5D Auto Focus Points
There’s nothing worse than hearing your camera beep to indicate it’s locked on and focused, then to find out you missed the shot completely because you were actually intending to focus on something else that what the camera chose to focus on. Usually your camera is pretty smart in picking what to focus on, but if you’re anything like us, usually isn’t good enough. From the image above, you can see that the 5D Mark II has a total of 9 focus points represented by boxes. This is what you’ll see if you look through your viewfinder. We’re going to look at how to tell your 5D Mark II exactly where to focus. Plus if you have another Canon camera, these same steps should be similar for your camera too.

5D Auto Focus Point Center Highlighted
To know exactly where your camera is focusing, pay attention when you hear the beep on which box is highlighted. If you have the beep off, you’ll just have to watch. The image above shows the focus in the center, so the center focus point is highlighted red.

5D Auto Focus Point Right Highlighted
In this image, the right focus point is highlighted, so the camera will try to focus on whatever is at that focus point. You may have already noticed after playing around with this a little that your camera doesn’t always guess the right focus point for what you’re actually wanting it to focus on. That’s where changing the settings comes in handy.

5D Focus Point Selection Button
To see which focus points are active on your camera, push the focus point selection button (circled above).

5D All Focus Points Selected
After you press the button, look on the top display of your camera to see which focus points show up. I’m pretty sure the factory default is for most Canon cameras is to have all the focus points active, so there’s a good chance your display will look like the image above. With all those focus points showing up as active, that means your camera just takes a guess at what you might be focusing on, and uses that focus point to focus. Does that seem a little unreliable? It is.

5D Change Focus Points
To change to only a single active focus point, make sure your focus points are being displayed on your camera, then scroll your top dial circled above until you have the focus point selected where you want to focus.

5D Middle Focus Point Selected
We prefer to use the center focus point for all our focusing. All of our cameras are set up the same. We never change it. Another good option is top center focus. Whatever makes sense for the way you shoot.

What focus point do you prefer to use? For those of you who leave all the focus points active, is there a way you compensate for the unpredictability?

34 Responses to “Setting Your Focus Point On A Canon 5D Mark II”

  1. John Rocha says:

    This is a very timely post from my point of view for a couple of reasons – This is the camera I use for digital so I’m pretty familiar with it. Also I’m in the process of writing my fifth article on creating super sharp photos and focussing is clearly crucial. When I’m using autofocus I also tend to prefer the centre spot but as I’ve mentioned before there are lots of circumstances where I think the auto approach just isn’t adequate. Thanks for giving me a bit more to consider. Perhaps with this particular camera I could mention again the Customs Settings so you can have different options instantly available.


    • TJ says:

      We absolutely love the 5D. We’re actually considering getting another 5D this spring. We haven’t really done a lot with the custom settings, so you’re way ahead of us there.

  2. Ivy says:

    Hi there,
    I got problem to set the center point focus on my 5D. It is easy to set it up like you show with C option but i use manual and focus point is multi again. Do you know how to set only center point focus on Manual?
    Thank you

    • TJ says:

      You’re talkiing about Manual exposure correct (as opposed to manual focus)? It shouldn’t matter what mode you’re shooting in, the focus point should stay the same. Are you sure the focus point screen looks like the 2nd image I have when you’re done?

  3. Kim Ortiz says:

    My only problem with the focus point in the center is composition. Do I focus lock to move it for better composition?

  4. Michelle says:

    I just received my 5D Mark II in the mail yesterday and am trying to figure out how to manually select my focus points. I shoot weddings and have the same worry about composition where, the center point is not always the best choice. How do I set this?

    • TJ McDowell says:

      Which part of the tutorial did you get to before you had a problem? I’ll tell you that we never change out of center focus point. You can always focus then recompose as long as you’re keeping the same distance from the subject.

  5. Barb says:

    I shoot weddings and I have to agree with TJ center focus and then focus, recompose then shoot!

    • TJ McDowell says:

      Thanks for the backup =) Also, checked your site, and I wanted to compliment you on what a great job your’re doing. Well done fusion too!! Hope to keep you as a blog reader – it’s great to know talented people are reading =)

  6. Alex says:

    I have an issue with my 5D mkii, where the red light in the view finder is not showing…. the camera would beep and capture the focus of the subject with out any delay and still take excellent pictures.
    I tried to set the custom function 3-4 ( superimposed display ) to “ON” but still no red light in the view finder, I also tried to update my firmware but still no luck …. I hope you could help me resolve this issue.

    Thanks in advance

  7. I accidentally changed the focus point on my 5d mark ii and was trying to figure out how to change that today. Thanks for the post!. FYI i am always center focus!

  8. Chris Wilcox says:

    I have the same issue as Ivy above. If I am in Manual mode and using AF, I can’t select the focus point. If I switch to C1-C3 I can. Any suggestions??

    • TJ McDowell says:

      Reset to factory default? We’ve never had a problem selecting the points. And just to make sure, you’re talking about the 5D Mark II, correct?

