on the 5Dmk3.  When this slider is set to the Focus position as in the image above, the camera is programmed to not allow the image to be taken until the camera thinks it is in-focus.  This is what can lead to the slight hesitation, especially if the subject is a difficult one for the AF to pick up or track.

Grant Atkinson Canon 5d lcd

Ai Servo option set to Release, for quickest response on the Canon 5Dmk3

5Dmk3 and 1DX

Staying with setting up for the first image in a burst, and Ai Servo 1st image priority, I set both the 1DX and the 5Dmk3 to the Release priority option as displayed above.  Often, as a wildlife photographer I am presented with fast-moving subjects that appear unexpectedly.  I like to have my cameras to be instantly responsive, as sometimes I may only get off one or two shots.  I am happy with the percentage of in-focus images that I am getting with both the 5Dm3 and the 1DX, with Ai Servo 1st image priority set to Release.  This means that I can get that all-important first shot off as quickly as I can, with no hesitation or lag.  For those users who don’t need the maximum amount of responsiveness, there is a middle setting on this slider, which means that the camera gives equal priority to focus and other words, a little more time for focus, and not quite as quick a response but I prefer to select the Speed option, as highlighted in the image.

Grant Atkinson Canon 5d3 rear screen Ai servo menu

The Canon 5Dmk3 Ai Servo second image Ai Servo adjustment setting.

5D3 only

Once you have chosen Release/Speed or Focus priority for your first image, the next option in the AF menu is Ai Servo 2nd image priority.  With this parameter the user decides how much time will be utilized for AF to take place before each shot, from the second shot in a burst, and all those that follow in that same burst.  The same choice can be made in the menu as with 1st image priority.  With the 5dmk3, I choose Release for this option.  With those settings, the 5Dmk3 will maintain a continuous shooting speed of 6 frames per second.  If the middle setting, Equal Priority, or the Focus priority setting is chosen, the continuous speed can slow down.  This will usually be experienced when trying to track subjects against similar backgrounds, or in low light.

On the other hand, with the setting on Speed, the 5Dmk3 AF seems to have no difficulty in getting high percentages of focused shots, of fast-moving subjects, at 6 fps.

Grant Atkinson Canon lcd Aid servo menu screen

The intermediate setting is one i use often on the 1DX from the second image in a burst onwards.

 1DX only

Once you have chosen Release/Speed or Focus priority for your first image, the next option in the AF menu is Ai Servo 2nd image priority.  With this parameter the user decides how much time will be utilized for AF to take place before each shot, from the second shot in a burst, and all those that follow in that same burst.  The same choice can be made in the menu as for with 1st image priority.  With the 1DX, I choose the middle setting, Equal priority.  With those settings, the 1DX will still hammer off more-in focus images at a very fast rate, and with a higher percentage of in-focus images than with any other camera I have used.  If the Equal priority setting does slow the frame rate at all, when shooting subjects that are difficult to focus-track, the camera is still faster than any other Canon I have used, on any setting.



In this text, I have described in some detail, the working of the three parameters that influence how AF functions, those being Tracking sensitivity, Accelerate/decelerate tracking and Auto switch AF points and my own choice of settings.  For these three parameters, I find no difference between the 5Dmk3 and the 1DX, and my settings are the same on both cameras.  The 1DX is unique in that it has one option not available on the 5Dmk3, and that is EOS iTR, or ‘intelligent tracking’, where colour and shape recognition input are used to aid focus.  However, as this option is only available when one is using all 61 AF points in fully automatic mode, which I don’t do, so I have left off describing this function any further.

Further to that, the parameters that control how much time is allowed for focus to take place, before each frame is taken, were described, and differences detailed, Ai Servo 1st priority, and Ai Servo 2nd image priority.  For these priority settings, I set the 5dmk3 slightly differently to the 1DX as detailed in the text.

Some of the adjustment parameters under discussion here are similar to those found in the Canon 7D and the 1Dmk4, and even to the 1Dmk3.  Tracking sensitivity on the 5Dmk3 is the same as Ai Servo tracking sensitivity in the 1Dmk4 Custom Function menu, C.Fn3.2.  And the Ai Servo 1st and 2nd image priority settings are also in the 1Dmk4, Custom function III, 3.  The options are not exactly the same as those in the 5Dmk3 and the 1DX, but they are similar.

Lens choices have a big impact on how autofocus works for you.  Canon L-series lenses have motors that drive their AF very rapidly.  Using non-L series lenses, or third party lenses may have an effect on AF performance.  I wrote this text, based on experience that comes from shooting the Canon 5Dmk3 and the 1DX extensively with these lenses:  Canon EF 70-200 f2.8 IS II, Canon EF 70-300L f4-5.6 IS, Canon EF 300 f2.8 IS II and I.

Lenses with shorter focal length will typically focus faster than lenses that have long focal lengths, all other things being equal.  It is also much easier to locate and focus, and re-locate subjects with shorter lenses than with long lenses.

Lenses with large maximum apertures will usually focus faster than those with smaller maximum apertures.  Keep both focal length and maximum aperture in mind when making use of the AF adjustment parameters, and when comparing your own results.


If you are a photographer that likes to target moving subjects,  then both the 5Dmk3 and the 1DX are going to help you get that right, better than ever before.




About the Author:

I am a guide and a photographer, with a deep interest in all things to do with nature. I am based in Cape Town, South Africa, but travel often to wild places whilst leading photographic safaris, and enjoying the outdoors.

78 Responses to “Making the most of Canon’s new autofocus – 5Dmk3 and 1DX”

  1. Etienne Says: January 21, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    Hi Grant, I dont own one of these yet, but must thank you for another great detailed post on equipment … this will be a future reference point when I do eventually upgrade …

    • Michael Jackson Says: December 6, 2013 at 8:43 pm

      I have A 5D Mark3, and a 1DX is on its way before Christmas I hope, this has been more than helpful,
      I used my 5D3 for a boxing shoot the other night, I was amazed at how many shots came up crystal clear using
      AL servo. With 24/70 mk2 at ringside, I am looking forward to the next gig and trying out the 1DX.

