Setting Back Button AF on Sony a7 Series Cameras

Back-Button AF changes the way autofocus is activated by separating AF activation from shutter release. Many sports action photographers prefer Back-Button AF because it allows you to stop focusing whenever something momentarily enters the picture area that might interfere with focusing on a moving subject you’re tracking.

You can program your Sony a7, a7R, a7S, a7II, a7RII, a7SII, a7 III, a7R III camera for Back-Button AF so that focusing is performed by pressing the AEL button with your right thumb.

Activating Back-Button Focus

1. Choose Menu > Custom Settings > Pre-AF > Off
2. Choose Menu > Custom Settings > Custom Key Settings > AEL Button > AF On.
3. Choose Menu > Custom Settings > Custom Key Settings > AF/MF Button > AF/MF Ctrl Toggle.
4. Choose Menu > Custom Settings > AF w/shutter > Off.

Once you do this, AF will no longer be active when you press the shutter release. Instead, press the AEL button to focus. The shutter button still wakes up the camera with a halfpress, and fires the shutter with a full press.

PLEASE NOTE that in order to select the focus point using the Smart Remote Control app, you must turn AF w/shutter back ON.

Once you’ve set up Back-Button AF, leave the first three settings alone. You only need to change one setting to switch Back-Button AF off and on:

Choose Menu > Custom Settings > AF w/shutter > On/On.

Just remember that this setting refers to normal focusing, so for Back-Button AF: On is Off and Off is On.


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77 thoughts on “Setting Back Button AF on Sony a7 Series Cameras”

  1. Pingback: Back-Button AF | Mark Galer

  2. Is there a way to set the shutter button to Eye Autofocus? This would be an amazing feature. I always use back button focus so i don’t have to hold the shutter button down half way when i recompose. But if its focusing on the eye anyway then i could use the shutter button for eye focus and if there are no eyes in frame i can use the back button to focus on where i want. Can you please recommend this feature to Sony. Thanks!

    1. The best thing I can figure out to do is to assign Eye Focus to the center button of the big dial on the back so you can push on it while depressing the Shutter. (It’s a comfortable balance of forces.)

      When I first started, I had the Eye Focus on C2, but that was really dumb because your shutter finger can’t be two places at once.

      I also like to assign Magnify to C1 so you can use it to easily focus with Manual lenses. These focus buttons plus the AEL button for back focus, pretty much keep all focus buttons in a logical placement for me.

      1. Embarrassing, but I have to change this previous comment – when you put the Eye Focus on center button, you lose the ability (when programmed as Standard) to move the auto-focus point around. I have since put the Eye Focus on C3 so I can still hold it down while pushing the shutter button. AND, I can still move auto-focus points around if need be.

  3. For the life of me I can’t figure out if there is a way to assign AF On along with AEL hold to the same custom button. I use to do this on my Canon and got use to it. Anyone know if there is a way?

    1. The afmf/ael button can be set to this. Set the afmf button to “AF On” and the AEL button to “AEL Toggle” (or hold. ..I prefer Toggle so I don’t have to keep holding ).

      Then you flip it up and use it to focus, flip it down if you want to lock exposure.

      My shutter is set to “AEL on” so the 1/2 shutter always sets exposure. .. but this will be overridden if you locked exposure with the AEL button.

      Gives you auto exposure that can easily be locked and BB focus with just the shutter and back button

      1. Oh also I have focus mode set to DMF…. this let’s me auto focus with holding the af button and let’s me instantly manual focus by turning the lens focus..no setting change needed or extra button to press

  4. hi! regarding the a series and back button af: I have mine set up differently and am not sure which way is better. I flip my focus to manual and simply have my AF/MF button set to “AF/MF control hold.”. So when i just go to manual I hit and hold that back button to focus or keep focusing I think if I hold it down. is this wrong or does it function differently than the way you described? many thanks!

  5. interesting. it seems to achieve the same effect as the method you described. It also removes focus from the shutter and has it assigned to the rear. I’ll have to test out both to see if one makes any difference over the other.
    On a side note – I use an a7ii and sent my old a7 to the good folks at lifepixel and had my aa/low pass filter removed and BOY does it make a sharpness difference. Picks up so much more detail, too.

