switching shutter speed with the AF-ON button to freeze action or pan to show movement

Push to pan might well be one of the smartest things I’ve worked out for my EOS cameras in a long time. With this custom camera configuration I can switch between action freezing and a panning shots mid-way through a series of pictures.

I like to shoot sports and action pictures, it’s my second passion after people. Over the course of this year I have covered a lot more different kinds of motorsports. I’ve now worked out how to be able to change my camera configuration mid-way through a continuous sequence of shots.

Fast shutter speed to freeze action

A fast shutter speed freezes the action, as the shot of these grasstrack sidecars captured at 1/1600th certainly demonstrates. If you couldn’t see all the flying mud it almost looks like the competitors are static, even the tyres look frozen. These 1000cc grass track sidecars are often called the “big chairs” and are far from static.

Panning with the action

Slowing the shutter speed down to 1/125th and moving the camera following  the subject  gives a great impression of speed with the background and foreground motion blurred but the rider sharp. Panning makes it obvious that the wheels are turning. Following a subject and panning is a skill that takes time to get right, but digital cameras make it quicker to develop the skill with their instant feedback.

Capturing both kinds of action shot in one sequence

Some of the sports I have photographed feature a lot of different classes of competitors and multiple short races lasting three or four laps of a track. With such situations there is very little time to walk around the track during a race to capture different viewpoints. I’ve created my push to pan setup to enable me to capture both panned and action freezing shots of the same racer, on the same corner, in a single sequence.

I’ve often looked for quick ways to swap between these two different kinds of shot. It’s a lot of clicks on the main dial to drop the shutter speed from 1/1600th to 1/125th – 11-clicks to be precise.

Initially I tried different shooting modes, with manual exposure for one kind of shot and shutter priority for the other. It’s simple to change modes by turning the mode dial.  Alternatively if the camera has custom shooting modes it is quick to switch between C1/C2 and have one setup for panning the other for freezing action.

Working through the custom buttons on my camera I realised that there is a much faster way of switching the shutter speed; using the register/recall shooting functions capability. Selecting shutter priority mode on the camera I use a setting to freeze action, and select ISO auto.

Ages ago with DSLRs I used back button AF, but since the arrival of EOS R and mirrorless I have stopped using back button AF. I no longer need to stop tracking with servo focus to recompose. The camera follows a subject keeping the AF point on them and adjusting focus as needed. This means that for me the AF-ON button is a free to use button, and that is where I assign register /recall shooting functions.

Register / recall shooting functions

The register / recall shooting functions custom setting can be actuated by the AF-ON and AE-Lock buttons, and also for some cameras the AF point section button and depth of field preview button. Check your own camera manual to see which buttons are supported.

Register / recall shooting functions is included on these professional and mid-range cameras launched since the EOS-1D X in 2012;

  • EOS-1DX, EOS-1Dx Mark II, EOS-1DX Mark III
  • EOS 5D Mark IV, EOS 5DS / 5DSR
  • EOS 7D Mark II
  • EOS R3
  • EOS R5, EOS R6
  • EOS R7
  • EOS R6 Mark II, EOS R8

When doing the research for this post, I found that the older manuals for the DSLR cameras had more content in the manuals than the mirrorless models, indeed all that is in the mirrorless manual is a sentence…

You can configure advanced settings for functions labeled with [INFO Details set.] in the lower left of the screen by pressing the <INFO> button.

So from this point on I’m going to greater depth than even the 1000+ pages of the latest mirrorless camera manuals.

Navigate to the camera’s custom buttons or custom controls in the custom functions tab group. These screenshots below are from the EOS R6 Mark II, but they are similar for the other cameras.

Select the button you want to customise, in my case I’m using the AF-ON button.

Navigate through the available functions until you find Register/recall shooting func. and note that you will see the infamous INFO Detail set. just on the left at the bottom, which is where you go beyond the manuals.

You will get a screen similar to this where you can decide what shooting functions are activated when the button is pressed. For my push to pan configuration all I need is to force the shutter speed to a slower shutter speed for panning. I would usually shoot in shutter priority mode Tv, so I can just force the shutter speed, but I also make sure that I switch on auto ISO too. It could be that the ISO was set manually on the camera and is too high, jumping to auto will ensure the ISO and aperture values are ideal for the selected shutter speed.

Navigating the shooting functions screen

Using the joystick, control dials or touchscreen, you can select the functions to activate by adding a tick in the left hand column. Then move to the right hand column to change the value that will be selected as shown below.

The key here is panning experience, you need to choose a shutter speed that is appropriate for the subject and your ability to pan with it.

To give you some idea of the power that is available in the register / recall shooting function option here’s the complete list of options for a few different cameras. Definitely explore what you have on your own cameras.

Attention back button AF users

If you look at these screens below you will see that the last entry is AF operation. Set the checkmark in the left column and make sure AF operation is ON to allow your button to change shutter speed and still focus. This makes it possible to back button AF with the AF-ON button and use the register/recall shooting func. on the AE-Lock button to switch shutter speed and still focus.

EOS 7D Mark II -register / recall shooting func options

EOS R6 – register / recall shooting func options

EOS R6 Mark II -register / recall shooting func options

Some more examples of “push to pan”

This first sequence of a quad bike racer is six consecutive frames captured on the EOS R6 Mark II using push to pan. I press and hold the AF-ON button to select the slower shutter speed while moving the camera to follow the racer. Of course if panning is your default you could make AF-ON the freeze button with it selecting a faster shutter speed.

1/1250th f/3.2 ISO 400

1/1250th f/3.2 ISO 400

1/1250th f/3.2 ISO 400

1/80th f/6.3 ISO 100

1/80th f/6.3 ISO 100

1/80th f/6.3 ISO 100

This last two show how I’ve used push to pan through the corner then released the AF-ON button for the action shot with all the dirt flying.

1/125th f11 ISO 100

1/2000th f/6.3 ISO 500