      • Grant Atkinson Says: December 6, 2013 at 9:58 pm

        Hi MJ, thanks for sharing your experience here. I too am often surprized at just how many properly focused images the 5D3 and 1DX can capture, even when shooting fast action in less than optimal light. The autofocus in these two Canon bodies definitely makes them my tools of choice for fast moving subject matter.

  2. Grant Atkinson Says: January 21, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    Always good to share experience with these cameras Etienne, they are getting a bit more complex and the rewards of spending some time on understanding the settings really does make the shooting experience even stronger. Thanks for your response

  3. Tony Baxter Says: January 21, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Thank you very helpful much appreciated that you shared some information.

  4. Sean Nel Says: January 22, 2013 at 6:17 am

    Very nice article Grant. Very handy for a new owner wanting to get to grips with how the AF system works and what fine-tuning makes it capable of when setting up for your style of shooting and subjects.

  5. Grant Atkinson Says: January 22, 2013 at 10:04 am

    Thanks Sean, your approval is always good for me to have :-). Even though the AF is so good on both the Dmk3 and the 1DX even in default settings, it is still worth the extra effort required to get to understand what they can fully do, in a variety of shooting situations, as you mention!

  6. Ben Says: March 25, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    Thanks for good article. I have a very specific question about 5d3 settings. Does it make sense to combine back autofocus with “focus priority” on the AI servo 1st and 2nd image priority. Or is focus priority only usable with shutter set to focus?

    Hope the question makes sense to you. BTW, I am mostly shooting birds in flight.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 26, 2013 at 6:34 am

      Hi Ben
      Not sure I fully understand your question, however whether you shoot with back button autofocus or focus from the shutter button, the effect of setting Ai Servo priority custom function to (Focus rather than Release or Speed) should still be to allow more time between each frame for focus to take place. In other words, a longer time allowed between each frame, and that time perhaps even delayed if the camera cannot get accurate focus between frames. Make sure that if you are using back-button focus that you switch off focus from being active on the shutter as well…
      Hope that helps

  7. Alex Says: March 30, 2013 at 5:05 am

    I am a wedding photographer and this article really helps. Thank you for sharing.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: March 31, 2013 at 9:11 am

      Hi Alex
      Great for me to hear that, and thanks for letting me know!

  8. Carl Says: April 20, 2013 at 5:15 pm

    Hi Grant,
    Very good article to supplement the user manual.
    May I know how do you normally use the IS? I’ve trying different settings and on/off on my Canon 300,2.8 ISII but with uncertain results.
    Besides, is the 61points AF and zoneAF mainly for less experienced user?
    Thx in advance for your advice.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 2, 2013 at 4:30 pm

      Hi Carl
      I typically just use IS mode 1 for most of my handholding shooting. I switch to Mode 2 when the camera is on a tripod or fixed mount. I have experimented with Mode 3 on the new Canon tele’s but have not found conclusive reason to prefer it over Mode 1 for handholding yet……when handholding and photographing flying birds with the EF 600 L IS ii.
      I may get a better feel for the difference between Mode 1 and Mode 3 over time…and will let you know if I do.
      Using 61 points AF and Auto selection can be very effective when you have subjects that are not moving very fast, and also are a little bit different from the background. It also works well for birds against a clear sky…especially if they are not too fast. However I have had better results in my own photography using either a single selected AF point, or an expansion of 4 points.
      I do also use Zone AF, as it helps me to move a cluster of points from one side of the AF grid to the other in just two clicks, which is much faster than moving a single point on the new 61 pt grids. Compared to 61 point autof, Zone AF allows me to control where I focus in the frame.
      I have found Zone to be quite accurate for most situations, though again, very fast moving subjects and similar backgrounds will mean I switch to single point or single point plus 4.
      Hope that helps

  9. Kim Stevens Says: April 27, 2013 at 9:27 pm

    Hi Grant
    I wonder if you can comment
    Often when I use single point focusing with the middle square on my 1DX and press my AF ON button and then take my thumb off and recompose the shot my 70-200 f2.8 ii lens seems to lose that focus point that I selected and the shot is not in focus where I wanted it.
    I have set my shutter button to meter only
    Kind regards

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 2, 2013 at 4:23 pm

      Hi Kim
      There are lots of variables that can affect autofocus that it can sometimes be a little difficult to work out where a problem is coming from. I have not heard of an issue such as you describe, happening to the 1DX before, but that does not mean that the camera is not perhaps faulty. Before taking it to get checked, I would first place it on a tripod or mount, and take some test shots, of a static subject, using your back button press and recompose technique that you described above. That will eliminate any camera shake from influencing what may be happening. You might also be able to make use of the supplied Canon softward (DPP) to show you which focus point was selected when the shot was taken although I am uncertain at this moment whether that will show if you are in Ai Servo?
      I am assuming you are shooting the 1DX in Ai Servo, and using back button focus to allow you to recompose when you are unable to place a focus point on the subject…and you are referring to static or still subjects in your description above?
      Let me know your answers

  10. Peter Cai Says: May 9, 2013 at 2:58 am

    Hi, Gant, according to Arthur Morris(Birds As Art), He only change case 3 setting to: -,2,2 for BIF shooting, and
    leave case 1, 2, 4,5,6 as default setting, my question is what different between your method and his?

