Why manual lenses?

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by ryan_chia, Sep 2, 2007.

  1. Hi I was just surfing around the forums and I realised that some people would
    opt for manual focusing lenses, price not being a factor. Could anyone tell me
    possible reasons why this is so? In the end, you still largely depend on the
    cameras meters to tell you whether an object is in focus or not, so why manual?
  2. ryan,i always focus manually,auto focus is not reliable in a lot of instances
  3. It is not necessary to rely on the electronic focus indicator, and often not convenient. I have no problem focusing using the ground glass.
  4. Ahhhh - the generation gap!

    Manual focus can be vastly preferable in some applications eg macro work, where auto-focus can be almost useless; for some of us oldies, using the focus screen just comes naturally - although with failing eyesight AF does have it's advantages now!.
  5. In my opinion, both AF and MF have their place.

    I have not once used AF while doing macro, still-life or landscape work.

    On the other hand, going manual seems stupid while following an F1 car or MotoGP bike through a fast corner.

    Just my 2 cents.

  6. Hi Ryan, I can only speak for my D80 and I'm not a techie'. I find that if I switch to manual I can click even when not in focus. But more importantly, when doing close-ups I can get a few centimetres closer in manual than auto-focus can deal with. Also, with a wide aperture, you can precisely decide what is in/out of focus.
  7. Most cameras can be set up to allow the shutter to be released without the lens being in focus (or what the camera system *thinks* is best focus). You don't need an MF lens to achieve this.

    The reasons why manual lenses or manual focusing is preferred are numerous. For close-up work, AF is practically worthless or not accurate enough. When you do hyperfocal focusing for landscape work, only manual focusing will provide the degree of control you need. Many manual lenses haver a defined infinity stop that is needed for shooting remote subjects, since with an AFS lens without a defined infinity stop you'll never be certain the lens is actually focused on infinity. Some times manual focus is faster than AF, there is no fear of "hunting" or "overshoot", and in some cases all you need is zone focusing anyway (street photography as an example). And when your precious AFS motor wears out, you are left with an expensive MF lens :) - spare parts to repair it may not be available in the future. The longevity of AFS motors of my AFS lenses seems to be much shorter than 10 years, while I have 50 year old MF lenses that still focuses silky smooth.

    Add to all the above that many MF lenses are smaller and less conspicuous than theor AFS counterparts, and you have another reason for going MF.
  8. When you hold one of those MF lenses, and take a nice picture out of it, you will feel more satisfaction compared to taking pictures using plasticky AF lenses.

    Try even something humble like 50mm 1.8 AIS, you will notice that it's so nicely built and the smooth focusing is just so fun to use.
  9. Remember that your focusing screen on a DSLR is optimized for slow zooms and doesn't
    really resolve the "shallowness" of DOF past about f2.8, making it hard to focus lenses using
    only the ground glass if you are open past that. I've tested this and it's true. Fortunately, my
    f1.8 50mm used with the rangefinder (green indicators) works fine on my D50, but not
    everyone has that experience. You'll have to test and see. My manual focus f3.5 55mm gives
    me no trouble at all. I get amazing results with it.
  10. I some time mount my old Nikkors on my D70. Still nice lenses. I just do it for fun not on the job.

  11. Interesting this was posted in the nikon forum...MF Nikon lenses are really well built in comparison with what is made nowadays, even my 75-150 E lens seems to be stronger than any new lens.
  12. "speak for my D80 and I'm not a techie'. I find that if I switch to manual I can click even when not in focus" - you can also switch Auto Focus to shutter release priority mode, and click even when not in focus.

    Learn more about your camera.
  13. In the beginning with Nikon F slr there were no/few zooms; no internal meters, no autofocus. Its like asking why you are still using an ipod in 2027 when you could be using playerr that uses an MP13 file; that senses what you want to hear; that automatically charges you banking account for each song; displays on the web what you are playing; where you are; that charges without wires; is solar powered and made from old garbage; that works as a heater once global cooling kicks in.:)<BR><BR>Some of us bought manual fast lenses in Nikon F mount when there were NO autofocus lens of the same speed available; or better yet no auatofocus lenses at all. Thus my 1960's 5.8cm F1.4, 35mm F2, 105mm F2.5, and later 180mm F2.8ED, 85mm F1.4, and 105mm F1.8 were all bought for manual focus; a faster lens allows faster shutter speeds for sports indoors.
  14. Hi,

    Manual focus lenses: FAR better made to much higher tolerances, likely to last much longer and be far more reliable, able to take knocks better, nicer to use, useable in situations AF ones are not, likely to hold value better...

    cheers Steve.
  15. what Steve say plus they are cheaper..;)
  16. Build Quality. AI-S lenses are built much better than all but pro-level lenses. Even the bargain-basement Series E lenses are built as well or better than mid-range primes.

