Passive autofocus systems like contrast detection and phase detection don't work well in low-light environments and on low-contrast areas.

But I have a lens that says "ULTRASONIC" on it, and it suffers from the same limitations of passive autofocus.

Why does my lens with active autofocus have trouble focusing in low-light environments and on low contrast areas?

1 Answer 1


"Ultrasonic" (or "USM") has nothing to do with active vs. passive autofocus. It's a type of drive motor for actually moving the focus elements, in contrast to e.g. stepper motors ("STM"). Contrast detection and/or phase detection are actually part of the sensor assembly and are the source of the data that gets converted into instructions to tell the drive motor how far to move - regardless of whether it's a USM or STM lens. Also, regardless of whether you have contrast detection, phase detection, or both (or even something completely different...), low light and low contrast lead to lack of detail that a sensor can detect to derive instructions for the focus motor, kind of like how your eyes have trouble seeing in low light or with no details/edges to discern things, only worse - sensor technology is not nearly advanced as the human eye.

  • Agree with twalberg.You don't mention which Canon DSLR you own. Often these types of problems are made worse with older or inexpensive cameras. Take the 7D Mark II, for example, it can focus at f/8 which is something that no T series camera can do. Take your camera & lens to a local shop and compare with a new body to see if upgrading to a newer or more advanced DSLR would solve your problem.
    – Frank
    Jul 16, 2018 at 23:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.