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

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While I was shooting the video for Christmas in New York City, I had a BIG problem.  I was standing outside in the cold night air, dealing with the crowds and looking for a good photo op.  I pull out my camera for the first time that evening and pressed the shutter half-way … nothing.  My brand new Canon 7D would not auto-focus!


My first thought was the AF/MF switch on the lens.  Pulling the camera in and out of an overstuffed camera bag can move that switch.  But, the switch was still set for AF.  I removed the lens and reattached it.  Nothing. I even tried pulling the battery to reset the camera.  Still nothing!  Desperate to get going, I resorted to the ultimate step … clearing all settings and returned the camera to its factory default! The AF started to work, I reset my video to 1080P@24fps, and started capturing the sights and sounds of the season.  Whew!

During my break last week, I though I would try to recreate the problem.  It turns out Canon added several settings to the Canon 7D’s Custom Functions which will allow you to disable the auto-focusing.  It seems like a bad idea, but there could be a reason.  Every time the AF seeks to establish a focus lock, it is a battery intensive feat.  If the camera continues to hunt for a focus over an extended period of time, the battery will drain.  Canon may have added these AF-Disable/AF-OFF settings to stop the camera from continuing the process.  So where are these hidden “features”?  Take a look below.

7d-custfunct4-1bThe AF-Disable/AF-OFF settings are all located under Custom Function IV, option #1. My “good settings” are on the left.  The “bad settings” are on the right.  There are 5 different settings which can disable the AF function in the Canon 7D.  Just highlight the setting with the Multi-function Controller (joystick) and click the SET button to change it:

1.  Shutter Button:  Yes, Canon actually allows you to change the functioning of the shutter button, so that it does not auto-focus.

2. AF-On Button: This button allows you to “back-focus” the auto-focus without the use of your  shutter button.

3. AE Lock * Button:  This button is allows you to lock the exposure and recompose the shot.

4. Depth of Field Preview:  This button will stop the aperture down to the actual f-stop currently set by the camera.

5. Lens AF/MF Switch: Yes, Canon even allows you to disable the AF/MF switch on the lens.

So, if the auto-focus is not working, check the lens AF/MF switch first and then the C.Fn IV settings.  It will save you from resetting your camera back to its factory settings!

NOTE:  You can read more about Customizing the Canon 7D’s AF in my previous article.



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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98 Replies to “Canon 7D Tips: Auto-focus not working? Check your settings”

  1. hi and thanks for this. it has really helped. my first 7D let me down badly while on a wildlife shoot – focus was so poor and not on the subject. i had by 1Dmark3 and 5Dmk2 with me. I had bought the 7D as a backup to my 1D mark 3. The swopped camera performs much better.

  2. How do i lock the focus if I can’t disable the shutter button in servo? I shoot moving situations and so I use the af-on to start focus. To lock focus I just remove my thumb. I use the AE lock on the shutter precisely because it won’t alter the AF settings I’ve already locked. Also I find the manual override fights with AF (when I need to tweak) if the AF is set to shutter.

    I get a worse problem… everything seizes entirely…. removing the battery seems to work…

    I have changed my lens setting though. I wonder if that will effect manual override.

  3. 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.

  4. I don’t have a problem with ai servo, as i’ve said above.
    Assigning focus to the af-on button works for me.
    Servo works for me.
    Assigning the AE lock to the shutter button works for me.
    What doesn’t work is the occasional refusal of the camera to shoot or respond to any command without removing the battery.

  5. Have you updated the 7D’s firmware? I did have a few lock-ups when I switched lenses with the original firmware. The camera is a little computer and computers do have glitches.

    The current firmware 1.2.1 was released on March 4, 2010 and is available directly through the Canon USA website. Go to the page for the Canon 7D, and click on the Drivers and Downloads page. The firmware update process is fairly simple. Just make sure that you have a fully charged battery in the 7D before you start the process.

  6. Just checked before updating… the newest update is already in the camera (I bought it less than a month ago)

  7. Are you using a Canon lens? There can always be comparability issues with 3rd-party lenses. At least when Canon determines a problem with one of their products, they release a firmware update to address it.

  8. Well, I am running out of ideas. Take a look at the contacts on both the camera body and the lens and make sure they look clean. Lastly, you could try to restore the factory settings on the 7D. But, this will wipe out any custom settings. You may want to call 1-800-OKCANON and ask their techs for a suggestion.

