Autofocus or Manual Focus

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by childers-jk, Jul 27, 2006.

  1. childers-jk

    childers-jk Member

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    I promise I will not continue to seek advice for every little issue, but I could really use some feedback on this issue. I have a nice collection of Canon manual focus cameras, AE-1, AE-1 Program, and 2 nice F1ns. I really like these cameras, and I will not part with them. However, I am being asked more frequently to shoot weddings, birthdays, and other events (not family related). So, in order to maintain a balance between film and d*gital, I was looking to acquire some autofocus lenses to compliment my 20D (with a 5D in the works). So here are a couple of questions:

    Should I invest more money in the EF mount lenses or continue to work with my FD lenses?

    For commercial work, do most people use manual or Autofocus?

    Being a film user, would the EF lenses give me more flexibility? Meaning, on a shoot, would it be reasonable to shoot d*gital and the switch to film using say an EOS 1 or Elan 7e?

    I appreciate any comments.

    Thanks,
    Jeff C.
     
  2. Markok765

    Markok765 Member

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    I use MF for almost everthing. they do give more flexibitity when shooting. i sujject the 50 and the 70-200 2.8 is L
     
  3. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member

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    Event photography seems like one of the situations where autofocus will often pick the the wrong thing. Of course you can just turn off the autofocus, but manual focus lenses are usually better designed for manual focus than autofocus lenses are.
     
  4. Jeremy

    Jeremy Member

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    Having done a lot of event type photography (well, shooting for newspapers) I would disagree and say that having fast focussing lenses (like Canon's USM lenses) is actually a boon. Granted, I only use the center focussing area, focus, lock focus, and then recompose very quickly--I do the same thing when shooting bands.
     
  5. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    I'm a believer in autofocus. It wasn't that way for many, many years but Canon EOS cameras and EF lenses sold me on autofocus. It probably has to do with aging, slowed reflexes and declining eyesight but an autofocused photo is almost always sharper than a manually focused photo for me.

    I use both rangefinders and SLRs in 35mm and, much like Jeremy, I approach them the same way. Using the center sensor on an Canon is like using the rangefinder spot on a Leica.

    I've never used manual focus Canon equipment--I was a Nikon guy in my manual focus SLR days. But, if you're planning on shooting with both film and computer generated image equipment and they both use the same lenses, it does seem like a way to simplify.
     
  6. Markok765

    Markok765 Member

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    I like the 600mm f4 is L USM. when used with the 1V it has the worlds fastest AF
     
  7. Peter Black

    Peter Black Subscriber

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    Without wishing to duck the issue, I think this becomes quite a personal matter. You're still pretty young Jeff, and your profile pic does not show you wearing glasses, so I'm taking it that eyesight is not an issue. If it was, I might lean more towards AF. Where I think AF can score quite highly is that they are now available as IS (VR for Nikon) and this could be a considerable factor on a dull day, either for handholding at lower speeds or letting you lower the ISO for better quality.
     
  8. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    It just doesn't matter what others are using, it's all about what you are comfortable using.

    Test an autofocus to learn for yourself.
     
  9. haris

    haris Guest

    I have EOS cameras, that is autoeverything cameras. I use them in manual focus mode, and manual or aperture priority exposure modes. But, thing is: You CAN turn your EF lenses and EOS camera to full manual mode, but you CAN'T turn your manual AE-1, AE-1 Program, and 2 nice F1ns, to autofocus mode if ever you need it.

    But, then, investing in EOS camera and EF lenses can be noticable more expencive than investing in AE-1 camera and lenses...
     
  10. Uncle Bill

    Uncle Bill Subscriber

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    The main problem with autofocus is the camera's brain decides what to focus on and not you.
    I have been exclusively manual focus for the last four years.

    Bill
     
  11. PhotoJim

    PhotoJim Member

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    Autofocus is kind of like autoexposure - it is a great tool but it takes some intelligence and experience to use it properly. AE can very easily be fooled but photographers learned how to deal with that. AF is exactly the same way.

    The key is not to assume that AF works. You can see for yourself. If you can't see, then you should refocus or focus manually. Nikon's AF-S and Canon's USM lenses let you override the focus at will, which is convenient.

