Our recent conversation around how hard photography should be, reminded me how much I enjoy certain manual aspects of photography.
One of those is manual focusing a lens.
With a digital compact I’m quite happy to let the Auto Focus (AF) do the work.
But with a DSLR, the pace and the motives are different. I choose to use these cameras because I want it to be more involved, and at a slower, more immersive pace.
Plus, the majority of the lenses I own and love are manual focus anyway, so I don’t have a choice.
I realised with further thought though, that even with AF lenses, I still fine tune manually.
Not being a fan of multi AF, where the camera has multiple points it can lock focus on, but usually selects anything but the one you want it to, I always default my camera set up to single point AF.
This means having one point in the centre of the viewfinder/screen where the focus locks.
This doesn’t limit me only to making photographs with the central object in focus though.
More often than not I have the main focus off to one side.
So I’ll aim the centre of the VF/screen on the part of the image I want in focus, squeeze the shutter button half way to lock focus, then recompose the VF/screen until it contains all I want, and push the shutter button all the way.
More than this though, there’s nearly always an extra subtle manual step I take, once I have the composition as I want.
This is to gradually rock back and forth ever so slightly to fine tune the final focus.
At this point with a manual lens, I don’t adjust the lens barrel any further, just my own (and thus the camera’s) position.
With an AF lens, again I’ll keep it in position by holding the shutter button half way, then make that final subtle adjustment with my physical position.
With digital compacts, I follow a very similar approach.
The only camera I use differently is my phone camera.
Here I usually compose from the outset, then tap the screen on the point I want to focus on, and the camera obliges. This works well from a practical point of view, but isn’t particularly satisfying in a tactile way, especially as generally I’m not a big fan of touch screens.
Plus I feel constantly on the verge of fumbling the phone and seeing it smash to the ground!
It serves the purpose when required, but with all other cameras – and especially DSLRs – where I enjoy a more engaging and hands on experience, I use the manual approach outlined above.
It comes down to involvement and control.
A large part of photography for me is the physical experience – wandering around woods, fields and graveyards looking for interesting subjects to photograph, then manually adjusting a camera to get the image I want.
I really enjoy that immersion, that is almost entirely lacking with a touch screen phone camera.
How about you? Do you prefer manual or auto focus, and why?
Let us know in the comments below (and don’t forget to tick the “Notify me of new comments via email” box to follow the conversation).
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