The auto focus of modern day lenses is superb and it is so good it hardly seems worth bothering to learn how to master the art of focusing manually. Okay, some lenses are pretty slow to auto focus but they get there in the end, and as long as the subject hasn’t moved off or crawled away does it really matter if you have to wait around for a few seconds? I know time is money and all that, but come on……..
As well as being a little slow to auto focus some lenses are also noisy when focusing. I have read some reports and reviews from photographers saying the “auto focus is too noisy and clunky for them” When I read these reviews I often wonder how loud their lenses are. I have a Canon 50mm f1.8 that is noisy and clunky to auto focus but I wouldn’t say it is too loud. I mean, I don’t have to cover my ears when I use the 50mm lens in auto focus, and I have never seen any of my subjects covering their ears either. Comments from other photographers never ease to amaze me.
Low light has always caused problems for auto focus however even this is less of a problem for modern day lenses, and as new lenses are released the low light auto focusing capabilities are getting better and better. With all the auto focusing technology in modern day lenses you should still take the time and patience to master focusing manually. Don’t believe me? Carry on reading and you will soon see where I am coming from.
Even though cameras do a good job finding the focal points there are times when it will simply get it wrong and focus on something, or on a part of something that isn’t right. If you know how to focus manually you can identify the camera is selecting the wrong focal point, switch the lens to MF and then take control over the focusing and select what you want.
Even with the advancements in auto focus technology lenses still struggle where the contrast is low. If you are shooting a frame full of similar colors and tones the camera will struggle to lock on to any focal point, let alone the focal point you want, if you leave it in auto focus. In this situation you often have to take control and switch to manual focus to get a sharp photo.
Macro photography is another area where the lens will often hunt around for a focal point if left in auto focus. The lens will eventually lock on to something, but will it be the right thing? More often than not it isn’t, so you will need to take control, switch the lens to MF and manually focus on the right thing.
Another good reason to learn to master the art of manual focusing is so that you can use lenses that are manual focus only or lenses that weren’t originally designed for your brand of digital camera. There are loads of old manual focus only lenses out there capable of capturing stunning photos, and the only way to get a good shot with one of these is to learn how to focus manually. These lenses are typically fast (i.e. have a wide maximum aperture) and cheap (because they don’t have image stabilization, auto focus etc.) and if you can find some, worth buying.
It is definitely worth taking the time out to learn and master manual focusing as it will improve your photography. Even though I can focus manually (I wouldn’t say I have mastered it) I still use my lenses in auto focus most of the time and will only jump in and interfere when the lens won’t seem to lock on to the point I want it to or in one of those situations where the camera and lens struggles.
At my camera club there is a splinter group of individuals who consider themselves “old skool” and will only ever use their lenses in manual focus mode. These individuals openly scoff at us “heathens” using auto focus, which I think is a little unfair. One of the reasons I spent a long time learning how to focus manually was so I could stick two fingers up at this splinter group. Thinking about it, the nastiness of the splinter group was the catalyst that made me learn how to focus manually, and had it not been for that group I honestly don’t know if I would have bothered. Looking at it this way, the splinter group did me a favor, although I would never tell any of them that.
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Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.