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January 16, 2013
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Auto or Manual focus?

:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Hey there photographers.
I was looking at lenses today, and found one that caught my eye. Everything about it pretty much screams "BUY ME!" except for one thing. The Autofocus on the lens is rated at terrible. Now, being an amateur/hobbyist photographer myself (I have no plans to "go pro" or sell my work), I am not familiar with how the pros do it. I was just wondering; do you rely heavily on autofocus, or are you able to get those crystal clear perfect-focus photos with Manual Focus alone? Should a quick autofocus be a selling point for me, or merely an added bonus?

Thanks!
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Devious Comments

:iconclerdy:
Clerdy Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Hey,

I tend to leave mine on auto focus most of the time, ok yes it can be abit slow but im not exactly the fastest at manually finding the right focus, also when i se the manual i can't tell if im focused or not!!

I think it all depends on what you are taking a picture of, this is defo the case for me.

:)
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:iconlaciemelhart:
LacieMelhart Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2013  Professional Photographer
I've been a bit spoiled to Auto, but if I'm doing still life, I go manual - when you're at a horse show photographing 20+ horses in a class and they're circling around you all at different spots in the arena and various lengths away from you, I use Auto. Same for if they're out running crazy. Ferrets? PFFFFT good luck with manual. Portraits are manual, if the subject is being relatively still, manual. It all just depends on what's working at the moment and what's not.
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:iconblackpoppies:
blackpoppies Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I reckon it depends on what you're shooting and on you're preference. If you've been doing photography even as a hobby for a while, you'll know how much you depend on autofocus yourself :)
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh I know for a fact I've been depending on AF a great deal. Sometimes I just find it too slow, or not accurate, or I just want a challenge.
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:iconolda-g:
Olda-G Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Is the complaint about the autofocus on the lens you are considering due to it being slow or due to it being inaccurate? Those are separate issues.
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
I think the main complaint was slow, though maybe both issues got lumped together when people got frustrated.
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:iconolda-g:
Olda-G Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Slow is no problem for landscapes, nature, and still life, but it can be a pain with events and moving subjects. Maual focus may be too slow then also.

There is the photojournalist approach of 'f8 and be there'. That is preset the camera at f8 or something that gives you lots of depth of field so you can manually focus and shoot quickly and it won't matter if you are slightly off.
Manual focus can be tricky for digital cameras as the focusing screen is not really designed for it. It is easier with cameras with large viewfinders (like full frames) or those that have a focusing aid like focus peaking.
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:iconsilber-englein:
silber-englein Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I think autofocus is very useful for a beginner. You can use little tricks like holding the shutter button down halfway while focusing on something else then moving the camera back to take the shot. It helps you to concentrate on getting the basics first. I tried using manual focus when I first started, but the photos turned out blurry because I could not see how it was in the viewfinder well enough, which was very discouraging. Once you've gotten things down like composition, lighting etc. You can try manual focus. Now whenever I take portraits I use manual focus because it gives you more power to have the photo the way you want it, but it takes some getting used to. I still have blurry photos from time to time.

Perhaps this isn't the best advice, but it worked out well enough for me :)
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:iconjackmolotov3:
JackMolotov3 Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
does it also have a manual focus ring? if so, get it and use the manual focus ring
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 19, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Sometimes the manual focus is even worse. My 18-55mm that came with the Rebel XS I have is sensitive and almost feels loose. I can't use anything but AF with that one.
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:iconchristophmaier:
ChristophMaier Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
It depends on what you shoot but also what camera you use. Modern DSLRs have focusing screen's that are simply terrible for manual focus. Yes they work, but hey are very difficult to work with. Not to mention that most focusing screen's don't even show the correct DOF if you are working with apertures that are larger than 2.8. (Making it even more difficult to manually focus correctly)
And one thing is for sure, a good and fast AF will be much faster than you'll be. They might not always be as good on point, but if you need to focus in a hurry nothing beats a good AF in my opinion. I've done a bit of party/event shooting and I can't imagine how many shots I would've missed if I had to MF all the time...
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:icongeorgewjohnson:
georgewjohnson Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Depends, 95% of the time manual focus but I have all the time in the world as the landscapes ain't going anywhere, plus my camera's autofocus is complete utter crap most of the time! :laughing:

On rare occasions when I know I will have time to spot the autofocus in, I know I won't have time to manual focus and I know the lens will react fast enough, then yes I make use of autofocus.