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 11, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Hi Peter
      I do not really have one setting only that works for me in all the situations that I am faced with. Even ‘Birds in Flight’ may be something of a broad generalization. Some birds fly fairly slow and steady, others fly very fast and with less predictable flight paths…so I might have slightly different adjustments for those two possibilities. Birds flying in a clear sky are much easier to get focused than birds flying against a similar-toned background, and again, I might use different AF settings for each situation.
      I have also found that when using longer focal lengths, like upwards of 400 mm, it becomes more difficult to accurately keep track of fast-flying birds, and that it becomes more important to fine-tune the characteristics of the AF to suit the focal length being used.
      Part of the reason that I wrote the text on the 5D3 and 1DX AF was not necessarily to say that you should set up yours the way I set up mine, but rather that with an understanding of what effect the 3 AF parameters have on AF performance, it should become easier to set it up well for your own scenarios.
      I also group those three AF parameters in My Menu, where I can easily adjust them whilst shooting.
      It is also important to just change one parameter at a time, so that you can determine it’s effect only.
      I mostly change the Sensitivity setting between 0 and -1, (I am not certain that taking it to -2 does not slow down overall AF response slightly on the 5D3) and the Accelerate settings..between 0 and +1.
      Hope that helps

  11. Marty Colburn Says: May 26, 2013 at 1:33 am

    Thank you for taking the time to write the above tutorial. I will try some of your suggestions.
    Good luck.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 26, 2013 at 8:45 am

      Hi Marty, thanks for letting me know that you found the tutorial useful. Hope that you get some good results, the new autofocus system in these two cameras is really the best that Canon has produced so far!

  12. Dennis Manske Says: May 29, 2013 at 9:02 pm

    Grant, I have been looking for this very information! Trying to find a good explanation and how to use it for wildlife photography and BIF has had me pulling my hair out.

    I have set up my 5D3, and am ready to go get my brain and fingers programmed now. Can’t thank you enough sir!

    Ah, one last thing, a question actually. Is there a way to set up the 5D3 so that I can move the focus point around without having to push the focus point select button first? I would like to be able to change my focus point as I am shooting with the ‘joy stick’ without hunting for another button to initiate it, and then loosing it as soon as I re-focus. Hope that makes some sense.

    Dennis Manske

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 30, 2013 at 7:50 am

      Hi Dennis, that is an easy one, just go to the Orange menu in your 5D3 menu, the one with the camera with a camera for an icon, and then move to sub-menu number two, or the second tab below, which should be C.FN2: Disp/Operation, and move down to the bottom menu item, called Custom Controls. Press Set, and you will get that graphic representation of your camera on your screen. Then, go all the way to the very last option on the bottom right, which is a kind of mini star with radiatiating arrows…that represents the AF Multicontroller joystick. Press Set whilst highlighting that one, and it will take you to a screen titled Multi-controller, just move if from the default which is Off to the AF grid symbol. Now your AF joystick will be directly ‘live’ just as soon as you touch the shutter to activate the camera, with no need to push any other button first.
      Also, if you shoot a lot in Ai Servo, and you don’t use the rear AF-On button for focus, then you can use the same Custom Controls screen to make your AF-On Button act as an AF-Off button…enabling you to stay in Ai Servo but temporarily halt AF when you need to lock focus and recompose, whilst you hold down the button.
      Hope that helps

  13. Pete Franks Says: May 31, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    Hi Grant,

    Many thanks for posting this article up really useful. Just purchased a 5DMKiii and moving from a 60d the AF system is a major improvement, although was slightly daunting when first looking at all the options. Your article has been a lot more informative than the manual.


    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 31, 2013 at 4:16 pm

      Hi Pete, glad the AF article was helpful. I feel that with the AF systems getting more complex, it is definitely an area where more information from the manufacturers might make it easier for us to understand exactly what is happening with all these AF parameters. I try to do as much reading up on the AF systems as possible, and also interpret what is happening when I am shooting them in the field…
      Good luck with the 5Dmk3, it is a great camera 🙂


  14. Dennis Manske Says: May 31, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    Can’t thank you enough for that Grant. Be careful over there in the wild country, and thank you so much for sharing your knowledge.


    Southern Maine

    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 31, 2013 at 4:17 pm

      Hi Dennis
      Only a pleasure to share, and thanks for the feedback. More gear stuff coming on the site over the next week…

  15. Dennis Manske Says: May 31, 2013 at 4:14 pm

    Ok, so you were right, it was easy, and I was there the other day and didn’t realize it. Silly.

    I have my AF-On button set up for back button focus, and the * AE Lock button set to AF-Off. The M-Fn button is now the Exposure Lock button. I am trying to learn to use the Index finger for most of my exposure operations (Aperture, ISO, Exposure Lock) and my thumb for focus controls (Back Button Focus, Focus Lock, AF Point selections). Good or bad?

    The menu now always defaults to “MY MENU” so that I can adjust sensitivity of the AF as described in your article without having to scroll over to my personal menu display. (very cool feature!) Any time I turn the camera on, I know that “My Menu” is the first menu displayed. . .every time.

    Now I am a bit confused on AI-Servo and the back button focus. By focusing and releasing the back button, does that not effectively ‘lock’ focus? Making the ‘AF Off’ button redundant? I’m sure I am missing a feature in there somewhere.

    Since I typically shoot in manual, it seems like this is going to be a lot of things to keep up with, in action photography. Between refocusing, follow focusing in AI Servo, moving focus points around etc. Are you doing it all manually or is it time that I start giving my Av Tv functions something to do?

    I don’t use Auto ISO, because I prefer, for Canon, to use 160 as a base, and stay with the full ISO’s, 160, 320, 640, 1250 etc. Auto doesn’t seem to pay attention to that. Am I just being to anal retentive about my ISO’s and making life more difficult that it should be? I’m thinking there is an article in there!!! (Hint Hint!) 🙂 I wish there was a set up for whole ISO’s and the ability to set 160 as the base.

    Cheers. . .again!


