Autofocus Is Not Working On My Nikon D5100

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Mark (New Jersey, USA) asked: I have a Nikon D5100 and recently bought a Nikon 70-300mm f/4-5.6G lens with AF but it is not auto-focusing. Am I missing some settings or something is wrong with my camera or the lens?

Hello Mark! Nikon's Autofocus system works by utilizing the motor (to move the lens elements) either inside the lens or inside the camera body. Unfortunately, neither your camera body nor the lens is equipped with such motor. Your lens might be capable of autofocus but the lens elements should be driven by some mechanism to "autofocus" and that is what missing in your combination. In short, the minimum requirement for Autofocus to work is, either the lens or the camera body has to have a focus motor. Lets discuss both of these scenarios one by one.

First scenario: Lens is AF and the camera body has a built-in motor for Autofocus.

The lens you bought is AF lens which stands for Autofocus but it will only autofocus if your camera has a built-in motor inside the camera body. All full frame (FX body) Nikon DSLRs as well as some high end crop sensor (DX body) DSLRs have a built-in AF motor which drives the Autofocus system. Among Nikon DX format (also known as APS-C image sensor format) bodies, D90 and all D7000 series come with the built-in motor inside the camera body but D60, D3000 series and D5000 series do not come with the motor. In case of such consumer DSLRs that do not come with the built-in focus motor, they need to use an AF-S or AF-P Nikkor lens to get the full Autofocus capabilities from the lens itself which we will discuss in our second scenario.

When you attach an AF lens with the camera that has a built-in motor in it, the mechanical coupling between the camera body and the lens is formed by utilizing the screw in the motor and the several pins on the lens (which is connected to the focus ring). When you try to autofocus by pressing the shutter release button half way down, camera uses multiple focus sensors to determine which part of the subject is in focus and which part is not and turns the motor accordingly to adjust the focus. These AF lenses come with their own CPU which gives the focal length, aperture setting and other information to the camera CPU which allows the camera to adjust TTL (Through The Lens) Metering for different shooting modes.

Nikon D810 Focusing Modes (Click the picture above to read my initial experience with Nikon D810)

Nikon D810 Focusing Modes (Click the picture above to read my initial experience with Nikon D810)

If you want to manually focus while using an AF lens, you have to switch the lever on the camera body (box 1 in the picture above) from AF to M which then disengage the mechanical coupling between the motor and the lens so that you can freely move the lens focusing ring to adjust the focus. In this situation, camera still gets the TTL Metering and different shooting modes data through the lens CPU.

Tip : The DSLR camera bodies that feature a focus motor can use both AF and AF-S or AF-P lenses for Autofocus.

Second scenario: Lens is AF-S or AF-P and the camera body doesn't have a built-in motor for Autofocus.

Nikon's another type of Autofocus lens is called AF-S lens (not to be confused with AF-S focusing mode) which has an Autofocus motor built inside the lens. Those Nikkor AF-S lenses feature Nikon's Silent Wave Motor (SWM) which converts "traveling waves" into rotational energy to focus the optics, according to the Nikon. This enables high-speed auto-focusing extremely accurate and super quiet. You can use Nikon’s AF-S lens with any current Nikon’s camera body whether the body has a focus motor or not, because the lens itself has a built-in focusing motor which controls the focusing function based on the information it gets from the camera’s focusing sensors.

Nikon's third type of Autofocus lens is AF-P lens which uses a “Pulse” motor or “Stepping” Autofocus motor making it even quieter and smoother to autofocus than AF-S lens. According to Nikon, AF-P lenses are ideal when shooting video with a DSLR camera. Some of the Nikon's newer AF-P lenses let you set certain settings from the camera's menu system (VR, AF/MF for example) but on older model lenses, you still have to switch those modes on the lens barrel itself like you do on AF-S lenses. Sometimes, even if your camera supports newer AF-P lenses, you might need to upgrade the camera firmware to be able to set lens’ parameters from the camera menu.

