Sony a7iii Focus Modes (Explained!)

Ever wondered how to use manual focus or capture fast movement on your Sony a7iii?

In this quick and concise guide, I’ll be going over every single option in the “focus mode” setting on the a7iii.

Additionally, as the “focus area” settings are related, we’ll be touching on those as well.

Let’s jump in!

man using camera by lake

The Basics

Where to find the focus mode settings?

Finding the location of the focus mode setting is pretty easy.

  1. Hit the Fn button on the rear of your camera
  2. Move over to the second column of the top row
  3. Push in the dial to open the focus modes menu
  4. Refer to the image if needed
location of the focus mode setting

Then, to access the “focus area” settings, you do pretty much the exact same thing except they’ll be in the third column of the second row.

Sony a7iii Focusing Specs

Now, let’s go over some of the basic specs of the camera.

The Sony a7iii is an autofocus beast, offering 425 contrast-based AF points along with 693 phase-detection AF points. That’s a LOT.

This means that the a7iii can focus down to incredible detail, but only if you know what you’re doing. That’s where the focus modes come into play…

The Focus Modes

Single-Shot AF (AF-S)

What is it?

Starting off with the most “simple” mode, Single-Shot AF focuses once and holds focus until you release the shutter button.

This is by far the most commonly used focusing mode on any camera, not just the a7iii. It’s often used hand-in-hand with the single shooting drive mode setting.

When to use it?

It’s best to use single-shot AF whenever you’re dealing with a static subject.

Anything from a building, to a landscape, to a piece of furniture. Anything that doesn’t move around (at least, not much) is a perfect candidate for using single-shot mode.

Also, as I mentioned, the camera will lock focus until you release the shutter button. This means you can focus on an object and then reframe your shot while holding the same focusing point.

photo of sydney harbor
Single-shot AF is best used for static subjects.

Continuous AF (AF-C)

What is it?

If you’re not shooting static objects, however, continuous AF (AF-C) comes into play when you’re dealing with fast moving subjects.

While the shutter button is pushed halfway down, the camera will continue to refocus constantly, even multiple times a second if needed.

If you follow a moving target, you’ll notice tiny green boxes appearing on the screen. These little boxes highlight what is currently in focus and being tracked.

When to use it?

Fast Movement

You’ll usually want to use this mode in conjunction with the continuous shooting (burst) mode anytime you’re dealing with fast movement.

As an example, you’re photographing a racing event. Vehicles are flying around corners, kicking up dust and dirt. Putting the camera into AF-C mode will insure that it keeps refocusing after every shot, so you never miss focus on the moving target.

Slow Movement (Portraiture)

On the flipside, you can also use AF-C during slower paced situations. When shooting portraits, I’ll usually use AF-C and have my model move around.

Capturing the subtle movements does a lot to add a little bit more dramatic emphasis to portraiture.

By the way, it should be noted that this mode will drain your battery a bit quicker as the constant refocusing draws a lot of power.

woman posing in building
AF-C can also be used to capture subtle movements in portraiture.

Manual Focus (MF)

What is it?

Next up, we’ve got manual focus. This is the mode where you have to actually physically spin the focusing ring on your lens.

Although manual focus can seem intimidating to beginners, it’s actually incredibly fun (and powerful) once you get the hang of it.

Learning manual opens you up to a whole new world of low cost, fully manual lenses. If you’re a beginner, I’d highly suggest reading through my complete guide to manual focus on the Sony a7iii. It’s a wealth of knowledge.

low light scene of sydney
Sometimes you may need to resort to manual focus in low-light situations.

When to use it?

So when should you use manual focus? Well, it really depends. I’d suggest switching over to manual (yes, even if you use an autofocus lens) in certain niche situations.

Low Light Situations

Despite the incredible autofocusing system that the a7iii offers, it can still trip up sometimes in low light situations.

If you’re out shooting street photos at night, for example, consider switching over to manual focus. There’s nothing more disappointing than looking at a great shot on your (large) computer screen and realizing that the camera missed focus.

When shooting manually, you can check all of that before you even hit the shutter button.

Macro/Close-ups

Next up, manual focus is worth considering if you’re doing a lot of macro photography.

Given the short focusing distance when shooting close-up objects, sometimes autofocus can get stuck “hunting”.

When this happens, you’re better off switching to manual focus as you can really dial it in and make sure everything is absolutely perfect.