Horses for courses!
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:iconjuliabohemian:
Juliabohemian Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013
I manual focus everything. My auto focus is too easily confused.
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:iconmichaelrowlandson:
MichaelRowlandson Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013  Professional Photographer
I use manual focus even as a nature photographer.
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:iconfallisphoto:
FallisPhoto Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013
I have been a photographer for over 30 years and until just a few years ago I had never used autofocus. Why? Because until then they were ALL terrible. I still prefer to use manual focus when possible, because there are a few situations when you will have a hell of a hard time if you are using autofocus. That camera doesn't know what you are trying to focus on because it doesn't know exactly what part of the composition is the subject. That said,  now that they have most (not all, but most) of the bugs worked out of it, there are times it is advisable to have it though. When the light isn't the only thing moving fast, you will have a hard time making all the adjustments without it.
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:iconphotomark:
photomark Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I have NEVER had an auto focus camera and on some comparisons I have done I can manualy focus faster and more accurately anyway .

With manual focus you will always focus what you want in focus .... provided you have the skill of course.
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:iconrockthesky:
rockTheSky Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
"and on some comparisons I have done I can manualy focus faster"

Interesting. I mean, with manual focusing, you obviously have to zoom, and focus, so do you have to keep the one hand close to the edge and try to move both sort of at the same time, or do you frame first? Thing I always find hard is that even if I zoom a bit I then have to re-focus all the time, and it's just slow.
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:iconphotomark:
photomark Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I dont use zoom lenses
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Interesting; do you carry different cameras with you, or lots of lenses? I've been spoiled by zoom lenses now, I can't imagine being without their flexibility.
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:iconphotomark:
photomark Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
well my main cameras are a Bronica SQ-Ai 6x6 medium format , there was a zoom made ( 3rd party)for it but it is very rare and hard to find and with a zoom range of 100 to 150 ( I think ) it is hardly worth it.

I do carry around a 40mm wide a 110mm macro and this is my main lens as well as a 150 mm tele.

My other camera is a 4x5 large format and I only have two lenses for that , a 210mm and a 150mm.

Zoom lenses are OK in a way but you just cant beat primes for quality .

A good zoom should not need refocusing at different focal lengths and the few good zoom lenses I have had for 35mm where also constant aperture throughout the focal range.
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Therein lies the problem; I'm pretty sure I lack the skills necessary. At least right now I do.
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:iconphotomark:
photomark Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
as the saying goes "practice makes perfect"

I was never able to afford auto focus and by the time I could afford it I was not interested.

even now I just cant get used to auto focus or auto anything for that matter.. apart from my car that is :)
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:iconstevecaissie-stock:
SteveCaissie-stock Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Professional Photographer
A little bit of practise is all it takes. Spend a couple of days wandering around taking pictures with the AF turned off and you’ll start to get better at it. What I do when I’m manually focusing is to intentionally throw it out of focus, then bring it back to where I think the focus point is and watch some pertinent detail – like an eye – to see when it’s the sharpest. I’ll often overshoot that point just a touch, just to make sure, then bring it back again. If you were to watch me manually focus on someone, it’d look like I was twisting the lens barrel left and right in smaller and smaller increments.
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks; I'll definitely try practicing a bit.
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:icondelahkel:
Delahkel Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013  Professional Photographer
As my name suggests, I do a lot of manual focusing, and I find that I have a lot more control over focusing that way. I get higher keeper rate with my manual focusing over auto focusing.
That said, a lens made for auto focus is designed to give the fastest auto focusing speed with the use of technology at the time, and this usually means short throw of the manual focus ring. A manual focus lens (such as old lenses, or current Zeiss or Samyang lenses) are made to be manually focused, and have much longer focus throw, thus giving you much more precise control over it, and thus are better for it.

