Manual or Auto focus?

Zatoichi 10 707 United Kingdom
19 Nov 2011 3:51PM

I had a conversation with a professional recently and we had a discussion about focusing. He uses a Canon 5D MKII and has the benefit of live view which he uses to zoom in to his focal point and manually focus to get a sharp image, locks the lens and then frames his shot - and achieves consistently sharp images with this.

My camera (Canon 400D) doesn't have this function, if it had I would invariably do the same. However, even without this he reckons that manually focusing is the only way!

My own tendency has been to auto focus, I've never managed to attain a sharp image through manual focusing, or where I have its been down to sheer luck - usually in low light conditions.

I'm curious about what other people think, what your preference is and why.

If you just do manual is it a question of equipment and camera function or is there a specific technique you apply?

Thanks in advance if you comment.


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Stephen27 8 7 United Kingdom
19 Nov 2011 4:21PM
hi steve I pre focus the camera at a object about 4 feet away them switch to manual. You can tape it to avoid it moving (at night if there is no light to reset focus with). hope this helps
Overread 11 4.1k 19 England
19 Nov 2011 4:30PM
Depends fully on the specific situation at hand - and also the equipment.

The method outlined above is great if you've got a nice stable camera (tripod) and a nice static scene where nothing is moving that much and also where the pressure to shoot isn't too great (ie you're not racing against the clock). You've time to position things so you can afford to use the liveview and magnification to get the focus spot on where you want it (the locking focus and then selecting frame - ie re-composition - is risky however since changing the composition changes the angle of the camera to the subject; thus without checking and adjusting the focus after this you run the risk of the original point of focus moving outside of the plane of focus).

However if you are shooting action based photography - or subjects that might well suddenly become mobile, then speed becomes far more of an issue. Then the focus and check with the liveview becomes a hindrance in most cases so you need to be able to use the auto focus correctly to get the shot sharp.

It's also important to note that modern cameras are made for auto focus - there isn't any incamera viewfinder focusing aid and cameras like the 400D even have much smaller viewfinder images to work with; all making the job of manual focusing more tricky.
However if he was shooting something such as a horse jumping a fence and was in position before the horse was there - then manual focusing can be used to prefocus the shot and fix the focus on the railings - ready for when the horse moves into that specific spot.

In the end its a case of learning all the tools and then having the flexibility to select the right one for the situation you are presented with. Part of that comes with reading and studying of various methods and the other comes from practice (you sadly can't read that in a book Wink).
Zatoichi 10 707 United Kingdom
19 Nov 2011 4:56PM

Quote:Depends fully on the specific situation at hand - and also the equipment.

I neglected to mention the photographer in question concentrates on still life and landscape so the camera never really comes off a tripod. All of your points make absolute sense.
User_Removed 10 4.6k 1 Scotland
19 Nov 2011 5:50PM
Agree with Overread.

I use manual when the camera is on a tripod and the subject is stationary, like a landscape, and there is no need to hurry. If you are taking 5 minutes to set up the camera and carefully compose the photograph, then a few seconds more for manual focussing is no problem.

But for moving "targets" and rapid fire shooting, then auto focus is a godsend. (Although remember how we all rotated the focus ring while panning the camera in the days long before AF was available.)

In fact - I hadn't thought about it this way before - I probably use manual focus for pretty much the same shots as I use manual exposure mode and use auto focus for much the same shots as I might use one of the auto exposure modes.
WilliamRoar 12 188 United Kingdom
19 Nov 2011 7:58PM
There may be a custom function to change the AE lock button into an AF lock.

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