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. Boy, you are a walking and talking machine… two hours on one flash card, 16GB amazing…. I do have the Canon 17-55 EFS Lens… that is probably the reason why I got the 7D because it was compatable…love that lens… IS is great… I’ll be trying your suggestions out…. hope I can reset the focus points like you did….I’ll let you know after I receive the camera tomorrow. Thanks again, is it Charles?

  2. Actually, it was two maxed out 16GB CompactFlash cards. I stopped only because I could not fit any more ;). Good luck with the 7D! It’s easy to set the AF Points. Just follow my article and let me know if you have any questions.

  3. Hey, just wanted to let you know got my camera today and have it all set and ready to go for tomorrow’s photo shoot….there are a lot of nice new things from the 40D… takes a while to take it all in
    but I think I’m getting the hang of it… only had it a few hours…took about two hours for battery to charge… What is this firmware you have talked about….does that come with a flash card or something and for what purpose is it…. thank you for all your help in advance too!

  4. NEED YOUR HELP PLEASE….sure hope you can tell me what I’m doing wrong….I’m trying to upload the pictures from 7D to adobe cs4 (Tried to use the Cannon professional off the dvd but something not right there too…so I thought I’d just open them in my cs4 adobe bridge then send to raw processing and on to the photoshop for final editing… when they show up in bridge they are just tiny little icongs that say cr2 – got any ideas… usually the open right up full pictures in bridge so we can pick and choose what we want to edit…I’m worried I have a photo shoot tomorrow morning at eleven…which taking the pics I don’t have a problem unless the reason I’m not opening them is because of some changed setting…. I await your reply…Trudy

  5. Do you have a card reader? I never download the files direct from the camera. Better to use a card reader to copy the files direct to your hard drive.

    Did you upgrade Adobe Camera Raw to 5.7 (for Photoshop CS4)? Check the Adobe site and download. ACR 5.7 will read the CR2 files from the 7D. There is no image preview because Adobe builds them once it reads the file.

  6. Yes I have a card reader but stopped using it and have better luck with direct from camera…I’ve never had photos from my camera say cr2 before….just pics show up…. I took my 30D (40 D not working right now) and took a view pics to see if they’d appear….and they showed up in bridge on photoshop….so it is just with 7D that show up icons that don’t compute and are the cr2 icons…I’ll try what you said….the firmware I don’t anything about…or what it is but right now since I have a photo shoot tomorrow I’m worried
    that I won’t be able to get my pics to edit…and the woman will have come here for nothing…or do you think I’ll eventually be able to get them…..Okay I’m upgade adobe camera raw to 5.7….

  7. I clicked on Adobe link you sent me, but I don’t see what you want me to download ACR 5.7 — I’m sorry to bother you….but I’m going into panic mode….here….

  8. You’re probably sick to death of my questions…. Okay, I downloaded ACR5.7 which said it was supposed to covert to the dng files for windows… I don’t have dream whatever that program is called, but nothing changed I still see the cr2 files… now it is possible I didn’t download to the right area… I just clicked on Adobe cs4 and did it there… didn’t send to anything like presets etc…stillhanging here….

  9. Are you on a PC or Mac?? PCs still treat the files as just CR2. Try opening the files in Bridge CS4. With ACR 5.7 installed, it will correctly read the files. I use Bridge to review all 7D Raw files. You can tweak the Raw settings in Bridge or double click to launch Photoshop.

  10. You may not be available this morning, but I do want you to know how much I appreciate your trying to help me…. Okay I did download the ACR 5.7… during that process it kept stopping when in PS and I kept continuing it…. the message I get when trying to open the files in bridge is, it cannot open them because it does not recognize them cr2 and can’t open that program…. I did read that CS4 it should…. I stopped my firewall temporarily too…. oh brother, I hate to shoot jpeg…. or revert back to my 30D

  11. It sounds like you need to reinstall Phototshop CS4. Are you running Windows 7? Did you have a problem installing it? Bridge CS4 will read the 7D Raw files. But, if you are still worried, shoot RAW+JPEG. Set this in the Menu. The button on the back will only work for one shot at a time.

