Nikon AE-L / AF-L Button

Whether you are using an entry-level DSLR like Nikon D3100 or a top of the line DSLR like Nikon D3x, there is a special button on the back of your camera labeled “AE-L / AF-L” that can be quite useful in many situations. After I wrote the Autofocus Modes article, I received several requests from our readers, asking me to explain what the AE-L / AF-L button does, when it should be used and how it can be combined with different autofocus modes. In this article, I will try to go through this button in depth and explain how I personally use it on my cameras.

Nikon D3100 AE-L AF-L Button

1) AutoExposure-Lock / AutoFocus-Lock

The AE-L / AF-L button stands for “AutoExposure-Lock and AutoFocus-Lock” and its primary function is to lock camera exposure and/or focus. What does this exactly mean? If you are using any of the camera modes like Program, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or other scene modes, the button could be used to force the camera to use a certain value for shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance. Since in any of the automatic modes the camera uses its metering sensor to determine the optimal exposure, instead of having your camera re-evaluate the light every time you recompose, you could lock the exposure to a value you are comfortable with – hence the term “AutoExposure-Lock”. There are many cases where using this feature is very helpful. One example is when you photograph panoramas. It is extremely important to use exactly the same exposure from frame to frame in panoramic photography. If one exposure differs from another, it is practically impossible for panoramic software to stitch images together in a consistent, continuous form. Another good example is if you are photographing a subject with a constantly changing background and you want to expose the subject exactly the same way from shot to shot. Basically, any time consistency of exposure is required and you do not want to switch to a full manual mode, the AE-L button can be very useful.

What about AutoFocus-Lock (AF-L)? Similar to exposure lock, autofocus lock can be used to stop the camera from making the lens reacquire focus when you recompose. For example, if you are photographing indoors in dim environment, you will find that using the center focus point is going to give you the most accurate results. This is because the center focus point is always the most accurate, especially on entry-level DSLRs that only have one cross-type sensor. So if you want to use the center focus point to acquire focus, it does not always mean that you want to position your subject in the center. As soon as you recompose your shot and half-press the shutter button again, the camera will be forced to reacquire focus. If you shoot in “AF-S” or “Single Area Focus Mode“, you could continue half-pressing the shutter button without releasing it when recomposing your shot, which would not force the camera to reacquire focus. However, if the camera is set to “AF-C” or “Continuous Focus Mode”, then the camera will always continuously reacquire focus when you half-press the shutter button and recompose your shot. So if you do not want to deal with these situations, you could use the AutoFocus-Lock feature of the camera to lock the focus on your subject, then you could recompose the shot and take a picture. The focus will remain on your subject and will not change, as long as you continue to hold the button. Please note that you have to be careful when recomposing shots like this, because the focus plane that is parallel to camera sensor changes, which will often result in bad focus when using large apertures.

2) Default AE-L / AF-L Behavior

The default behavior of the AE-L / AF-L button is typically set to lock both camera exposure and focus. Entry-level DSLRs typically have a limited control over this button’s functionality, while pro-level DSLRs have many ways to control the behavior of the AE-L / AF-L button. For example, the Nikon D3100 only has 5 options for this button: AF / AE lock, AE lock only, AF lock only, AE lock (hold) and AF-ON (see more on these below), while Nikon D300s has all of these, plus 12 more ways to control the button’s behavior. So the number of ways to customize the AE-L / AF-L button will depend on the camera model.

3) Types of AutoExposure and AutoFocus Lock Modes

You might be confused when you see the different types of AE and AF options in the camera menu. Which one does what and what should you set yours to? Let’s go over each one, but first, go to your camera menu and Navigate “Custom Setting Menu”->”Controls”->”Assign AE-L/AF-L button” (on D5000, D5100, D90, D7000, D300s, D700, D3s and D3x) or to “Setup Menu”->”Buttons” on D3100:

Nikon D3100 AE-L AF-L Buttons Menu

You should see some or all of the below:

  1. AE/AF lock – the default behavior of the AE-L/AF-L button. Will lock both camera exposure (shutter speed, aperture, ISO and white balance) and lens focus. The feature will only be active while you hold down the button. Once you release it, the lock will be released as well.
  2. AE lock only – will only lock the camera exposure, so focus will be reacquired if you recompose the shot. Also only works while you hold down the AE-L/AF-L button.
  3. AE lock (Reset on release) – exposure will be locked once you press the AE-L/AF-L button and will stay locked until you take a picture, even if you release it.
  4. AE lock (Hold) – exposure will be locked when the button is pressed and will stay locked even if you take multiple pictures. The lock will be automatically removed if the camera is inactive for a time period set in the “Auto meter-off delay” menu setting, or can be also removed by pressing the AE-L/AF-L button again.
  5. AF lock only – only focus will be locked while the button is depressed. The lock is removed as soon as you release the button.

