Canon EOS 5D Mark III AF and Custom Function Settings

The Canon EOS 5D Mark III is here and it’s a joy to use. Long time 5D and 5D Mark II users have lots to look forward to in the AF department. Karen and I have been a San Diego Wedding Photographer duo for over 7 years and we haven’t been this excited about a camera this much in all those years. There are a bevy of settings in the new 5D Mark III. This article covers some of the new 5D Mark III AF and Custom function settings available on the Mark III and the settings we have settled on for now, along with commentary on the settings. This list will be revised as the wedding season progresses. Disclaimer: we get nuts and bolts technical on this, so stop here if F stops or setting AF modes give you headaches. For the technically fearless, read on…

Canon 5D Mark III AF Settings

There are tons of new AF settings with respect to previous 5D models (AF has 5 submenus alone!).

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AI Servo AF Characteristics. There are 6 AF tracking cases you can choose from. All cases are based on two parameters* 1) first parameter deals with tracking responsiveness vs focus locking tradeoff and 2) second parameter deals with acceleration and deceleration of subject (more aggressive settings track faster but are prone to more focus error). From Cases 1 to 6, we’re giving Case 2 a go initially as we prefer it’s advantages of allowing you to continuously track a subject, whilst ignoring possible obstacles. This is great for reception and dance floors where someone briefly comes between the camera and subject, possibly throwing off focus. Drastic changes in focus tend to be ignored so that tracking is maintained with the subject.

The different cases in more detail:
Case 1: Default tracking for general subjects.
Case 2: Continues to track subject with intermittent obstacles blocking subject.
Case 3: You can think of this as the opposite of Case 2. Instantly tracks new subjects entering the frame.
Case 4: Good for subjects that are abruptly accelerating or decelerating. Not to sure this is useful for weddings, but if you were shooting sports such as tracking a basketball being passed I’d imagine this would be useful.
Case 5: For erratic subject movement. Might be useful at a skeet shooting themed wedding I suppose.
Case 6: Useful if you are shooting multiple skeet shooting themed weddings simultaneously.

* we lied. There are actually 3 parameters but the last one deals with automatic AF point selection. We don’t use auto AF point selection at all so we don’t care about this parameter. We use Manual AF Selection and Expanded AF area modes only (see pg 99 of the manual).

UPDATE: 2012-04-01
Case 2 handled beautifully for a wedding processional we shot this past weekend. As the wedding party was making way down the aisle, each person had to walk passed some trees and AI Servo maintained lock on the subjects as they passed behind the trees. Ed shot from the front of the ceremony aisle and nailed 100% of the processional using the 2nd to top center cross AF point to focus on the face in AI Servo. As noted in the user manual, the 2nd to top center cross AF point is a dual cross type, the topmost is a regular cross type so keep that in mind.

canon 5d mark af iii settings
AI First and Second Image Priority For continuous action we prefer focus over release responsiveness. For AI Servo focussing, we’re usually continuously tracking a subject prefer focus over responsiveness (processional / recessional). For Second image we again use focus priority.Side note: About 95% of time during a wedding subjects are not moving much, so we’re using Single Shot AF mode with the shutter on release priority. So in cases where a moment happens in a split second, we do not need to wait for focus to lock prior to shutter release. (More on that later).

canon 5d mark af iii settings
Focus Priority over Release Priority.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We only have one lens that really takes advantage of this setting (85mm f/1.2L MkII). It’s helpful to be able to use manual focus on this lens, so we leave this enabled.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
Enabling MF after AF operation.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We leave the AF assist on. Helpful for very dark receptions.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
For One Shot AF, we use back button focusing, so the shutter button operates in shutter priority (focus lock not required) so this setting doesn’t really matter in our setup. We default it to focus priority just in case we ever disable back button focus.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
When using large aperture or large telephoto lenses in very dark situations, AF can get thrown way off in difficult lighting situations. We prefer the AF to stop focusing instead of continuously racking focus. We’ll opt to manual focus when AF can’t focus.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
canon 5d mark af iii settings
This may be a bit controversial, but we don’t use all 61 AF points and only care for the high precision cross type sensors. The AF points on the very left and right edge of the frame (in horizontal shots) do not focus well for subjects with dominant vertical detail. Maybe we’ll revisit this down the line, but for now the leftmost and rightmost AF points are just a pain in the ass.One of the nice aspects of the AF selection button (joystick) is you can bounce between center AF point and and edge by pressing down on this button. This can be very useful when you have two subjects in frame that you are continuously switching focus on, e.g reception speeches.

