Why manual focusing instead of auto-focusing SLRs?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by film_guy, Mar 22, 2007.

  1. film_guy

    film_guy Member

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    Forgive me for asking this, but I see a lot of people are still using manual focusing SLRs/rangefinders instead of switching to auto-focusing cameras. Is there a reason? I know that sometimes manual focusing is more accurate, but what other benefits are there to using manual-focusing cameras, especially with 35mm?
     
  2. Michel Hardy-Vallée

    Michel Hardy-Vallée Membership Council Council

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    It's cheap, reliable, and you have lenses that will last two lifetimes instead of having lenses that will crap out before you grow a beard. Plus, no reliance on batteries, luddite elitism (it never hurts!), and there are no autofocus rangefinders except for the Contax G-series.

    Sometimes, it's simply what's available. My first 35mm was a manual focus by a fact of life, not by choice. My second 35mm was a manual focus by choice, from all the above reasons.
     
  3. David A. Goldfarb

    David A. Goldfarb Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    For me manual focus is more accurate. Autofocus often just focuses on the nearest contrasty object, and autofocus lenses often don't focus manually as quickly or smoothly as a manual focus lens. That said, you can learn to work with autofocus, and some people may get more keepers one way, and some may do better with the other method.

    If you photograph birds or wildlife using long, fast telephoto lenses, autofocus lenses are also considerably more expensive and considerably heavier for use in the field. For bird photography, I think it's better to have a longer lens and manual focus than to be forced into using a shorter lens for financial reasons, because one thinks that one needs autofocus.
     
  4. alien

    alien Member

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    I like focussing anywhere on the matte screen - with autofocus I am restricted to the focussing fields.
    In this way I can focus whilst composing (not compose-focus-recompose), which -for me- makes a big difference in speed.
    Requires some practice though....but works exceptionally well when you can do it! Bright screens are a must...
     
  5. copake_ham

    copake_ham Inactive

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    I have both manual focus and AF cameras - so don't sit squarely in one camp or the other.

    I like AF (e.g. F5) when I'm doing a lot of quick shooting (such as when I went to the Tucson Rodeo a couple of weeks back) but still enjoy the more "contemplative" style I follow when shoot manually with my F3.

    It is true that I just about never manually focus the AF lens on the F5 - heck, I'm just beginning to learn some of the intricacies of the matrix focusing system - but it is nice to know that if need be, I could mount any of my AI or AIS lenses on it and still shoot.

    If you're asking this question because you don't yet have a 35mm and wondering which way to go - I'd recommend going manual. But if you already have a manual and are wondering what you're missing w/o AF, and if you have the $ to spend, then give it a whirl.
     
  6. mawz

    mawz Member

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    I've never much liked AF. And I find MF cameras handle better, usually have better viewfinders and are more enjoyable to use.

    The extra automation gets in the way, I have to think more about what the camera is doing than about what I'm doing, which distracts me.
     
  7. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    1 More accuracy most of the time

    2 More speed if you pre-focus (no focusing lag)

    3 Better in low light (especially with rangefinders)

    4 Cheaper

    5 More mechanically reliable in the long term

    6 No risk of 'hunting' while the AF decides whether to let you shoot or not (and often refuses)

    7 Lenses feel like precision instruments instead of cheap, nasty plastic toys

    8 Enormous choice of MF lenses available

    9 No need to try to guess/adjust where the autofocus will read

    10 Much easier to use depth of field scales

    AND what the others have said.

    A better question might be, 'Why does anyone use autofocus EXCEPT for certain types of unpredictable action photography?'

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  8. Jim Noel

    Jim Noel Member

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    You answered your own question - It is more accurate.
    Manual focusing also allows the photographer to practice selective focus more easily when desired.
     
  9. Nick Zentena

    Nick Zentena Member

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    Smaller lighter.

    OTOH a F4 may be an AF camera but it handles MF lenses just fine.

    I think a lot depends on what you are doing with the camera.
     