Please note that when the AE-L / AF-L is depressed and the camera is set to any of the AE modes, you will see an “AE-L” indicator in your viewfinder. If you set it to “AF lock only”, the indicator will not light up.

You might also find many other options under “Assign AE-L/AF-L button” such as “FV Lock”, “Live View”, etc. I won’t go over these, since these options depend on your camera and will also change the functionality of the AE-L / AF-L button. The only option I will mention, is “AF-ON”, because it is a very useful feature on entry-level DSLRs like Nikon D3100 and D5100. Since entry-level DSLRs do not have a dedicated autofocus “AF-ON” button, you can set the AE-L / AF-L button to acquire focus instead (which will de-activate focus acquisition when you half-press the shutter release). That way, you can acquire focus with the AE-L / AF-L button and take pictures with the shutter release. Then, you don’t have to worry about locking your focus when you recompose, since half-pressing the shutter release button will do nothing.

So, which lock mode do I personally use and why? When I use an entry-level DSLR, I either choose “AE/AF lock”, so that both exposure and focus stay locked together, or I set the button to “AF-ON” and use manual mode to keep my exposure consistent. On higher end DSLRs with a dedicated “AF-ON” button, I always choose “AE lock (Hold)”, so that only the exposure is locked – the camera will not automatically reacquire focus when the “AF-ON” button is activated. I use this feature quite a bit when taking panoramic shots and I like the fact that the exposure stays locked while I take pictures. Once I am done, I either press the button again, or let the lock time out. Turning the camera off also releases the lock. Oh, and if you happen to change your camera mode from say Aperture Priority to Shutter Priority or to Program, the exposure values will stay locked.

4) Exposure lock and metering

You might wonder about how to properly meter your camera before even locking the exposure. If you are confused about metering, I highly recommend checking out my “understanding metering modes” article, where I go through different types of camera metering modes in detail. Determining the correct exposure is relatively easy nowadays with modern DSLRs, because cameras are equipped with complex metering systems that use various algorithms and preloaded templates to accurately set exposure values. On top of that, plenty of options to control and fine tune the exposure are provided to end users – different metering modes can control the way exposure is evaluated by the camera, while exposure compensation can be used to override the calculated exposure.

Let me give you an example on how you can combine camera modes, metering modes, autofocus modes and autoexposure lock to take a picture. Say I am photographing my son at sunset on a beach, with the sun behind him and me in front of him. I am in Aperture Priority mode, where I set the aperture and my camera automatically calculates the shutter speed. I normally use Matrix Metering” mode, so the camera most likely would expose the background correctly, while my son becomes a silhouette (because the background is much brighter):

Sunset Silhouette

So if I wanted to expose my son correctly without worrying about blowing out the background, I would switch to Spot Metering mode and position the focus point on his face. The camera would then meter off his face instead, exposing him properly and not paying attention to the background. If I take a picture and he is still underexposed, I would dial positive exposure compensation to further brighten him up or if he is overexposed, I would dial negative exposure compensation. Once my exposure looks good, I would press the “AE-L / AF-L” button on the camera (which is set to “AE lock hold”) to lock the exposure and continue taking pictures without worrying about setting the exposure again. If he constantly moves while I take pictures, I would pick Continuous Autofocus Mode (AF-C) to track his movement.

Remember, all these tools are given to us to simplify our photography, so that we can concentrate more on capturing great images, rather than worrying about properly calculating the exposure. Once you learn how to use these different modes and features, you will be able to capture images the way you want to with ease.

Hope you find the above article useful. Let me know if you have any questions!


  1. 1) Giulio
    April 22, 2011 at 2:03 am

    Good! I hope always to have a printable version of your good articles. Thanks

  2. April 22, 2011 at 2:50 am

    I found the button helpful when I am on wide angle and in the place where there are some bright lights on the ceiling. Then I am setting up my exposure without all these bright points lock it by AE-L and recompose the frame. The lights becomes overexposed and it looks great. It is also possible in manual mode.