  6. Just wondering what the best setup is if you want to combine BBF as well as the “Standard” setting for the center button to allow quicker 2 button instead of 3 button to change AF point in Flexible spot and also use EYE AF. Which buttons do you program for each of these if you want to be able to use ALL 3 systems together (BBF, Eye AF and Move focus point fast)? thanks I have the a6000 but it will be similar on A7 series

    1. If you want to use three functions you need three buttons – actually four one is back-button AF because that function separates focus from shutter actuation. I wouldn’t combine all that stuff. Back Button AF is something many Canon and Nikon sports and wildlife shooters use – and as you know there is not Eye AF on those cameras. Don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be.

    1. Hello Robaro, are you asking how to assign Movie Recording to the C1 Button?

      If so, that’s a new feature available on a7RII.

      Menu > Custom Settings > Custom Key Settings > Custom Button 1 > Movie

      When this setting is selected, you can start and stop movie recording using either the C1 button or Movie Button.

      (And no, the Movie Button cannot be assigned to any other function)

      1. Many thanks Brian It took me a while just because I wasn’t going far enough on the menu.

        I realize that the camera is how could i say that in englich energivore, the battery are not résistant. I am also using a metabone for ef canon lens and the autofocus in movie mode is not that rat, Am I wrong

          1. Let’s do it again
            I realized that that battery do not last very long, I have a gris with 2 batteties is there a system au there that i could use with the sony gris that will permit me to use the camera without having to buy more sony batteries

  7. I am currently using back button AF on my a7 but have one question about it. The switch that your thumb is on in the image above, that you can switch between AF/MF or down to AEL, what changes between those two options and which one should I have it set to?

      1. Thank you. So, if I am understanding correctly, it doesn’t matter or change anything whether the switch is on AF/MF or AEL when you’re already using BBF?

  8. Hi
    My new A7rii has the following choices on the AEL button:
    In camera guide
    Memory
    AEL hold
    AEL toggle
    * AEL hold
    * AEL toggle
    It does not give me a choice called AF on
    Center button has choice of AF ON
    AF/MF button has choice of AF ON
    Focus Hold button also has choice for AF on
    (Which isxthe FOCUS hold button?)

    Did the menu choices change since youar article was posted
    Thanks for all the great information
    Alan

    1. Yes, for anyone else reading this, the setting choices go both up and down and default is rarely the “first” setting on the list. When you see “Not Set” you can keep going…

  9. Hello,

    We;ve tried to set up back button focus but cant figure out why the camera keeps focusing on its own. Just want to be able to focus once and then fire the shutter. Any ideas?

    1. Also make sure that Pre-AF option is turned OFF. Took me a while to figure out why my camera kept re-focusing even without pressing any buttons.

    1. Remotes are tied to focus with shutter release – not back button. For the behavior you mention to occur, I’m guess that you do not have “AF w/shutter” turned off. This allows either the shutter of back button to focus.

      With AF w/shutter Off you must press back button on the camera to focus when using a remote – or turn AF w/shutter On to allow focus when using a remote.

      1. Thanks, Brian. I don’t fully understand your reply. Disable which setting? Is there a setting that connects focus with remotes? I have no problem focussing with the back button, but when I press the remote the camera attempts to refocus, even though I have disabled focus with shutter. The only way I know to stop this is to (1) focus with the back button, (2) switch to Manual Focus, (2) use the remote to fire the shutter.

          1. Yes. of course, I have that set to Off; and this works fine as far as the shutter button is concerned, But when I use the remote the camera still attempts to focus before the shot, unless I set MF on the camera. [Just in case this is making any difference, I am using the 90mm f/2.8 Macro Lens which has an AF/MF setting].

          2. OK… I’ve done a bit more testing. The problem is only ocurring with this lens. I have tested two others that do not have an AF/MF switch and there is no problem. This is a big issue to me because I am trying to shoot some macro with focus stacking and it means a lot of faffing about (tech term) swtching in and out of manual focus with the macro lens.

          3. I have the same issue as Peter. Back button focus and switching off shutter button focusing works fine but not with a remote. No matter what I try, when I press the button on the remote, the camera tries to focus, unless of course I switch off AF on the lens. But the whole point of back button AF is not having to switch off AF when recomposing. I tested it with A7 and A7RII Sony FE 70-200 f/4 and Canon 24-105 via Metabones.

            Is there any way to switch off AF on remotes, other than switching off AF on the lens? It is quite irritating.

