Canon 7D Tips: Problem focusing? Customize the AF!

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I have been writing about the Canon 7D for a few months now, but I never wrote about my first batch of photos.  They were awful!  The problem with the 19-Point AF system is that it will focus on the closest point with the most detail. For me, that point is rarely the right focusing point.

canon7d-afpoints0The default setting is the top Automatic AF Point Selection.  After experimenting with all of the available AF modes, I found the AF Expansion and Zone AF work best with my style.  I have used these two AF modes for all of the 7D photos on

Enabling Spot AF and Expansion AF Modes


The Canon 7D ships with the Spot AF and Expansion AF disabled.  To enable these modes, go to Custom Function 3, Option 6.  Move the cursor with the Multi-function Controller (joystick) to the Register button and click the Set button.  Then, move the cursor over the two dimmed settings, click the Set button on each and then Apply.

Cycling Through the AF Modes

canon7d-afpoints2It is very easy to cycle through the different AF modes.  Just Push the AF Point Section button on the back of the 7D and then push the M-Fn button near the Shutter Release button.  With every push of the M-Fn button, you will cycle through all the AF modes.

Use the Muti-function Controller (joystick) to select AF points


Now this is really cool!  The Canon 7D allows you to quickly select the AF Points using the Multi-function Controller. With the Single AF Point and Spot AF, this means quickly selecting the exact AF point.  With the AF Expansion and Zone AF, this means quickly selecting the group of AF points.  But, you first need to enable this functionality.


Under Custom Function IV, Option 1, and click the Set button.  Next, move the cursor to the lower right corner and click the Set button.  The Dot with all of the arrows is the symbol for the Multi-function Controller (joystick).  Click the Set button again to reveal the options.  Move the cursor over the AF Point Direct Selection and click the Set button.  Your setting will now look like the above image.

After making these setting changes to my Canon 7D, the world began to make sense again!  And, my Canon 7D started to capture some remarkable images.

NOTE:  You can read more about the AF settings in this article Canon 7D Tips: Auto-focus not working? Check your settings.


My Full Year with the Canon 7D

Canon 7D Tips: Problem focusing? Customize the AF!

Canon 7D Tips: Auto-focus not working? Check your settings.

Canon 7D Tips – What should my first lens be?

Custom Functions and Shooting in B&W with the Canon 7D

Canon 7D Tips: Customize Settings with My Menu


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106 Replies to “Canon 7D Tips: Problem focusing? Customize the AF!”

  1. Thank you ! I kept trying to figure out how to do this with the manual and couldn’t figure it out. Thanks for the help !

  2. thanks for the tips! finger crossed less blurry/soft images. i will try this out over the weekend! i was about to send it back to canon to calibrate it too

  3. Question – which focus mode do you think works best for portraits? And which for landscapes? These are the two styles I shoot most, always with ONE-SHOT. I’ve tried to calibrate my lenses (Sigmas… argh) but the images are still soft.

  4. Try AF Expansion. It uses the single AF point with additional info from the surrounding spot points. But, beware of the Portrait mode. It intentionally softens the focus to flatter the subject. With Landscape photography,try AF Expansion of Zone AF, but the f-stop is as important as the focus. I aim for a minimum of f/5.6 or f/8 to ensure depth of field, but also take a few additional shots with even smaller apertures. Although you may think f/22 is the best for landscape, such a small aperture can actually induce softness as a result of a slower shutter speed and extended exposure.

  5. Hey! Thank you for this information. So far it has brought about an improvement in the performance of my brand new 7D. The trouble is I don’t think it works anywhere near as well as my 5D I.
    I’m wondering if this is something we should really have to work around? I mean if this system doesn’t work lets all admit it and demand that Canon does something to rectify it. When I hear this many people discussing the same problem I tend to believe that there truly is a PROBLEM.
    I want to stand behind my brand here but what can we do to make them take this issue seriously?

  6. I am very curious how the new Canon 1D Mark IV works since it has a similar focusing system with even more AF points. But, I don’t think there is an actual problem with the 7D. Remember, by default the camera will focus on the closest object with sufficient contrast. That’s why reducing the number of active AF points actually improves the performance. Another feature which I have been experimenting with is AI Focus. It will start with a single active AF and then track like AI Servo. There is always something new to play with 😉

  7. Am I overlooking something? Does the AF selection only work in “creative” modes? If so, what’s the best way to set up for flash work? I can’t seem to get my 430 EXII to cooperate in Av or Tv.