    • April 23, 2011 at 3:26 am

      Tomasz, that’s a good way to use the AE-L button for sure, since you are exposing for the subject instead of the bright lights. Thank you for your feedback!

  3. 3) Eduardo
    April 22, 2011 at 4:52 am

    Hi Nasim, great article. Why have you stop mentioning the D5000? Just because Nikon has released the D5100? :(

    • April 23, 2011 at 3:28 am

      Thank you Eduardo! No way, I simply forgot ;-) I fixed the article.

      Eventually, I will stop mentioning it though, since it is replaced by D5100 now.

  4. 4) Noreen
    April 22, 2011 at 8:06 am

    right on time!!! i have been trying to figure out these buttons. I have read the manual but for some reason, I just don’t get it. :(…Thanks for the great explanation and for pointing out some examples, it’s really helpful!!!

  5. 5) Peter
    April 22, 2011 at 10:01 am

    Interesting article about something I never paid attention to. I printed it and will study it.

    However, I will compare two processes: (1) setting my camera to manual v. (2) AE-L/AF-L approach.

    I’ll let you know how I come out.

    • April 23, 2011 at 3:29 am

      Peter, sounds good! Both ways work great and I do use both when I shoot.

      • 5.1.1) Peter
        April 23, 2011 at 6:07 am

        My conclusion: I will probably rely more on the the manual setting for things like panoramas where you have plenty of set-up time, use a tripod, etc.. But, as APW below said, the “lock” approach does offer real advantages when recomposing images and not shooting manual. I intend to use it that way.

        I also discovered something else on my D300 and D700…it has an AF-ON button near the AE-L/AF-L button!!! Very clever these Nikon engineers. Now thatIi know it’s there,I may find a use for it.

        Good article. Made me discover some new shooting opportunities.

  6. April 22, 2011 at 11:12 am

    Nice article and definitely worth writing about. I use the lock all the time when recomposing images.

  7. 7) Daya
    April 22, 2011 at 10:50 pm

    Thanks Nasim,
    like always it’s a delight to read your articles..

  8. 8) ray
    April 23, 2011 at 8:52 am

    another great read… thank you for posting….

  9. 9) Pasi Laitinen
    April 25, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Hi Nasim, I just wanted to provide one clarifying comment on this:
    “So if I wanted to expose my son correctly without worrying about blowing out the background, I would switch to Spot Metering mode and position the focus point on his face. The camera would then meter off his face instead, exposing him properly and not paying attention to the background. If I take a picture and he is still underexposed, I would dial positive exposure compensation to further brighten him up or if he is overexposed, I would dial negative exposure compensation. Once my exposure looks good, I would press the “AE-L / AF-L” button on the camera (which is set to “AE lock hold”) to lock the exposure and continue taking pictures without worrying about setting the exposure again.”

    At least on D700, you can also first lock the spot metered exposure (with AE lock hold) and after that, when it is locked, tweak it with exposure compensation. I find it easier to operate that way.

    Thank you for great and informative web site.

  10. 10) Noah
    May 20, 2011 at 11:35 am

    I want to buy a flash for my d90. What do you recommend?
    My kids play indoor soccer and I do a lot of indoor shooting.

    Thank You.

  11. 11) Amit
    May 21, 2011 at 11:38 am

    “As soon as you recompose your shot, the camera will see that the area the center focus point is on has changed and it will force the lens to reacquire focus on the new area”

    I am slightly confused. I have a D90. I mostly shoot in AF-S mode and in that mode this doesn’t happen. I acquire focus by half pressing the shutter button. After the focus is acquired, it remains locked as long as the shutter button remains half pressed. If I rotate my camera with shutter button half pressed, focus is not acquired again. Is my understanding wrong?

    • 11.1) Lucian
      November 6, 2013 at 12:35 pm

      the ae-l / af-l button will lock the exposure and/or the focus as long as you press it and for the next pictures also, while if you keep shutter button half-pressed it will only lock focus until the next exposure

  12. 12) steve
    May 24, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    excellent help and opinion,very useful will try and apply,thanks

  13. 13) jimmyjohanes
    June 15, 2011 at 10:34 am

    this is very2 important in photo merging, you have to lock both exposure and focus :)

  14. 14) Lisbeth
    July 4, 2011 at 11:59 pm

    Great article! Thank you :0)

  15. 15) manny
    July 7, 2011 at 12:39 pm

    I always use back button focus on my d7000 , it was a bit tricky at first but once i got used to it i find it much easier to focus , would not go back .

