AI Focus vs AI Servo: Understanding New AI Modes

By Tata Rossi 16 days ago, Photography Tips

I’ve been hosting a lot of photography workshops lately and my students often ask me to pit AI Focus vs AI Servo so that they know which mode to use when they’re taking pictures themselves.

I always start by reminding them that the majority of modern Canon cameras allow you to pick between three autofocus systems: AI Focus, AI Servo, and One Shot Focus.

It’s worth noting that the 1D series as well as Canon’s mirrorless models aren’t supplied with the AI Focus mode.

In short, AI Focus is an autofocusing mode that relies on artificial intelligence, which offers fantastic results when taking photos of still or barely moving subjects.

Meanwhile, AI Servo is an AI-based autofocus system that specializes in reliably tracking and focusing on high-action scenes and dynamic subjects.

AI Focus: Main Aspects

ai focus mode sample

AI Focus is a smart AF camera mode that offers the golden balance between One-Shot AF and AI Servo by tracking subject movement.

This flexible system makes sure the subject is perfectly in focus even if it’s quickly moving within the shot.

AI Focus starts by triggering One-Shot AF and quickly focusing on the subject when you half-press the shutter button.

As the subject starts to move, the camera instantly enables AI Servo mode.

Such an automated switch provides continuous focus tracking, ensuring the subject maintains high sharpness at all times regardless of its position in the frame.

Personally, I prefer to use this mode for the following genres:

  • Portrait & event: Great for snapping pictures of spontaneous, candid moments, as the focus adapts to the subject’s movement.
  • Street & family: Ensures the scene remains in focus even if different elements are constantly changing position, providing high sharpness regardless of whether you’re focusing on still or dynamic subjects.
  • Travel photography: This flexible AF can efficiently operate when capturing both still landmarks and vast landscapes.

AI Servo: Main Aspects

ai servo mode sample

AI Servo, commonly referred to as Continuous AF, is an autofocus system in Canon cameras that was developed to track dynamic subjects as they move around the scene.

This mode delivers optimal focusing performance and high sharpness when taking photos of fast-moving subjects regardless of how many pictures you snap.

When set to AI Servo, your camera will continuously tweak the focus to ensure the subject remains sharp even if it’s constantly changing its pose or position.

The artificial intelligence predicts the subject’s trajectory, providing accurate focus throughout the shot, even in high-action shooting conditions.

This mode provides fantastic results when shooting dynamic scenes, which is why I use it for:

  • Sports: Taking photos of fast-paced athlete movement with high accuracy.
  • Wildlife: Tracking and ensuring both prowling and running animals remain sharp as long as you use a Canon camera for wildlife photography.
  • Capturing moving vehicles: Keep driving cars, bikes, and bicycles in focus.

This mode is my winner in the AI Servo vs AI Focus battle when it comes to reliably tracking and focusing on moving subjects in a variety of scenarios and lighting conditions.

Key Differences

Learning what sets AI Focus apart from AI Servo is crucial if you want to know which AF mode to use in different situations.

Below, you’ll find a breakdown of the main differences between the two modes when it comes to focusing approach, performance, dependability, and convenience.

Key Differences AI Focus AI Servo

Focus Strategy

Relies on a hybrid system, employing One-Shot AF and transitioning to AI Servo when motion is detected.

Employs a continuous tracking method, keeping dynamic subjects in focus without resorting to other modes.

Performance

Good choice for mixed scenarios that involve both still and dynamic subjects.

Optimal for fast-paced scenes, providing better results when tracking dynamic or chaotically moving subjects.

Reliability

Can lose focus when dealing with superfast and erratic subject motion since it requires a bit of time to change modes.

Better results when dealing with consistent and sporadic movement, offering continuous focus without any delays.

Ease of Use

More intuitive for beginners and enthusiasts since the camera switches between modes automatically.

Chosen by professionals interested in having full control over the focus in dynamic scenarios.

Addition: One Shot Mode

one shot mode

One Shot Mode is an autofocus system that was created to offer accurate focusing when taking photos of static subjects.

Akin to a back button focus mode, this setting is perfect for scenarios when the subject doesn’t move at all, enabling you to take sharp, detailed photos without any complications.

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One Shot Mode is triggered when you half-press the shutter button to focus on the subject.

The camera locks onto the still subject and maintains uniform sharpness throughout the scene.

If you pit One Shot vs AI Focus and AI Servo, you’ll find yourself using the former for all scenarios that involve a still subject:

  • Portrait photography: Sets a sharp focus on unmoving subjects, ensuring the model’s face is perfectly clear and their facial expression is captured in full detail.
  • Landscape: Preserves the tiniest details and textures of landscape scenery and architectural compositions that don’t feature chaotic movement.
  • Product: When picking the optimal camera settings for product photography, I choose One Shot Mode to focus on products or objects when taking photos for catalogs and advertisement materials.

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