  12. Windows Vista Prem. Running out of time here… so when you got the 7D and opened it up in CS4 they did right away… with updating the ACR 57…. I’m going to reinstall cs4 now and see if that helps…

  13. I tried doing both raw and jpeg and the jpegs came out so blurred… so far I find the pics are soft not as crisp as I’d like them… but I know I haven’t had any time to perfect and find out what works great for face shots even in a body shot…. close ups head shots I’ll focus on the eyes….but body shots like you the expansion and zone focus…at least I now have that adjusted….

  14. Okay, I’ve tried to reinstall cs4 but it keeps telling me to quit the program and then install… I’ve shut down the computer even, unchecked what I think is the startup, however it may still be there but I’m trying tofigure that out… half hour before she comes… I’ve decided to shoot jpeg since I’m not familiar with the camera… I may shoot studio shots with 30D too…so I can work in raw format there…can you believe this…frustrated…and you have been more than helpful…going to the internet and see if I find answers to some of these things…for adobe…reinstalling…

  15. Your Antivirus program could be causing the problem with the install. I vaguely remember having to disable Norton when I installed CS4. Otherwise, you may want to do a complete uninstall, reboot and re-install. If you do, be sure to deactivate your copy of CS4 first.

    As for focusing, Spot AF is going to be the most precise. But, don’t forget, you are almost doubling your resolution from the 30D to the 7D. It could be that the increased resolution is doubling the softness in your images which may have been acceptable on the 30D. The 7D forces you to be much more precise in your AF aim.

  16. Can you believe I had that photo shoot which lasted from eleven this morning until 4:30….she’s my nephews daughter – age 26 I think….or younger maybe… anyway, we did the most extensive photo shoot I’ve ever done… changed her clothes about 7 times I think…. we took a ton outside and then a good bit inside…in my little studio… all jpeg of course…. I did discover that AF spot for the eys especially when I wanted to close in, I actually changed the focus points a good bit throughout… found the most difficult for the AF was when I had the camera inside on the tripod….couldn’t get the angles I wanted so finally I just hand held it and by the end of the day lugging around that heavy camera and attached flash my arm was giving in and shaking and one of the lens I used prime 50mm wasn’t IS like the other 17-55 IS one but
    I think and pray they all turned out great for her….we’ll see – hopefully when I get ready to upload them into PS I won’t have problems since they are jpegs….

    I finally was able to turn on Bridge in Task Master and was able to reinstall APS cs4… then redownload the probram you suggested through adobe CR2 5-7 and when installing the updates in bridge, it kept stopping and saying to quit the oe update and continue on to thers…and the 57 was one of them…so, no I still don’t have the raw accessability… probably a good thing because I have 467 pics on the camera….but of course I’ll go in and weed out I hope more than half of them…af first then melt down a lot more afterwards….imagine doing that in raw… tomorrow I have two small photo shoots… today was fun but a lot of hard work moving from place to place etc…I’m praying the pics come out clear… wish I had had more time to get familar with 7D first but, I had to go with it…

    I’ll worry over the RAw thing beginnig of the week when I can perhaps call a tech and he can help me through it…I did shut down the firewall first time around….but I may hanve more….don’t know for sure…

    Thanks for listening to me ramble on and I hope you have a great weekend….Everything I know is self-taught with the exception of back in 2000 I did take that NYI of photography correspondance course which no have a hands on teacher basically just gave me more or less introduction… like I had no idea what aperture was and depth of field…bought books and taught myself but so much easier to have had someone to talk to learn along the way…. so you were a good help… I’ll let you know how the pics end up…;-)

  17. Glad you made it throught he shoot! Shame you did not get to use the 7D but there is always next time. Better to get in some more play-time than to jump into a trial by fire. There is a lot to get a handle on in the 7D that is not in the 30D.