Glass/Transparent Objects

Finally, you’ll want to switch over to manual anytime you attempt to shoot through glass or other transparent objects.

Over the years, I’ve had hundreds of autofocus shots that have focused on a window pane instead of my subject on the other side.

Switching to manual insures you’ll get the shot every single time, even if it does take a bit longer to get perfect.

Dynamic Modes

Automatic AF (AF-A)

Automatic AF is a combination of both AF-S and AF-C.

While the shutter button is halfway pressed, it’ll lock focus on a stationary subject. If the camera detects movement, however, it’ll automatically switch to continuous tracking.

This sounds really useful in theory, but I’ve found that it’s just an overall unreliable mode. Wouldn’t recommend it.

Dynamic Manual Focus (DMF)

The final focusing mode is “Dynamic Manual Focus”, in which the camera will shoot AF-S until the focusing ring of the lens is moved.

While this can be a very useful mode (especially if you’re doing a mix of AF and MF work), I’ve found that it can oftentimes be accidentally activated by just bumping the focusing ring.

Focus Modes Conclusion

So that’s a list of all five focus modes that the Sony a7iii offers. As I hinted at, the two dynamic modes are questionably useful.

AF-S, AF-C, and MF, however, are integral parts of any photographers toolkits. Learning your focus modes is a big part of mastering your camera.

Beyond the focus modes, though, we also have to talk about “focus areas”…

Although knowing your focus modes is important, the focus area setting also plays a big role.

Focus Area Settings

What does it mean?

The focus area setting pretty much just determines how the camera decides what’s going to be in focus.

Although you can keep it on the default mode and still get generally good results, learning the focusing area settings can be quite powerful.

Again, to access these you’ll want to hit the Fn key, and then page over to Row 1/Column 3. These modes can be a bit complicated but I’ll try to keep it simple, so let’s dig into it.

Focus Area Modes

Wide

The first mode is known as “wide”. This the default mode and likely the one you’ve used most (both on your a7iii along with cellphones).

Generally, it works like this: the camera analyzes the scene and then just does its best to guess what’s supposed to be in focus. It’ll always prioritize human subjects (with face detection).

This is a great catch-all mode to stick with if you never want to think about it. However, the other modes have their uses.

Zone

Switching to zone mode is where things start to get interesting. With the zone setting enabled, the camera will grab focus within a certain “section” (or zone) of the frame.

On the a7iii, you’re able to use the rear joystick to select one of the 9 total zones you’d like the camera to focus on.

Although a bit more work, this mode is a great option if you’re shooting in very busy or chaotic scenes. You’re able to tell the camera to “look and analyze this small section only”.

sydney opera house during daytime
Here, the focus zone was set to the lower third of the image.

Center

The center focusing mode is very simple: the camera will only focus on whatever is in the absolute middle of the frame.

While useful, this can be a little bit limiting as, once again, the camera will focus only on the complete center of the frame.

However, that’s where the next mode comes into play…

lower half of person walking
In this mode, the camera focuses on the dead center of the frame.

Flexible Spot

Flexible spot is like a mix between center and zone focusing. The camera will focus on a tiny spot except you can adjust and move it around with the rear joystick.

This is an incredibly useful mode if you’re trying to lock down focus on one very specific thing, such as a single person in a large crowd.

You can even adjust the size of the spot by scrolling left/right when hovering over it in the menu. You’ll want to use medium for portraiture and large for pretty much everything else (although consider small for macro or other close-up work).

Finally, you can also choose “Expanded Flexible Spot”. It’s pretty much the same thing, but will expand the focusing zone if it can’t find anything inside the spot.

Lock-On (Tracking)

The final option, Lock-On, is only available when shooting in the AF-C focus mode.

What it does is it’ll allow you to set the focus point (similar to flexible spot) but then the camera will lock on and track the subject.

This is, obviously, useful in situations where you have moving subjects such as sports, wildlife, or other high-movement situations.

car drifting
Lock-on is good for, well, locking on subjects.

Conclusion

Hopefully that wasn’t too overwhelming to learn all of that! There’s a lot to know when it comes to both focusing modes and the focus area setting.

To be frank, if you searched “best focusing mode for the Sony a7iii”, I’ll just suggest this: use Continuous AF (AF-C) along with the Wide focus area setting. That’ll give you the best overall results without having to think about it.

In any case, if you’re looking to learn more about mastering your camera, I’d highly recommend reading through my a7iii-focused guides on drive mode and shutter speed.

Thanks for reading!