Since the lower end Nikon DSLRs such as D3000 and D5000 series do not have the focus motor built-in, if you want to manually focus using AF-S or AF-P lens, you have to switch the focus mode on the lens barrel from A or M/A to M (box 2 in the picture above) and then rotate the focusing ring on the lens. Since there is no mechanical coupling between the camera body and the lens for Autofocus, most of the higher end lenses let you focus manually in M/A (or A/M in some lenses - works same as M/A but manual focus is less sensitive than M/A) mode as well. The reason behind making such consumer level Digital SLRs without a built-in focus motor is to reduce the size and the weight of the camera for portability.

Conclusion: If you prefer to use Autofocus feature, either you have to upgrade your camera body or the lens if you can't afford upgrading both at the same time. If you want to keep the same body and upgrade your lens and feel comfortable shooting with 70-300mm, you can go with either AF-S or AF-P version of 70-300mm which might be little more expensive than your current lens but you get the VR feature as a bonus. And when you upgrade your body to FX format later, the lens is compatible with the newer body as well.

If upgrading either is not an option at the moment, you can continue using your existing combo and manually focus the lens using the focus ring on the lens barrel. While shooting manually, the green dot, which is visible in the lower left corner of the viewfinder, will confirm that your subject is in focus. When you want to focus, rotate the focus ring on the lens barrel and when it lights up green, the subject is in focus.

I hope this blog helps you to make your decision. Thank you for the question and keep shooting!

How Do I Force My Camera To Focus Into The Specific Place?

This post is a part of our Q&A section. If you want to submit your question, please use the form in the Contact page.


Niran (Bangalore, India) asked: I have a Nikon D3100 and loving it so far. But, I have a concern regarding focus when I am taking pictures. When I try to focus, focus point keeps moving. How do I focus in the right place?

Niran, based on your question, it looks like you are using default Auto-area AF mode. I have covered similar topic for Nikon D90 earlier and same theory applies to you as well. In this mode, camera will pick the focus point automatically by selecting the object that is near to the camera sensor. If your camera moves during framing, it might pick up another spot for focusing. Your camera thinks that nearest object is the point of interest. When you press the shutter release button half way down, you will notice the focus point that camera is going to use lighting up in the viewfinder.

Nikon D3100 AF mode

Nikon D3100 AF mode

If it constantly picks the random focus point and not picking what you want to be in focus, then you have to manually pick the focus point. And to do that, you need to change the AF mode in your camera setting. The AF-Area Mode option is inside the Shooting Menu (shown in the left picture). If you go inside this menu, it lets you select between the Single-point, Dynamic Area, Auto Area AF and the 3D Tracking modes. Single Area AF simply means that the camera focuses on the subject in the selected focus point only. In this mode, user can manually select the AF point by using the up, down, right, or the left arrow directions on the multi-selector button, which is marked by number 24 in the picture below.

Nikon D3100 Multi-Selector

Nikon D3100 Multi-Selector

Later on, if you open the picture using Nikon View NX2, which comes free with Nikon DSLRs, you will find Focus Point button on the toolbar. If you press this button after opening the picture, the software will display the focus point that your camera used by displaying red square. It is useful tool to diagnose the problem if you think your camera is picking up wrong focus point.

I hope I was able to answer your question. But, if you have more questions, please do not hesitate to write us back.

Keep Shooting!

Using Autofocus With The Nikon D7000

Autofocus can sometimes be frustrating for the new digital SLR photographer, especially those coming from the point-and-shoot world. That’s because correct focus plays a greater role among your creative options with a DSLR, even when photographing the same subjects. Most non-DSLR digital cameras have sensors that are much tinier than the sensor in the D7000. Those smaller sensors require shorter focal lengths, which have, effectively, more depth-of-field. The bottom line is that with the average point-and-shoot camera, everything is in focus from about one foot to infinity and at virtually every f/stop. Unless you are shooting close-up photos a few inches from the camera, the depth-of-field, is prodigious, and autofocus is almost a non-factor.

D7000 Front View.png

The D7000, on the other hand, uses longer focal length lenses to achieve the same field of view with its larger sensor, so there is less depth-of-field. That’s a good thing, creatively, because you have the choice to use selective focus to isolate subjects. But it does make the correct use of autofocus more critical. To maintain the most creative control, you have to choose three attributes:

1. How much is in focus: Generally, by choosing the f/stop used, you’ll determine the range of sharpness/amount of depth-of-filed. The larger the DOF, the "easier" it is for the autofocus systems’ locked-in focus point to be appropriate (even though, strictly speaking, there is only one actual plane of sharp focus). With less depth-of-field, the accuracy of the focus point becomes more critical, because even a small error will result in an out-of-focus shot.

