Most people know what it means to focus with your camera lens. To do this, you adjust the distance of the lens (or an element inside the lens) from the sensor. There are two ways you can focus your camera – automatically (Autofocus or AF) or manually (MF).
As you probably already know, autofocus is there to do the hard work for you, and in most shooting situations this is all you will need to take great in-focus photographs. What you might not know is that there are different types of autofocus for different situations; this is what we hope to give you a better understanding of here.
The focus modes are generally set using a dial on the front of your camera. On some cameras this control is a switch on the side of the camera.
Single Autofocus (AF-S)
With single autofocus, once you half press the shutter button, the camera will focus on the closest object within the focus area (which we come onto shortly) on the screen. You can then take a picture knowing that the subject is in focus. This can be a very useful setting for portraiture, still-life, macro work and landscape photography.
Continuous Autofocus (AF-C)
When using continuous autofocus, half pressing the shutter button will focus on the closest object in the focus area, and then while you hold the shutter half pressed, will continue to refocus on that point. This mode can be very useful for sports, action, children & pets who are moving and wildlife photography – a great choice for moving subjects.
Manual Focus (MF)
As useful as the autofocus modes are, there are many situations where using manual focus could be the better option. Don’t worry, we’ll go into the manual focus mode in a bit more detail later on.
The “Focus mode” lets you choose how often the lens will focus while the shutter button is held half-pressed, while the “AF mode” determines where in the frame the camera will focus.
Most of our Fujifilm X-series cameras offer 49 focus points. From this you can select a single AF point, a group of points, or even make all of them active. Let’s look at the different options available:
AF mode: Single Point
When combined with the AF-S focus mode, this delivers highly accurate autofocus on a specific area. You can choose one of the 49 available focus points and also change the size of the focus point to suit your subject. This is your “go to” focus configuration.
When combined with AF-C focus mode, this tracks a subject with a fixed direction of movement, e.g. moving straight towards the camera. Again you can choose which of the 49-point focus areas to lock onto and also change the size, however this time when you half press & hold the shutter button you activate the continuous tracking on that area. Fully press the shutter button when you want to take the shot.
AF mode: Zone
This setting is effective for a subject with moderate movement which the Single Point mode may have difficulty capturing. You start by choosing a 3×3, 5×3 or 5×5 block of AF area points and then position them where you want them in the frame. We recommend you choose the phase detection AF areas for faster autofocus speeds – these appear in a different colour and make up the middle 5 x 3 points.
When combined with AF-C mode, the camera will continue to refresh the autofocus while the shutter is half pressed and this is how we recommend you use this mode. This way you can “lock” onto your subject once it enters your chosen block size by half pressing and holding the shutter button, the camera will then continue to re-focus as you follow the subject with your camera.
If you use the Zone AF mode with AF-S, the camera will simply lock onto the closest object within your block of focus points once and then stay focused at the same point. If the object then moves it is possible your image will not be in focus.
AF mode: Wide/Tracking
This mode is perfect for capturing a subject that moves unpredictably up/down, left/right and closer/further from the camera, where you do not wish to move your camera around to “chase” the subject.
Decide the composition and layout of your shot first and then move the AF point to the point where you want to start tracking the object from. When combined with AF-C, half press the shutter button while your subject is within the AF point and the camera will lock onto the subject and follow it wherever it moves within the whole frame while the button remains held. Fully press the shutter button to take the shot.
Note: The Zone and Wide/Tracking modes are only available on the X-T10 and X-T1 (firmware 4 and above) cameras.
More about Manual Focus
Here are some examples of how and when MF might be used:
When the light is dim. The autofocus sensor in your digital camera needs light and contrast to perform properly. When you’re shooting in low-light, AF may not be able to see subtle, indistinct details, so it will have a hard time locking onto a specific area of your subject.
When you’re shooting fast action. With manual focus, you can set up your camera to capture a certain area. Then when your subject comes into the frame, you can shoot continuously to get the best exposure. This is ideal for shooting at races and can even be used for street photography.
When AF gets confused. Sometimes you are shooting something that has another object in front of it, like a fence or a branch. AF will try to focus on the closer object. This may also occur when another moving object moves into the frame. So, if you’re shooting animals in the wild or active children, manual focus often makes more sense.
For full maximum control. Some photographers actually prefer to use manual focus on a regular basis as it gives them more creative control. With advanced functions like focus peaking, techniques such as focus stacking and panning shots, MF allows the photographer complete control.