Mermaid Parade: A Test of A Tweaked 5D Mk II Autofocus System

I’ve encountered and read emails from many photographers who really dislike the focusing system on their 5D Mk II’s. My answer: you need to learn how to understand how it works. Further, there are tweaks that a photographer can do in the custom menu to improve it. Sadly, many reviewers didn’t touch upon it during their review sessions. After tweaking mine, I decided that I’d test it out on some street portrait photography using the recent Mermaid Day parade in Brooklyn. (Some images NSFW)

Editor’s Note: All photos and text in this posting is under ownership of Chris Gampat, the editor of this blog. All photos may only be republished with his permission. You may make a request by sending an email to chrisgampat[at]


Canon 5D Mk II

24-105mm F4 L IS

85mm F1.8

Canon 430 EX II

Focusing Tweaks

Go into the custom menu settings of your 5D Mk II and you’ll be able to change how your autofocus system works. First off, there is autofocus expansion—which gives you six more focus points between the middle point and those around it. Your manual will tell you more about this. It’s very useful for portraits really, and not much else. Otherwise, it can actually mess with the current system a bit more unless you unlock the focus point selection feature using the multi-selector button.

Using the multi-selector button speeds up autofocus point selection significantly. One of the solutions to the “bad” focusing was selection of points. Moving the selector button in any direction automatically switches the chosen focusing point in the according direction. That translates to plenty of saved time for shooting. Push the selector to the right and the right focusing point will be chosen and illuminated in the viewfinder for you. Push it to the top left and it will focus there.

Editor’s note: For clarification, these features are not standard/default on the 5D Mk II. They need to be unlocked.

Focusing In Use

If you’re a wedding, event, portrait or photojournalism photographer this is a feature that you’ll want to check out and use often. As a guy that has shot weddings, events and portraits on top of lots of photojournalism and celebrities, I’m kicking myself for not exploring my 5D Mk II more and unlocking this feature earlier. It’s excellent because the accuracy of your focusing and speed allowed is greatly increased.

If you’ve got your flash attached to the camera, keep this in mind for when you need fill light. Say your subject has sunlight to their right but their left side needs fill light. Rotate your camera vertically so that your flash is on their left side and quickly select the focusing point closest to their face. After that, just meter and shoot. Repeat the process and modify the technique for different positions and needs.

One of my criticisms about using this method is that the user gets their best results when shooting at the full 21MP. The reason for this is because of composition purposes. The autofocus points are all around the center of the frame and don’t really expand out to the further edges—which means that you’ll have to keep your subject relatively close to the center. Shooting at the higher resolutions allows the photographer and editor to crop in closely and liberally in post-production to ensure that composition of the final image isn’t boring. Shoot at the 5MP sRAW function and you’ll find yourself losing some megapixels and detail in your image.

Editor’s Note: Focusing and recomposing surely could have been done. But it effect’s focus a bit when you are recomposing at larger apertures. Shooting in medium format taught me this.


Please Support the Phoblographer

We love to bring you guys the latest and greatest news and gear related stuff. However, we can’t keep doing that unless we have your continued support. If you would like to purchase any of the items mentioned, please do so by clicking our link and then purchasing the items as we then get a small portion of the sale to help run the website.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.