    I’d love to be able to set center point AF in auto or whatever mode will with with the strobe, but I haven’t figured it out yet.

  8. AF point selection works in all modes. Just follow the specified steps.

    As for the flash, the 430EX II Flash’s AF Assist Beam only covers up to 9 focus points whereas the 580EX II covers all of the AF focus points. I have never verified this myself since I only have the 580EX & 580EX II.

    There are several great flash articles on the Canon site
    Bruce Dorn Speedlite Videos, Part I: External Speedlite Controls
    Bruce Dorn Speedlite Videos, Part II: External Speedlite Ratio Controls

    Speedlite Tip Series, Part 1: Choosing the Right Flash
    Speedlite Tip Series, Part 2: Beyond the Instruction Manual
    Speedlite Tip Series, Part 3: Wireless Flash Primer

  9. Thank you for the info. I now need to do more empirical testing so that I can at least get center point autofocus to work with the strobe. I’ll be checking out the links you provided, too.

    I appreciate your help a great deal.


  10. Despite my best efforts, I am unable to remove the grid and the 19 auto focus points from my viewfinder.
    All I want is one auto focus point which flashes red on my area of focus when I press the shutter release halfway.

  11. Take a look at the Custom Functions. C.Fn III Autofocus/Drive #9 Display all AF Points. Set it to 0 to Disable. The grid is called the VF Grid Display and it is controlled by the second wrench setting. Set it to Disable. Then check C.Fn III Autofocus/Drive VF Display Illumination and set it to 2 Disable.

  12. Thanks for your quick response. However I followed what you suggested to the letter.
    The result is that my auto focus point does not light up when I have achieved focus and I still have the grid and the inactive focus points in my view finder. Any further thoughts. Thanks.

  13. When you are in focus, does the camera beep? It should beep and flash when it achieves a focus lock.

    The Second Wrench setting will disable the grid display. I just confirmed that.

    C.Fn III Autofocus/Drive VF Display Illumination controls the flashing when you have a focus lock.

    As for the AF Points, it will depend on the AF Point Selection. If you select AF Expansion, only those AF Points will be displayed.

  14. Hello Photoframd,
    i stumbled to these article while i search the web for better focusing with the 7D.
    The first thing i can understand is, that an other focus method can help to prevent focus problems, but the second thing i don´t understand is, why is helping to change the shutterbottons af function to “off” to get better focused pictures?
    And third, you don´t explain with one word why the 2 other focus methods are focusing not only the nearest things, or why they are better!

    So to me it looks all like “your” personal prefered settings, not hints for the real “known 7D focus problems”!

    Thanks, Edge

  15. Edge,
    Maybe if your English was better you would understand the third sentence of the first paragraph:

    The problem with the 19-Point AF system is that it will focus on the closest point with the most detail.

    Can that be any clearer? As for the Shutter button, again you are NOT reading. The direction is to change the Muti-function Controller (joystick) to select AF points:

    Next, move the cursor to the lower right corner and click the Set button. The Dot with all of the arrows is the symbol for the Multi-function Controller (joystick).

    I am happy to help anyone that asks. However, please read the article first and don’t accuse me with sloppy English.

  16. Excellent tips. Thank you very much. Like everyone else, I had a hard time figuring this out. The 7D is loaded with features, but they can be very difficult to get at.

  17. hi
    can you help
    am noticing a lot of noise even at low iso
    am shooting raw iso 200 17 to 40 f4 lens good shutter speeds
    it looks grainy and the appearance is worse in lightroom

    is this a camera problem or a software problem?
    thanks in advance

  18. Photoframd, Thanks for your tip on the focusing issue and for sharing. Do you know if the EV will work while looking through the camera or only on LCD panel? Thanks

  19. Exposure Value compensation +/- values are displayed in both the Canon 7D’s viewfinder and LCD screen. But, the “effect” of EV is only shown through the LCD since it is an accurate representation of the final captured image. This is especially important when shooting video with the 7D since the viewfinder is disabled.

    Using the LCD on a DSLR (instead of the viewfinder) seems like a step backwards to a point-n-shoot camera. But, once you get used to it, you will find the LCD indispensable.

  20. Sorry about the confusion…I am asking about the electronic leveler. If you hit info twice if will show up… My horizontal/vertical is always off when I hurry my shots and this will help, but it is on the outside. Thanks.