    Using AF a lot will help you to learn where it doesn't work. Low contrast is the enemy of the AF sensor. The sensors on some cameras require vertical lines to focus (newer cross-type sensors focus on horizontal or vertical lines but in some cameras, particularly EOS cameras, the cross sensors require f/2.8 or faster lenses to work properly).

    One advantage of AF bodies is that a decent AF body has a built-in motor drive and often weighs substantially less than the equivalent manual-focus body with an accessory motor drive mounted.

    Once you have learned how to use it, AF is unquestionably a helpful tool that will assist you in getting more good shots. The key is not to learn how to use it at a wedding. :smile: Shoot other stuff in AF first. Shoot a lot. Learn.

    One last observation: I don't really trust a camera to pick a sensor for me (in multi-sensor cameras). I select manually. Nikons have a little joypad on the back that is quite easy to use once you're used to it. I change sensors during shooting as I need to do so. Canons are likely similar (I've never really shot with them).
     
  12. don sigl

    don sigl Member

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    Agreed. If they introduced a camera with an auto shutter release, you could send it out on the job and sleep in.

    Stick with manual. Do the work. Its worth it.
     
  13. Lee Shively

    Lee Shively Member

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    Autofocus cameras only pick the subject if you set them up to do so. If you select the active sensor and place the sensor on the subject, it will focus on your selected subject. That is, of course, within the limitations of the sensor. Autofocus does not work well under a lot of circumstances, I agree. Neither do my eyes.
     
  14. dolande

    dolande Member

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    Totally disagree with this point. Please refer to Jim MacKenzie post. Don’t assume it works, learn how it works. I use af and mf myself for different shooting situations.

    Regards

    Rafael
     
  15. Dave Parker

    Dave Parker Inactive

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    I shoot AF for all of my weddings, but you MUST be very familer with your gear to make it work for you, I never let the camera do everything, I know my cameras intimately, if fact my wife swears I enjoy manipulating them far to much, but I make sure I am picking the sensor based on the situation and I know how to change them without taking it away from my eye, I also choose my exposure and such as well as when fill flash for full power flash is required, the newer AF cameras will do what you tell them to, but the key is knowing what to tell them, in the fast moving world of weddings and event photography, the AF feature can be a life saver, but it can also mean doom, I can't interate enough, make sure you know the camera like the back of your hand and you will have a great experiance...

    Have fun.

    Dave
     
  16. df cardwell

    df cardwell Subscriber

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    In the old days, when brides and editors were content to receive a dozen excellent pictures, manual focus was more than sufficient. Today, probably because neither editors :surprised: nor brides :rolleyes: would recognize an excellent picture if they sat on it, it has become common to give them hundreds of so-so pictures. The only way to shoot that fast with any accuracy, chasing the action as it were, rather than waiting for it, is with Auto Focus.

    Using AF is not like shooting pictures in the old way: waiting for an image to happen in your viewfinder and reacting quickly. Rather, it is like watching a movie, and editing it. You get images you would never have got manually focussing the camera. On the other hand, you cannot get some of the pictures you would get routinely by manually focussing the camera.

    I'm in my mid-50s, and AF is VERY useful to me as my eyesight diminishes in the usual way. I simply shoot differently with my F5 than I do with my M Leica. If a picture demands critical focus, with a relatively short lens, and you are using a large aperture, you will often be disappointed with AF: it doesn't hit the same mark every time, nor is it designed to. On the other hand, using a 100 mm or longer lens, you can get very good results with no effort with AF. ( I'll add here that the Leica R8 and R9 have manual focus that is so clean and easy that if I used an SLR enough to justify the magnificent expense, THAT would be the way to go ! )

    Using AF takes a bit of committment, and switiching in and out of AF in attempt to out think the camera can be a waste of time: the camera can be tracking the image and appear out of focus on the screen even though it will be sharp when the shutter opens. Set the camera up to suit your way of working, and let it go.

    If you go with AF, I'd suggest going all the way to the EOS 1v and get as much help as you can from their best camera. And practise !
     
  17. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council

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    On top of all the good comments, I'd add that working with MF will require you to anticipate focus for near/far transitions. If you vary a lot the subject to camera distance between shots, a good, fast AF can help you a lot. But if you stick to a more or less constant distance, and don't change focal length, then you only need to adjust focus a little, which isn't hard to do with MF.