  9. Hi there

    Ok so I have a canon 5d MK2, what if i’m taking a photo of 4 objects all in a row and I want all of them to be really sharp and in focus…how can I do this, usually the red dot will show me where it has chosen to focus and of course I know how to move this and choose a different focal point but I want all the objects in the screen to be as sharp as each other, not just one!? Can anyone explain?

    • TJ McDowell says:

      So here’s the deal, your lens really only has one plane in focus. So if you think of autofocus as just a quicker and more accurate way of choosing where to set your focusing distance, that may clear it up in your mind. If 2 objects are not the same distance away from the lens, they really won’t both be full in focus. If your aperture is set to something like 2.8, you’ll notice the difference more, and if it’s set to something like 11, you’ll notice it less. So to answer your question, you need to pick one thing to focus on, and make sure the things you want to be in focus are the same distance away from your lens.

  10. Hi, Excellent article — I’m having an issue when in full manual and setting the center focus point, but the image is not sharp all the time. Most of the time it’s blurry or mushy. Here’s what I do. Place the center dot on the model’s eye. Press the shutter halfway until it beeps. Hold the shutter halfway, recompose, then press the shutter all the way.

    This is more apparent when I use my 35-70 f2.8 L lens, but not an issue when using the 70-200 f2.8 L lens. Granted my recompose angle is greater as I’m probably doing full body shots with the shorter lens. So, is my technique valid for full manual?

    • TJ McDowell says:

      I’d get that lens checked out. You should probably see less of a difference on your 35-70 (especially closer to the 35 mm end). If you don’t recompose, is it sharp then?

      • I’m pretty sure it was a user problem … I had the focus mode set on continuous (or whatever it’s called nowadays). I didn’t realize that by moving the camera, it would randomly focus because it though the subject was moving. I turned that off and went to the back button focus and got much better results. I checked the lens out with some moire patterns and those looked good, but I’ll take your advice and go to the shop and see if it checks out for them, too! Thanks for the advice!

  11. paige says:

    Just got the 5D and am having focus issues. I shoot in manual and it doesn’t matter what lens I use…the focus keeps going to a more contrasty part of the image. I photographed my son today and the focus kept going to his sweater. I photographed other subjects last week and the focus went to a rock or wall instead of the subject. So frustrated. One thing I do notice (not every time)…if I try to focus recompose the lens loses focus. Like I said, it doesn’t appear to do it all the time, but the focus point going to the contrasting part is happening most of the time. Hope that makes sense.

    • paige says:

      By the way, when I say the lens loses focus, I mean, sometimes I actually see and hear it shift focus. Most of the time I think it locks focus where I place it, just to find out it preferred another location in the scene.

      • TJ McDowell says:

        I’ve got a couple thoughts for you. First, if I’m understanding you right, it’s picking a focus point with a lot of contrast – ie light to dark inside the focus point. That’s actually completely natural for that to happen. That’s why we use center focus, so it’s not picking points randomly based on that kind of stuff. Also, I’ve heard of a similar issue with a focus drift. Do you have image stabilization turned on? Does it do the same thing if you turn IS off?

  12. paige says:

    I almost always use the center focus point over the eye and with the 5D, the focus is moving to the clothing or leaves or rocks in the background. The clothing I’m referring to was a sweater, in the same light as the face, but it had more texture to grab onto…even though it looked like the focus was on the eye. In PS I see it went to the sweater.

    I do have IS and will compare the two and see what happens. I usually always have IS turned on. Thanks!

  13. Tiffanie says:

    Just stepped up from 50 to 5d, Mark II. . .have never been so frustrated with “focal points”. I think I may have the same problem as the gentleman above – where I dial to focal point, lock, and then if I recompose, or shoot continuously, it just keeps moving around. So many blurry shots. What setting should that be on??? So it doesn’t keep moving as you shoot – how do I make it stop thinking the object is moving. Second question if you don’t mind. . .if shooting multiple subjects, different distance, what’s my best shot at getting both in focus?? Still use center point??? Thanks!

    • TJ McDowell says:

      It sounds to me like you’ve got the focus mode set to continuous instead of one shot. Is that possibly the case? Let me know if you have trouble seeing what focus mode you’re in.

      As far as shooting multiple subjects at different distances, you need to make sure that your aperture is a high enough number (maybe an 8.0?) so both subjects are in focus. Yes, I’d use center focus. One more trick to make a larger depth of field, focus on the subject in the back instead of the one in front. Focusing on something close lessens you’re depth of field.

  14. DeAnn Hollis says:

    I just upgraded to the 5d Mark II. I almost shelled out the 30% more because I had heard of the focusing concerns. It sounds like it might just in fact be more about getting completely acquainted with the camera (and sensitivities). Would you agree. Unfocused images is something that can be quite frustrating when shooting weddings. I am about to start playing with it today, and your advice has been quite helpful…thank you!

  15. Bob Brant says:

    I always use the center point as well, but experience some softness with my 70-200 lens. I want to start using my tripod more but am concerned with using the center point as I like to focus on the face and it’s impossible to hold the shutter release and recompose while on a tripod with a ball head. Does it matter if the focus point hits the chest area? Due to only having 9 focus points a lot of times I cannot get one that falls on the face if I use something other than the center point.