  10. patrickjames

    patrickjames Member

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    I can only add that manual focussing uses your brain vs the cameras brain. Which is smarter?

    I use both for the record. When I shoot weddings for example I use autofocus (Canon) cameras. It is a lot more reliably fast with long lenses than me, and I can use only one hand. Everything else is manual because I prefer manual cameras for the above stated reason. If you are going to do autofocus, get a good camera otherwise it is a waste of time. There is nothing worse than watching your lens fishing for focus when you want to take a picture.

    Patrick
     
  11. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Dear Patrick,

    What sort of weddings are these?

    (Sorry, couldn't resist the question)

    Completely agree with the rest of the para quoted.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
  12. Sirius Glass

    Sirius Glass Subscriber

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    With AF one can shoot on the fly if need be ...

    that said in low contrast situations MF allows me to converge on the focus faster and avoid the searching back and forth [burning batteries and sometimes not converging]. Therefore, if I think it is better to use MF or I have the time I switch from AF to MF.

    Of course, with the C330, it is always in the MF mode. :tongue: :tongue: :tongue:

    Steve
     
  13. patrickjames

    patrickjames Member

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    That's a legit question Roger. I carry my digital in my left hand (by the lens without a strap) and a film camera (usually a Canon 1n) on a shoulder strap. The Canon sports a 50mm so when I want to use it, I can just grab it with my right hand and away I go. Keeps it simple. And it allows me to say that I can shoot with one hand tied behind my back! :smile:

    Patrick
     
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  15. snegron

    snegron Member

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    I have both autofocus and manual focus cameras/lenses and I have come to an interesting realization; I work much faster with manual focus cameras/lenses than I do with the autofocus cameras/lenses.

    Maybe I am biased toward manual focus equipment because it was my first experience with photography. However, I have purchased the latest, fastest, AF combos (yes, even digital), and I still take pictures quicker and more accurately with a Nikon F3HP and whatever manual focus prime lens I place on it.

    I recently went shooting (St. Patrick's Day parade in Ybor City, Florida) equiped with my F3HP/MD4, 24mm 2.8 AIS manual focus lens and a D200 with a 17-55mm 2.8 lens. I took turns using both cameras until I realized that I was capturing all the action more effectively with my F3! The AF of the D200 kept roaming and the metering was not as accurate as with the F3. I put the D200 back in the bag and continued shooting with the F3.

    I conducted a similar experiment with my F3HP and my F100, F3 and my N80. The results were the same. I was able to cature images much quicker with my manual focus F3 than with my F100 or N80.

    Manual focus lenses are also constructed much better than their AF counterparts. I have broken a few Nikon AF lenses (primes and zooms), but I have yet to break a manual focus Nikon lens! Just recently I broke the AF/M switch on my Nikon 80-200mm 2.8 lens and it is only 3 years old. I still have, and use, a manual focus Nikon 105mm 2.5 AIS lens that I purchased new back in 1984 (that was 23 years ago)!

    The good thing about AF lenses is that everyone seems in a rush to buy them, so the prices on manual focus lenses keeps dropping. I just hope no one catches on to this so I can keep stocking up on pristine manual focus Nikon AIS lenses! :D
     
  16. patrickjames

    patrickjames Member

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    This is true. I used to use Contax/Zeiss until I switched badk to Canon, and now I really miss that Zeiss glass. Lately I have been eyeing some lenses because I can't believe how cheap they are now! I might go back to Contax for my personal work. Unfortunately, I can't get away from Canon because I still need it for work.

    Patrick
     
  17. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

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    My autofocus experience is pretty limited, but one reaction is that I like manual focus because it stays where I put it! I have gotten into some quasi-still life work -- photographing paintings, sculpture or pottery. Especially on unglazed greenware pottery where there isn't much in the way of defined patterns and edges, AF hunts all over the place, sometimes for quite a long time, then when I put the next piece down, we start all over again.

