Manual vs Autofocus

I started using a rangefinder not too long ago. My first challenge was getting the focus right and in a decent time. I was used to the fast and precise focus system of my D700. With time, I gained confidence and started using my small rangefinder more and more often. So I ended up getting used to focus manually with the rangefinder system and was getting decent results even when shooting wide open.

Today I was using the D700 again and got very annoyed by the autofocus. Since we are seeing through the lens with a SLR, when the focus tracks back and forth, the image blurs back and forth, a phenomenon called focus hunting. This can happen more often in challenging light or background patterns that tricks the autofocus. The blurring really bothered me. I got used to the crisp image shown at all times in the rangefinder’s viewfinder. Since you are not looking through the lens like an SLR, the image in the viewfinder is always clear. This helps me to concentrate on my subject and composition. I found that focus hunting, even when minimum, not only delay the shot but was also very distracting.

Anyways, the worst part was not the focus hunting, but rather taking a picture of the main subject and the checking it and it is completely out of focus! If i miss the focus while manually doing so, I get disappointed. I get disappointed and I want to improve, I want to be faster, be better. When letting the camera do the autofocus for me and I miss it, I get pissed. There is no way to improve it other than finding better conditions, buying a new camera. Obviously learning how autofocus works will help you make the most of it but still you are in the machine hands, not the way around.

Your thoughts on this?

6 thoughts on “Manual vs Autofocus

  1. I completely agree. I get mad when something happens and it’s out of my control. I think when you’re use to a rangefinder, it’s hard to go back to an SLR. When I switch back and forth between my TLR and rangefinder, I have the same issues as well, because they focus different ways. I end up manually focus everything these days just to save myself grief. If I miss a photo op because I didn’t focus fast enough, well, then I tell myself it wasn’t meant to be.

  2. Don’t Nikon lenses have an on/off button for AF, like Canon ones? Most of my work is done in AF-off mode with my Canon cameras but if I am shooting pro tennis, for example, the AF is vital (in spot focus mode). The same applies for bird photography, no professional bird shooter would want to go back to manual focus. When shooting food, however, I always work in manual focus because the desired focal point is very precise and not obvious to an automatic system.
    AF (sport focus) works very well with subjects that are separated from the background, fast moving and fit in the centre of the lens where the main AF point is.
    It also works very well if you have time to focus, lock the focus and recompose, because it is very accurate (especially with a fast lens).
    “Hunting” happens in low light or with slow lenses.
    With a rangefinder and a DSLR you are working with two different kinds of focusing but both of them are very effective if used properly (and allowing for a fast enough lens/enough light). Rangefinders can also be awkward in low light, though the modern ones are probably much brighter than the antiques I have used.

    • Hi Paul,

      Thank you for your comment. Nikon’s lens does allow me to shoot on manual mode. I do find frustrating with the new focusing screens to get the focus right sometimes. The old split focusing screens were easier (I can get that installed on my D700 but it seems that it does affect autofocus).

      Your point is very well taken. There are a number of occasions that autofocus is not only better but almost mandatory. Sports as you mentioned is probably one of them. I guess that my post likely represents my style of shooting and the subject matter that I am currently shooting.


  3. I have found it hard to go back to af and my slr system. I was not really sure why but your comments about the blurring durring af are interesting, maybe this is the reason I feel this way. It is more relaxing composing shots with a rangefinder.

    I like your work very much by the way.
    Can I ask, what lens have you used in the shots with this article?

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts.


  4. Pingback: A few thoughts on the Fuji X-Pro1 from a Leica M user perspective | MyDarkroom's Blog

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