          4. Yes. Simply turn off “AF w/shutter” – which already should be turned off for back button AF.

            But what’s this “focus/recompose” non-sense? That’s so 90’s! Why not simply place a Flexible AF point where you need it instead of whipping the camera back n forth like a spectator at a tennis match?

          5. I have turned off “AF w. shutter” and it is fine when I handhold and use the shutter button to take photos. But not when the camera is mounted on a tripod and I use a remote control. It is an issue at night, shooting cityscapes, skylines, or darker scenes generally. When I press the remote button, the camera will try to focus, will hunt but will often fail. That is why I focus on some light source first and then re-compose. To do so I have to disable AF on the lens each time. My method works fine, but it is shame that disabling the shutter button AF does NOT disable remote button AF (at least on the lenses that I use most: EF 24-105 and FE 70-200 f/4).

          6. Yes, Pre-AF is switched off, it’s now one of the first things I set after buying a Sony camera. Also, on A7RII I tried changing “Priority Set in AF-S” to “Release”, but it doesn’t seem to make a difference.

            I just tested A7RII + FE 16-35 f/4 and it works exactly as you say. Remote button does not trigger Autofocus. But it doesn’t seem to work the same way with lenses that have an AF/MF switch (neither with FE 70-200 f/4 nor with Canon EF 24-105). Autofocus is acivated by the remote button with exactly the same settings in the camera body (unless the switch is in MF position of course). Perhaps they could improve it with a firmware update. I never thought that lack of an AF switch on the lens might be an advantage.

  10. Brian; Thanks for the great information on your site. I would like to offer an alternative to using the AF/MF button for BB Focus for those with large hands or like me, with a gimpy thumb joint. I find programming C3 for BBF gives me a better grip on the little camera and is easier to push holding the camera in one hand.

  11. Thanks for the guide! I have one questions though. Often I accidently press the MF/AF button after taking a picture (to focus for next shot) and that brings up the picture library, which is really annoying. Is there any way to turn this off?

  12. I’ve belive I have my A7RII setup this way for back button focus with the AF/MF toggle button set up to switch between AF/MF modes. What I can’t figure out is this: The grey AF focus area box remains when I toggle into MF and to be truly I’m MF mode (and able to turn on the orange focus magnify window) I have to it the AF button, which makes the grey focus box disappear, and allows me to use the focus magnify tool. And when I switch back to AF, I have to make sure I hit the AF button to bring the AF focus area back while still in MF mode. If I don’t, and I with back to AF, the AF focus area box does not reappear and even though, I’m in AF mode, the back AF button does not work. I have to go back to MF, hit the back focus button, and then switch back to AF. This seems crazy! Am I totally missing something here?

  13. Pingback: Wishlist for Sony a7-Series Mark III Cameras

  14. Hi there

    I’ve just upgraded the firmware to 3.3 for my Sony A7R2 and for no reason
    Back Button focus stop working
    Reset again it as per your steps above
    Sony tech of no help
    Anyone having the same problem?

    thanks

  15. I never managed to take bracketed photos when back button focus is enabled with my A7II. Is it even possible? Apparently you have to take bracketed photos with the remote and the remote refuses to take any shots when BBF is enabled. It’s somewhat a deal breaker for me that I have to disable it first…

    1. Are you attempting to re-focus between bracketed shots? I would not advise that if you plan to stack images for HDR.

      I’d release back button before firing off a bracket and you should be set.

      1. Ah no, I beleive though that the A7RII is not behaving the same as the A7II. My camera doesn’t even allow me to take the shots with remote if BBF is enabled. Nothing happens if I press the button. But if I use normal AF (as factory settings), it works fine…

        1. You must have some settings set differently between a7II and a7RII because they will function the same if set the same way. Possibly one is on Bracket-Continuous and the other Bracket-Single. I can’t take the time to go though all the settings with you but look for something like that.

          Also, make certain the firmware on both cameras is up to date.

  16. I am confused when it says the standard button (??) is replaced with focus standard when updating the 7R2 firmware to v4.00 or later. I don’t see any standard setting options anywhere.

    1. Hmm…I think you meant to comment on the post about a7RII firmware update 4.00, so hopefully this won’t confuse anyone reading comments about back button AF.

      Well, here goes…

      ‘Standard’ is a setting that can be assigned to a Custom Button button on any a7 series camera to enable the Control Wheel to quickly move the focus point. I assign that to Center Button.