    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 31, 2013 at 4:36 pm

      Hi Dennis
      There are several questions in your post here, and I will get to all of them but not with this single response. However, if you use AF-On button to activate focus, make sure to go into your Custom Control menu and then choose Shutter Button. half-press and select the symbol for Metering Start. That will de-couple your shutter release from triggering AF…therefore only the back, AF-On button will trigger AF. Using back-button AF, you should need to change AF point less often, particularly if the subject remains at a similar distance from you between frames It will also work well for you if you need to focus using any point, then let go of the AF-On button and recompose as you need…pushing the shutter will not cause the camera to re-focus.
      As far as my own shooting style goes, I am not one to proscribe to others how they should shoot. I will say that for action photography of any sort, you will get more good images if you can move your focus point when you need to without looking away, change your aperture and change iso all without looking up. What works for some folk doesn’t work for others, but I shoot using automatic focus all the time, I never use manual focus. I shoot almost always in Aperture Priority, choosing an aperture that gives me a fast enough shutter speed for my situation. I dont use AF-On or back button focus, but prefer to focus using the shutter release. I keep my thumb near the AF multicontroller joystick so I am able to shift the focus point where I need it in the frame quickly. I use my index finger to change iso and aperture when I need to, without looking away.
      I will have a look at the other questions in your post and get back to you

    • Grant Atkinson Says: June 1, 2013 at 5:34 am

      Hi Dennis
      A few other things to do with the way I set up my own cameras for wildlife shooting, and again I am happy to share, but not to say that others should do it this way. What works for me is to shoot in Evaluative metering, with the histogram enabled on the rear display. That way I can keep an eye on any highlights that might be blowing out or shadows too dark. I also use the big rear Quick Control Dial on the back of all my Canons for instant exposure compensation while I am shooting, whenever I need it. It is very simple and fast to just move it up or down as needed with the side of my thumb. I use Aperture priority, and exposure compensation, with the knowledge that my raw files allow me some latitude in exposure adjustment afterwards. I am comfortable changing iso settings myself but I am practiced enough at this that I do not need to look away and can get it done very quickly just with my index finger. Auto-Iso on the Canon bodies is getting better with time, and you can set the Iso range, as well as the steps in between (1/3, or full stops). Most of my shooting happens with iso settings between 400 and iso 3200. Almost all my shooting is in natural light, and I prefer to err on the side of faster shutter speeds than slower as I miss too many shots with slower speeds and unexpected subject movement.

      • Dennis Manske Says: June 1, 2013 at 4:16 pm

        Once again Grant, you have gone above and beyond!
        I will take those suggestions and play around with them. I’ll see what seems to work for me the best. Just the fact that you have put the information it out there, has me thinking outside the box. I hadn’t even considered all the possibilities until now.

        I have a nice photography trip planned to Wyoming in a couple weeks, and will work with some of these settings ahead of time, and then will try them in the field. I already know that I am a step ahead of where I was before.

        A safari with you, is now on my bucket list. Probably be awhile for that one though!



        • Grant Atkinson Says: June 1, 2013 at 4:36 pm

          No worries Dennis, hope you get some great shots and share them when you do…

  16. Cariewang Says: June 8, 2013 at 9:52 am

    You are most generous, other guys want to charge for sharing infornation.

    Bless you.


    • Grant Atkinson Says: June 8, 2013 at 1:36 pm

      Hope it was useful for you, Wang

  17. Diane Miller Says: June 29, 2013 at 9:43 pm

    Thanks for your excellent information, and for taking the trouble to answer all the questions!

    With my Canon 5DMk III and the new 600mm II, I’m trying to shoot birds in flight against sky only, and with the straight 600 I have good AF success. But with the 1.4x (the new III) on the lens, I’m now at f/5.6 and AF performance is very spotty and disappointing. Focus gets lost easily, even with the subject still in the frame, such as a smoothly gliding bird that’s easy to follow.) Obviously, it’s harder to keep the subject still in the frame at 840mm than at 600, so I use all points and let the camera decide. I’m happy if any part of the bird is in focus — they are usually small enough in the frame that depth of field is not an issue. I’m on a Wimberley II on a big Gitzo, I keep a little drag on the head knobs, my face is pressed against the viewfinder, everything as stable as possible, even using silent shutter mode to minimize any vibration. IS is on Mode 2 since I’m usually panning, but Mode 1 gives the same results.

    I’ve tried many variations of the settings you discuss and still get disappointing results. I’m wondering if f/5.6 is just asking too much of the camera’s AF system for a bird in flight, even against a clear sky with plenty of light. (It’s wonderful for a still subject, as is f/8 with the 2X teleconverter using the center point.)

    Am I expecting too much for this body with f/5.6? I probably won’t get a 1DX just now, but maybe would get the next version if it will help with this issue.

    I haven’t looked at your 600 lens review yet — I’m going to read it now — maybe you answer this there. I just found out about your blog from another photographer this morning, who was also shooting the white-tailed kites I was shooting. They are small — I need magnification!


    • Grant Atkinson Says: June 30, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Hi Diane
      Thanks for bringing your real-world AF experience here with birds in flight, it can be quite challenging to track flying birds with long lenses for sure. After reading your description above of what you are doing, I would certainly take the camera off of Silent mode…if you are shooting fast enough shutter speeds, which I am sure you are, (in the region of 1/2500sec to 1/5000sec) then I doubt that any mirror induced vibrations would cause significant blur. That would be the first thing to change. Once you are shooting in Continuous High with the 5Dmk3, then the main AF variables that I think would help most with the 1.4x converter on would be Ai Servo Tracking Sensitivity (you may want to try slowing that down to -2 at most) and you can also use Focus Priority set to its max rather than Release. I will say that I have found that when using super tele lenses, above 300mm in focal length, that I have found that the 1D series, whether 1Dmk4, or 1DX, both drive the AF faster and more positively between frames than the 5Dmk3..which I believe is due to their larger battery voltages enabling them to shift the lenses that move during focus about a bit faster.
      Let me know what you have already tried of this prior to writing and I can maybe share some more thoughts and options?