2. What subject is in focus: The portion of your subject that is zeroed in for autofocus is determined by the autofocus zone that is active, and which is chosen either by you or by the Nikon D7000. For example, when shooting portraits, it’s actually okay for part of the subject- or even part of the subject’s face to be slightly out of focus as long as the eyes (or even just the nearest eye) appear sharp.

3. When focus is applied: For static shots of objects that aren’t moving, when focus is applied doesn’t matter much. But when you are shooting sports or birds in flight, or children, the subject may move within the viewfinder as you are framing the image. Whether that movement is across the frame or headed right towards you, timing the instant when autofocus is applied can be important.

Reference: David Busch's Nikon D7000 Guide to Digital SLR Photography

How To Take Multiple Shots In A Self-Timer Mode?

This post is a part of our Q&A section. If you want to submit your question, please use the form in the Contact page.


Shyam (Delhi, India) asked : I have set my camera settings to take multiple shots in a self timer mode, but when the pictures is taken, it takes only one shot. What am I doing wrong here?

Hi Shyam! First of all, I found your question little bit incomplete. You didn't mention what are the settings you have adjusted on the camera and under what lighting condition you are taking pictures. Sometimes, even if your camera settings are right, because of the available lights or not enough time to recycle the flash power or many other variables, you may not get the result you want. If you are shooting in a bright daylight, all you have to do is make sure that the camera is set to continuous (burst) shooting mode and the focus is being tracked and locked if the subject is moving. If you are shooting in a dark night and using an external flash unit, you might have to check couple of other settings as well, which I will describe bit later in this blog. First, lets review the setup steps that need to be done on the camera to take multiple shots in a self-timer mode.

Camera Settings for a Self-Timer Mode

In this blog, I am taking the reference of Nikon D90, but I believe these camera settings are same for almost every other Nikon DSLR camera. It is possible that you might find the buttons and the menu options in different places, but once you get the idea, it won’t be hard to adjust the settings no matter which camera brand and model you use.

Now, lets get into the setup menu.

1. Press the Menu button on the back of the camera and go to CSM (Custom Setting Menu).

2. Use the multi-selector button and go to c Timers/AE lock menu.

3. Go to the option c3 and select Self-timer, and you will see two options inside.

Nikon D90 Self-Timer Mode Menu

Nikon D90 Self-Timer Mode Menu

4. First option, Self-timer delay, allows you to set the time after how many seconds camera should start taking the pictures, and the available values are 2s, 5s, 10s, 20s.

4. And the next option is Number of shots you want to take in a self-timer mode. You can choose between 1 and 9 shots.

Nikon D90 Self-Timer Mode

Nikon D90 Self-Timer Mode

5. Optionally, you can also select CL (Continuous Low) mode shooting speed (1fps, 2fps, 3fps and 4fps) into CSM->Shooting/display->d6 (CL mode shooting speed).

D90 Burst Mode.png

6. Finally, you have to change the shooting mode into self-timer mode (with burst shooting). You can do so my pressing the button on the top (shown in the picture) and rotating the main command dial while the button is still being pressed. When you see the burst mode with the clock (self-timer) icon displayed on the LCD screen, you can let go the button and you are all set.

If you have already done all of these setup on the camera and still not getting multiple shots in a self-timer mode, it is time to check your camera's Autofocus Mode. When you are shooting in a burst mode, you probably want to use AF-C or AF-A autofocus mode. And if you are shooting in a dark night with an external flash on, you may not get multiple shots because of the flash recycle time. Once you take a shot, flash may take a few seconds to recycle itself and get ready for the next shot. Also, if you are shooting with a higher frame rate, 4fps for example, its hard to achieve that shooting speed with an external flash unit attached on the camera.

I hope I was able to answer your question, and if you have a follow up question or more questions, please write back to me. Happy shooting!