    With manual focus, I start from where I left off, only need a minor tweak at most. I know I'm a curmudgeonly old Luddite, and maybe with a high-end camera under some circumstances AF could be better. But my current position is that when I get too decrepit to turn a lens barrel, I'll quit all together! :rolleyes:

    That is to say I'm in no hurry to abandon my Canon A-1/F-1/AE-1 or Bronica stuff.

    DaveT
     
  18. reub2000

    reub2000 Member

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    I get the feeling from the comments that most of you don't have much experience with autofocus. That's just fine, if you get sharp pictures with what you currently use, then there is absolutely no reason to change.

    I wouldn't say that manual focus gets sharper focus. Autofocus is usually spot on most of the time. It also isn't slow, and is much faster than manual focus. A USM motor, which is in the majority of Canon's lens, can go from near to infinity in a split second, and can usually do so pretty fast. AF can lock onto any subject with sufficiant contrast, and I've rarely run into a subject with not enough contrast for the autofocus. In that case there is usually something nearby with enough contrast to focus on.

    Prefocus, zone focus, and hyperfocal are great when you have fast film, a lot of light, and can use a small aperture.

    I use both manual focus and autofocus, and thoroughly enjoy using both systems.
     
  19. film_guy

    film_guy Member

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    The reason I asked is because I find myself better at manual-focusing with a wider lens, but with any lenses above 50mm, I find auto-focusing faster. I have an EOS 3 with interchangeable screens for manual focusing lenses, but it's hard for my eyes when I tried to manually focus an object/person further than 15 feet.
     
  20. Roger Hicks

    Roger Hicks Member

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    Well, Patrick, Steve and Snegron (edit: and now Soeren as well) all say that they have both MF and AF, and so do I (I've owned autofocus SLRs for 10-15 years, and tested others for magazines), so I think that most of us DO have experience with autofocus.

    If you get acceptably sharp pictures with what you currently use, there is absolutely no reason to change. But the original question was why anyone would use MF instead of AF and I think that most of those with experience of both have given him pretty good answers.

    Cheers,

    R.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 23, 2007
  21. Soeren

    Soeren Member

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    I use my AF bodies in both modes and I must say that I don't find the AF to be less acurate or slower than myself in normal conditions. I also find them better to focus manually than my FE2 because of the bigger and brighter screens so I feel more comfortable doing MF in soft contrast and lowlight conditions with the F90X and F100 . Shooting macro I always focus manually, here AF is useless. As I wrote in another thread I switch back and forth between MF and AF blending AIS lenses with AF bodies and vise versa.
    Cheers
    Søren
     
  22. Steve Roberts

    Steve Roberts Member

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    "Usually" and "most" - there's the rub!

    For me, it's in the same bracket as automatic exposure (or even automatic transmission in cars!)

    The purist, I suspect, will always want to have full control over what his machine is doing, but perhaps with some types of photography (sport, reportage, nature, etc.) that "full control" includes the option to decide to use auto-everything!

    Steve
     
  23. eddym

    eddym Member

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    I've solved this problem with my Nikons by disabling the autofocus feature on the shutter release button and instead using the AF button on the back of the camera. Now I can point the sensor at the area I want to focus on, push the button, release it, recompose and shoot. It's very fast, and is basically what I would do when I focus manually, and the focus does not change unless I push the AF button again.
     
  24. Woolliscroft

    Woolliscroft Member

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    No shutter lag, especially with rangefinders, but for me, the fact that many AF lenses don't have depth of field scales makes them completely unusable as my work tends to need fairly large areas to be in focus, rather than specific points.

    David.
     
  25. rogueish

    rogueish Member

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    I found it to be a slightly annoying function on my Nikon, so I turned it off. Generally I do vignettes of landscapes, so don't need it, don't use it, don't miss it. Don't get me wrong, I'm not putting it down, just not something I find has added value for me.
    Batteries lasting twice as long in the winter months is an added bonus.
     
  26. benjiboy

    benjiboy Subscriber

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    Since my main interest is portrait photography, and I always focus on the nearest eye of the sitter, I would personally find autofocus about as useful as an ashtray on a motor bike.