Students often ask me “Is it cheating to use auto focus?” I’m here to promise that it’s definitely not cheating. It’s what we all do…most of the time! When it comes to AF and MF, auto focus is awesome. I honestly don’t know how photographers managed without it for all those generations!
AF mode is fast and accurate, and if you’re choosing your own focus points, you can pretty much be assured you nailed it. You don’t need to stop and check every shot on your LCD.
All that said, manual focus is not obsolete. But why would we bother with manual focus when auto focus is so…excellent!?
Well, there are times when your autofocus system simply can’t lock focus or can’t focus on what you want it to due to a variety of scenarios.
Firstly, let’s assume you’ve never manually focussed. Simply…
Don’t be discouraged if it takes a few attempts…when shooting with very shallow apertures it can be hard to tell if you’re sharply focussed on your subject until after the fact.
When you want to get as much in focus from back to front as possible, set your lens to manual focus, and turn the focus ring until it’s on the infinity symbol. Then set your aperture to its minimum, which typically would be anything from f16 to f22 depending on your lens. Then frame your image and take the shot.
When set to infinity, your lens’ HyperFocal Distance will determine a focus point that will achieve the greatest acceptable sharpness from near your lens to infinity. The range of acceptable focus achieved is dependent on your lens, your chosen aperture, your focal length, and the physical area you are framing.
Low light can be an issue in this situation where the AF has difficulty locking focus. Hence, to get the shot you might need to use MF.
However, you may always want everything in focus from back to front, in which case shooting at infinity on manual is the way to go.
You know those gorgeous backlit shots taken during the golden hours, when you have a golden halo of light surrounding your subject, light coming in from the side, and some haze you want to include? Frequently, AF struggles to focus in this situation, and manual focus is the only option.
You can try to hold your hand up to block the light so you can focus initially, and go from there…but if your camera is still struggling then definitely try MF.
If you’ve ever attempted macro photography, you’ll understand auto focus frequently has trouble locking focus, even when you’re manually selecting your focus point.
What’s more, the depth of field is so narrow you want to have complete control over the sharpest area of the image.
If you’re not manually selecting your focus point, it’s hard to control what the lens locks focus on.
Related: Macro Photography Beginners Guide
Related: Breaking The Rules Like an Artist
Ever taken a shot like this? It can be very difficult to focus on fine blades of grass or similarly delicate objects.
Not just because they’re small either, the sheer volume makes it tricky for the auto focus system to settle somewhere and lock.
This is, once again, another scenario when MF is faster than AF.
Related: Master your AF Focus Points
As you can see, your manual focus will serve you well in many situations, but this doesn’t mean at all you should look down on going the auto focus way! In any case, you can take all these tips and experiment as much as you can.
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