    If it isn’t your anti-virus program, the only other thing I can think of is that you have various Adobe components running which would prevent the program from fully installing. It won’t let you install/reinstall if you have thinks like Bridge, Acrobat or other Adobe CS4 components running in the background. Try doing a Control-Alt-Delete to pull up Task Manager and take a look at the Programs running. If you do not see any Adobe programs, i think you will need to call Adobe to fix this situation. It should be a free call for installation issues.

  18. Well, I DID use the 7D but set it at jpeg….WOW – my pictures turned out so beautiful…I can see a difference…. I may not even edit them…well everything can stand a few tweaks to enhance but not much, they’re wonderful….I’m so impressed… as I was taking them I kept going back and forth depending on the pic changing the focus points….really did an excellent job….love it. I’ll call someone on Monday to see what I can do regarding getting the upgrade to take… I already did try taking adobe out of task manager so I could reinstall it…I just checked and I see bridge there but nothing stating ADobe however I was able to upload my jpeg easily…212 of them…went fast too. reinstalling adobe was a good thing because it is working faster….did I say I love 7D…. 😉

  19. Sundays double photo shoot…I cannot believe what I just did, thought I was shooting in JPEG since I can’t as of yet retrieve RAW files…in cs4…and both photo shoots today (Family thank God) well one was of a little girl…not family…but friends thereof…after they left I was eager to look at them and staring me in the face was the word RAW….OMG, I sure hope I can now get this adobe photoshop cs4 to turn my photos into the raw format…don’t know how I’ll get them if I can’t….

  20. You have to call Adobe to resolve the problem with CS4. They used to have Weekend support, not sure if they still do. Otherwise, install Canon’s Digital Photo Professional (on the CD that came with your 7D). It may not be very user-friendly, but it does a great job at processing 7D Raw files.

  21. You know I tried it and it too said cannot open files…I may try to reinstall it…and try again…yeah I could’t get ahold of anyone in Adobe…keep searching the web for answers somewhere…;-) don’t you just hate getting adjusted to new things…but the camera’s pics are great… I look forward to many great pics… Oh, one thing I wanted to ask you, when we take movies as you did, are there things we need to have in our computer to make and send the videos…I have a movie maker primarily for slide shows but it may do movies… wasn’t sure how you transferred yours to You Tube…I’ll worry about that later…got enough on my plate trying to figure the rest of the stuff out…

  22. Sounds like time for a new computer 😉 I started using Pinnacle’s Studio HD for my Canon 7D videos. Since I upgraded to CS5, I have been using Premiere Pro CS5 and After Effects CS5 exclusively. I have tutorials for both on my blog.

  23. Oh my head hurts from all this knowledge…but a good hurt…;-) Okay I went back and realized I was trying to bring the raw files up in the wrong editor….I did it, by george I did it… and sent them over to CS4 with no problems…. still going to call adobe tech to get that working too…. so, I’m learning the camera quickly and figuring out this program stuff…. as soon as I settle I’ll start thinking about the video… can’t wait to see what will come from that….now I’ve got three photo shoots to edit…thanks again for being so helpful….I know I’ve been a pain in the neck….but I must tell you with no one to talk to, it is refreshing to talk with someone who knows…God Bless!

  24. Hello…I recently began shooting Pin-up Style Pictures ( mainly indoor), and I am camera challenged, I bought the 7D to further my passion of photography…Im so lost. Is there a particular setting for indoor or night shooting?…. Thank you so much for any information you have.

  25. Well, you have several options available, depending on your comfort level. The simplest method would be to leave the Canon 7D in P-mode (Program) and push the ISO to 1600. That should be plenty of light for a typical indoor room with good light. P-mode does not automatically trigger the pop-up flash. Noise levels will also be very acceptable.

    You can also try using the CA-mode. Use the Q-button on the back of the camera (in the upper left corner) to enable changes and then move around the screen using the little joystick (Multi-control) and the large thumb dial. Using the Smooth-skin tones mode might work well for you.

