Want to get the most out of your Fujifilm X Series cameras? Our Quick Techniques will provide you with lots of handy hints and tips to help you understand the features our range offers. This week we look at when to use manual focusing. Read More
In your early days as a photographer, you likely relied on your camera’s autofocus settings. There is nothing wrong with shooting that way. In fact, there are plenty of moments when even the most respected photographers utilise this mode, so there is no stigma for shooting in auto. There are some situations, though, when manual focus is most sensible.
Choose your focus wisely by knowing five moments when manual is ideal.
Locate fine detail in macro pics.
Macro photography — those shots of small objects at larger-than-life size — requires you to focus specifically on an intricate detail of a tiny object. In most cases, you will shoot with your narrowest depth of field in order to emphasise textures and distinguish your focal point. So even a slight error in focus makes your shot tell a different story. By shooting in manual, you retain control to communicate the details you want.
Point to the pupils in portraits.
Portraits, like macro shots, call for focus at a highly specific point. You want the pupils of your subject to be in complete focus. With autofocus, you would prefocus your shot before finally framing and shooting, and in that time your subject could budge or blink. Manual focus allows you to locate the pupils and shoot in the instant you reach them.
Pick a tree or hilltop for your landscape images.
Landscape photos might seem like shots for auto because you likely do not shoot with a narrow depth of field. Even with these nature pictures, you can communicate a better story by identifying whatever tree limb or rock formation deserves viewers’ attention. Whereas some genres of photography require you to frame and shoot quickly, landscape work allows you to take your time and be methodical with your manual specificity.
Anticipate the action by focusing ahead.
Action photos are another sort that may seem, at first notion, more suited for auto. Objects are moving fast, so there is little time to adjust your settings. If you shoot action in auto, though, you can anticipate your frame by focusing on a particular point where your subject will pass through. Hit your shutter just as your object enters the frame.
Travel through glass with fewer scratches and smears.
If you take photos from planes, museums and zoos, you may have to shoot from behind glass. Of course, that surface is often compromised by scratches and handprints, and it is also giving you reflections to worry about. Manual focus is much better for avoiding reflections and minimising the appearance of discrepancies on the glass.
Auto and manual both have their place in your repertoire as an artist. You can be strategic and confident that you know the moments for each focus.
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.
Fujifilm X-series cameras have autofocusing systems that are among the fastest in the world, but there may well be a time when you want to switch over to manual focus. In such situations, it’s worth using the focus peaking function to help you get accurate focus on every shot. This very handy function allows you to see exactly what is in and out of focus either on the rear LCD or the viewfinder by superimposing a ‘halo’ over the in-focus part of the shot. It’s available as a standard feature on the X-E2, X-M1, X-A1, X100S, X20 and the XQ1, plus can be added to the X-Pro1, X-E1 and X100 via a firmware upgrade. Here’s how it works:
Step 1 For this demonstration, we’re using the X-Pro1. The first step is to switch over to manual focusing via the switch on the front of the camera body.
Step 2 On the back of the camera, press the ‘Menu’ button and then scroll down to the fifth menu of camera functions. From here, select the ‘MF Assist’ option.
Step 3 In the next menu, choose the Focus Peaking option and then choose either High or Low, which indicates the prominence of the halo around the in-focus object. We went for High.
Step 4 In the first instance, we chose to focus on the X100 in the foreground. As you can see the halo around the subject translates to a nice sharp camera (main image).
Step 5 With a twist of the focus ring, the halo moves to the X-S1 in the background, which is, in turn, sharply focused. Focus peaking also changes when you alter the lens aperture so not only can you check sharp focus, you can assess depth-of-field too.