  9. I’ve done that… reset works but only for a while… the event is fairly rare but never would be what would make me happy… i could send it in but it’ll be there forever and they won’t be able to replicate it since it happens fairly rarely… the longer they take, the longer i’ll be without a camera… a catch 22… so i’ll just wait and see if it gets worse… at the point where it’s unusable, i’ll send it in and go back to the g11 for a while (which is a darned good camera except for that shutter lag)… Thanks photoframd!

  10. Try calling 1-800-OKCANON and talk with one of their techs. They may have a suggestion for you. Good luck. Please let me know if you track it down.

  11. They didn’t know anything about the problem… maybe I’ll try another guy… it’s surprising how little some people who should be in the know actually do know…

  12. Hello all.. I hope this works for you on the Canon7D.
    I seemed to have been having the same issue with the autofucus even after the software update.
    Please take note of your custom settings.

    The fix…

    Go to the menu, scroll to the third wrench icon tab…
    Then scroll down to clear all camera settings.
    Once this is done try testing out each of the auto focus functions.
    I was able to test them all and I must say that its working fine.

    FYI.. The next time you do a firmware update take note of your customized settings and reset the camera settings. I’m so glad that I didn’t have to switch my cam out for new one.

    Have fun 🙂

  13. Hey,

    That was great. I changed the setting without realizing what I had did. I did a night shoot and thought that it was related to the low level of lighting….LOL

    Regardless, thanks for the help!

  14. I have made these changes… thanks for the help! When shooting a family or group, what settings do you suggest on this camera? I don’t trust the 19-Point AF, but the AF Expansion doesn’t seem to give me enough coverage. I’m setting my aperture at 8.0 and increasing my ISO, just still getting blur in faces. Any suggestions would be great.

  15. Do you think the blur is from Depth of Field or from Subject Movement? F/8 might actually be introducing a blur by forcing the shutter speed slower than 1/125.

    This may sound crazy but try this – whenever I use AV, TV or full Manual mode, I first put the 7D in P mode to get a reference setting for aperture and shutter speed.

    If you are staging the shot, get everyone in a line and stand parallel to them. If you are slightly on an angle, the plane of focus will not catch the people in the fringe. Unless you are trying to pull the background in as well, I would use a larger f-stop (ex. f/2 on the Canon 85mm f.1.2 L is fantastic).

  16. Thanks, I accidentally and unknowingly disabled autofocus on a recent trip on the Oregon coast. You saved me a trip to the camera store and looking kind of stupid!

  17. Thank you all, so my now one week old 7D takes great pics in expanded mode only, Is this a workaround or is the 19 point too sensitive in normal mode for its own good. I upgraded from a 50D.

  18. Take a look at my other article on Customizing the AF. With all 19 AF Points active, the Canon 7D will automatically select the AF point which aligns with a subject that is the closest and has the most contrast. This will rarely be what you want to photograph. It is better to reduce the number of AF points to increase the accuracy and then move the AF point around using the Multi-function Controller.

  19. Take a look at my other article on Customizing the AF. With all 19 AF Points active, the Canon 7D will automatically select the AF point which aligns with a subject that is the closest and has the most contrast. This will rarely be what you want to photograph. It is better to reduce the number of AF points to increase the accuracy and then move the AF point around using the Multi-function Controller.

  20. Thanks for the article. I have tried to turn on the AF on the lens and followed your guidelines (set up my camera in your “Good Settings”) but my 7D still could not AF when filming! Pls tell me what I can do? Thanks a lot!

  21. Continuous autofocus is not available in video mode. You will need to compose your shot, set focus and then start filming. There are a very companies that offer expensive follow-focus add-on for the Canon 7D, but I have an inexpensive solution which might be in your kitchen.

  22. @photoframd: Thanks a lot for your reply, this means that we have to press the AF button on the body whenever we want to it to AF to the object we like?

  23. I think something is wrong. I focus on an object when I start shooting a video but then when I move to a different object it doesn’t focus on that one. Do I have to press a particular button. Doesn’t the camera automatically focus on object to object. I’ve followed the settings above, is there something else I’m not doing?