    • Grant Atkinson Says: June 30, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Hi Dianne
      One thing I did find helped me get better results from the 5Dmk3 and the 600f4ii when focus tracking was to actually ‘pump’ or ‘bounce’ my finger on the shutter button (I dont use back-button focus) to force the camera to refocus during a tracking motion. You can do this with back-button focus too. This isn’t always easy to get right though and quite often I ended up not getting it right. This was whilst shooting moderately small birds, that were flying diagonally towards me, at quite fast speeds, against a clear sky…..

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 1, 2013 at 6:06 am

      Hi Diane
      A few more things come to mind with regard to your shooting situation there. With fast moving subjects, I always prefer using either a single AF point or perhaps the expanded cluster of 1 plus 4 surrounding. It feels to me that the AF works faster and more accurately configured this way.
      It is also worth bearing in mind that in some literature Canon refer to a slowdown in AF time once an extender is mounted, and the figure of 50 percent for the 1.4x extender has been mentioned. This slowdown is by design, with the idea of greater accuracy being the goal.
      I will also say that I find it much more difficult when using focal lengths beyond 600mm, like your 600 plus extender combination, or the EF800 L 5.6, to capture birds in flight easily, due to the very narrow field of view such focal lengths give. It can also be difficult when using such long focal lengths to find the subject again when focus is unintentionally dropped from the subject.
      Hope something in one of these posts helps

  18. David Says: June 30, 2013 at 6:23 pm

    Hi Grant just to say thank you for your detailed explanations of settings, and interesting Q&A from others, I am awaiting delivery of the 1DX, my priorities in photography are birds and wildlife, have you a section that specifically relates to bird photography, in particular flight.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 1, 2013 at 6:08 am

      Hi David
      Glad you are finding something of interest on the site. I have not published anything as yet directly relating to birds in flight, but I will prioritize such a post in the near future, perhaps within the next month.
      Thanks for letting me know.

  19. David Says: July 1, 2013 at 6:15 am

    Ok Grant I will look forward to your advice on the topic, meanwhile I will continue to learn about other aspects of photography with 5D mark3 & 1DX, from reading these posts. Thanks David

  20. Diane Miller Says: July 1, 2013 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks for the additional information Grant. I had forgotten about the slowdown in AF; that might account for some of the issues. So much of this stuff is a double-edged sword. I think I’ll try my 1.4x II extender just for fun — I understand it is the III that does the slowdown. For still subjects I didn’t see a noticeable quality difference.

    Tracking the bird is certainly an issue. I’ve tried the different focus point configurations with not a lot of difference. But I have noticed one seemingly curious thing, even with the straight 600: the camera seems to hold focus more readily on very small subjects. Possibly with a larger bird, covering more of the sensors, the decisions as to which point to use are slowing things down?

    I’ve been shooting a local (sort of) family of white-tailed kites with four recently fledged juveniles that afford reliable practice and experimenting. I’ve tried damping the movement of the Wimberley II head with a little drag on the knobs. Yesterday I strapped a set of ankle weights on, one on the lens hood and one at the mount end of the lens. This gave a wonderful feeling to the movement, almost like a damped video head. Next time out (in a couple of days) I’ll try it with the 1.4x, hoping it may help. Hard to test any of these things with any certainty.

    It’s easy to prefocus on a tree and get close enough to be able to find the bird in the viewfinder, and I rarely lose it altogether once I’m on it, but it does jump around in the frame sometimes. Oddly, movement in the frame sometimes holds focus and keeping the bird steady sometimes looses focus, slightly.

    My serial number indicates it is not one of the lenses that needed to go back to the factory for a firmware upgrade.

    Still working on dialing in the best conditions and technique….

    • Grant Atkinson Says: July 1, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Hi Diane, thanks for your feedback here again. As far as I am aware, both the version ii and version iii extenders will slow down AF by design….about 50 percent on the 1.4x and 75 percent on the 2x, both versions again, so I don’t think there is much to be gained by going to the older extender. I will say that I would not be overly confident of getting great in-flight shots with such a long focal length (840mm), unless there were some external factors that I could take advantage of. Whenever I am struggling to get close enough or struggling to keep up with fast flying birds, I usually try very hard to work out if there is some way or some time when it will get much easier…an unusually strong wind in a certain direction perhaps, or slowing down before landing on a favourite perch, or that moment just after take-off. Of course if there are other photographers in the same place using similar gear to you and getting exactly the type of results that you are looking for then it might just be a matter of working at it?
      Let me know how things progress

  21. Diane Miller Says: July 7, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Problem solved, I’m 99% sure. Cleaned the contacts!! Had one day to shoot with quite a few targets and AF now holds much better, within my expectations.

  22. Dennis Manske Says: July 20, 2013 at 11:33 am

    Hello Grant,

    I just wanted to thank you again for sharing all of this info, and responding to questions. I rented a Canon 400mm f2.8 II, for my trip to the Tetons in Wyoming, and my camera settings worked out great. I used the Back Button focusing and it was such a great help getting my focus button separated from my exposure control.

    Aperture preferred and manual ISO, as well as the other settings you talked about for the 5D3 increased the number of in-focus shots considerably. I was then able to shoot some action with the family over the 4th of July holiday, as they were ‘tubing’ behind the boat at about 45 KPH on Kezar Lake, Maine. Even during some dramatic sweeps across the wake with spectacular spills, I was able to capture every moment of it. I ended up with some great shots and great memories.

    Thank you for adding some new tools to my tool box.