    Optical Quality. Even the lenses that share optical designs often perform better in manual form, due to tighter tolerances and a more solid build. Several lenses (notably the 28/2.8) have significantly superior designs in AI or AI-S forms.

    Price. They're cheaper.

    Handling. Wide rubber focus rings, solid aperture rings, no chintzy aperture ring locks, smooth-as-butter focusing. AI-S lenses in particular (with their shorter focus throws) simply handle better than all but the pro AF lenses.

    Faster options. 28/2, 24/2, 35/1.4, 50/1.2, 105/1.8 are all unavailable in AF form, and only the 28 has a faster option in AF form (for much more money).

    Smaller lenses. Nothing in AF form matches the 20/3.5, 20/4, 45/2.8 or 85/2 for small size.

    With a couple exceptions, going MF means sticking with primes. There's only a couple MF zooms worth bothering with (notably the 75-150 Series E). But my 35mm f2 AI-S is as solidly built and handles as well as a 85/1.4 AF-D, for a fraction of the cost. You can't say that for a 35 f2 AF-D and it's loose plastic build.
  17. Clearly there are a lot of times when autofocus is a must! Perhaps it's just being a stubborn old fart but given a situation where either will do the job nicely, I prefer manual. That preference is mostly due to the tactile pleasure of working with a big, buttery smooth, well dampened focusing ring and the knowledge that I'm in complete control of the process.

    I recently bought a Lumix DMC-L1 and frequently use my Carl Zeiss C/Y lenses from the 70s. Although manual focusing is clearly not intended to be the primary means of focusing for this camera, I'm having no problem at all shooting my 35- 85mm Zeiss primes, primarily in the f4 - f8 range and I am using only the viewfinder image to focus.

    I like being able to focus while I compose. I don't need to first center my subject or place it on an autofocus point. Noticing that a subject will walk past some object, I can quickly focus at that distance and shoot when the subject arrives there. I can identify the distance I feel comfortable passing a basketball to someone. I can preset focus for that distance and shoot when the subject gets there.

    I can manually preset both focus and exposure. With a really fast shutter speed, I can then raise my camera, compose, and shoot - all in about one second. It is less intrusive and I feel less cospicuous when working this way. I can shoot people pics in a public place nad get better results with a manual focus lens.
  18. Manual lenses are easier to focus precisely using the matte screen as they have no slack in the focusing and a longer movement for a given shift in distance. The MF primes have generally superb construction quality. Some of the Ai-S wide angles have better optical quality than the AF counterparts. Examples: 20mm and 28mm f/2.8 Ai-S.
  19. More reasons, simply put, Nikon just didn't make some lens in AF nor in some case continue making the MF one. ie.: Some fast prime like 50/1.2 & 35/1.4, macro lens that are > 1:1, shift lens, pancake lens and etc.
  20. MF is less "cheaper"? Hmmm, what's up with those Zeiss ZF lenses?

    Most of the MF lenses I have handled didn't perform as well as my AF lenses -- which is a shame, as I wouldn't mind foregoing AF for the smaller size for some applications.

    For utilizing hyperfocal focusing I often will focus with my AF lens on my knee, foot, or a high contrast subject that is the appropriate distance away (I have the AF deactivated on my shutters on my cameras and use the AF-ON button to acquire focus); for me it is faster and more accurate than MF.

    One of my favorite lenses is my Tokina 90/2.5 macro, and it's an older AIS lens that performs perfectly for what I use it for. Installing a Katz Eye on my D200 has made a huge difference in using MF lenses.
  21. I actually favor AF. The reason is they can keep up with fast breaking action, and require less attention on my part. I can concentrate on timing the shot perfectly rather than messing with focus. THe other thing I don't like is many MF lenses aren' zooms. I dislike having to change lenses as it can introduce dust, there's the chance I'll drop a lens, and I can also miss shots while changing a lens. I do have some fast single length lenses I use mostly for night shots because of their speed--20mm f2.8, 50mm f1.8, 85mm f1.8 but they are all AF. I sometimes have to focus manually when it's very dark, but that slows me down.

    Kent in SD
  22. Ryan Chia wrote "In the end, you still largely depend on the cameras meters to tell you whether an object is in focus or not, so why manual?"

    Eh? What? What meter are you talking about? My FM2n doesn't tell me when it is in focus, and my wife's Nikkormat ELW doesn't tell her when it is in focus.