    The 7D does not have special modes for night shooting or indoor shooting like the 50D/60D and Rebel series. But, if you think about what you want to accomplish, you can still get great shots. If you are using Photoshop, you should also shoot RAW which will allow you to make adjustments to the image without another level of processing and image compression.

  26. Great info – my 7D arrives on Monday, and I already have the 17-55IS. Looking forward to starting out with video finally! (I am a year behind the curve!!)

  27. THANK YOU for this information! I just upgraded to the 7D from the 40D. My 40D is set up the way I want, and I’ve not had to change any settings in the 3 years I’ve had it. So it was interesting getting a more advanced camera. However, I was totally discouraged with the soft focus I’ve been getting, and the ‘flat’ images. This morning I was ready to cry after doing a major shoot and pretty much ended up with ‘crap.’
    I came home and searched and found this site…. I changed the settings as you instructed, and took some sample shots and OMG HUGE difference!!! THANK YOU AGAIN!

  28. YES! You are absolutely right – the 7D 19-point auto focus is miserable even with excellent light. My 7D shows the “selected” points right where I want them but still focuses poorly over the whole frame. The Zone AF is better but still soft. I find the ONLY good focus with this camera is using AF Expansion – that works fine. I’ve used this camera for a year and this seems to be a “new” issue and I’ve had several shooting sessions that were a total loss because of it. It is a problem with every lens I have. But using it on AF Expansion with the ability to quickly change the location of the AF zone looks like a practical workaround. PS – I also downloaded the newest firmware and did a battery-out reset as you suggested but that did not help with the Automatic AF point selection mode.

  29. I have recently started reading your column, and I love the simple way it is written because things make sense.Believe it or not I have been in photography for over forty years, and I retired some time ago because my sixty five plus brain had trouble retaining information. I recently upgraded to 7D but I am having problems downloading my images with lightroom 3. When I try to download I see the image outline box with a check mark but no images. I did not have this problem with lightroom 2.

  30. Thanks for the comments! It sounds like a data transfer issue (ex. bad cable, USB port problem, etc.)

    I never use the direct connection between the computer and the camera to transfer images. It is much faster and more reliable to pull the Compact Flash card from the camera and use a USB card reader attached to the computer. Take a look at the Kingstone 19-in-1 USB Hi-speed Reader with transfer speeds up to 480Mbps for under $13.

    On the Compact Flash card, the photos are located in a subfolder DCIM > 100EOS7D. Open this folder and drag them to a folder on your computer. I keep my photos organized by YEAR > EVENT (ex. 2011 > Fall Fashion Week 1).

    Don’t forget to take a look at my new eBook available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble 😉

  31. Turning off all of those extra AF points makes a huge difference especially with a telephoto lens! Most of the time with a telephoto, you will put your subject in the center anyway and crop in post. Better to have a sharp image with dead space than a blurry image with great composition 😉

  32. I could not understand why the autofocus was so crappy on the 7D.

    It’s a big relief to have found your page, am looking forward to better pictures now.

  33. Thank you for posting this information. I am trying your recommended settings as I am at the point of selling my 7D (purchased early 2012) and 17-55mm lens. I have used my boyfriend’s 5D2 at the last couple weddings I’ve shot due to my dissatisfaction with the soft/oof output of the 7D. Used both cameras in good light at a beach wedding this past Sunday. 85-90% of photos from 5D2 were keepers, only 60% from 7D. Hopefully these settings will help – otherwise this camera will be visiting Canon and/or finding a new home. Again, thank you – I hope this info saves my camera!

  34. Why has it taken me two years to find how to get a little box with a dot in it in my viewfinder? Your clear guidance and pictures meant that I came back from an hour’s photography this morning and only had to discard 50% of my shots instead of the usual 99% and there were even a couple that I might not have to edit. Thanks, may all your photos turn to gold.

  35. This seems to be working for me when my subject is sitting still. but if the is any movement at all, little kids or pets, my focus can’t be maintained? What am I doing wrong?

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