  23. John Torcasio Says: August 8, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Good stuff Grant , I will try some of your settings on my 1Dx
    Cheers John…

  24. Andy Skillen Says: August 27, 2013 at 7:29 pm

    Hi from the UK Grant! Very interesting and useful, and I’ve been tweaking my settings on my 1dx accordingly in advance of an upcoming trip. Couple of quick q’s, sorry for being a bit basic! Firstly, having made the settings on the my menu function, how do I activate them? I.e. on the autofocus screen with the 6 scenarios, there isnt a ” my menu” option, so I’m wondering where I should leave that screen set, and how I make sure that the options I’ve chosen on my menu are applied during shooting? Secondly, do you prefer a single af point, or expanded, as I’m toying with both. Many thanks

    • Grant Atkinson Says: September 1, 2013 at 7:52 pm

      Hi Andy
      Starting with the second question, I prefer to use a single AF point, although I find that with the AF grid getting so dense with the high number of points on the 5D3, and 1DX, that it can take me too long to move from one side to the other when I need to do so rapidly. This happens often enough that I keep the Zone cluster as my second option (and disable those that I don’t use often, Spot AF, Expansion, All Points) and I switch between single AF point and AF Zone. Zone can move in two clicks of the multicontroller from left to right and so far is proving quite accurate and fast, if not quite as fast to lock as a Single AF point. I can switch between them without looking away from the viewfinder.
      For your other question, going to the green My Menu Settings screen, choosing Register To My Menu, then enter, and scroll down all the options available, pressing Set to register the AF parameter or whichever options you want, and at the end of that, in the My Menu Settings screen, select Display from My Menu and choose Enable. That should display all of your chosen options under the green My Menu tab, all the time. Hope that helps and sorry for the late response, I am in the field guiding 🙂

  25. khaled Says: October 6, 2013 at 12:52 am

    You all the friendliness
    I want you how to adjust the af during sports photography

  26. Daron Wyatt Says: November 25, 2013 at 7:36 am

    Hi Grant,

    Thank you sooooo much for this post. I just bought a 1Dx and stumbled onto your post after running a google search for best settings for the 1Dx. To make it even more valuable for me, I just booked a trip to Kruger for next May and now hope to get some great wildlife shots with these settings. Oh how I wish I could afford to go on one of your safaris to spend some time getting great instruction from a true expert.

    With many thanks from sunny Southern California,


    • Grant Atkinson Says: January 6, 2014 at 6:57 am

      Thanks for the feedback Daron, and good to hear that you got the 1DX, I don’t think it will disappoint you in any way. Great camera with the best autofocus system I have ever used.

      Hope your Kruger trip is a productive one and let me know how it works out

  27. Yngve Hafting Says: January 5, 2014 at 6:00 pm

    Thanks for sharing your experiences with the AF settings!
    Did you know that all the settings except AF Point Auto Switching are the same on the 6D?.


    • Grant Atkinson Says: January 6, 2014 at 7:00 am

      Hi Yngve
      Thanks for pointing out that similarity between the 5Dmk3 autofocus and that of the 6D. When it comes to setting up these cameras, there are indeed a lot of similarities between the two systems. The newest Canon dslr, the EOS 70D has AF setup parameters about the same as the 6D, so again, similar to the 5D3 and 1DX. Once you get a feel of what those parameters are doing with any of these cameras, it helps a whole lot with setting up any and all of them.

  28. Barry Richards Says: January 15, 2014 at 6:03 am

    Hi there Grant. Thank you for sharing this info on the Canon 1DX. Have recently retired and am really enjoying shooting any types of action be it Bull Riding, Saddle Bronc & Bareback events. Even shot two rounds of the Australian Speedway Solo Championships in Undera (VIC) & Adelaide (South Australia) last week with reasonable results.


    • Grant Atkinson Says: January 16, 2014 at 5:26 pm

      Hi Barry
      Thanks so much for sharing your feedback on the 1DX and how it is working for you. Sounds like you have some quite exciting sporting subject matter to aim your camera at!

  29. Jean Francois Poudron Says: January 16, 2014 at 5:17 pm

    Hi Grant,
    Thanks for sharing your settings. Very useful
    The 1Dx has now a new firmware : 2.0.3
    Have you changed something in your settings ?


    • Grant Atkinson Says: January 16, 2014 at 5:25 pm

      Hi Jean Francois
      I have just installed the new firmware and will be shooting the 1DX hard over the next two weeks in the field. Once I get back I will likely be making a new post for the 1DX alone, as the new firmware actually differentiates it a little further from the 5Dmk3.
      You will just have to be patient for a couple of weeks 🙂

  30. Andres Says: February 25, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    Thank you very much for this detailed, yet simple to read explanation. I recently got the 1D X and want to take advantage of all its capabilities. I look forward to any updates you may have now that its firmware has been updated. Thanks again!


    • Grant Atkinson Says: February 25, 2014 at 10:17 pm

      Hi Andre
      I am a bit behind with gear writing at the moment, but the next thing I should have on the site will be an updated AF setup text for 1DX users…
      Thanks for writing and hope you enjoy the is a winner

  31. David Shallcross Says: February 25, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Please do your best to update us on the AF for 1DX suggestions, Grant thank you

  32. Colin Smale Says: April 22, 2014 at 10:50 am

    Hi Grant. First of all many thanks for taking the time to go into such detail on this tricky a/f subject, it has been very helpful and I have made some changes which I am sure will work well. (I use 5D3)
    I still have one a/f question which after reading your 1Dx and 5D3 info I fear I might anticipate your answer already, “gotta get closer”.
    Let’s assume a hawk is approaching and I can pick it up a mile away. I can put single point on it and that snaps onto it fine (almost always). Now I can track it in and be ready to shoot when it is big enough in the frame.
    However, as we all know, the closer these critters get the more difficult it is to keep single point on them sometimes and so the zone system would seem perfect for the job. However, trying to pick the bird up so far away or even half that distance, the zone system almost always slaps back to minimum focus and just goes to sleep! I have of course set “lens drive when af impossible to on” (it’s always on). Is the answer when using the zone system wait till the bird gets much closer? The problem with that is time… get onto the bird early and things are much more controllable. Is there a way to stop zone system slapping back to min focus?
    Many thanks

    • Grant Atkinson Says: April 22, 2014 at 11:57 am

      Hi Colin
      Thanks for your feedback, and I must say, I have not experienced AF Zone doing what you are describing? What lens are you shooting with?
      I think it might be worth experimenting for you to switch between Single Pt and All 61 Pt, to see if it does a better job of finding the subject once you switch AF area modes. It is indeed very difficult to keep the Single AF point on the bird as they get closer, but I would only switch over to a cluster of points, if there was nothing else that the AF could possibly get confused with…if background is structured or similar to my subject, then I will say in Single Pt AF and just keep on trying.
      Let me know your thoughts?

