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How Many Autofocus Points Do You Need On A Camera?

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How Many Autofocus Points Do You Need?

When you first start looking into camera specs, one of the common attributes is autofocus points. If you aren’t familiar with autofocusing systems and how they work, these points might seem a little obscure. Some cameras have only 9 autofocus points while others have well over 1000. Is that something that will make a big difference in how you take photos? As it turns out, the number of autofocus points you need is probably less than you’d think.

In reality, you only need one autofocus point for your camera to get focus. However, having more autofocus points across your frame makes it easier for you and your camera to focus on a subject. Especially when you’re photographing something in motion, having more autofocus points will guarantee they stay in focus in any part of your image.

Now let’s discuss a little more about autofocus points and why they do (or do not) matter in your photography genre.

What Are Autofocus Points Used For?

When you look through your cameras viewfinder and half-press the shutter button, you’ll likely see a flash of red around a set of boxes. These little boxes scattered around your frame are called autofocus points. Different models and brands of cameras have different amounts, usually starting around 9 autofocus points. These points work to target a certain part of your image and ensure it’s in focus. When one of the autofocus points lights up in red or green, that means that section of your photo will be sharp.

Autofocus points are what make your cameras autofocusing work in the first place. Without them, it’d be impossible for your camera to know where to focus on. All of your autofocus points can be selected manually by you or automatically by your camera. Both options work well, but it depends on how specific you need to get with your focus.

When you are about to take a photo, one of your autofocus points should be right over top of your subject. That way, you know that they will be in perfect focus, and your camera’s autofocus won’t have trouble finding them.

Every niche of photography can find value using autofocus points, but there are some where it’s more important than others. Whether you’re shooting product photos or action sports, autofocus points will make your life easier. Instead of having to find focus manually, your camera does all the work.

What Types Of Photography Do Autofocus Points Matter Most In?

When you’re deciding on a camera and how many autofocus points you actually need, it all depends on what type of photography you shoot. Even though autofocus points are useful in any genre, they are absolutely crucial in others. Here are a few examples of photography genres where having more autofocus points is a huge advantage.

– Sports

With sports photography, you can’t predict where an athlete is going to go. One second they could be on the right side of the frame, and the next, they’re on the left. If you only have a few autofocusing points to work with, it will be a lot more challenging to keep one point over the athlete. When a camera has more autofocus points, it doesn’t make a difference where they move in the frame because there’s always an autofocus point on them. That’s why if you look at any professional sports photographers, the cameras they use have 2000+ autofocus points to guarantee crisp focus in every shot.

– Portraits

With more posed portraits, having more autofocus points doesn’t make that big of a difference. Since you can control how and where the model moves, it’s easy to work with only a few autofocus points. However, things are different when you want to capture candid portraits. Since candids are totally natural reactions, you can’t predict where your subject will be. All you can do is be ready to press the capture button. With more autofocus points, there’s less worry of accidentally missing focus. Since more of your frame is covered, there’s likely a point your camera can use. Especially in last second moments, having more autofocus points helps you rest easy to know you got a good shot.

– Macro Photography

Macro photography is a unique niche in the sense you’re typically photographing things that aren’t moving, and extremely close up. So you might think that since you have the time to set up and move your camera, having fewer autofocus points will do the job. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. With macro photography, you need to be extremely specific with where you focus. Since there’s already a shallow depth of field, the difference of millimeters can totally throw off your autofocus. With more focus points, its way easier to target exactly where you want to focus. Since it’s so specific, more autofocus points let you stay in AF mode instead of doing it all manually.

Does It Matter How Many Autofocus Points You Have?

Every camera will have a different amount of autofocusing points to use. Typically, lower-end cameras will have fewer autofocus points than higher-end models. It might seem a little unfair, but you really are paying a premium for the more advanced technology.

After making it this far in the article, you might be worried that you don’t actually have enough autofocus points. Maybe your camera only has 9 AF points, but now you feel that you need 1000. I assure you that’s not the case.

With many genres of photography, you can get away with using fewer autofocus points. Things like landscape, night, product, event, and real estate photography can all be easily captured without many autofocus points. Autofocus points aren’t a big deal with any type of photography where you can manipulate where your camera is in relation to the subject.

Take landscape photography, for example. When you take a picture of an entire scene, the mountains and rivers aren’t going to suddenly move. You have the time to set up and reposition your camera as necessary. If your photo’s subject isn’t near one of your autofocus points, it doesn’t take much to adjust your camera quickly.

In any type of photography where you can predict what type of action will unfold, having more or fewer autofocus points won’t make much of a difference. It’s in the types of photography where you need very specific focus, or your subject could be moving all over that more autofocus points are beneficial.

How Many Autofocus Points Does An Entry-Level Versus Pro Camera Have?

There’s a huge difference between the number of autofocus points in an entry-level versus professional camera. Just take the Canon Rebel T5i, for example, that only has 9 autofocus points. This is more than enough to get the job done for a hobbyist photographer, but this camera would struggle in any type of action photography.

Now, if you compare that to a higher-end Canon model, and the difference is staggering. For example, the Canon EOSR has 5,655 autofocus points covering 100% of the frame vertically and 80% horizontally. With nearly the entire frame covered, your subject could move anywhere and still have an autofocus point on them.

Autofocus points are extremely useful, but you really gain the benefit in certain genres of photography. If you’re more of a hobbyist, you don’t need to have thousands of focusing points. For the professionals, however, the extra autofocus points are worth every penny.

Photo of author
Brendan is an outdoor lifestyle and travel photographer from Vancouver, Canada who loves getting outside and eating donuts. He has worked all over the globe shooting for a variety of tourism boards and clients in North America, Europe, and South America. Brendan's mission is to help others improve their photography through easy to understand tutorials, without all the technical fluff that leads to feelings of overwhelm. Follow along each week as he shares new photography and photo editing tips to bring your work to new levels!

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