At first, if you're not used to manually focusing, you'll have a lot of trouble with it. It will take you a lot of time to just focus one shot, and you'll have very low keeper rate, and probably get frustrated with it real fast. However, if you keep on training, you'll quickly get the hang of it, and it'll just become second nature to you. Heck, you'll get to a point where you could probably shoot anything manually focusing except really fast stuff like sports and such. I've shot live concerts and weddings manually focused, and didn't really have any problems, heck, I actually could focus faster than my camera at times since the light was so low, and the auto focus struggled.

That said, an auto focus lens is really made to be used with auto focus, not manual. So if it has bad auto focus, you're really getting the worst of both worlds. Still, people rate things "TERRIBLE" when they're really not that bad, could just be noisy and probably hunts in low light, nothing too serious, depending on the actual lens.
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for all the info! I had no idea that they made MF-specific and AF-specific lenses. Does one or the other tend to be more expensive?
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:icondelahkel:
Delahkel Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Professional Photographer
Not really, it depends on the brand. For example, Zeiss lenses are MF only, but their price is comparable to Canon's L glass. Samyang on the other hand, is another MF only lens manufacturer, but their lenses are some of the cheapest I've seen (while still maintaining high optical quality).
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:iconhedwards:
hedwards Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013
ManualFocusPhoto is right, but I'd like to add that you have to make sure that the diopter in the viewfinder is properly set. There's also always the possibility that the camera is front or back focusing. I've never had a problem with that, but it depends on the specific body and lens, many modern cameras allow you to adjust that yourself.

I personally don't need to manual focus much, so I generally let the camera do it for me. But, if you're regularly shooting in low light, through things or need to preset the focus, you're going to be doing that manually most of the time. I think like most things you get faster with practice.

And remember, there were decades worth of photographers before AF was even invented, so obviously sharp, focused images predate it.
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh jeez, that's another thing to consider. But thank you for pointing it out.

I tend to forget that we are a bit spoiled with all the technology we get nowadays, and it's an excellent point. :)
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:iconhedwards:
hedwards Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013
I wouldn't worry too much about it. I think the effect will be there or not, regardless of whether or not you use manual focus. In general it's something they test for and usually the focus isn't off by much.

If your particular lens/body combination have that problem then you either take it into a service center for them to fix, or you rent one of these: [link]

You can also do it manually, but I'm not sure how the accuracy is. And you're only likely to notice because your images are slightly out of focus, so you'd probably be good enough doing it by eye. Probably the medium expense option is renting.

I've never had to do that myself as none of my gear has been so affected.
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:iconrcooper102:
rcooper102 Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013
Autofocus lenses are designed to auto focus but have manual focus for when you need it. Manual focus lenses are designed to be manually focused and do it a lot better than auto focus lenses set to manual. An auto focus lens that isn't good at auto focusing doesn't sound like a terribly good choice to me since it is the worst of both worlds. Out of curiosity, specifically, what lens is it?
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
There was a used Sigma lens 70-200mm (sold in the span of me starting this thread and now, apparently :o ) and most of the reviewers complained of inaccurate and slow autofocus.

Looking at the lens reviews now, though, it seems that there are no major complaints. Don't quite get it.

