What is Digital Camera Autofocus?

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Updated July 26, 2022

If you have been experimenting with your digicam, you may be wondering “what is digital camera autofocus.” After all, the best digital cameras all seem to include this functionality. So what is autofocus? Keep reading to find out.


  • Autofocus is short for automatic focus and it is a mode in mirrorless cameras and other digital camera types that automates the focusing process.
  • Autofocus typically works in real-time, so you will be able to see your focus subject through the electronic viewfinder.
  • There are two different kinds of autofocus: Active autofocus and passive autofocus.

What is Autofocus?

As the name suggests, autofocus is short for automatic focus. This is a feature of most modern digital cameras in which the focal length and focus settings are handled automatically without any input from the photographer. You might find great autofocus with this camera comparison of the Sony Alpha A6000 mirrorless digital camera vs Nikon D5300.

Insider Tip

Autofocus can be a life-saver when it comes to action photography, as the focus can be set quicker than a human can typically do it.

Why Use Autofocus on a Digital Camera?

There are many reasons why you would opt for the autofocus feature on a digital camera. First and foremost, autofocus is a boon for those just starting out, as it handles many of the more complicated settings without any user input. Autofocus can also save time in setting up a shot, which can be extremely useful with a moving subject or with macro photography. Autofocus can also be used for instantaneous image stabilization, answering the question of “what is image stabilization in a digital camera.

Tips on Using Autofocus

Every camera is different, though the specific steps to successfully use the autofocus feature will differ slightly. In that spirit, we have assembled some universal tips and guidelines.

Study the Settings

Many mirrorless cameras have one of a number of different autofocus functionalities buried in the settings menu, whether they use a reflex mirror or not. The most powerful autofocus feature is called active autofocus, which differs greatly from the live view mode on a digital camera. This mode actually measures the distance from the camera to the subject to provide accurate focus and continuous focus. Another popular type of autofocus is called passive autofocus. This mode typically emits an infrared beam to measure the distance from the subject before focus is applied. Both autofocus modes are easier to use than manual focus.

Engage the Electronic Viewfinder

Turn autofocus on and stare into the camera’s electronic viewfinder, where you should see some perfectly framed focus subjects. This optical viewfinder should react in real-time as you move, so there is no need to place the camera on a tripod. The electronic viewfinder is also useful if you are wondering how to use it and what continuous drive is on a digital camera. The autofocus will automatically disengage when you press the shutter release button and stop any continuous drive photo sets or burst mode sets, you are creating.

What Type of Cameras Use Autofocus?

Most types of cameras use autofocus, including compact cameras and mirrorless cameras. Your average full-frame camera will also typically include an autofocus feature.


When it comes to slow exposures, autofocus may not be your best bet, as the manual focus will provide more control and, ultimately, accurate focusing.


Are old manual-focus lenses any good on a modern digital SLR or mirrorless camera?

This depends on what you shoot and how you shoot. Old lenses have their charms, after all. Some older lenses could be good for distant subjects while others may be interchangeable lenses.

What’s the best digital camera for my old lenses?

This depends on what type of old lenses you are talking about, though Canon EOS models typically offer a good fit. Besides Canon EOS, there are reputable models by Sony and other well-known manufacturers.

What is the best camera to buy for a beginner photographer?

When it comes to beginner-friendly mirrorless cameras, look for one with a reliable optical viewfinder, such as the Canon EOS series, and one with a tactile and responsive shutter button.

STAT: Most modern DSLRs use a smaller sensor that is APS-C sized, which is approximately 22×15 mm, slightly smaller than the size of an APS-C film frame, or about 40% of the area of a full-frame sensor. (source)

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