A camera's autofocus system requires a motor to physically move the lens to bring the subject into focus. Many modern DSLRs do not have these motors built into the body of the camera. The justification for not having a focus motor in the camera body is that most modern lenses have built-in autofocus motors already, so the size and cost of the camera body can be decreased by omitting a focus motor. Also, the focus motor in the lens is often faster and quieter than the camera's in-body focus motor.

For many buyers, the presence or absence of a focus motor in the body is a non-issue. Canon users, for instance, don't need to worry about this at all: none of their DSLR bodies have focus motors, but all of their (modern) lenses do, so there is no problem. Nikon is a bit more complicated: most of their higher end bodies do have built-in focus motors, but some of their entry-level bodies do not. Nikon's AF-S and AF-I lenses all include focus motors, but their AF lenses do not. In short, the only time for concern is when you want to use an entry level Nikon body with an AF lens.

One major drawback of not having an in-body focus motor is that you will have to manually focus when using lenses that lack a built-in motor. Another drawback is that lenses with built-in motors can be larger and more expensive than equivalent lenses without a motor.

Cameras with a built-in focus motor

The following is a list of cameras that have an in-body focus motor.

Nikon D7100
Nikon D7100
from $1,097
Built-in focus motor Built-in focus motor Help
Autofocuses with more lenses
Movie format Full HD Help
1080p @ 60fps
Screen resolution High resolution screen Help
1,229k dots

Learn more about the Nikon D7100

Nikon D610
Nikon D610
from $1,797
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
94.0
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
2,980 ISO
Screen size Large screen Help
3.2"

Learn more about the Nikon D610

Nikon D810
Nikon D810
from $3,297
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
97.0
True resolution High true resolution Help
36.2 MP
Screen resolution High resolution screen Help
1,229k dots

Learn more about the Nikon D810

Nikon D800
Nikon D800
from $3,297
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
95.0
True resolution High true resolution Help
36.2 MP
Screen size Large screen Help
3.2"

Learn more about the Nikon D800

Nikon D600
Nikon D600
from $1,354
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
94.0
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
2,980 ISO
Screen size Large screen Help
3.2"

Learn more about the Nikon D600

Nikon D4s
Nikon D4s
from $6,497
Battery life Great battery life Help
3020 shots
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
89.0
Light sensitivity (boost) High ISO (boost) Help
409,600 ISO

Learn more about the Nikon D4s

Nikon DF
Nikon DF
from $1,494
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
89.0
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
3,279 ISO
Screen size Large screen Help
3.2"

Learn more about the Nikon DF

Nikon D750
Nikon D750
from $2,297
Screen resolution High resolution screen Help
1,229k dots
Screen size Large screen Help
3.2"
Built-in focus motor Built-in focus motor Help
Autofocuses with more lenses

Learn more about the Nikon D750

Nikon D4
Nikon D4
from $6,744
Battery life Great battery life Help
2600 shots
Overall image quality Great image quality Help
89.0
Low light performance Low noise at high ISO Help
2,965 ISO

Learn more about the Nikon D4

Nikon D400
Nikon D400
Screen size Large screen Help
3.2"
Built-in focus motor Built-in focus motor Help
Autofocuses with more lenses
Lens availability Slightly more lenses available Help
205 lenses

Learn more about the Nikon D400

References

Discussion

Showing 21 comments

Dan (9:32 PM, September 14, 2014)
This article assumes built-in focus motor is dedicated to Nikon cameras with no mention of Pentax where majority of lenses rely on screw-drive focus relying on camera body. In Pentax except to few SDM (Supersonic Drive Motor) lenses on KAF3 mount the rest use mechanical screw-drive focus with the little spinning thing on the camera mount. I have 4 Pentax and Sigma lenses that use thus feature on my Pentax K5 body. AFAIK majority of Pentax DSLRs have this feature.

Thus article as well as many automated comparisons on this website especially when comparing against a Nikon with built-in autofocus motor incorrectly claim lack of presence of this feature a "con" on Pentax model. As an example try Pentax K-3 comparison against Nikon D7100. Also try with Pentax K5 and K-5ii and K-5 iis all same issue.
 
Avatar for Pepe Le Pew Pepe Le Pew (11:21 PM, May 27, 2014)
Both
 
Avatar for thomas thomas (4:03 PM, April 02, 2014)
if good for autofocus built in the camera body or....?
 
Avatar for Let's Brainstorm Let's Brainstorm (4:25 PM, June 30, 2013)
About to get my 1st SLR camera. Nikon D5100. I'll start to familiarize myself with this. It should be a fun thing to do, considering I've always wanted to start, but never made the time.
 
Syd (5:54 AM, May 27, 2013)
So I we just got a lens with an auto focus motor then the camera will have auto focus?
 
HS Ballard (0:08 AM, May 12, 2013)
Whats wrong when you put an older Nikon lens on a new D3100 and the camera says there is no lens attached? Whats missing or do you need a spacer between the lens and camera body?
 