    • 15.1) Nhi
      May 21, 2012 at 11:29 pm

      I am also shooting with the d7000 …. where is the back button focus? Do you mean AF-On? And if you use AF-On, are you using it in AF-S or AF-C? Thanks.

  16. 16) George
    August 15, 2011 at 9:27 pm

    What exactly means “to recompose”?!!!

    • 16.1) Jondaar
      March 31, 2013 at 9:27 am

      Just say you want to take a photograph of two people standing side by side and lets say your camera is on a single centered focus point, if you aim directly two the centre point your camera may focus on the backround behind the subjects causing the backround to be in focus and not the two subjects.
      So what you do is turn the camera to say one of the subjects faces like the one on the left and half press the shutter to focus and then you recompose the shot turn the camera right slightly so that both subjects are centered in the middle of the shot then continue to press the shutter fully.
      Or basically you aim the focusing point of the camera on the subject and half press the shutter then adjust the composition to where you want it then fully compress the shutter. Also handy when you want your main subject to be in focus but is not or you don’t want it in the very centre of your photograph and maybe off to the side perhaps.

  17. 17) James
    August 18, 2011 at 2:09 pm

    I am new to photography. So, the AF-L/AE-L is not useful when shooting in Manual mode. If so, what should I do to lock focus and exposure in manual mode

    • 17.1) Lucian
      November 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm

      it is useful only if you use flash or/and set iso to auto

    • 17.2) Wee Tiong
      May 21, 2014 at 3:25 am

      Hence in Manual mode, set that button to AF-ON instead. This is called back button focusing, and once u get used to that, u will never go back. :)

      No need to do anything to lock exposure in Manual mode. Whatever you set for ISO, shutter speed and aperture will remain no matter what, until you adjust again.

  18. 18) Walter
    October 3, 2011 at 1:43 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to explain this feature. I was reading a book and they were talking about Back Button Focus and I thought, “That’s what I need…where is it.” They then explained that it can be different for each camera and make; what?

    Did a search on the web for “Back Button Focus with D5100” and there was your article. Very easy to understand and even gave me some additional things to think about. I’ve seen the AF-L, AE-L on my menu and didn’t have a clue.

    Again, thanks for an excellent article that fully explained the terminology to me.

  19. November 21, 2011 at 12:20 am

    Hi Nasim

    I recently happened across your website (while searching for reviews of the 24-120/4) and have enjoyed reading the articles on it. However this one reminds me of a problem I have had with my D5000. I tried using the AEL/AFL button as AF-ON, but even after activating focus using the AF-ON button, the camera will refuse to take a photo unless the active AF sensor is currently in focus. So if you recompose in a way which takes the active AF sensor off the subject (which is the whole point of using AF-ON anyway), the camera still will not take the photo since it thinks it is not in focus.

    On higher end bodies one could overcome this by selecting “release priority” not “AF priority” mode. However as far as I can see, there is no setting for this on the D5000. What am I missing?

    BTW I am very impressed how you respond to comments on your website. I know it mus take a lot of your time to help us with our problems. So thanks in advance!


  20. 20) Hungvietnam
    November 30, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Really useful information for me as I still confuse how to use this button properly. Great thanks for that !

  21. January 15, 2012 at 3:53 am

    Thank you so much for this article. I’ve tried to explain to my partner so many times why I use the ae-l/af-l button without getting it across properly. I gave him your article & now he gets it!

  22. 22) Cat sav
    January 21, 2012 at 12:08 am

    Great article! I do have two points of confusion though, if you don’t mind. I use the AF-on exclusively for autofocus, (disabled on the shutter) use focus recompose in AF-S, aperture priority mode. When I meter off the active focal point, then depress the AF-on does this not lock the exposure? I’m confused why I’d use the AE lock as well.

    ” On higher end DSLRs with a dedicated “AF-ON” button, I always choose “AE lock (Hold)”, so that only the exposure is locked – the camera will not automatically reacquire focus when the “AF-ON” button is activated.”
    It will though, otherwise how will you acquire focus? It wouln’t IF you had chosen AF lock too.

    Lastly, in the example of photographing your son at sunset, you’ve stated that you’d dial in exposure compensation. Does this have the same result as manually overriding the settings to ISO to achieve the desired exposure, (if one is well versed in full manual exposure) or is there another benefit to this method?
    Really appreciate your time and expertise!

