What Does AF and MF Mean on Camera Lens?

Have you ever wondered what the AF and MF button means on your lens? Read on as I highlight how each of these focusing modes works.

When I first used my lenses, I always noticed the AF/MF button switch on the side. I also encountered AF and MF whenever I changed the camera settings. That is why I got curious about these different modes of focus and did further research on them.

Below, I will share what I have found out. These include the differences between AF and MF modes and their respective advantages. I will also discuss the various situations when it is best to use each focus mode.

So without any further ado, let us jump right into the article!

What Is The Difference Between AF and MF on Camera Lens?

The AF button refers to the Automatic Focus mode of your camera lens. It takes advantage of the built-in autofocus points inside the camera to let you select the area to focus. These points are located and scattered anywhere in the frame, and depending on the style camera you have, the number of them will vary. High-end cameras offer over 5,000 autofocus points, while most base-level cameras only have around nine. More AF points make it easier to capture fast-moving subjects in sharp focus. 

On the other hand, MF is short for Manual Focus mode. It does not allow the camera to automatically choose the focus point. Instead, that task is passed on to you. In short, it lets you focus manually by turning the focus ring on your lens. 

Now that you know the difference between auto and manual focus mode, it might seem like an obvious choice to use AF for every photo. This particular focus mode allows you to capture images faster and it offers unique benefits which suit certain shooting conditions better. I will expand on these later, but first, let us look into the different types of AF modes.

Types Of Autofocus (AF) Modes

The two main types of AF mode are Single-Shot and Continuous. Each autofocusing mode will affect how your camera finds focus within the frame.

These autofocus modes also have distinct names used by different digital camera brands. For instance, Canon digital cameras use One-Shot and AI Servo AF. Meanwhile, Nikon digital SLR cameras offer AF-S and AF-C. Finally, Sony chose to name them as Single-Shot and Continuous AF.

AF Mode: Single-Shot 

As its name suggests, the single-shot AF mode will focus on one subject once and lock that focus when you only press the shutter button down halfway. The camera focus will remain in that position until you capture the photo or take your finger off the button.

If you want to move your camera position or the subject shifts, you must reset the autofocus by pressing halfway again. 

The single-servo focus mode is ideal for shooting subjects that are not moving.

AF Mode: Continuous/Servo 

If you want to capture any moving subject and ensure it stays focused, then it is best to use continuous AF or servo AF.

This autofocusing mode continuously changes focus to keep the subject sharp. All you need to do is hold the shutter button down halfway if the subject or the photographer is moving. 

Continuous AF is suitable for action, sports, or event photography where you need to track a moving subject. The camera will automatically follow it as it moves in the frame.

What Are the Benefits of Using AF?

The main advantage of using auto-focus modes is to save time and effort when capturing images. AF points eliminate the need to check if everything is focused all the time. Instead, they guide your camera to focus on the subject constantly, even if it is moving within the frame.

Autofocus mode also lets you use your mental energy on other factors when shooting. For instance, you can concentrate on the shot composition or model poses instead of whether the subject is in focus or not. Once you have set the AF point, you do not have to think about that element for the rest of your shot.

Overall, AF mode is suitable for various photography styles. I recommend using it unless there is a particular use case to employ manual focus.

When To Use Autofocus Modes?

Autofocus mode is beneficial in most shooting situations. However, here are the instances when this shooting mode is vital to use. 

Action and Sports

Using AF mode is a must when you are capturing action scenes, sports, and any situations when the subject is moving all around the place. During these instances, you rarely have enough time to manually adjust focus. With autofocus, you can continue snapping photos without worrying if the subject will be sharp or not. 


Taking portraits is another instance when it is best to use the autofocusing system of your camera lens. The chances are likely that manually focusing the lens will be difficult if you are also talking to your subject. If you use the AF mode, you will easily capture authentic and candid moments.

What Does MF Mean on a Camera Lens?

Despite all the benefits of AF mode, it does not always get the job done. For one, you might have a specific creative intent that your camera’s autofocus system could not achieve. In situations like these, you will benefit more when using MF mode.

MF stands for manual focus. As its name suggests, this mode lets you choose the focus point by manually turning the focus ring. It is handy for instances when your autofocus system is not working properly, or you want to achieve a particular image in mind.

What Are the Advantages of Using MF?

The biggest advantage of using manual focus is that you get complete control over your work. It does not depend on the camera’s focal points and gives you the precision you want.

Manual focusing mode can also improve your photography skills. The more you spend time focusing manually, the better you will become at it in the future. 

Furthermore, the MF mode is useful in various shooting situations, which I will discuss further below.

When To Use Manual Focus?

Manual focus mode shines most in the below scenarios.

Photography at Night

When taking photos at night, there is hardly any light to work with. This could lead to your autofocusing system failing, as these systems aren’t as accurate without much light. 

Fortunately, using manual focus could save the shot. It allows you to choose the spot to focus on, whether it is a street lamp or a star in the night sky.

Macro Photography

If you want to capture extremely small subjects, you might want to use manual focus. Doing so is faster compared to the AF system because it will struggle to find which point to focus on. 

Is AF or MF Better on Camera?

The answer depends on what you want to achieve and the types of photos you intend to capture.

As previously mentioned, using the AF system can suit almost any situation. It is especially handy for shooting action, sports, and other instances where the subject is constantly moving.

Meanwhile, a manual focusing system is better for situations where autofocusing will struggle. These include night or low-light photography and macro photography. Using the MF focus system is also ideal for focus stacking or other creative instances when you need to achieve a particular result.


That sums up the differences between AF and MF modes! As you can tell, using autofocus will serve you best in many situations. However, do not underestimate the benefit of manual focusing, especially in creative shots.

When choosing between autofocus or manual focus, pick the focus mode that is best for the circumstances. If you feel like one mode requires more time and effort, feel free to switch over and try the other. Every photographer has their own style of shooting and it only comes through practice.