canon 5d mark af iii settings
AF selection mode allows you to enable various AF areas.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We only care for the manually configured AF area selections. No David Jay Spray and Pray crap here.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
The main dial seems to be easier for us to adjust settings, so we prefer that over M-Fn button.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We find orientation link very useful. Set the AF point and AF mode separately for each orientation, that is hold the camera horizontally set the AF point and mode, then hold the camer and set a different AF point and mode. Whenever you switch your hold, the camera will remember the position you set. Awesomeness.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We like the wrap around Asteroids setting. This allows one two quickly jump from one edge to the other, say if you have a subject on extreme left and right side of the frame that you are bouncing focus between. 1 button click > 10 button clicks. :)
canon 5d mark af iii settings
Asteroids wraps around setting.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We like seeing all the AF points on display as a visual reminder for the AF points and we also use them for keeping our horizons level.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
AF points light up in very dark scenes when this is enabled. AF illumination is set to auto in order to conserve battery. We’ll try to leave this on for a whole wedding and report back if it indeed drains battery quickly.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We haven’t done AF microadjustments for our lenses yet, but here’s a way of doing AF microadjustments using your monitor. That’s it for AF settings.

Playback Settings

canon 5d mark af iii settings
We only really care for highlight alerts enabled. Everything else we leave as default. In another submenu, there’s an in camera raw processor… that’s kind of cool if you’re far away from a computer and need to convert a RAW to JPG.

Do you shoot in BEASTMODE?
beastmode shirt

Canon 5D Mark III Custom Function Settings

This is where the fun starts. :)

canon 5d mark af iii settings
All defaults. We haven’t bracketed a shot since the advent of LCDs on the backs of cameras.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
Ahhhh custom controls, how we love thee.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
The new graphical custom control display is a welcome addition to the 5D menu setup. Hey, we’re photographers after all and are visual folks by nature. When you scroll through this menu, the picture highlights the button/control that you are about to set. There are tons of options for customizing controls and we’re still exploring them all, but here are some of the settings we are pretty stoked about below.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We use the AF-ON (back button) to focus, so we set the Shutter button for metering only.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We swap the AF On and Flash Exposure Lock buttons. We’re used to the old 5D, where there is no dedicated AF-ON button. You know what they say about old habits…
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We use the * button for AF and metering start. Our preferred shooting method is to have AF set to single shot, then when we shoot we pre-focus on subject and recompose. This is way we shoot 90% of the day. Processional and recessional is the one few times where we set use AI Servo.There are a couple advantages for separating focus and shutter release.
1) One doesn’t have to focus recompose every time when a subject is placed in an extreme corner of the frame.
2) Another advantage is one does not need to have focus locked before releasing the shutter. We prefer having a moment slightly out of focus rather than having missed the moment that is in sharp focus.

canon 5d mark af iii settings
We’re super stoked about being able to custom set the DOF preview button. We can count on one hand the number of times we use this button per year on our old 5Ds. We love setting this to One Shot AF / AI Servo toggle. So now, when we press and hold the DOF button the AF mode switches to AI Servo. No need to press the <AF·Drive> button. One thing to note: it’s not a real toggle, as you have to hold down on this button for it to stay on AI Servo, but still a welcome addition. We’d love it to be a toggle though. Are you listening Canon?
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We haven’t messed with this really as we don’t have super massive Javelin missle launcher telephoto lenses.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We set the multi-function button to VF electronic level when we really need precision on leveling our shots. 90% of the time we’re using the AF layout for leveling our shots.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We setup this control to quickly set ISO. We’ve been wanting a way to set ISO while keeping our index finger on the shutter button. It’s a very welcome addition. Thanks, Canon!
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We always enable the Multicontroller “joystick.” As mentioned previously, one of the nice new additions is toggling between a designated AF point and the center AF point. Enable this setting so you can toggle between a selected AF point and center AF.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
We don’t mess around with this control, and keep it to the default Canon style: shutter on the top dial, back dial for aperture.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
See previous caption.
canon 5d mark af iii settings
Lastly, for My Menu we add Format and Set Time. Needless to say, these are things we always sync camera times and format cards before a shoot, so it makes sense to have quick access to these.

If you have any custom settings you prefer or would like to share, please feel free to comment below. We hope you found this article useful. Thanks!

UPDATE: 2012-07-23
More 5D Mark III AF tips
There’s been a lot gripe about the Mark III taking a very long time to focus in very dark situations, such as a dark wedding reception. The problem happens especially when using single shot. We’ve been using AI Servo for dancefloor and have been getting much better results vs single shot. Also, on thing to note when using the Mark III is even though the in focus red light doesn’t light up, the image still tends to be in focus. You’ll just have to trust it and have faith just like Luke Skywalker using the force to blow up the Death Star.

Another tip: to get your bearings in very dark lighting situations, and find the focus select point, use the AF selection button to quickly display where the AF select point is.

Ed Atrero,
San Diego Wedding Photography
San Diego Photo Booth Rental

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