I recently overheard a conversation in a pub between two photographers which went like this:*
#1 … It doesn’t matter! Imagine that on the upcoming model of the camera with vastly improved AF! Faster, more focus points, 98% coverage, always on-point …
#2 But 6 months ago you said, the current generation has incredible fast auto focus! And about the previous generation you said, it has amazingly fast auto focus.
#1 … Well … bigger is better. Always. And I still get some images not perfectly in focus and some not at all. I don’t understand how you can still stick to the first generation with its awful AF performance?
#2 I don’t care. I mostly use MF lenses.
#1 Because you only want to buy cheap, old lenses!
#2 Not at all. Ever heard of Zeiss, Leica, or Voigtländer? Not exactly cheap glass but all manual focus. MF-only has nothing to do with price.
#1 But … you know … there’re these AF adapters which will decently focus your old MF lenses.
#2 Sure, I know. But I like the overall experience of manual focussing very much.
#1 Which experience? Manual focussing is slow and fiddling! I just raise my camera and … BAM! Shoot!
#2 No, you don’t.
#1 Of course!
#2 No. You spot the subject. Raise your camera. Look through the viewfinder. Compose. Select you focus method. Select your focus point. And … BAM! Shoot. THAT sounds fiddling to me!
#1 You exaggerate!
#2 You don’t even have an AF selection joystick anymore!
#1 But manual focus is only good for slow portraiture and landscape, not for action. Tony Northrup recently commented, he wants the new 85 mm for his fast-paced portrait shootings!
#2 What the heck is “fast-paced portrait shooting”? Sounds filthy to me. Anyways … How do you think photographers have shot sports 50 years ago? Or 10? Or 5? Or last year? You can do it with manual focus, generations of photographers and family dads have done so before. They even had keepers, great ones actually. It’s just a matter of technique and practice.
#1 But you still don’t have that high rate of keepers!
#2 It’s not that auto focus nails it perfectly every time, right?
#1 Right. But with the new model of the camera and the updated AF …
#2 To me, the fundamental difference between auto focus and manual focus is that with AF you rely on the camera’s technology. That’s why you will always need improvement on both, focus technology and prediction algorithms. When your manually focussed photo is mis-focussed, it was your fault — and only your fault. No one else to blame. And that makes a huge difference in your mindset. You will not rant about yourself in the same way you’d do to someone else’s fault. Furthermore, “upgrading” your focus abilities just means to practice more. You just don’t need to rely on technology to enhance.
#1 But we all rely on technology every day. It makes our lives easier. To me, the whole MF thing is a Hipster/Retro trend. When technology rises, a counter-trend emerges. Same with vinyl vs mp3. The whole world buys music online or even streams it, and some purists go back to vinyl, but forget how cumbersome it is to turn the record every 15 min, that they scratch, jump, are noisy and extremely inconvenient to carry around.
#2 If you need an analogy, I think it would be a car with automatic gearbox vs. manual gearbox. Automatic is convenient, it works great for cruising and for most people out there. But a racing driver or enthusiast will always strive for manual transmission because it does what he wants. It’s faster, direct and puts you in control — and can also be more fuel-efficient. In the end, I don’t understand you: You use manual white balance and shoot in manual mode because you don’t trust the camera’s measurement. Why do you trust its focussing algorithms?
#1 Because AF technology has made significant improvements in recent years. We have Eye-AF, 3D-Focus, On-Sensor-AF, 95% coverage, Phase Detection … you name it.
#2 MF benefits from the latest technology achievements as well. With EVF, hybrid viewfinders, mirrorless technology and the adaptability of any lens ever made on these new short mounts, manual focus has never been easier, accessible and more approachable. That’s why so many people go manual now, not because it’s a trend by hipsters.
#1 Still you can’t deny that modern AF technology is faster while being more precise at the same time.
#2 MF can be faster than AF.
#2 Zone focussing, pre-focussing or using hyperfocal distance. At the moment when you hit the shutter button, there’s no delay and therefore faster.
#1 But only with static subjects like landscapes.
#2 No. Zone focussing is very famous with street photographers. And they shoot moving subjects too. Try hip-shots with your AF and you will get anything in focus but what you want.
#1 OK. But it doesn’t work properly with shallow depth of field.
