Subject detection is a powerful setting when it comes to getting the results you want, with the correct subject in focus.

EOS R5/R6 introduced the ability to select a specific type of subject for autofocus to prioritise, with people, animals and none. Later a firmware update added vehicle subjects too. EOS R6 Mark II and EOS R8 have a fifth choice auto. It’s really important you chose the right setting, especially if you are photographing dynamic action with limited time to acquire focus on the intended subject.

Subject detection is priority, not exclusivity

When a specific subject is selected, then it’s the priority subject, but not the only one that will be focused on. The priority order is:-

  1. People
  2. Animals
  3. Vehicles
  4. None

When a subject to detect is chosen it moves to the top of the list, and then the remaining ones drop in behind it in the order above. So if you select Vehicles, the camera looks for a vehicle and if that is not found, the camera looks for people, and then animals before finally opting for anything else that it can focus on, which is also usually the closest object to the camera.

I do have a true story for you:-

I took a camera out to photograph some birds in flight with it set to detect animals, and the next day I took the same camera out to photograph a model out on location. The camera seemed to be a little out of sorts in the early part of the shoot, until I saw it perfectly tracking some sheep walking past about 50 feet behind the model. Quick change of the camera settings to people, and the camera stopped chasing sheep.

Auto subject detection

Auto is the default setting on the EOS R6 Mark II / EOS R8 cameras, with the camera looking for subjects in the order listed above. The risk is that if you want to photograph aircraft at an airshow it might prefer to focus on a face in the crowd rather than a plane. In such cases it is better to set the subject to vehicles.

The subject that is found initially may also depend on what is most in focus when the shutter or AF button is pressed. If the intended subject, like a bird is behind some foreground branches, and the branches are nearly in-focus the camera may choose them rather than rack the lens back and forth trying to see what else is out there. Invariably I know what my intended subject is, so I chose that as the subject to detect rather than rely on auto subject.


Firmware updates have made people detection ever better, with people wearing masks or slightly turned away from the camera still tracked. Heads, eyes, the torso or whole body can be tracked with the camera switching between these elements depending on what you are trying to capture. If eye detection is enabled then the AF will aim to focus on the eyes as a priority.


This setting was trained to look for canine, feline and bird subjects. EOS R6 Mark II & EOS R8 also added the equine subjects to the animal category. My EOS R6 was confused trying to find the eye on a zebra, but the EOS R6 Mark II will do so just fine. Both will find a black eye on a black horse though.


This is designed to detect specific types of subjects, primarily motorbikes and their riders in full-face helmets, plus open wheel cars where the driver is visible wearing a helmet. There’s a setting to activate spot detection, which is basically the rider’s or driver’s helmet. Eye detection does not switch this on. Again EOS R6 Mark II and EOS R8 have some additional vehicular subjects and are able to identify aircraft and trains too.


I’m pretty convinced that this was probably left in for landscape, architectural and still-life photographers who should probably be using manual focus and focus peaking 🙂

Most of my “landscapes” have cars in them 🙂


Attention EOS R / RP and R100 owners. Your camera is only looking for people, there’s no update to give these cameras extra subject types to detect.


Advent Calendar of Tips

This year I’m writing a quick tip each day up until the 25th of December, here’s some of the others I have already posted.


About the author

Full-time photo tutor and photographer. I love to share my knowledge and skills to make photos, videos and teach others. I write books and articles for photo magazines and I always have at least one Speedlite flash in my camera bag