Manual Focus

Discussion in 'Portraits and Fashion' started by jeremy_wakefield, Oct 31, 2012.

  1. Hi

    While I've been scouring the internet trying to get feedback from camera users on how well their DSLR AF works, and I've noticed a number of references ( talking about DSLRs in general ) to using manual focus as if this would eliminate any AF inaccuracy.

    I cannot really see how this would improve the situation on any camera. (I'm not talking here about medium format or anything larger or more specialist )

    1. The screen doesn't lend itself to MF surely? My film cameras with MF had a split prism section in the middle surrounded by a fresnel ring and then the rest was ground glass. Easy - peasy! I've yet to see a DSLR focus screen anywhere like as useful for this. Are people really managing it? I doubt I'd be more accurate than the AF using my D700s

    2. You could then rely on the AF point lighting up when you achieve focus by moving the ring, but then surely you're back to the same situation as using the AF system as regards accuracy? The point would light up at the same setting that the camera would choose for AF.

    3. Live view maybe is the only way I can imagine it but it really isn't practical in most portrait situations either in or out of the studio

    People, tell me what I'm missing
  2. William,
    I love to use MF-Nikkors on DSLRs but have to admit that for fast glass focusing is tricky to say the least.
    Live view from a tripod works great for static scenes (for critical work my preferred method even with AF-optics), it's just not practical for portraits and stuff like this - you're right.
    Some weeks ago I've cannibalized a defect Miranda Sensomat, filed down it's focusing screen a bit and transplanted the poor thing into my D700 (thanks to Dylan over at FM for this tip!).
    In most situations focusing fast glass like the 55/1.2 works pretty well now and trumps relying on the "dot" (focus confirmation-indicator).
    The micro-prisms are something I've missed for years, but even the surrounding matte area of the screen will give a more accurate focus-feedback than the D700's screen.
    Please excuse my English, Georg.
  3. My DSLR has a focus-check live view mode that gives you basically an on-screen pixel-for-pixel ("100%") crop of the sensor, which allows for extraordinarily accurate manual focusing. Of course, it works best with the camera on a tripod and a static subject. As far as focusing in the generally comparatively-small viewfinder, without any focus aids, and hand-held and/or with a moving subject, then I agree with you, it doesn't work so well, for me at least.
  4. Do a goggle search for "spit image focusing screen" and you'll become better informed.
    Check out "Katzeye" and "bright"
    KatzEyeT Optics
    Toll Free: 855-KatzEye (528-9393)
    Outside USA: +1.413.743.2523
    Fax: +1.888.251.5477
    KatzEye™ Optics - Custom Focusing Screens
    Also there are some cheap ones on e-bay that I actually use and love in an old d2x - D800's, which I need now, aren't quit ready from the above.
  5. I doubt I'd be more accurate than the AF using my D700s​
    I would say for most cases of general photography you would be right. AF on modern cameras is pretty good but not perfect. But for most applications it works very well, especially for moving subjects.
    Sometimes when testing equipment it is useful to use MF simply to eliminate any variable that AF might introduce. On my Canon cameras, a 10x magnification feature on Live View allows pretty precise visualization of the focus point. For portrait work, as opposed to fast action work, I like to use my old (and fairly expensive) Nikkor AI-S 85mm f/1.4 MF lens. I always use live view to focus this lens, never the ground glass. Same with macro work with bellows, Live View is king. Especially for those of us with older eyes, trying to focus on a ground glass is not as easy as it use to be, and understanding that modern cameras focusing screens are not really optimized for MF.
    For the best MF experience, my Sony NEX camera, with focus peaking, takes all the pain out of using MF lenses on digital cameras. Of course that is a mirrorless camera not a DSLR. I read Magic Lantern has a firmware hack that allows Canon cameras to have focus peaking, but I haven't tried it.
  6. but it really isn't practical in most portrait situations​
    Wrong. it practical if one has a lot of practice. The trouble or the problem is while working in a bright light which is into your eyes or into your back it blinds you and using the screen is difficult and useless - your eyes must be good. Using split image is not ideal either - it needs contrasty borders to apply this split on.
    Now see - all of this stuff with portraits and blussed background are taken with imanual nikkors and not only nikkors - on the Olympus SLR (4/3).
    They are 97% sharp.
  7. i use my canon 50mm f1.4 on my Coanon 5D MkI in 90% of the time in MF. The AF Focus of this dinosaur under the digital cameras is rather bad. and with a good bit of expierience i get a very sharp images. Even at f1.8 or 2 (i use ithe 50mm very seldom on 1.4). The MF also eleminated the "focus and recompose" problem for me. Especially when you compose the object of interest in a spot where your have no AF-Point
    Also in low light situations i get better results with MF
    I guess it wont hurt to train your MF skills.
    btw: what i found more difficult for good MF than the lack of helping tools like microprisms and splitviews are the rather short way of the focus ring on my lenses.
  8. It's a hobby for me now, but it's amazing how using 40+ year old Leicaflex SL simple technology has the ability to SLLOOOWW you down. I've become a better photographer.
    There will be differences from generation to generation and company to company in focusing screens and viewfinder brightness etc...
    I'm always rushing. Just the stress of managing people, worrying about settings, framing the picture, thinking of the next pose,,, led to my discovery that I was the cause of poor focus.... sloppy AF technique, pushing the DOF envelope, and simple camera shake.
    My advice is to slow down. They make thousands of cameras and there is likely to be some small variance in quality control. Test you camera using a tripod and cable release to test the AF. Test it using MF
  9. I usually use Leica R manual focus lenses on Nikon N8008s AF bodies (the last one cost me all of $10). Compared to DSLR's, the focus screen is big and bright (assuming you have fast glass on it of course). There's a focus confirmation light which I rely on in low light, as the AF matte focus screen provides no other manual focusing aids. I assume DSLR's have the focus confirmation lights as well? I've never had an out of focus shot that wasn't totally my fault. If I'm taking a portrait, I focus on the eyes, get a light in the viewfinder, and my shots turn out fine.
  10. It is interesting to note the quest for manual focussing among many at this point with all the advancement in AF
    technology. I totally belong to this aspiration of manual focussing, coming back from Film Bodies and never had an out of
    focus image in my thousands of Velvias and Provias exposed. If anyone is used to this technic, it just outbeats any AF
    technology there is for that precise control on the exact zone you intend to pick up, say like the eye lashes of a model in

    Iam not saying this is unachievable with AF lenses but that control you have on focussing manually is a different
    experience which can only be understood if one has prior history using this technic.

    I also totally agree on lenses with a large focus rotation like my old Nikkors or Zeiss assist in more precise focus than the
    present generation Nokkor 85 1.8 AFD with an extremely short focus rotation on manual overrides. The Focus
    confirmation light can never be accurate since the camera cannot assume your very narrow point of focus.

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