Regis Lefebure
Regis Lefebure

Regis Lefebure chronicles and captures the world of Motor sports with the grace and beauty of speed with still photographs that have life, movement and depth, and with a palette that would be at home in the company of the great Impressionists.

Using Focus Preset With Super Telephoto Lenses

January 13, 2015

Most Canon super telephoto lenses have a cool feature called Focus Preset, which allows for quick focusing to a predetermined distance. It is an ideal tool when shooting sports or wildlife, where you might be rapidly changing focus from two vastly different distances. At a basketball game, for example, you can preset the focus on a basketball rim. Then, follow-focus the action using AI Servo AF mode via either the shutter button or the back button. When the action shifts to under or around the rim you’ve preset focus on, a slight twist of the serrated Focus Preset Ring brings that preset distance immediately into focus. The ring, located just in front of the manual focus ring, falls readily to my hand, whether I am hand-holding the lens or shooting from a monopod.

Photo by Regis Lefebure
The Focus Preset Ring, shown here on the EF 200mm f/2.0L IS lens, is a thin, serrated metal ring, located just in front of the manual focus ring. When turned slightly in either direction, the lens’s Ultrasonic focus motor instantly moves the lens to a memorized focus distance. The ring is spring-loaded, and returns by itself to its original position as soon as the photographer lets go of it.


The process for programming the focus distance into the camera/lens memory is simple. Three controls on a side panel of the lens are used. They are the Preset switch, the Set button and the Focus Preset ring. The Preset switch has three settings: Off ( O ), On ( I ), and On with sound (sound icon).

Photo by Regis Lefebure
Focus Preset controls are on the switch panel of select Canon super-telephoto lenses. The Set button and sliding Off–On–On with sound switch are visible at the bottom in this image.


To use, turn the switch to On or On with sound. Focus the lens to the distance you want, then press the Set button on the lens to save the currently focused distance into the lens’ memory (I like to test the memorized distance before making an exposure, to ensure I don’t miss something cool. A slight twist of the Focus Preset Ring ensures it is focusing to the correct distance desired). Then you can return to normal AF operation, whether you are using the shutter button or the back button, and quickly revert to the preset focus distance at any time by simply twisting the Focus Preset Ring. (Manual focus prior to using the Focus Preset ring is fine, too.)

Photo by Regis Lefebure


The photo above shows the cars racing downhill on the long back straight of the Road Atlanta course in Georgia, towards turns 10A and B during an IMSA Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge. I used back button focus and selected the shaded area under the black Aston Martin and made several exposures as the cars raced over this spot.

Photo by Regis Lefebure


In this photo, of the same cars racing away from me and uphill toward Turn 11, was the more important photo to me. I wanted to show as much of the crowd as possible. The narrow field of view of an EF 500mm f/4L IS II USM super telephoto lens makes including a crowd challenging. Knowing the cars would take a specific “line” on the track, Focus Preset allowed me to place the cars at the bottom of the photograph and instantly put the focus right where they’d arrive; I did not have to worry about keeping the cars within the focus points of my EOS-1D X camera. This gave me a much more dynamic composition, as compared to having the cars “bulls-eyed” in the center of the photo.

As of early 2015, Canon lenses with the Focus Preset feature include:

  • EF 200mm f/2.0L IS
  • EF 200-400mm f/4L IS Extender 1.4x
  • EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II
  • EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II
  • EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II
  • EF 500mm f/4L IS II
  • EF 600mm f/4L IS II
  • EF 800mm f/5.6L IS

Note that previous generation versions of these super telephoto lenses also include Focus Preset capability.

My specialty is photographing motorsports, but no matter how fast your subjects are moving, if you use one of the super telephoto lenses with the Focus Preset feature, you’ll find it a great tool to instantly place sharp focus on a specific place in your image.

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