    Your chosen depth of field will also influence the speed of your work. With a shallow DOF, manual or auto is going to be more delicate. But if you can work with hyperfocal, then focus once, and the hell with correcting focus for each shot. AF can even slow you down here because it will always adjust the plane of focus.

    So I'd say the factors to balance together are: MF vs. AF; shallow vs. large DOF; zoom vs. prime.
     
  18. PatTrent

    PatTrent Member

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    I agree. I sold my AF equipment about 10 years ago when I realized that I wasn't using it that often and I really don't like anything on the viewing screen but the scene to be photographed.

    Also, I use a tripod regularly, and my shooting techniques aren't compatible with AF. In manual, I use hyperfocal settings 90% of the time. When I do want to focus on a particular point I find the bright, uncluttered manual focus screens on my manual cameras--combined with fast lenses--allow me to quickly set the focus.

    I never really learned to fully trust AF or AE for serious photography, although my Olympus Stylus Epic uses both for snapshots.
     
  19. kwmullet

    kwmullet Member

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    The Autofocus Problems Page is a good read. It discusses why the author and the sources he cites believe that you lose up to 50% of image resolution (probably somewhat less so, since that was a 1998 test) with AF, and how an AF camera in MF mode is more difficult to manually focus than a true manual focus camera, due to the amount of the image that must be directed to the AF sensors. MF cameras simply have a brighter image on the groundglass.

    My AF experience is with Canon EF gear (EOS 1n) and I found that the difference between the hunt time for AF and the time it took me to focus an image was usually negligable. In low contrast situations, I found manual focusing, even with an AF camera, much faster.

    I've since sold all my AF gear and replaced it with equivalent Canon FD gear (Canon F1, 55mm 1.2 FL lens, etc.) and everything is better built, cost no more than half as much as EF, and works much better and easier for me. Oh -- did I mention that there's narry a battery to be found in anything but my spot meter?

    Does this qualify as commercial use? I guess it depends on where you draw the line, but we had a small studio that did portraits and weddings for two years before I decided to go back to school.

    -KwM-
     
  20. don sigl

    don sigl Member

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  21. childers-jk

    childers-jk Member

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    Great Comments

    I am sorry I haven't been more active in this thread, but I got call out to the field for an emergency.

    I understand both sides of this discussion, as I am living it. I personally don't notice a difference between the quality of an autofocus or manual focus picture. I am sure, if tests were done, one could read the results differently. I think my biggest delima (and I do wear glasses/contacts) is speed in framing a shot. Maybe its inexperience, but I seem to miss some shots with my F1. Maybe I need more practise. Although, when I can compose clearly, I love the effect and feeling of the FA1. (It truly is a mechanical dream to shoot.) So even in my own practise, there is a clear struggle!! I am doing some research into strong AF lenses, and the specifications of those lenses. One of the drawbacks I see to using the EF lenses in MF mode is the lack of focus aids. The ground glass of the F1 is so easy to focus, but does cause me to concentrate more closely. Herein lies the problem. I get focused (no pun) on focusing on the clear subject, and just as soon as I get set, I see another opportunity for a shot at a different range. I guess more hyperfocal work would be ok, but I am a big fan of DOF, and it is something I aim for in my work.

    Is there some sort of focus aid that can be installed into the EOS 1 or Elan 7e that would work like the old ground glass? I guess for that matter, could the same item be installed on the 20d or the 5d? I think something like this would help.

    Thanks very much for your comments, and hopefully this weekend with be a good one. No events, but I have a lot of experimenting to do.
     
  22. childers-jk

    childers-jk Member

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    One more thing. I have been seriously burned a couple of times by AF. For instance, shooting my best friends family Christmas photo, I was shooting his youngest daughter. She was sitting in a chair with just the cutest expression, and posed quite naturally. I was shooting with the 20d (by their request), and I wanted to snap this shot of quickly. So, letting the little red indicator fall squarely on her nose, set the aperture for some decent DOF and shoot. As soon as I was done with post processing, I had a wonderfully sharply focuses shot of the chair!!! She was just a blurry, smiley object in front of the chair. (I have since then refused to do portraits with a d*gital.)

    Anyway, just a story to show my sincere dilemma!! Many clients are wanting me to shoot with the 20D, especially for events. I am just trying to please my customers while producing the best product I can for them.

    Sorry for the two really long posts!!

    Jeff C.