However, that is interesting; I did not know they made lenses specifically for AF and MF. I'll have to look around some more before buying.
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:iconchelliusbee:
Chelliusbee Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I've recently used the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 using autofocus for wildlife photography and I have no complaints about it whatsoever! Except for the fact my arm was exhausted after a day of holding it up! The quality is fantastic, images are very sharp once you find somewhere to perch your arm to prevent shake (I have tiny stick arms xD) and the colours and brilliant. Here's an example - [link]
Considering the price difference between the Sigma and the Canon equivalent, this lens is very good for what you get! My advice, rent it for a weekend and try it first. Then you can make your own decision :)
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:iconrockthesky:
rockTheSky Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Why not just use a monopod or a tripod and not tire out your arms? Seems such an easy solution to me.
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:iconchelliusbee:
Chelliusbee Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Because a tripod is too static when I'm quickly adjusting my angle of shot etc. I'm often capturing moving animals so a tripod isn't really viable. That said, I had considered a monopod.
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:iconrockthesky:
rockTheSky Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
You know, I sort of found it silly me suggesting a monopod. Back when I had a D50 (terrible at metering light), I used to take my tripod whenever I was out shooting equestrian stuff with my sigma 500mm zoom. Like you, I found it too static and it was more of an annoyance than it was a help. I got less camera shake, but the composition went downhill, especially as I had a pan & tilt head. So I got a monopod thinking this would solve my problems. Well... I basically never use my monopod. it's probably been used only a handful of times because at first it seems like a win-win scenario for capturing nature and sports and stuff. The reality is that it still restricts your movement too much. I found myself constantly taking the lens off the monopod and just hand-holding it.

What lens do you have?
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:iconchelliusbee:
Chelliusbee Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
xD That answers that then! Perhaps a monopod isn't such a great idea!

I'm currently using a really cheap Tamron 55-200mm which is really small and light and not much of a hindrance at all. But I occassionally switch to the Sigma 70-200mm f2.8 when I've the chance which is a huge difference. Sometimes I use the Canon 100mm macro lens but I really only use it for macro and not very often, but even that packs a lot more weight than the Tamron!
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
That's an amazing shot!
I never thought about renting it out, actually. I know there's a few places around here that let you do that; maybe I'll give it a go. Thanks for the suggestion.

BTW, you have quite an impressive gallery. :thumbsup:
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:iconchelliusbee:
Chelliusbee Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Thanks ^^ Aye renting it is usually a great thing to do. Use great equipment but at a fraction of the cost! I plan to get hold of the Canon 70-200 f2.8 at some point and just spend a few days camped out somewhere!
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:iconhedwards:
hedwards Featured By Owner Jan 16, 2013
Oh, Sigma, I've never bought one of those, but google the term "Sigma lottery" for information about their reliability. From what I understand it's really best to buy locally at a shop that's willing to let you exchange until you get a good copy.

OTOH, they do make some good lenses, so I wouldn't recommend dismissing them just because of the lottery.
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:icondelahkel:
Delahkel Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Professional Photographer
I thought the lottery only applied to some of their primes, not the zooms?
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:iconhedwards:
hedwards Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013
My memory might be going, but the place I learned about that was on a review for one of their zooms. So, dunno.

Regardless, they do have some very good lenses, too good to pass over on the possibility that you have to exchange it. I've heard similar things about some of the Tamron models having some units that are quite good and others that aren't as good, in the same model.
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:icondelahkel:
Delahkel Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Professional Photographer
Well, usually a quick trip to Sigma with the camera will bring it back calibrated to your camera anyway. At least here, it's a fast process.
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 17, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Oh wow, I had no idea they were so inconsistent. I remember a photographer recommending Sigma because of the glass quality, so I've been looking at them more so than others.
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:iconhedwards:
hedwards Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013
That's hard to say, one bad unit in a hundred that catches attention can lend a disproportionate influence on reputation.
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:iconchristophmaier:
ChristophMaier Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
I have used and owned several Sigma lenses so far and had very little problems with them at all. Their newer lenses very often get extremely great reviews and recent quality control and overall customer service has apparently also improved a lot.
Do not believe everything the internet tells you, and do remember that people are very bad at forgiving failures of the past. (And yes, some years back it was a real lottery to buy sigma lenses)
But don't take my word for it, see what someone who uses more lenses than ANYBODY here will ever work with: [link]
That doesn't mean all third-party lenses are great (or all of Simga's lenses for that matter) What it does mean is that being a third-party lens does NOT automatically make it bad. And getting a first-party lens does also not mean that it is automatically good: [link] (and that is talking about a Canon L lens, their top-of-the-line and sell-your-soul-priced lens series)
Bad stuff happens and that is one of the reasons why you should buy lenses at a place that will easily let you return it if you do get a bad copy. (And why you should do some testing right away when you buy it) And it's the reason why I buy everything in a brick-and-mortar store that actually let's me use the lens on MY camera before I buy it.
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:icononeblacksheep:
oneblacksheep Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
Thanks for that post and those links Christoph. I'll definitely go into our local camera shop to see what they have to offer, and what they have to say.
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:iconchristophmaier:
ChristophMaier Featured By Owner Jan 20, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Glad to be of help! Would love to hear what you decided to do in the end.
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:iconhedwards:
hedwards Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013
The main reason that I'd be a bit nervous about Sigma is that unlike some of the other brands, most notably Tamron, they don't license the mount from the manufacturer. Which means that in order for it to work with the body, they had to reverse engineer the technology and possibly substitute their own technology to work around patents that might apply.

