Nikon Autofocus Not Working? Try These 5 Troubleshooting Steps

You are in the middle of a photo shoot and suddenly nothing is on point. The camera viewfinder looks blurry and every time you try to half press the shutter button you get no response. You know your Nikon autofocus system isn’t working, but you don’t have the time or money to send your camera in for repair, so what do you do?

Nikon autofocus issues are tricky, but you’re in luck: I’ve had autofocus issues a few times, and through my experiences, I’ve developed a system to quickly troubleshoot cameras on square.

In this article, I explain my step-by-step process to get your AF system up and running as soon as possible. And while I’m targeting Nikon users (because I own a Nikon camera myself), these troubleshooting steps should work for cameras around any Brand: Nikon, Canon, Sony, Fujifilm, Olympus, etc.

Let’s dive into it.

1. Make sure you’re using autofocus

Nikon autofocus not working troubleshooting steps

It might sound silly, but it’s surprisingly easy to accidentally set your gear to focus. manually instead of automatically (especially if you’re not careful, hold your setup tight due to windy conditions, or are in a rush to change lenses).

Most lenses include an AF/MF switch, and if you press the switch without realizing it, your lens’ AF system will become unresponsive. Some cameras also let you turn the AF system on and off using the menu, and a few camera models even include an AF switch on the front of the body.

So check that the camera lens and switches are set to auto focus, not manual focus. Your lens shift must be set to M/A, A, or AF:

Nikon autofocus not working troubleshooting steps

And your camera switch must be set to A or AF:

Nikon autofocus not working troubleshooting steps

2. Make sure the back dial is not locked

Some Nikon cameras have a rear dial that encircles the multi-selector; as you can see in the image below, this can switch between a dot and an L:

Nikon autofocus not working troubleshooting steps

This is known as the focus selector lock switch and allows you to determine whether you can select focus points using the multi-selector. The single point allows you to actively select focus points, while the L will prevent the multi-selector from working.

Check that the switch is pointed at the point, not the L setting. It’s easy to operate this dial, especially if you frequently use rear button focus.

Note, however, that locking the focus selector will not prevent your lens from focusing. Focus will still work – you just won’t be able to change the focus point.

3. Make sure you haven’t locked focus

Nikon cameras often have an AE-L/AF-L option (which stands for “Auto Exposure Lock” and “Auto Focus Lock”):

Nikon autofocus not working troubleshooting steps

The AE-L/AF-L button can be configured in a number of ways, so depending on your camera and custom settings, it may or may not be able to lock your Nikon autofocus system.

Check that your thumb is not pressing the button while shooting. And for added security, quickly press the button and trigger the shutter of your camera; this way you can override potential autofocus lock settings.

4. Check if your lens has any problems

No one ever wants to have a problem with their lens – but if your lens is broken, at least you can quickly switch to an alternative and keep shooting.

Remove your lens from your camera. Inspect the front and back elements for smudges or dirt. Check that no part of the lens is damaged. And if you have filters on your lens, make sure they are clear and have no cracks. If you notice any problems, replace broken filters and clean dirt and smudges with a lens cloth.

Note: Lens cloths are generally lint-free and should be used with a special lens cleaning solution. Do not blow on the lens; this can contribute to damage to the lenses as the breath can contain harmful acids. If you must blow off dust or debris, use a rocket blower or brush.

Then put the lens back in place, listening carefully for the click that indicates it is in place.

Nikon autofocus not working troubleshooting steps

5. Make sure your sight is sharp

If your viewfinder is dirty, your lens will focus but the viewfinder image will still be blurry. (Note that this can be a problem with optical and electronic sights.)

So try taking a photo and then zoom in on your camera’s LCD screen to check the sharpness. You can also check your sight for oils, smudges, and dirt. (I run into this problem often; somehow my sunscreen always seems to end up in the viewfinder element!)

If you’re having viewfinder problems, you can clean the glass the same way you clean your lens: by using a lens cloth and a special cleaning solution.

By the way, viewfinder blur isn’t just caused by dirt and grime. The cameras also have diopter control, which allows you to adjust the sharpness of the viewfinder. The idea here is to compensate for vision problems – and carefully adjust your diopter control will be allow you to see clearly without glasses even if your vision is poor – but if you accidentally adjust the diopter, your viewfinder will instantly blur.

As with the viewfinder issues discussed above, an accidental diopter adjustment won’t affect your images. This will only defocus the viewfinder, and you can quickly recenter it by moving the dial the other way.

Nikon autofocus not working troubleshooting steps

Bonus: Turn your camera off and on again

If you try all the steps I shared above and your Nikon autofocus still doesn’t work, just turn off your camera, wait a few seconds, then turn it back on.

This is basically restarting the camera, and sometimes it will fix the problem. If that doesn’t work, you can also try removing the battery for a minute or two (remember to turn off the camera before removing the battery). And as a last option, you can try to factory reset the camera.

One last thing: before giving up, test your camera with another lens. If the second lens works fine, then you have a lens problem, not a camera problem, and you should probably bring your lens in for repair.

Nikon autofocus issues: final words

Hopefully, now that you have finished this article, you have solved your Nikon autofocus problem.

I encourage you to write down these troubleshooting steps and keep the paper in your camera bag. This way, if the problem occurs again during a shoot, you will immediately know what to do.

Do you have any Nikon AF troubleshooting tips? Share your opinion in the comments below!

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