    I fear that for most of my life you were in the, um, unborn condition, Ryan. For all I know, so were your parents.
  23. Many of Nikon's current AF primes have embarrassing build quality. For many applications I simply don't need AF. Some special lenses are only available in MF.
  24. Manual focus has its place for some applications, including macros, landscapes and portraiture. However, AF is a god-send for events and weddings.

    I don't agree that AF lenses are built to a lesser standard than corresponding MF lenses. The plastic body is not only light but extremely tough. Bumps that would mar or disable an all-aluminum build are shrugged off by modern lenses. Free-running, short-throw focusing is needed to reduce AF effort, but there is no more slack than in MF lenses (lost motion would cause "hunting"). The optics in most cases are superior to earlier models.

    Someone once said, "Things ain't like they used to be -- and they never were."
  25. "current AF primes have embarrassing build quality" - embarassing for those who do not own them, perhaps.

    Look at 14/2.8, 85/1.4, 180/2.8, 200/2 or few more.
  26. I think MOST people who prefer MF were probably from the days when that's all they had.
  27. Wrong Brian. I'm only 32 years old for example. All what is said above is right, excepted that MF lenses aren't always cheaper, especially Nikon ones (fast lenses).
  28. You could be right !

    Still..I have yet to hear of a MF lens with a plastic mount.
  29. All of the above and a couple more. I have a D80 and the automation just does not work very well. The focus is occasionally wrong or more often, just wont stop hunting. Exposures are often off in either direction by more than two stops from what I want. With a G lens that has no aperture ring, I have to fiddle around a whole lot with the exposure compensation button. It is a lot easier to use an aperture ring. Don't know why they did away with the ring on G lenses. It's useful.
  30. It's like asking why some people still prefer to drive manual transmission when there is auto option available? For some, there is joy in doing things in manual.

    I think you can (almost) associate shooting for example an 85mm 1.4 AIS in full manual to driving a performance car in manual transmission.
  31. To Charles Sallee- I don't mean to put a digression into this thread, but do you need an adapter to use your C/Y lenses on the Pasansonic DMC?

    Can you give me more information on this?
  32. To Allen Gross - Yes, I bought an adapter from Fotodiox for $25. It works well. It mounts on the camera body. I can change lenses quickly with no hassle. Both aperture priority and manual exposure modes are functional with an adapter. The viewfinder image is like having a DOF preview button continuously depressed. Lots of adapters are made for all kinds of lenses.

    Only problem has been that my in-camera metering is not accurate when using the widest apertures. I have no idea why this is so. If I want to shoot at f2, I can meter at f4 and then quadruple the suggested shutter speed (two stops). No big deal.

    I also apologize for wandering off topic. If responding this way is verboten, someone tell me and I'll not do it again.
  33. Brian Duffy wrote "I think MOST people who prefer MF were probably from the days when that's all they had."

    Um, Brian, we old farts know, as it were, how to walk. People who grew up with auto everything cameras were, as it were, issued crutches at birth and don't know how to walk. I wonder whether the original poster has legs.
  34. I consider AI-S lenses as great bargains since they are in such great quality (image and build wise) but still affordable. If you don't enjoy shooting in full manual with AI-S lenses, I don't know what to say, really because all the manual focusing and all that is half the fun and the other half is knowing you just took a nice picture out of it.

    Even my non-hobbyist partner thinks that manual focusing with AI-S lens feels more like "taking picture" compared to just auto AF snap snap snap. And this is coming from a person who knows very little about photography and not even really interested in it.

    And no, I'm not old fart. But gotta admit, old farts' equipments actually rock. :)
  35. To each his own. I know someone who does everything manually with two F100 cameras and a fleet of automatic lenses. For me I think it's a bit silly to pay for the new technologies that are designed to make a task easier and not use them. Neither of us is a better or worse photographer than the other. To me the final result (the image) is the most important goal. The process to get there does not matter that much: manual, automatic, metal, plastic, prime, zoom...what does it matter if the resutls are the same -- good, or awful?

  36. I love Albert's anolgy. Today many (perhaps most) people have never driven a "stick shift" and associate them with vehicles such as buses and dump trucks and wonder why anyone would actually choose such a transmission for their car. There are reasons for the popularity of automatic transmissions. For most people most of the time they are the better choice. There is a learning curve for manual transmissions. It takes a while to learn to use them well. They aren't everyone's cup of tea.

    Still, there are some areas where they work as well or even better than an automatic. Most importantly, they can simply be a lot of fun to drive, especially when paired with a great classic car. Every one of those things holds true for manual versus autofocus lenses.