  21. Yes and no. The electronic leveler in the LCD shows the “up periscope” diagram which is great for leveling the camera. This graphic presentation is not available in the viewfinder.

    However, under Custom Function IV, Option 1, you can enable a similar function for the M-Fn button. If enabled, you can click the M-Fn button on Canon 7D’s body and see the AF spots dance around simulating the same leveling effect. Tilt one way, the other side lights up. Tilt back and the dots dim until only the center dot is lite, meaning it is level. This works for both horizontal and vertical leveling.

  22. The Canon 7D allows you to quickly select the AF Points using the Multi-function Controller This really makes the world different. I was wondering for a while how to change the AF points quickly, and alas… I found it here :-).. Thank you!!

  23. I like the automatic setting for my purposes (street shooting). I set on Servo to catch subjects in motion… If I need a focal point anywhere in the background or midground it’s easy… I press AF-on with the subject in the very center of the screen (the center point takes priority for a second) than take it off immediately (and it’s pretty fast. Now it’s locked.) Then, because I have the shutter button when pressed halfway assigned to exposure lock, my focus doesn’t change… that way i never have to change from AI servo to any other setting…. tracking and recomposing are a couple of hills to climb but it’s a new camera… it took a while to get the last one… cheers.

  24. Try using AI Focus instead of AI Servo. AI Focus start out focusing like One Shot AF, but will automatically track the subject should it move. It is the perfect hybrid between One Shot AF and AI Servo.

  25. Why if servo works…. it takes too long for ai focus to switch to servo… i’m shooting in rapidly changing situations.

    if i select a subject and recompose it won’t make any difference anyway, he’ll be out of focus. if i choose single point and zone it’s the same. If i recompose so the subject is out of the zone or point it won’t track…. i have to make these decisions in a split second… i don’t see any advantage to ai focus.

  26. if i select a subject and recompose it won’t make any difference anyway, he’ll be out of focus.

    i should have said,,, if he moves….

  27. I have used the AI Focus very successfully with bird photography and other wildlife shots. In fact, I usually leave the camera in this setting. I pick one subject, focus and then follow with the AI Focus active. Take a look at this article on Canon USA’s site. Of course, it is possible for the camera to loose track of the subject even with AI Servo. You have no choice but to refocus.

    The camera may be the brain but the real muscle that does all the focusing is the lens. Some lenses, like the 85mm f/1.2 L are just too slow for action photography while lenses like most of the 70-200mm Ls are champs at quick focusing. Which lens are you using?

    As you mentioned, sharp focus is confined to a particular plane. Objects within that plane will be sharp while object moving out of that plane will loose focus. You can hedge the focus by using a smaller f-stop to push for a “hyper-focus” (with a slower speed too). True hyper-focus techniques will be to slow for fast action, but you may be able to achieve your desired results by pushing 1/3 or 1/2 f-stop.

  28. Thank you for your clear instructions. I am having a difficult time in that when I hit AF-Drive of M-Fn I don’t get the grid. I have done all of the steps you described. What am I missing? I assume it was when I was playing with my camera sometime I did something I shouldn’t have. 🙁

  29. I’m sorry, I should’ve been more clear. Instead, I get shooting speeds and live mode when I hit AF-Drive. Nothing when I hit M-Fn.

  30. Look for the “Grid Display” under the 4th red camera Icon in the Menu. There are actually two of 4th red camera Icons, depending if you are in still photography mode or video mode. You probably have the “Grid Display” set to “Off”. Use the Multi-function Controller (joystick) to highlight it and click the Set button. Then change it to one of the two grid patterns.

  31. I used to have a Canon D60 (discontinued from the EOS series) but i love the af on that camera. Do you know which af on the 7d is similar to the one on the outdated D60?

  32. The Canon D60 had a 3-point AF. That’s a big difference from the Canon 7D’s 19-point AF. I would not recommend having all 19-points active.

    The 7D’s AF Expansion will give you a 5-point AF in the form of a plus sign. That may be the closest for you. But, it’s easy to change the AF pattern. Keep experimenting until you find the one that works the best for you. It will be a change. But, the 7D is an excellent camera and well worth the upgrade!

  33. For those of you who have updated the to the latest firmware ver. 1.2.2 on the Canon 7d. If you are having autofocus issue this fix may work for you as it did for me. I got tired of the cam searching and searching to focus on things that were static and simple do on my previous canon camera’s.