  23. 23) MSnyder
    February 8, 2012 at 5:05 pm

    For the sunset picture, you mention you are in aperture mode and then state that if he is still underexposed you would dial positive exposure compensation. Am I wrong in thinking that is impossible if you are in aperture mode? I’m new to this so if it is a stupid question, I apologize.

    • 23.1) Nhi
      May 21, 2012 at 11:36 pm

      You can dial in +/- exposure compensation while shooting in Aperture. Look for the square button with the +/- signs. As far as I know, the only mode you can’t use the Exposure Compensation is Manual ….. this is because there is no need since you are “manually” setting everything. Hope this helps. :)

  24. 24) Sergio Zúñiga
    February 22, 2012 at 3:59 am

    Jajajaja, pendejos, y eso l son mui mui listos mientras yo ni si kiera se escribir

  25. 25) Vagner Duarte
    March 8, 2012 at 8:18 am

    Hi, Nasim. Came to your site to reserch for a certains problem in my D3000 Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor lens.

    Suddently it lost the autofocus. It just focus manually.

    I’m trying like that:

    LENS: “A” mode
    SETTINGS: AF-A, Auto-area, AF-assist On, Matrix metering. It simply doesnt shoot. Or when it shoots, it doesnt focus automatically.

    I think the lens is broken…

    Would it be?

    Cheers from Rio de Janeiro!

  26. 26) Lyne
    March 13, 2012 at 12:19 am

    Hi there, just got myself a Nikon D3100 and reading the book confuse the heck out of me. So I found your site.. Thank you… It is slowly starting to make sense now. Awesome jobs, thanks for making it simple for us.

  27. 27) Faisal
    March 15, 2012 at 7:00 am

    This subject cannot be explained better than this………. Many thanks

  28. 28) julian cornes
    March 30, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Superb article, this is how it should be written in manuals so that it supports everyone from enthusiasts upwards. I agree with Faisal above, it could not be explained better. Nice job and thanks.

  29. 29) Christian Engheim
    April 11, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    Hi Nasim!

    Thank you for yet another great article that clarified things for me. I tried to read in my Nikon user manual about the auto focus and the use of the AE-L / AF-L, but it just left me confused. Your article made me understand how to use this button properly. Thank you for taking the time and effort to write articles like this, I really appreciate it.

  30. 30) pavan
    May 8, 2012 at 1:05 am

    Great article. Very informative.
    I have bookmarked your site and is the primary source of my better understanding of photography.
    Thanks a lot. keep up the god work.

  31. 31) Karen
    June 6, 2012 at 3:16 am

    This was concise, clear, and to the point. Thank you!!! I will be back to your site to learn more about how to make the most of my DSLR!

  32. 32) Jose Lombard
    July 15, 2012 at 10:24 am

    I am 71 years young and I have been taking photos for a long time (my first camera was a Leica III c) but I am just starting bird photography and of course with digital cámeras (D300s, D7000, 300 f4, 80-200 f2.8 and 70-300 VR).
    About the AE-AF lock. Nikon D300s manual suggests NOT to AE lock if you are using matrix (it says something like you may not obtain the results you want) I am confused about this, could you comment on that.
    If using center weight or spot, would it not be easier to activate the AE hold function in the shutter so you hold both AF and AE by pressing the shutter half down, that way is easy to recompose. (that is the way I did it before matrix meters)
    What is your experience with center weight in bird photography
    I like very much your site and find it very useful

  33. 33) Brent
    July 19, 2012 at 5:11 pm

    Hi Nasim,

    Is there a way to assign AE-L (Hold) to the Fn button? I want to retain the use of AE-L/AF-L for AF-On, Shutter for Shutter.


    • 33.1) Nhi
      July 20, 2012 at 12:11 am

      Hi Brent,

      Depending on the dslr that you have, if your camera allows you to assign things like AE-L (Hold) to the FN button. On my Nikon d7000, I am able to set the AEL to AF-ON then set the AE-L (Hold) as my FN button. On the d7000, you go to Custom Setting Menu / f Controls / f3 Assign Fn button to assign the AE-L (Hold) function. The AE-L (Hold) can also be found unter the Controls menu. Hope that helps. :)

  34. 34) John Adams
    August 14, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Mr. Mansurov,

    I’m a fairly new reader of your website. I first discovered you when looking on-line for lens reviews. I then wrote to you a short time later asking your advice on a D700. You were kind enough to respond and I followed your advice. I am now in the process of reading the articles you’ve posted in your photography tips. I’ve already reprogrammed the AE/AF button on my D700 based on this article.