      The newest firmware updates for a7II, a7RII, a7SII, change that setting to Focus Standard which essentially remains active until you turn it off (which many users requested). There’s a link in the update date to a page that explains this.

  17. Hi Brian, in regards to back button focus on the A7rii, I find with the Sony wireless transmitter that overtime you press the AEL button, the flash fires. Is there anyway to disable this?
    Thanks

  18. @Brian. In the sony A7Rii, when using back button to focus, so I need to keep pressing it down while I take the shoot or can I let go? the reason I ask is because I notice that if I hold it down the camera stabilization seems to hold but if I let go it is not active, is that correct?

  19. Hi, I ended up with this setup too, mostly because I wanted a quick way to switch between manual and autofocus, I don’t think sony can explain the decision of not putting this button on the lens, price surely isn’t, I think they just didn’t work with any photographer when designing this system.
    Anyhow, my problem is that after camera switches off, when i come back it always comes in manual focus mode. Is there a cure for this, or am I doing something wrong? Thanks.

  20. Pingback: 9 DSLR tricks that save a ton of time and makes shooting enjoyable (and work on mirrorless too!) - I will be your photo guide!

  21. Regarding back button focus with an IR remote on the A7R II. I can confirm that use of the remote forces the camera to autofocus, even when Menu > Custom Settings > AF w/shutter > Off. The camera will not autofocus when depressing the shutter release button, but does so when using the remote. I am using a Batis 85mm FE lens with not manual AF/MF switch. Very annoying and definitely a bug. Brain please try this out yourself instead of blindly insisting that Menu > Custom Settings > AF w/shutter > Off solves the issue. It does not.

  22. Nope, Pre-AF>Off. Brain, do you have the Batis 85mm f1.8 (FE) lens? If you do, throw it on the A7R II and see if you can get an IR remote to work without forcing the lens to autofocus. If you can, I’d very interested to know it’s possible!

    1. I do not own that lens. Since it’s not a Sony lens, it’s entirely possible it’s not communicating with the camera properly. Third-party lenses and accessories do not always behave the same as Sony.

  23. Ok, just tried it with the Batis 18mm f2.8 (FE) lens AND the Sony 55mm f1.8 (FE) lens. Same behavior. If I trip the shutter with the shutter release, focus stays locked where I set it from the back button. If I use the IR remote, the camera refocuses every time. Definitely a bug and something I never had to deal with when I owned the A7R. I’m using the 2 second self timer setting, btw.

    1. You’re using an IR trigger + 2-second self-timer + back button AF??? That’s a rather unusual combination to say the least. Definitely not a combination I’d test for. Why not simply set the camera to MF since there’s no way to use back button AF when using a remote?

  24. quote: “You’re using an IR trigger + 2-second self-timer + back button AF??? That’s a rather unusual combination to say the least.” You’re changing the subject. Brian, I have been searching for a solution to this issue for the past two hours. It is documented on other sites and no one has found a solution other than switching to manual focus. I have read every single related post at this site and you have not once offered any evidence that you have actually tried this out yourself. Instead, all we are getting is advice on making custom settings we have all tried already.

    1. If sounds like you don’t want listen to good advice, because the other websites are correct. If you want manual focus with an IR trigger + 2-second self-timer, simply set the camera to MF. That’s not what Back Button AF is for.

      1. Brian, It’s got to be frustrating sometimes trying to help everyone. Great site btw. Thanks for your time.

  25. Jeesh, what’s it going to take to get you off the couch? Ok, 2-second self timer off, and still the problem persists. In the amount of time it’s taken you to dispense advice to people who had already tried all your suggestions before coming here, you could have put a Sony 55mm f1.8 FE lens on an A7R II and found out yourself it doesn’t work. I guess that’s too much to ask.

  26. Pingback: 9 camera tricks that pros use to save time and make shooting FUN (work on mirrorless too!) - Photography Tours in Hungary

  27. You saved me be big time Brian. I could not get camera to stop auto focusing every time I moved the camera. I searched for almost an hour with no hope. I have the a7riii and bought this A7r for an IR camera. It is tricky to toggle between MF and Auto on this a7r. I have to press the MF/AF button #10 a second time to get back to AF verses just flipping switch lever #8. Maybe my brain is stuck on the AF/MF switch on lenses. Thanks for keeping this old camera info active to save an old man.

    1. Nope. Back Button Af is used mostly by sports photographers. I’d rather have AF tied to the shutter release for any other type of photography.

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