    Go to the menu and scroll to the wrench icon that has the 3 squares. Select Clear all camera settings. Note that by doing this you will loose your customized setting but not your copyright info in the cam that holds your name.
    Once this is done try going through all of the focus modes and make sure you to enable all of your autofocus modes in the C.FnIII area.

    I hope this works for you as it did for me.
    If so issue resolved with at smile 🙂

  34. What a great resource here! I was on the fence about the 7D because of focus questions in other sites. Now I “get it” and will order my 7D today. I’ve been using the 20D for sports coverage – this will be a great upgrade. Thanks for publishing this site.

  35. Happy to help! I have plenty of info about shooting Raw and HD-Video with the Canon 7D on my blog.

    I also have several articles dismissing the so-called digital noise issues with the Canon 7D Raw files. This was a problem with Adobe’s Camera Raw 5.7 processing the Raw files, not the Canon 7D. (A comparison of Canon DPP and 7D-generated JPGs proved this point.) Adobe corrected this problem in ACR 6 as part of the CS5 Suite.

  36. I’m so thrilled to have found this blog….my Canon 40D quit on me this morning…giving error code 99 whatever that is… I will return to canon for a free evaluation….meantime, I did order the 7D this morning and will receive it tomorrow…. good to know about the focus points…. I plan on setting just like you did…sure hope I can do it just like you explained…hard to know what I’m doing when no camera in hand yet… I do shoot RAW all the time and Adobe Photoshop CS4 is the prorgram I do all my work and it opens up too…. are you saying that causes problems…and we should only open up and work on the raw files in Canon’s program and then switch over to CS4 Adobe…?

  37. Well, here I am again…after watching the NY Halloween video, of course I have some questions to add to my previous one… Great video, I can’t believe the 7D did one that well…
    Questions for you: (1) How many GB’s was your flash card to capture that much of a video…almost ten minutes and you said you had still pics on it too. (2) What type of lens is best for video, wide angle ones perhaps? (3)Not knowing yet, since I don’t have the camera yet, what the speed the flash card needs to be or can go, what was the speed on the flash card for the video? I’ve been using Lexar’s compact flash cards, are there any you prefer or do they all pretty much do the same? So sorry to ask so many questions, but I’m trying to learn as much as possible before I get the camera tomorrow….LOL.

  38. Trudy, thanks for such a loyal following 😉 Here…Zazzle…YouTube…Wow!

    First off, the error code 99 is usually related to a battery grip coming loose from the camera. Do you have a battery grip with the 40D? If so, I would clean the contacts and reconnect the grip to be sure it is tight.

    I also jumped from the 40D to the 7D. I also loved using CS4 with the 40D. However, Adobe Camera Raw 5.7 in CS4 does a terrible job at processing the 7D Raw files. There were several early reviews of the 7D that complained about digital noise. However, this was an Adobe problem not a problem with the 7D. I have several articles which prove this. Adobe fixed the problem in the new algorithm in ACR 6/CS5 and Lightroom 3. I would highly recommend making that jump too. But, Canon’s DPP does a wonderful job processing the 7D Raw files and it’s free with the camera. I have articles on this too.

    Just let me know if you have any questions. And, since you are already following me all over, you might as well follow me on Facebook and Twitter too 😉

  39. Thanks so much….for your quick reply… you are a busy soul…. the reason the noise thing caught my attention because often I’d have stock companies say I had noise…so I purchased a program Neat Image to help with that, which to tell you the truth, not sure it does much of anything… so it might be photoshop cs4 raw instead… I’ll try 7d’s processing then first…see how I like it… Actually I’m not on Face book… probably the only person on the face of the earth….LOL… sparing you from another message asking the questions I asked previous to the one you so kindly answered… could you share with me about the video and the flash cards you use…. Oh, and I didn’t have a grip on the 40D…sounds like we’ve been going down the same paths…had a 30D prior and am now eager to try the 7D…

  40. I have articles on all that too 😉 I use 16GB Compact Flash cards of at least 400x speed (Sandisk Extreme IV) but the new Transcend 600x are a bargain. For the Halloween Parade, I actually shot almost 2 hours of HD-Video and a hundreds of Raws. For shooting video with the 7D, I highly recommend the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS EF-S lens. I used this lens for the Halloween video. The IS actually makes hand-held video possible.

  41. For removing digital noise, I rely on Topaz Labs DeNoise 5, as well as the new features built into ACR6. It really is the best product available today for digital noise. They have trial versions to test. If you are a NAPP member, I believe they offer discounts too.

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