  33. Diane Miller Says: April 22, 2014 at 3:40 pm

    Grant, thanks again for all the time for the help you provide here!

    After a lot of experimentation I’m wondering if “focus jitter” on the 5D3 is a problem for birds in flight. Don’t know if it’s just my body but I suspect it’s the design. It’s not enough to see thru the viewfinder — only shows viewing the images at 100% in Lightroom. It doesn’t seem to be caused by a flapping wing or the bird moving off the focus point. Shooting a still subject I can hear it happening — a quick jumping around of focus. I’m using only the center point (which has some “invisible” helper points), and it happens with several different lenses, including the 600 II. (I need to try it with the smallest focus point and with and without IS.) Have tried many variations of cases, currently settled on +, 2, 2. This is against sky so no confusion with trying to focus on a BG. Need again to compare the opposite, Case 1.

    But here’s something interesting: I was using the back button for focus (AI Servo) with focus tied to holding the button down, and the situation improved when I tied focus back to the shutter button and switched the BB to focus hold (for recomposing).

    Don’t know if this was mentioned earlier in the thread — apologies if I’m rehashing something.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: April 23, 2014 at 8:35 am

      Hi Diane, I have been following your posts here describing your current birds in flight AF journey with the 5D3, and also on BPN, with interest. I can share my own experience, especially after shooting a whole lot more with the 5D3 since I first got this post up. In fact, I was quite fortunate to be able to spend large amounts of time photographing African skimmers and carmine bee-eaters, both with multiple visits to the same locations, which enabled me to try out a lot of different settings, and also to keep on comparing AF performance or rather, my results, with the 5Dmk3 and other Canon dslrs. I can comfortably say that after the 1DX, the 5Dmk3 works better for me for 90 percent of bird in flight shooting situations than any other Canon camera at the time of writing this, including my 1Dmk4. I am shooting most often with the EF 500f4L IS ii, handheld. I focus with the shutter button, Ai Servo, and I have my best success rate using Single Pt AF (not the Spot AF -which is reduced in size), with AF Zone as my second choice. My bird subjects were of varying speed, I would place the skimmers as medium fast flyers, and the bee-eaters as fast. If any of the birds are flying against a structured or busy background, I stay with Single Pt AF, if they fly into a clear sky and I have enough depth of field for a little leeway in which AF point grabs where, I will switch to AF Zone.
      I found that using the Af Pt Expansion, one with 4 helpers, reduces accuracy for me, hence I prefer the Single Pt.
      I have my Ai Servo priority settings on Release for the first shot, then the middle setting for the rest of the shots in the burst, not on Focus priority.
      Maybe if you also set Accelerate/Decelerate to 0, for more stability, it might help…with the AF jitter that you mention?
      It is very difficult to evaluate the results quickly and unequivocally when testing these AF settings, because my own tracking may have been better for one sequence, the subjects never fly the same way or speed twice and physical conditions change, and with medium fast flying birds, I typically dont expect to get every shot sharp with the EF 500f4L IS ii and 5Dmk3 in a flight sequence. If the birds are flying across the frame, at right angles to the camera sensor, then I expect more to be well focused, if the bird is coming directly toward me I expect a lower keeper rate…
      When using Single AF pt, if there is lots of space in the frame I will stick to one of the central vertical column AF points in the 5D AF array, but I am confident even with some of the peripheral points, that I will at least get some sharp shot of fast moving subjects…
      Will be interested to hear how things are developing for you there?

  34. Colin Smale Says: April 23, 2014 at 10:28 am

    As a matter of interest Grant; how often to you do check your lens focus, in other words how often do you do a micro-adjust? Then there is the subject of what system/target you use to test focus. I have heard some say “every three months or whenever gear has been serviced.

    • Grant Atkinson Says: April 23, 2014 at 2:45 pm

      Hi Colin
      You might be shocked to hear that I just make sure to check the quality of focus in the field, always shooting some steady, static subjects and checking those images carefully. I will usually notice if a lens or body is not working too well. I have not performed any micro-adust operations on any of my lenses or 2 bodies in the last year and a half 🙂
      AFMA seems to be a topic with lots of differing opinions, thoughts and ideas, and I have not spent too much time on it myself. I may take a deeper look when I have some extra time on my hands 🙂

  35. Diane Miller Says: April 24, 2014 at 9:39 pm

    Grant, thanks for the additional information. Interesting that Zone seems to work better for you than single point with 4 surrounding point expansion. I think I’m probably getting better results with 4-point expansion (around the center point), compared to single point, at least with my trials with the egrets, possibly because the single point is often on the white belly (I’m shooting up at them as they fly into a nesting tree). Expansion often likes to grab onto the fine texture on the inboard far wing. That’s better than nothing, but can cause a DOF issue. (Even with four points I can usually hold focus when they fly in front of a tree, as they’re usually fairly large in the frame.) I’ll try Zone – it’s one thing I haven’t done as I felt that the camera giving equal weight to all the points could work against me.

    I changed AI Servo Priority setting as you suggested and got a noticeable decline in well-focused shots. Back to Focus for both – I think the camera just doesn’t have the tolerances I would like. (Yes, MF Adjustment checked several times – LensAlign — and found to be best at 0 with the 300 and 600 lenses and TC combinations.)

  36. Yves Kleikers Says: May 26, 2014 at 11:51 am

    Hi Grant,

    Thank you so much for this nice article, setting up the AF parameters in “my menu” was a great idea!

