As I have been looking around today the AE lock button is supposed to lock in the focus and exposure settings (aperture and shutter) so that the picture can be recomposed before taken. I also believe that holding my shutter button half pressed does the same thing.

As I type this I realize that there's a multiple successive shot consideration as well as the ability to release the shutter button while pressing the AE lock button, but I wonder if it is otherwise still the same?

Rebel XS (1000D)



5 Answers 5


It's mainly about using the camera as a tool in extreme situations where user experience and preference and circumstance mean that very fine differences in operation may make all the difference to achieving the desired shot. Use or non-use of AE lock may be appropriate for different users and differing situations.

The effect on exposure and focusing is identical as long as the camera is set to lock both of these on half pressure. With many DSLRs, having either or both or neither lock on shutter half press is an option. Similarly, the AE button can usually be set to affect focus and/or exposure and to lock or to toggle.

AE can usually be set to lock only on pressure or to toggle the controlled parameter(s) on/off alternately and focus and or exposure may be able to be controlled. This adds to theaspects needing to be considered.

I'll use "shutter operated" for actual operation of the shutter mechanism below to avoid confusion of the term shutter-released and button-released.

The differences are minor but significant. To some extent it is a matter of preference and personal experience and both have their place. The differences probably only matter at all under extreme pressure at the outside edge of user and camera shooting ability.

The following modes are "denied to you" by using the AE lock feature:

  • With respect to multiple shots with the settings locked, this is also generally possible using shutter half-pressure but can take some getting used to. To do this the shutter is operated by full shutter button pressure, but the shutter-button pressure is then returned to half pressure rather than being released fully. This holds the locked settings and allows the next photo to be taken with the same focus and exposure settings. I find this immensely useful when you want a variable multi shot mode but slower than the auto repeat rate or at variable timing. This is to some extent an alternative to using tracking focus with the exposure locked and which is better is a matter of preference and circumstance.

  • If you like to work in "one armed wallpaper hanger mode" you may wish to set the shutter button to lock only one of the two functions, allowing the other to release after the shot when the shutter button is held and then using AE or some other option to reset and relock the second function. For example you could lock and hold focus with the shutter button but not exposure, allowing the latter to be altered and then locked with AE button or some other button. This requires the brain to coordinate several fingers with he shutter finger needing to be partial-travel controlled and would not be usual (but, you did ask :-) ).

    Why would you want to do that? One reason MAY be to allow tracking something that held focus position but was moving through a zone of variable lighting. This would be a rather extreme case and not usually preferred.

  • If you use AE lock it takes an extra finger operation to release it, which is one more factor (amongst many) setting the outside edge of what you can achieve in a given time in utterly extreme shooting situations.

Camera stability and ability to hold user-attention on the job at hand and to track a "target" (especially a fast moving one such as an animal or surfer or gymnast) is affected by using either AE lock or half pressure. Which way it is affected is again a matter of preference. I much prefer using shutter half pressure as it allows all control in the index finger without extra time or thought to access the AE button, to the extent that I never use AE lock, whereas others may value the lack of need to hold button tension in absolute extreme situations. (Time i a vanishingly small consideration once the preferred functionality becomes burned into the brain).

In a tripod situation of a fixed scene, or where a scene is not going to change for some seconds until a critical moment arrives (head turns, bird flaps, diver dives, ...) and a shot will be taken, perhaps with a "cable release", use of AE lock may be preferred to maintaining half pressure for an extend period. An alternative is to swap focus to manual mode and to accept the minimal penalty of exposure 'calculation' at exposure time, ot to use AE toggle, but this too is a preference.

Other similar and subtle considerations could be thought of.


When you half-press the shutter, the camera meters and locks focus assuming you are in single-shot focus mode. After the shot is taken, the meter resets and the camera is ready to focus again.

When you press the AE button what happens depends on the camera and its configuration. If the button is set to lock:

  • Exposure & Focus (AE-L / AF-L) then the behavior is almost the same as pressing the shutter halfway. The difference is that if you let go without fully pressing the shutter, exposure is still locked.
  • Exposure Only (AE-L) then you can meter from one area using the button and focus from another using the shutter-button.
  • Focus Only (AF-L) then you can focus in one area using the button and meter from another using the shutter-button.

You are also free to keep the button pressed while you take multiple shots and the exposure will be kept locked across shots. On Canon DSLRs, the usual behavior is to keep the lock after the button is released until the shot is taken. Other manufacturers default to the opposite which releases the lock as soon as the button is released but it is customizable at least on mid-to-high-end models.

Advanced cameras add way more capabilities to that button and sometimes have separate AE-L and AF-L buttons. For example, you can set the AE-L to use a different metering system which I find very practical for activating spot metering rather than keeping the camera in in that mode which is less practical. Sometimes AF-L can be set to disengade autofocus rather then focus, allowing manual focus without a lens with quick-shift.


I think it is the same. You can simply test it by pointing at some bright scene and then recompose to some dark scene (or vice versa).

I have Nikon D90 and I thought that is some useful button, but it is not actually. When i set it to "lock until pressed again" mode, this lock is automaticly switched off when camera goes into sleep mode (that is about 5-10s). So you can "lost" the settings very easy.

I simply shot one picture on AP, remember the time, switch to manual and set it. Then i properly autofocus, switch to manual focus (hardware switch button on camera) and start shooting panorama.

Yes, maybe it is more complicated, but much more reliable. Plus you can shot night scenes on tripod etc..

  • \$\begingroup\$ I "tested" it by pointing the camera at a bright subject (my lamp), holding the shutter button half pressed, then looking around at other, darker, things and seeing if the settings would change, but they remained constant. However, I'm new enough to this that I could've easily overlooked something and so I wanted to ask. \$\endgroup\$
    – tenmiles
    Commented Apr 27, 2012 at 0:22

This depends on the camera model. The AE Lock button may lock exposure settings together with focus, or may do both. On many models, a custom setting will determine which behavior you get. (I believe this is the case on your camera, for example.)

On some cameras, the AE lock button can hold exposure settings across multiple shots, sort of like switching into manual mode temporarily using the existing settings. This is useful if you want to take a series of photos with the same exposure (maybe for a panorama, or maybe just as part of a sequence).

Alternately, many cameras can be set to only focus when a button other than the shutter release is pressed. Many people prefer this decoupling.


With Canon cameras, when using Aperture Priority (Av) exposure mode, half-pressing the shutter button usually only locks AE if one is using a metering mode other than Evaluative Metering. If one is using Evaluative Metering in Av exposure mode, AE does not lock with a shutter half-press but continues to update at the scene brightness changes of the camera is pointed to a darker or brighter part of the scene. Many Canon cameras can be modified using the custom settings to lock AE on the shutter button half-press even when using Evaluative Metering, but by default this is not enabled.

If one is using Evaluative Metering with the camera's default settings, then to lock AE one must press the AE-Lock button. An asterisk will appear in the viewfinder and exposure will remain locked until either the AE lock button is pressed again (at which time the camera will meter again and lock in the new exposure calculation) or the shutter button is fully pressed and the photo is taken.


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