John (9:38 PM, March 05, 2013)
Isn't it a bit misguiding to say that Canon bodies have built in AF motor, when to my knowledge there hasn't ever been a production Canon SLR with an in-body focus motor. The whole point of EF-mount was that the AF motor is in the lens.
 
AJ (9:46 PM, June 29, 2012)
I,m considering buying the d5100 and i have a tamron 28-200 mm af asperocal xr(if) lens.I'm not sure if it has an inbuilt autofocus motor.From the specs it says that it has an Internal Focusing System. Wondering if this is the same thing?If so it would mean that i can still use this lens on the new d5100.
thanks
aj
 
Marcwalsh67 (11:05 AM, March 03, 2012)
Basically, the only time you need to manually focus is when both body and lens do not have built in motor?
Body has motor and lens has motor = autofocus available
Body has motor and lens has no motor = autofocus available
Body has no motor and lens has motor = autofocus available
Body has no motor and lens has no motor = no autofocus, available
 
Arunkumar (2:21 PM, January 09, 2012)
Which Dslr camera is worth to buy? (With Auto focus motor from Canon or Without Auto focus motor from Nikon)
How much price difference between with Auto focus motor lens and without Auto focus motor lens.
Arun.
 
Avatar for lenshero lenshero (3:12 AM, December 29, 2011)
Hi Carolina, I'm pretty sure the cameras will always use the lens's focus motor, unless it lacks one, then the body's motor will drive the lens to focus.  I don't think you can choose.
 
Pony (3:08 AM, December 29, 2011)
The Camera takes photos
 
Carolina (10:19 AM, December 28, 2011)
Does a camera with built in focus motor override the autofocus of the lens attached to it?  Which one takes precedence and can you choose which of the two you want to do the focussing?
 
Avatar for Adam Adam (10:47 PM, October 29, 2011)
Hey, would buying a camera without an autofocus motor built in be less cost effective in the long run as I buy more lenses to expand my camera having to be of the af-s variety?  My main attack is on whether I should buy the Canon 600D or Nikon 5100d as the only difference seems to be of it having an autofocus built in, (con of it being more expensive).
 
Avatar for Snapsort Snapsort (1:09 PM, September 14, 2011)
Hi Rg, I think the simple answer is that Nikon bodies such as the Nikon D5100 and D3100 can only autofocus with lenses that include a focus motor (AF-S lenses for example).  

Other Nikon bodies such as the Nikon D7000 can autofocus with pretty much all autofocus lenses for Nikon cameras, not just the ones with focus motors.    For example, if you bought the Nikon 50mm f/1.8D lens, it would autofocus with the D7000 but not with the D5100 because this lens does not have a focus motor, whereas the Nikon 50mm AF-S f/1.8G lens does have a focus motor, so it will autofocus with both the D5100 and the D7000.
 
Rg Ballard (6:32 AM, September 14, 2011)
Hi, I was wondering, so a focus motor in the camera would focus a lens without a focus motor. However, some of these Nikon's that do not have a focus motor in the camera say they can do continuous focusing while in movie mode. This appeals to me as I would like to be able to capture movement I can't always predict. However, in order for this to work, would the lens then need to have a focus motor? If so, is there a camera like the Nikon D5100 but with a focus motor in the camera? I have only ever used a Canon T1i primarily for stills but would like to purchase my own DLSR and be able to use it for video also (and this Nikon is one of the first things I've looked at besides the Canon T2i).
 
Firmanshah (2:26 PM, June 14, 2011)
is there important to consider that DSLR with built-in focus motor? like canon eos 1100d......
 
Avatar for Snapsort Snapsort (1:06 AM, June 09, 2011)
Yes, you can definitely manually focus the lens.  The same thing is true if you put a manual focus lens (say an older Nikon lens) on any Nikon DSLR, you can manual focus using the ring on the lens.
 
Keeganl_92 (9:16 AM, June 02, 2011)
if you have a dslr without a focus motor in the body and attached is a lens without a focus motor can you just manually adjust the focus by turning and adjusting the lens?? (btw i dont have a dslr yet and im a complete amateur at photography).
 
Avatar for Snapsort Snapsort (3:00 PM, May 28, 2011)
Hi Ric, I'd summarize it as follows:
- Almost all Nikon lenses can be used on any Nikon DSLR (old lenses on new cameras, and new lenses on old cameras)
- Some Nikon DSLRs do not have a focus motor built in (see the list above), which means they can only autofocus with AF-S lenses, since AF-S lenses have their own focus motor.Does that answer your questions?
 
RicJAlonso (4:24 AM, May 28, 2011)
So if the camera has a built in focus motor, then can a lens without one still be used? In other words, could older Nikkor lenses be used in newer Nikon cameras? Also, is the reverse true? Can newer lenses be used in older cameras?