Z Series Camera Autofocus System

The AF System in the Nikon Z series mirrorless cameras is inherently different than what is found in Nikon DSLRs.

When using autofocus through the optical viewfinder, DSLRs use phase detect autofocus whereby the camera utilizes a separate autofocus sensor in the camera body. For DSLR Live View photography, contrast detect is used on the imaging sensor.

The Z series cameras utilize a hybrid autofocus system, combining phase detect and contrast detect autofocus (which is used when the camera deems it necessary to switch) both when framing using the electronic viewfinder or the monitor.

The phase-detection AF pixels are effectively distributed throughout the image sensor to deliver accurate AF performance. This system also offers a wider coverage of focus points in the image area of approximately 90% when single-point AF is used.

Z 7II Autofocus Point Array
The Z 7II offers 493 AF points for still photography.
Eye / Face detection enabled
With Eye/Face detection enabled, quickly switch between subjects.

Another difference between the two camera systems is that some of the focus modes in a DSLR are different from those found in the Z system mirrorless cameras. We’ve created a handy guide to help you become more familiar with the autofocus modes on the Z system mirrorless cameras and when to use them.

Autofocus Modes

AF-A*1 – The camera automatically switches between AF-S for stationary subjects and AF-C for subjects that are in motion.

AF-S – The camera will not refocus automatically if you or your subject move. Low-Light AF can be enabled in this mode for more accurate focusing under low-light conditions (please note that focusing may be slower).

AF-C – The camera will focus continuously on the subject under the active focus point.

AF-F*2 – The camera adjusts focus continuously in response to subject movement or changes in composition. There is no need to press the shutter-release button halfway.

MF – Focus manually.

AF Modes on Nikon Mirrorless

AF Area Modes in the Z series mirrorless cameras:



PinPoint AF icon

Pinpoint AF

• AF-S / Photo Mode Only
• Use for stationary subjects when accurate focus is crucial
• The focus area is smaller than that employed for Single Point AF
• This mode prioritizes focus precision over speed

Single Point AF icon

Single Point AF

• AF-S, AF-C 
• Use for stationary subjects
• Focus will lock once you have selected a focus point and pressed the shutter-release halfway

Dynamic-area AF

Dynamic-area AF

• AF-C / Photo Mode only
• Use for moving subjects
• If the subject briefly leaves the selected AF point, the camera will focus based on information from surrounding focus points
• If the subject is moving quickly or is otherwise hard to track, try using Wide-area AF (S) or Wide-area AF (L) to allow autofocus to choose subjects from a wider area

Wide-Area Small AF icon

Wide-area AF (S)

• AF-S, AF-C
• Use for stationary or moving subjects that are hard to frame using single point
• If the selected focus area contains subjects at different distances from the camera, the camera will give priority to the closest subject
• During movie recording, wide-area AF is useful to keep focus on moving subjects
• The area covered by Wide Area AF (L) is larger
• When Wide-area AF (L‑people) is selected, the camera detects and focuses on the faces or eyes of human portrait subjects in the active focus area.
• When Wide-area AF (L‑animals) is selected, the camera detects and focuses on the faces or eyes of dogs and cats in the active focus area

Wide-Area Large icon

Wide-area AF (L)

Wide-Area L-people icon

Wide-area AF (L‑people)

Wide-Area L-animals icon

Wide-area AF (L‑animals)

Auto-Area AF icon

Auto-area AF

• AF-S, AF-C
• The camera automatically detects the subject and selects the focus area
• Use on occasions when you don’t have time to select the focus point yourself or for snapshots and other spur-of-the-moment photos

Auto-Area People AF icon

Auto-area AF (people)

• When Auto-area AF (people) is selected, the camera will detect and focus on the faces or eyes of human portrait subjects
• When Auto-area AF (animals) is selected, the camera will detect and focus on the faces or eyes of dogs and cats
• Subject-Tracking AF can be initiated by pressing the ‘OK’ button. Custom Setting f2 or g2 [Custom controls] can be used to configure the Fn1 or Fn2 button to start subject-tracking AF. Subject-tracking AF can also be assigned to the lens Fn or Fn2 button

Auto-Area AF Animals icon

Auto-area AF (animals)

In both Nikon DSLR and Nikon Z, AF-S is recommended for stationary subjects and AF-C for moving subjects. They each include AF-F for video and MF (Manual Focus) when you want full manual control of the focus when shooting either stills or video.  Z system cameras also offer AF-C for video shooting.

Customize your Autofocus settings

There are many autofocus options in the Custom Setting Menu (autofocus sub-menu). See below the ones that will directly affect how the autofocus behaves on your Z camera.

AF-C / AF-S*1 Priority Selection: [Release] or [Focus] choose if photos can be taken only when the camera is in focus or whenever the shutter release button is pressed. In AF-C, choose [Release] if you want to shoot in continuous release at the highest frame rate possible.

Focus Tracking with Lock-On*1 – Choose how quickly focus responds if something passes between the subject and the camera when AF-C is selected for the focus mode. Choose a higher value to help maintain focus on your original subject and a lower value to make it quicker to shift focus to objects crossing your field of view.

Low Light AF – Choose [On] for more accurate focus under low-light conditions when AF-S is selected for focus mode.

Starlight View (Photo Lv)*1 – For improved focus when shooting under low light, select [ON] for Custom Setting d10 [Starlight view (photo Lv)]. This option takes effect only in photo mode.

Built-in AF-Assist Illuminator – Choose whether the built-in AF-assist illuminator lights to assist the focus operation in photo mode when lighting is poor.

Useful links:
Z9 – Online Manual – Focus
Z8 – Online Manual – Focus
Z7II / Z6II – Online Manual – Focus
Z6III – Online Manual – Focus
Z7 / Z6 – Online Manual – Focus
Z5 – Online Manual  Focus
Zf – Online Manual  Focus
Z50 – Online Manual  Focus
• Z30 – Online Manual – Focus
Zfc – Online Manual – Focus

*1  Available on selected cameras
*2  Available in video mode