7 Reasons to Prefer Manual Focus over Auto Focus

7 Reasons to Prefer Manual Focus over Auto Focus

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Focus is certainly the main aspect of photography, if the images are out of focus they are ruined definitively. There may be several reasons that lead to an out of focus image, some of which may be the difficulty of automatically focusing on a subject but anyway the best way to get out images perfectly focused is by using manual focus. So here are 7 reasons to prefer manual focus over auto focus

1. Sharpen Images

The main reason for preferring manual focus to auto focus is certainly to get sharper images, the best way to deal with manual focus is to achieve it by using live view, following these simple steps:

  1. Set your lens to Manual Focus
  2. Set Live view on your Camera
  3. Use zoom button to zoom into the are you want to focus
  4. Turn the focus ring until what you see is in focus

In this way you should be able to focus manually with ease. There’s also another step to do just to be sure your images are 100% in focus and extra sharp: compare the images captured with manual focus system and live view with an image captured from live view using auto focus. If you’ve done things right the image taken with manual focus should be with better focus and sharper

2. Photograph with every Light

Focusing with auto focus in low light conditions this one may not work properly or be inaccurate. Imagine shooting during the night, especially for night photography, images like milky way or light painting or startrails, manual focus becomes crucial to focus into a total darker scene

3. Capture low Contrasts

The auto focus to work properly needs some points that are “recognized” to the camera. If you’re shooting something that has similar colors, tones, and textures, or a smooth wall your lens can struggle in autofocus mode. In all these cases manual focus is of great help to be able to focus on subjects with low contrasts

4. Capture out of Focus images

One of the strongest photography composition guidelines is framing. Composing a framing with an out of focus element can be a successful compositional element of a photo and can lead the viewer’s eye through the main subject. Manual focus helps in this sense to be able to take our images with such compositional techniques and play between in focus and out of focus elements

5. Photograph with Fog

Fog is that element that helps make the image more striking and create a beautiful atmosphere in the image. But fog will reduce contrasts and scatter light in the scene, and focusing with fog can be difficult with auto focus if there’s not strong contrasted element in the scene. In all the cases of fog and misty landscapes using manual focus will avoid the problem of having out-of-focus images in fog

6. Focus Stacking

Focus stacking is one of the most used technique to ensure all of images elements are in focus. With focus stacking you take many images of the same scene with different focus in order to achieve a completely focused images with all the elements of the scene perfectly in focus. I created a detailed guide on how focus stack your images using bracketed shots. For a precise use of focus stacking it is very imporant to use manual focus, because it allows you to have great control of the elements of the frame in at different focal angles

7. Moving Objects

This point can be connected with the previous one but also because mobile elements are present in landscape photography. Imagine having to focus stack on flowers in the foreground that are moving on a windy day, or simply wanting to give movement to an element of the photo while keeping the focus fixed in one point. All of this with auto focus would be slower and even more difficult to achieve

Conclusions

Even if manual is better for all the reasons we talked about automatic focus can be very usefull in other situations, the auto focus should be used for:

  • Photographing animals, sport or other scenes where the subject is moving
  • Photographing events and concerts where the subject doesn’t stand still
  • Photographing handheld

Even if auto focus are certainly valid in different cases, for professional results rely to manual focus is the best solution. In any case relying on own’s eyes and judgment is always the best choice


5 Useful Tips to Focus in Night Photography

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With the arrival of summer it is also the perfect time to start doing some night shots. Like many landscape photographers I also love night photography and some time ago I wrote this guide about how to plan and shot the Milky Way

While shoting for the stars usually we are completely in the dark and is not always easy to find the correct focus point, so I decided to write this guide to give you som tips for focus in night photography


Manual Focus

During the night and without any light point the manual focus is one of the most efficient way to focus in the night. To achieve it simply move the manual focus ring until the infinity symbol. When using manual focus we have to consider that the exactly focus point can vary from the symbol of infinity from lens to lens.

So knowing your instrumentation is the key to the success of a manual focus. Write down or try to memorize then which is the optimal focus towards infinity on your lens so that you can easily recognize it in the dark

Live View + Zoom

This is also a recommended function during the day, it is about using the live view zoom to set the manual focus correctly. Just zoom in on a bright spot, such as the moon or the stars if we are shooting for the milky way and set the manual focus easily through the live view

Many mirrorless cameras have focus peaking as part of some live view systems, that shows you regions in the frame where the highest contrast exists by highlighting them in a bright color. Focus peaking consist to put focus very fast without any risk to wrong

Pre-focus during the day

This easy trick consist to focus your camera at a infinity subject during the day using autofocus. Then, switch the camera to manual focus and use a piece of gaffer tape to keep the focus on the lens from moving

Consider that using pre-focus which will be limited to the focus we set with light, so for every change of the subject it need to change method and focus

Target light points

Consists simply of focusing on a light source, if the moon is present in the sky it is surely the best point of focus to choose, instead if there is no moon you may be able to do it using a shining star

It is not always so easy to find light sources that can help us to use this function, in any cases can be very usefull light up the area with a lamp or laser pointers to illuminate the area, this may allow you to focus and set the desired shot

Hyperfocal focusing

Distance is defined when the lens is focused at infinity, where objects from half of this distance to infinity will be in focus for the lens. Instead, the hyperfocal distance may refer to the closest distance that a lens can be focused for a given aperture while objects at a distance (infinity) will remain sharp

Many lenses have hyperfocal markings on the lens barrel. This funcion allows you to set your lens so that, at a given aperture, you can determine at what distance objects in the frame will be in focus. So, without even looking at the viewfinder, you can set your focus

Here was the tip to focusing the dark, as you can see many relays to manual focus or with some experience in the field. And what about you? I’d like to know what methods you use to focus at night, let me know in the comments

If you are looking for more information on night photography, I suggest you to read more on the night photography guide or how to plan and shot the milky way




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Hi, my name is Giuseppe Sapori, a professional photographer and author of this website, created by yours truly to show my work and share with you the techniques I use. My expertise is in the field of Landscape Photography... (Read More)

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