    I must compliment you once again on the great service you have provided to amateur photographers like myself with your website. You cover all of the basics and more and do so in a straight forward and easy to understand manner. I’ve been taking snapshots my entire life but decided to make photography my primary hobby when I retired two years ago. I’ve upgraded my equipment (Nikon D700, 24-70 lens, 50mm 1.4G lens, 28-300 lens) with your help and am now reading and taking pictures every day. You have become my primary mentor so I spend some time every day reading all the existing information on your website and looking forward to the new information you send on a regular basis.

    I’m sure there are days when the amount of time and effort you and Mrs. Mansurov put into this website must be exhausting and overwhelming. Please know that what you are doing is helping countless people like myself to become better photographers. Your unselfish desire to help others by sharing information and inspiration is a credit to you as a photographer and as a man. Thank you again for sharing and caring.

    John Adams

  35. 35) Lynn H
    October 29, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Hello Nasim,

    Is there any way to slightly increase the default shutter speed across the board on AF in a D7000? I just got my camera and have already come across the problem you’ve had in low light. I read your posts on a forum and many other’s posts on the problem with AF. Or is this Nikon would have to recalibrate?

    & Thanks for a very informative post. Nice :)

  36. 36) Morten Woldstad
    December 21, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    Nice article. I allways admire people that share the knowledge on the net.
    One thing I like to add: How easy it is to set the shutter and aperture to manuel. You do not have to recompose and stuff.
    When you get used to that, you find out that the shutter and the aperturecontrol become the fastest way to under or overexpose. And you dont have to move a finger:)

  37. 37) Joe Villani
    December 29, 2012 at 1:18 pm

    Thank you so much for this article. My camera was stuck in one of these modes and my wife and I were going crazy trying to understand why the camera would no longer auto focus during half shutter button press. We started to think the camera was broken. You have to love the wealth of information on the internet. This info was not in the manual! Thanks again!


  38. 38) Jerry Hammond
    December 31, 2012 at 7:22 pm

    Your articles are very helpful. Reading the manuals only tells you what the camera can do. Your articles help you decide what you should do. I hope you write a book. I’ll be the first in line.


  39. 39) andre
    January 23, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    ”On higher end DSLRs with a dedicated “AF-ON” button, I always choose “AE lock (Hold)”, so that only the exposure is locked – the camera will not automatically reacquire focus when the “AF-ON” button is activated. ”

    I dont get that part ( the first part is fine about AE Lock Hold)
    when ”AF-On”is activated that means you are pressing the button … thats means if you move the camera it WILL reacquire focus ?

    Read more:

  40. 40) steve riise jensen
    February 8, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    Nikon D5100.
    How do I lock the AE-L when filming?
    Do I have to press and hold it? Is it the only way?
    I want to film lights blinking , but the camera are workin against me, he he

  41. 41) Elizabeth Crellin
    February 27, 2013 at 6:58 pm

    Hi Nasim,

    Thanks for this article on AE-L. Just what I needed. Always puzzled why I couldn’t get the exposure to stay just where I had set it to.

  42. 42) jai
    March 12, 2013 at 9:59 am

    Thanks for information.
    It is very informative.

  43. 43) rami
    May 24, 2013 at 9:37 am

    how i can auto focus without press the AE/AF button?

  44. 44) alisssa
    July 31, 2013 at 7:46 am

    Great! Just perfect! THANK YOU!!!

  45. 45) Martine Brucheau
    August 2, 2013 at 10:40 pm

    Hi, I just stumbled upon your link and quickly went to facebook to like your page. I am so thankful for your easy to understand tutorials.

    Also , I have always not understood how to expose for ambient light , and this link helped me understand when you talked about exposing for your son against the background at the beach. Thank you

  46. 46) Luis
    October 24, 2013 at 4:53 pm

    I bought an used D600 and the lens does not auto focus when I half-press the shutter button only when I press the AE-L/AF-L button.
    Is that a configuration or a problem?

    • 46.1) koveus
      May 14, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      Configuration. See menu/tools/buttons: assign ae-l etc.