    Unfortunately, many of todays cameras don't have a viewfinder that's good enough to support manual focusing. If you are lucky enough to have one that is however, there are just tons of small, light, fast manual focus primes of reasonably good optical quality that are dirt cheap. I bought my Carl Zeiss 50/1.7 from KEH for $90. These lenses open up a whole new world of available light photography. There's not much of a downside to giving one a try. The intent is not to replace the autofocus zoom that comes on most cameras today, but to complement it.
  37. That's why I emphasized the word MOST. I was just having a little fun with the subject.
  38. R.L. Potts wrote: I have a D80 and the automation just does not work very well...With a G lens that has no aperture ring, I have to fiddle around a whole lot with the exposure compensation button. It is a lot easier to use an aperture ring. Don't know why they did away with the ring on G lenses. It's useful. My reply: Disable exposure compensation at #11 in your menu. Then EC can only be performed when you simultaneously press the EC button and turn the dial. The G lens aperture ring is required for a gasket between the lens and the camera. Dan wrote: People who grew up with auto everything cameras were, as it were, issued crutches at birth and don't know how to walk. My reply: You may be able to walk (if by "walk" you mean manually focus lenses, I do it all the time), but you can't fly without wings:
  39. Hi,

    You simply cannot drive a car properly, as it was meant to be driven if it is an automatic. That is why racing cars are not auto's. Auto's do not change gear at the correct point and in many ways are actually dangerous, especially in inclement weather.

    If you want to just 'tool around' than an auto is fine. If you actually want to DRIVE your car, then an auto is a pointless waste of time.

    cheers Steve (UK)
  40. Steve, we are talking about AF versus MF here, not "auto" settings on the camera. A more appropriate analogy to a car might be power brakes and steering; but all such analogies ultimately cause more confusion than clarification. In the image I included in my previous reply here, MF would have missed the shot, pure and simple; as I said in my first reply to this thread, it all depends on the application you are using the lens for.
  41. First of all, I don't agree that people who use manual focus lenses do so because they grew up with manual everything, or do so because of nostalgic reasons. I've been interested in photography since I was 10 years old, have now just turned 42. When I was old enough to afford my own camera, about when I started university, autofocus was starting to be a viable option, after the initial attempts with the F3AF. So I bought an F801 with AF lenses, because I felt I absolutely had to have the latest technology. As I learned more about photography, I gradually became interested in manual lenses and manual cameras. My latest purchase has been an F3HP with two fast manual AIS lenses. It's like going backwards in time.

    My reasons for using manual lenses are these:

    1. Manual suits my favourite subjects best: landscapes, macro, architecture, travel, street photography ... I really don't see what AF would add to the picture, so to speak.

    2. I rarely do sports photography, so I don't care about the latest, fastest, multipoint autofocus. I have recently shot kite surfers with a Bronica 6x6 with two prime lenses, didn't even have a metered prism and almost all my pictures turned out perfectly exposed and in focus. I missed 2 shots out of 3 films (36 exposures). I agree that AF can help in these situations, but it is not absolutely necessary if you know how to prefocus and if you work in non-changing light conditions.

    3. Construction of AI and AIS lenses is superb, this can only be found on top of the line AF lenses. The two AF lenses I still own, 24mm f/2.8 and 50mm f/1.8 compare poorly to their AIS counterparts.

    4. With wide angle lenses, and under the condition that you are working in broad daylight, all you need is to set your lens on the hyperfocal distance. My 24mm lens set to a working aperture of f/11 gets everything in focus from 1 meter to infinity. I just compose and shoot and don't have to worry about focusing. As long as your AF lens has hyperfocal distance marks on the barrel, you can of course use the same method, but it seems manufacturers are gradually doing away with these marks. Also, the longer focus throw of manual focus lenses makes it much easier to use hyperfocal distance.

    5. I much prefer the way a manual focus lens focuses. They are better damped and have a much smoother and precise handling. Some AF lenses used in manual focus are terrible in this respect.

    6. In low light conditions and/or with low contrast subjects, AF systems can start to hunt back and forth, in search of a point to focus on. Manual focus seems better suited in these situations. I know there are AF-S lenses with manual override, but manual still seems quicker to me.

    7. There are situations where AF will be useless: macro is one area some people have already mentionned. Another case is when you want to shoot through a window. Try autofocus on a window that is not perfectly clean and your camera will not know where to focus on.

    8. With off-center subjects, manual focus seems quicker to me than to place the subject on an AF sensor and recompose. By the time you recompose, your subject may have moved or his or her facial expression changed.

    You may of course have different reasons to prefer AF over manual, but if you have the chance, try out some manual lenses. Coupled with a good viewfinder, I'm sure you will enjoy using them.



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