[S-series] Photography: Sharing How I (try to) Manual-focus efficiently.


Today I’m going to talk about how I feel manual focusing can be faster than autofocus and how to manual focus efficiently.

The boring technical part comes first, skip if you hate such technical stuff.

Firstly, I know modern autofocus is becoming lightning fast and the accuracy is incredible. But there are times when the situation becomes a little tricky, like when there isn’t much light for the autofocus sensor to focus on. Our eyes happen to be about 576 megapixels, trashing all the available cameras in the market. So imagine using our eyes as the autofocus sensor? But the motor being our hands, it still depends on how fast we can move our hands plus our reaction time. Most of us mere mortals still have to add in our reaction time, judgement, hesitation, etc into the mix, making the seemingly straightforward process into a labyrinth of conflicting thoughts.

FYI, I am a prime lens person so I’m only going to talk about prime lenses.

There are a few ways we can go about speeding up our manual focusing techniques other than practicing daily for 100 years. Why I like prime lenses is because it kinda eliminate one factor for hesitation when framing a shot. You don’t need to think whether you should zoom or not. There is only one focal length, for example, 50mm. So you kinda get used to it. When you look through the viewfinder and see through the lens, that’s the Field of View (FOV) of your lens. Like if its a wider 35mm lens, standing at point A, you will see alot of things, if its a telephoto 75mm lens, standing at the same point you will see lesser but more magnified stuff. You can try zooming in and out with your phone camera, you will get what I mean. (Such a long paragraph just to say the following…)

When you use that one lens long enough, you kinda get familiarize with the FOV of that lens. That means, you look at this scene and will be able to visualize how your shot will turn out without looking through your viewfinder. In such situation, I just pick up my camera, focus with the distance scale on my lens, aim from my hip and shoot. I skip the viewfinder. For your info, all of my lenses have distance scales on them, that’s how I guesstimate the focus and shoot. My rate of getting usable shot is now about 80%, so for places when putting the camera to my face will generate a negative reaction or when getting the perfectly composed shot is not critical to me, I’ll always do this.

I also started shooting at hyperfocal distance nowadays, its great for landscape and street photography. Basically I just set my aperture to a 4 or 5.6 then set the ‘∞’ on the focus distance scale to your corresponding aperture value, then just shoot what every, depending on the min focus distance on the lens, from the min to infinity, everything else will remain in reasonable focus. I just blindly aim and shoot and walk off, and I’m reassured by the fact that everything in my frame will be in focus. This pointing and shoot is much faster than any autofocus cameras, you don’t need focus at all.

Lastly there’s only practice left unfortunately.. No matter what, we still need to practice then we can improve our speed. I used to use the focus peaking in my Sony camera, but after awhile, I find the peaking are actually slowing me down because it blocks my view even at the ‘low’ setting. So in the end, I decided to just train my eyes and occasionally zoom in using the focus assist function on my camera to check my focus.

Well end of the day, I still have to hand my arse over to autofocus, because in terms of versatility, autofocus works in almost all scenarios, the only problem is probably the camera focusing on the wrong subject, manual focusing on the other hand, is slower and it depends on the situation, in sports photography, even if I trained for 100 years and became a master of manual focusing, I’ll still lose to a 10 year old with a expensive autofocus camera… Its really up to every individual, I wanna go back to basics and deprive myself of the ease of autofocusing, even though its contradicting because I’m using a digital camera.. Luckily I seldom shoot sports or other action-packed stuff so I don’t need to catch my focus super fast.

Boring post this is, but I hope its informative nonetheless. Hope only lah…


Simon Tey
IG: simontey
Our page: https://www.facebook.com/claireaudreylim/