  47. 47) Ravi
    October 30, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    Excellent articulation with relevant examples…
    Went from ZERO understanding of AF-L/AE-L to a point where I know what to play with!

    Thank you!!

  48. 48) Saulat Abbas
    November 14, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    Hi Brother,

    I dont know much about cameras but by changing diff things I eventually take pretty good photos….i faced a problem yesterday where at night only once i press the ae-l utton only than i can take the photo….the camera was making some sounds of focusing but not taking pics, efore it used to. Probably it was because it was trying to focus things at night whicb it was jnable to do….but it never happened before! Any other thing other than auto lock? And I need to know the best way of night photography but I hate flash and D60 denies taking a photograph if it is low light without flash saying subject is too dark even if I take the shutter speed to 30sec and open the aperture completely

  49. November 29, 2013 at 10:54 am

    Hi – wonderful post (have to re-read it though!). I have a question about the Nikon 3100, which I have. I am trying to photograph some dark images and I am shooting in Aperture Priority. I want to change the ISO setting…but when I try to my camera says “this option not available in current settings.” I found the AE/AF lock which you talked about in this post. I clicked on that (thinking that the AE may have been locked – but I am still getting the same result. I guess I have to look at the menu to see if I have really turned it off.

    Is that my problem> That I may still have the AE locked? Would love it if you could help me with this problem!

    Thanks – great blog, by the way!


  50. 50) Mark Keohane
    November 29, 2013 at 4:36 pm

    What no-one seems to be commenting on is how poor Nikon’s implementation of the AF-ON assignment of this button is (one contributor above notes it in relation to a D5000).

    The AF-ON implementation doesn’t work like AF-ON should when you want to focus and recompose; I know, because I have a D300s as well as a D5000 and I use the 300s’s dedicated AF-ON button all the time.

    With the D5000 AE-L/AF-L button set to AF-ON it is not possible to focus using the button then RELEASE IT and recompose as you can with the 300s. It won’t fire because your subject is no longer in focus. This is daft. You have to be in AF-S, focus, and then KEEP THE BUTTON PRESSED in order to recompose and take the shot.

    If you want to track moving subjects it does work like a dedicated AF-ON – as long as you’re in AF-C; keep the button pressed and as you track the subject and it will follow focus.

    The main difference is that you can’t just leave the camera in AF-C and have the choice between focus and recompose or subject tracking just by choosing to release or hold AF-ON. If you want focus and recompose you have to be in AF-S. If you want tracking you have to be in AF-C.

    I gather from just one other post that I’ve found that it’s the same on the D3100 and so I assume it’s a common thing across all Nikons that don’t have a dedicated AF-ON button. Perhaps someone can confirm or otherwise.

    It’s clumsy and half-arsed and I’m surprised that very few people are commenting on it anywhere, not just here. For anyone using both a camera that has an AF-ON and one that doesn’t it requires different techniques for each. I, for example, like to carry the D5000 as a go-anywhere because it’s small and light, while I’d use the 300s for more serious stuff.

    Or have I got this wrong?

    • 50.1) agingric
      March 5, 2015 at 5:26 am

      I have d5100. There is setting I changed to allow shutter to release when trigger button is pressed (whether or not image is in focus)….might be called shutter priority. Allows af-on to function properly in af-s or af-c.

  51. 51) Sayantan
    January 1, 2014 at 10:59 pm

    Wanted to know, If Exposure mode is set to Manual- and ISO-Auto, then pressing the AE-L will lock the ISO value or change. My question is if I am pressing AE-L, pointing camera at a area with brighter light (ISO-Auto) then pointing it towards a darker area- keeping AE-L pressed, will the ISO value change or remain locked? Logically it shouldn’t but my D300s is ISO value is changing- so wanted to reconfirm.

  52. 52) entaro
    February 27, 2014 at 10:33 am

    Hi! I’m new to photography, I have an entry-level DSLR D3100, and I have a question.I noticed that when camera is on self-timer mode and I press the trigger button,in my sight display , the AE-L function is activated.Is this normal,automatic? Could this function be deactivated in the self-timer mode or there is nothing that I could do? Thanks!

  53. 53) mala
    March 23, 2014 at 1:33 am

    I am using Nikkon D90. When I press the menu button and go to custom setting menu then choose autofocus, a1 AF-area mode is grayed out and I am not able to select it. If I press the OK button it says “this option is not available with current settings”

    Please help, what shall I do for activate AF area mode.