I thought that was, in part, the reason for the lottery aspect of the lenses. That since they didn't actually buy the technical details from the camera manufacturer that there wasn't the same level of guarantee that they were compatible.

That may have changed, the last time I heard about that was years ago. As I have a Canon body, it's rather tough to compete with the IQ of their L series.
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:iconchristophmaier:
ChristophMaier Featured By Owner Jan 18, 2013  Hobbyist Photographer
Yes, there have been issues about lenses being compatible with newer models, but those have been very rare occurrences. I have worked with three generations of Canon bodies and had 0% compatibility issues.
As for Tamron having a license, do you have a source for that? As far as I know NO third-party vendor has a license. (This is backed up by wikipedia: [link] but that in itself is only taken from another non Canon source...) That is one of the reasons why I highly suggest to always buy at a place that let's you test the equipment. (Which I do regardless of the manufacturer btw)
There are no guarantees of course, but I would feel especially comfortable with using newer Sigma lenses to be honest. They just added a USB lens-mount to their product catalog that will be able to reprogram lenses from any Windows or MAC PC. (Which would make firmware upgrades both very fast and most likely at 0 cost for the end user)

Sure, Canon L glass usually is top of the line and getting an L-Lens is never a bad idea. But there are three things one should consider when buying L-glass:
1) Price
2) Availability
3) Quality

The first one is obvious. L-glass is often very, very expensive. In many cases you can get third-party offers that are much cheaper and still are more than enough in terms of quality for the end user. (You do not need a €2,500 lens if all you do is bright day shootings which you will then post on the internet at a tiny resolution)

The second one might be down to personal preference. When I got a new macro lens I did look at Canon's lineup. There were only two options for me. The 100mm 2.8 L (at €829.90) or the 180mm 3.5 L (for €1,049.90) Neither option really appealed to me that much. I found the 100mm too short and the 180mm a bit limiting in terms of aperture. Next I checked out what Sigma had to offer. They have the 150mm 2.8 EX OS macro lens. At €999.90 it sits comfortably between Canon's options but in my opinion offers a lot more than both. It is image stabilized, is longer than the 100mm and has a larger aperture than the 180mm (without being too much shorter) Reviews for the lens where all pretty good and personal experience agrees with that.

Third is quality. L-glass is not always the best there is. Read up on Sigma's new 35mm 1.4 lens. It does in fact appear to blow Canon's equivalent out of the water and at a much reduced price. Only thing I have seen where people try to argue that the Canon is superior is the bokeh. (But that seems to largely come down to personal preference and I have yet to find a test image in where Sigmas bokeh from the 35mm looks bad to me) Only downside is that the Sigma is NOT weather-sealed. Whether or not you need it is of course personal preference.


Look, I am not disputing that getting L glass is a great choice. What I am however trying to bring across that getting non Canon lenses is also not a bad choice at all. It's a different choice and it should be thought through. Simply telling new photographers that getting anything other than Canon lenses is a bad idea is NOT doing them a good service however. This is not directed at you btw, I find your posts on that matter to be quite helpful and reasonable!
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