#2 Yes, true. It can be fiddly then. Although this shallow depth of field craze is beyond me. It’s only about bokeh and wide open performance, resulting in silly portraits with only one eye in focus. “Delicious, creamy bokeh” … WTF! These are supposed to be photographs not creme brulee. What about good composition, good light … and good taste?
#1 This is your topic, right? But people like it, and it’s not upon you to judge them.
#2 Yes, yes. It’s just not my cup of tea. And if you do a quick head-shot with a 100 mm F1.4 wide open, MF is probably not the best option. I’d rather use AF if I had no second try. But I’d avoid this scenario at all costs. Because what I like about MF is that it slows you down. It forces you to consciously decide about your camera settings, like aperture, focus, and depth of field. And it goes further into conscious composition instead of snapping. MF gives you technical and artistic control over your tool. And it can help you to create images that where impossible or at least difficult with AF.
#2 Well, shooting through things like windows or fences. Or with strong back lights or very low contrast. Or with very fast movements where zone focussing or pre-focussing are perhaps better techniques. Or when you want to have a large depth of field you better use hyperfocal distance.
#1 I tried manual focus with focus-peaking once or twice and can’t get warm to it.
#2 Seriously, focus-peaking is bullshit. A bright, flashing color paves the whole screen. Great. How should you compose or take care of the content? Furthermore it’s very inaccurate. I get focus-peaking highlights in areas that are definitely not in focus. Makes no sense, doesn’t work. I use magnification instead. I set it to a custom button and it works like charm. But often you simply don’t need magnification but just changing focus on the lens back and forth and decide for the middle. Very quick and most likely on point. It depends on the lens actually, on its sharpness and focus transition. If the lens is soft or not fast enough, it doesn’t work that good. I also often focus wide open and then stop down. And if you have a very sharp lens, you can make use of the bad EVFs: When something is in focus then, you see purple shimmering aberrations in the EVF. Like a focus-peaking hack. Works great and fast.
#1 Maybe I need to go back and check that out. But manual focus is still fiddling. As you said before, once I wanted to photograph through a grid and switched to MF, but it just felt disconnected and slow.
#2 Because you have an AF lens with focus-by-wire. The focus wheel is not directly connected and feels as such. Use a dedicated MF lens. They’re optimized for this handling and will work much better. You just can’t switch off AF and compare that to a fully manual lens. I can borrow you one of mine lenses. For beginners, it’s best to start with a wide-angle MF lens. Set it to F8 or F11 and have a great point & shoot. You will love it!
#1 Wait, wait … don’t push me! I like the full-frame look with shallow depth of field. And, anyhow, what you said made no sense! Talking about artistic control: What is great about iPhoneography is that it’s only about composition, not about setting. If you can’t hide your poor composition within bokeh or crazy view angles, it’s all about content and composition. Furthermore, if you have no settings to take care of, you can set your mind free to create art. Now back to real cameras: If modern cameras free you from technical decisions, you can concentrate more on composition and content.
#2 You mean, we should start using P-mode? laugh
#1 No, but AF takes work away from you, like any automatization, and lets you concentrate on the essentials. Which is not technology.
#2 Wasn’t it you who talks about new technology all the time? … But that only works if the camera does everything right. And that is not the case — will never be. Because the camera doesn’t know my intent, because it’s my art. That’s why we use manual white balance, manual exposures, manual focus and so on. And to do this, we have to learn our tools like every artist. And we learn the most by doing things on our own — like setting the focus and aperture manually and see how the transition shifts.
#1 That sounds very technology-driven too me. So instead of just creating my art, you propose to learn and study all the technical stuff of my camera? If you want to be a die-hard racing driver, I rather cruise around and have some fun.
#2 That’s not what I meant. It’s about conscious decisions, working on your craft, improving your photography …
#1 … doesn’t sound like a creative setting to me but more like a boot camp.
#1 By the way: the A9 is out.
#2 Mmmh … cool …
* I totally made this up.
For imagery, I follow the official DS publishing guidelines: “§82 In case content-accompanying images are not available, use tasteful, soothing landscape or nature photography.” As I don’t like German winter lighting, I have been into black & white for the last few months. You’re presented a selection of German winter landscapes, mostly taken in an area called Oderbruch, located in East-Brandenburg at the border to Poland, just 90 min outside of Berlin.
As usual, more images on my Flickr.
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