    I shoot a lot of dog action with a 1D-X and a EF 24-70 f2.8 IS II (or a EF 70-200 f2.8 IS II). Thus I need to track fast moving dogs and even with my gear I find it hard to track small black dogs (i.e. black terrier dogs moving fast, changing directions and accelerating/decelerating). It does not really matther wether I use AF point mode, Single Spot AF or AF Point Expansion.

    I wonder if the AF has difficulties focussing on black subjects due to a lack of contrast?!? I often end up with just 10% of in-focus images which I find incredibly low for this kind of gear. And it does not matter wether the shutter speed is 1/100 or 1/8000.

    I have been playing with all AF and AI Server settings, nothing seems good enough for those small fast black dogs! Somehow… just frustrating.

    Any advice?!?



    • Grant Atkinson Says: May 26, 2014 at 12:11 pm

      Hi Yves, thanks for the feedback, and although I don’t photograph black dogs very often, I do seem to get a lower hit rate of in-focus pics with black birds, especially if they are flying against a dark background. I have found that I get my best results with fast-moving black birds when shooting with the sun behind me and shining over my back, and still at a relatively low angle….so the side of the birds dark feathers are illuminated quite strongly…perhaps you could try such an experiment with the dog and see if it is any better.
      Hope that helps

  37. Yves Kleikers Says: May 26, 2014 at 12:50 pm

    Thank you for this quick reply Grant!

    I shoot with the sun behind me as often as I can, which of course makes things easier for AF but still have a low percentage of in-focus images. It may be easier to track black birds as they probably are far away. The most difficult situation is being close to the dogs, trying to get interesting, close, wide angle images. The dogs move so fast toward me and I really have to speed up my panning mation as the dogs get closer to me and passe by. All this together may be just too much to get in-focus images. Well… some times it works (you can find some action images of my dogs here:


  38. Shayne Says: June 3, 2014 at 6:40 am

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    within your posts are running off the screen. Can someone else please provide feedback and let
    me know if this is happening to them too? This could be a problem with my
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  39. Yves Kleikers Says: June 3, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Hi Shayne,

    I am using both IE8 and the latest Chrome version, have not enconutered your issue so far.

  40. Paul Says: September 28, 2014 at 12:18 pm

    Hi Grant.

    Thank you so much for this informative guide. May I ask when you say single point AF acquisition, do you mean the standard sized AF point or the precision one with a small dot in the middle? I am a dog photographer and struggle to keep the action on the dogs face as I can easily start tracking the tail instead. Do you have any tips?


    • Grant Atkinson Says: September 28, 2014 at 1:20 pm

      Hi Paul, for Single Pt AF I mean the regular, square shaped Single AF pt, not the smaller Spot AF point which is displayed in the viewfinder as a square with a dot inside. For fast approaching subjects like dogs, are they coming directly towards you, which i guess they might be? If so, and if they are at close range, make sure your shutter speeds are faster than 1/2500sec if possible, perhaps try to experiment with Tracking Sensitivity set to Plus 1 or Plus 2, and see if that helps…You could also try moving the Accelerate slider to Plus 2 on the 1DX.
      I am busy working through similar difficulties with wild subjects coming head-on towards me, and my 5dmk3 landing focus behind the animals head on its shoulder. I will be shooting similar subject matter with the same lenses and the 1DX in the next few weeks, and will report back on differences that may arise…

  41. Paul Says: September 28, 2014 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks Grant, you are right, coming at me, etc. At the moment I am on -2 on sensitivity and 0 on acceleration as per your instructions. I’m using the 5dmk3 and the 70-200 2.8 II. I sometimes wonder if the problem is not AF but burst rate….

    • Grant Atkinson Says: September 28, 2014 at 1:46 pm

      Hi Paul, maybe give it a try at Sensitivity on Plus 1 or even Plus 2, it may be that for direct oncoming subjects it works better…(as opposed to a subject moving across the frame where one is moving the camera sideways to keep tracking, and using Sensitivity at -1). If you have the luxury of being able to get your subjects to do the same thing again and again, you could also try some images with Ai Servo 2nd image Priority to either fully Release or fully should be clear after one run through in each of those two extremes which one might be best of the Ai Servo 2nd Image Release/Focus Priority options. Setting it all the way to max Focus priority will slow down the burst rate..let me know how it goes. With these situations, different lenses, subject speed and angle, and direction and amount of light, plus your own skill level, will influence results. If you still struggle with the head-on approaches, options are to set up your focus on a certain place, switch off AF, make sure you have enough depth of field, and shutter speed, and then shoot a burst as you get your subject to pass through your preset, locked, zone of focus. A further alternative is to shoot as you have been, but to slightly change your angle so that it becomes less head-on and a little less steep…
      Let me know how it goes

  42. Stein Ø. Nilsen Says: August 1, 2016 at 7:22 am

    Hi Grant,
    tested your suggested settings on my newly achieved 1Dx, but I struggle to avoid focus jumping into the background of the frame. Tested on some of the worst ever, hovering Arctic terns, and they disappear in a blink of a second 🙂 Hope you have a good suggestion to how to hold the focus a few milliseconds more!
    Using 1Dx and a 5DIII with 300/2.8L IS. I see this is an old thread but still relevant information!
    Stein, Tromsø, Norway

    • Grant Atkinson Says: August 2, 2016 at 8:19 pm

      Hi Stein, if the camera is jumping onto the background ,then set Ai Tracking Sensitivity to -2 and try that ?
      I always try change one parameter at a time with the autofocus setup, so that i get a better feel for each different parameters effect.

  43. Don Keller Says: June 27, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    These explanations and instructions also serve me well with my Canon 7D Mark II. THANK YOU

    • Grant Atkinson Says: June 28, 2018 at 7:51 am

      Hi Don, glad to hear that the 7D Mark 2 info was useful to you
      Thanks for the feedback

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