  24. The Canon 7D does not automatically focus while shooting video. In fact, none of the Canon DSLRs currently autofocus during video. If you push the shutter button half way, the 7D will refocus but it can also go through a “seek” while trying to get a lock. Take a look at my article on DSLR or Camcorder for HD Video for more details.

    The best way to deal with this is to focus before you start filming video, complete the take, stop filming, recompose and refocus, then start filming again.

  25. Thank you so much !! I already thought I had to bring my 2 months 7D back to the canon service while I need hem daily for my work Iam so happy I can shoot again after 3 day’s stressing about that.

  26. Thank you for this article. I recently purchased my 7D and then added a 70-200mm f/2.8 to it for indoor shoots of my daughter’s sports. I personally “hate” those that use the $89 cameras that “flash” at moving things 100+ feet away…

    The first go last night left me frustrated to say the least… anything I did that wasn’t in full auto mode (see auto flash opinion above) didn’t focus at all. My thoughts included the camera is faulty, my lense is faulty and thanks to your article above I confirmed that I was faulty. The biggest flaw in anything electronic is that it was created by humans! I’ve bookmarked this site and will undoubtedly refer to it in the future…thanks again!

  27. Happy to help! The 7D definitely has a learning curve, even for a prior Canon user. This article now has links to some of my best Canon 7D articles. Please let me know if you have any questions.

  28. Hi There
    I am loving your site, I have had my 7d for a little over 5 months and I have to be honest , I am ready to sell it on ebay ..I just have such a hard time getting a clear image…
    The technical stuff gets pretty technical for me at times but I have just tried to read over your comments to make it all sink in. I just seem to be a little confused with this.
    1. I went and set my CFN IV to your ” good settings ” but then when I read your “problem focussing Tips ” I noticed this changes the way your ” good settings looks ” ie the AE Lock is now what you otherwise described as a ” bad setting” …..
    Sorry if this sounds dumb but now I am really confused, what is the best setting to get the camera focussing correctly to produce sharp images ?

  29. The point of that article was that I accidentally disabled the Auto-Focus by changing the settings. In my “bad settings”, I show how you can disable the AF (either by accident or on purpose). Seems like a silly option to me. Why would anyone want to change the function of the Shutter button when they could simply change the lens from AF to Manual?

    Please take a look at my other article on Customizing the AF. I think this article will really help you. With all of the AF points active, the Canon 7D will select the AF point which is closest to the camera with the most contrast. That is rarely the AF point that you want. By changing this to either Spot or AF Expansion, you will achieve a precise focus on your subject.

  30. I have a 20D 40D and 7D. I do not like the 7D at all. When shooting photos of my grandchildren I use either the all auto or the CA button, the problem I have is, even if I use the background clear setting, the camera does not focus. I took a photo of my grandson with his legs crossed at the ankles, so you could see his feet, his face was out of focus. When I use the 20D or 40D the whole photo is focused. Also when I use my 20 or 40 for high speed continuous shots, the photos were clear. When I try and get clear photos in the continuous shot mode on 7D they are not clear. I normally love Canon, I do not like the 7D at all. It is not as user friendly as the 20 and 40. I to am ready to sell it. Can you please help me? thanks for your time.

  31. There is a difference between the Canon 20D/40D and the Canon 7D. The 20D/40D is meant for advance consumers and semi-pros and has the different portrait modes right on the dial. The 7D is a pro’s camera for people that want more control. Does that mean you bought the wrong camera? No, you just have to work a little harder to get the shots that you want.

    Try adjusting the auto-focus as I described in the article. But, focusing is just one part of it. Chances are the 7D is also using an f-stop that is too shallow for your needs (like when your grandchild – f/2.8 is too shallow but f/4 or f/5.6 would allow most of the child to be sharp.) As for high speed shots, the 7D’s high speed drive only controls its ability to take continuous shots. You will still need a shutter speed that is fast enough to capture the moving subject.

    Before you give up, take a look at the DVD series by Blue Crane on the 7D. It’s a 2-part series (each DVD is about $20) and covers in-depth how to use the 7D.

  32. Thank you very much..Your article on focusing and the 7D was invaluable.I do a lot of macro and still life and was boondoggled with the focus!! I redid all the settings and seems to be ok now. A much steeper learning curve than the 40D.

  33. Happy to help! Don’t forget to look at my new ebook filled with Canon 7D Tips and Tutorials available through Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

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