  54. 54) anil
    April 6, 2014 at 5:53 am

    What do you call the dedicated a f – on button?
    Do we have this on the D7000 as well?

  55. 55) Barbora
    June 2, 2014 at 4:07 am

    Dear Nasim,
    I just bought camera to capture important moments:) (not to become prof)

    I’m having troubles and I can’t figure it out that’s why I’m asking for a help.
    When I have set Automatic shooting, it starts focusing but it will never shoot unless there in any subject close enough to take a picture. So if I wanted to take a picture of square I couldn’t, because it was just focusing and focusing. When I pressed shutter on a half way I had to press AE-L/AF-L button to actually take a picture. And of course, I did reset all settings..
    Hope you can see the problem/mistake I’m making.
    Thank u!
    Kind regards, B

  56. 56) Graham freeman
    July 10, 2014 at 9:07 am

    Hi nasim
    My name is graham and I have just found your site, omg you just nailed it there and then thank you I now know we’re I’ve been going wrong thank you, thank you,thank you, I’m based in turkey alanya and my wife and I run a honeymoon buissness and luxury holidays I’m always asked to take a photo shoot for the guests ie sunset or in the villa gardens miraculously I’ve seemed to pull it off but now I will nail it thanks to you, this is my web site all the photos were taken by me check it out maybe we will meet some day
    Kind regards gra :))))))

  57. 57) Vivek mishra
    October 7, 2014 at 11:04 pm

    Hi Nasim. I am using a Nikon d3200 alongwith af -s dx 35 mm f/1.8G lens. I dont know how, but the aperture is locked at f6.3 and it won’t reduce in Aperture priority mode. however, in many preset mode it does come back to f/1.8. So I am pretty sure that the lens and contacts are fine. Can you please help me in resetting it back to a default behaviour?

  58. 58) Leslie
    October 10, 2014 at 6:32 am


    Can you please explain the additonal AE-L modes that the more advanced cameras have?
    Is it possible for example to fire the shutter with this button on the D610? I think that would be a cool feature.


  59. 59) Matthew Currie
    December 5, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    I have recently been playing with AF settings on the D3200, and one of the things that is not very well documented, if at all, is how the “AF-ON” function works. Specifically, the D3200 has no separate option for choosing between focus and release priority, and is always in focus priority, except that when you switch to AF-ON and remove focusing function from the shutter release, it also switches the camera to release priority. With this setting you can preset a focus point and then recompose without holding down the shutter, but the shutter will fire regardless of focus.

    I find no mention in the manual of this.

  60. 60) Ahsan
    May 22, 2015 at 6:22 am

    Hi Nasim,

    I have a Nikon D5000 but sometimes my shutter release button gets stuck halfway taking the picture. I am basic user and I think I changed one of the settings. It’s annoying when we can’t take pictures and need to switch on and off the camera several times. I am travelling to Switzerland this weekend and your prompt response will be highly appreciated.

    Kind regards

    Ahsan from U.K.

  61. Profile photo of Mark Pitsilos 61) Mark Pitsilos
    July 11, 2015 at 11:55 am

    Is there a way to lock the exposure of the previous photograph?

    Let’s say that I took a properly exposed photo and want to lock that exposure for the next captures after having checked it.

    Is that possible?

  62. Profile photo of Matthew Currie 62) Matthew Currie
    August 23, 2015 at 11:47 pm

    I have been using back button focus for a while on the D3200, and thought I would add a couple of details here, because the documentation that came with the camera is so poor.

    BBF works mostly as you’d expect here, in that AF occurs only when the button is pushed, and when it is let go, the camera switches to release priority. It remains in focus priority as long as the button is held down, and uses the AF settings of your choice. Except for manual focus, this is the only way to enable release priority.

    One anomaly is that, although BBF works just as you’d expect when using viewfinder mode, and stays in effect when using the self timer or the IR remote, it behaves differently in Live View. It still decouples focus from release with the self timer, but overrides BBF when you use the remote. If you fire in Live View with the remote, the camera will refocus by itself.

    In viewfinder mode all the scene and auto modes remain set to BBF, but I have not tried them with Live View and remote, etc. to see how they behave.

    By the way, in response to one inquiry above, if you are using Live View, the screen will show the aperture that was preset before you entered Live View. The meter will still adjust the exposure, but the change will not show on the view screen. You can toggle Live View on for a DOF preview because of this.

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