is manual focus difficult?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by mikeeramones, Aug 7, 2008.

  1. mikeeramones macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    May 15, 2008
    #1
    finally, after much consideration, i've finally decided to get nikon d40. (because of our family's tight budget) i also have taken an interest at this lense "AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D Autofocus Lens" but it turns out (i figure) it wouldnt auto focus with the d40. i truly want that lense, and i'd still buy it even if i had to manually focus the lense.
    but..my only concern is that, is manual focus difficult to do?
    i mean it sounds....a bit daunting to me.
     
  2. Lone Deranger macrumors 65816

    Lone Deranger

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    Apr 23, 2006
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    London
    #2
    It depends on a number of things.

    • Size and brightness of your camera's Viewfinder.
    • Subject you are trying to get in focus (static or moving)
    • Handheld or tripod shooting
    • Distance of subject (you might get away with setting focus on infinity if the subject is far enough away)
    • Your eyesight


    and practice! :)
     
  3. RainForRent macrumors 6502

    RainForRent

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    #3
    It's not terribly bad, but your general subject of photography does matter. Learn how to use the focus meter on your lens to determine what will be in focus depending on your aperture. Fast subjects will be tough, but it can be done.
    [​IMG]
    Click for full size - Uploaded with plasq's Skitch
     
  4. cube macrumors G5

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    #4
    It is difficult without a prism focusing screen.
     
  5. likeavaliant macrumors regular

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    Oct 14, 2006
    #5
    If i were you, I would either look into buying a used D50, or hold off on that lens until it works with a d40.
     
  6. Lord Blackadder macrumors G5

    Lord Blackadder

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    #6
    Some lenses are easier to focus manually than others - the 18-55mm kit lens that came with my Canon Digital Rebel XT has a very thin manual focus ring that can be frustrating to use. Most better quality lenses have a fatter, more precise manual focus ring.
     
  7. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #7
    If budget is tight why not buy a used D50 which has an in-body focus motor. Prices seem to be around $325. The 50mm lens becomes so much more usful when you can use it's AF feature.

    The older cameras that were intended for manual-only focus had optical focus aids in the viewfinder, a split prism made manual focus easy and precise. The newer Nikon cameras don't have this feature but they do include a small green LED in the viewfinder that lights up when focus is perfect. If the subject is not moving and the camera is held on a tripod the green light works well. Otherwise the green light will flash on and off as the camera to subject distance moves.
     
  8. cube macrumors G5

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    May 10, 2004
    #8
    I find the green dot very difficult to use even if the subject is not moving.

    There are many different models of third-party screens at different prices. They will affect a bit the autoexposure.
     
  9. pna macrumors 6502

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    May 27, 2005
    #9
    I'll agree with Cube. I've used the 50/1.8 on my d40 to varying degrees of success. The green dot helpful, but of somewhat marginal utility. It's been a bit of a letdown.

    I was tempted to pick up a d50 to use with that lens (potentially selling the d40 to make up for it), and then realized that that was a pretty big step to take just to be able to autofocus with that lens, given that I love pretty much everything else about the d40. I had a feeling that I'd be better off just waiting and making sure the next incarnation of body that I bought could use it, or picking up the AF-S version of that lens when it came out. Turns out I made the right call (for me). Prices have really dropped on the d80 in anticipation of the d90 ($599 refurb at adorama, for example). Given that you're concerned about the budget, that's probably still not an option.

    So yes, if you *really* want to use that lens in particular, and you want to use it now, I'd say the advice to pick up a used d50 is a good one. I don't expect you'll be that happy using a lens you have to manually focus all the time. In either case, I'd say shopping used (off craigslist, for example), is a great idea. Money saved can always get used for better glass, and with prices on retail dropping, that's putting downward pressure on the local craigslist sellers as well.
     
  10. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

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    Alaska
    #10
    I don't understand why some of you find manual-focusing difficult, unless you haven't used a film camera with manual lenses before. Manual focusing is not difficult at all, unless you are trying to focus the lens on a moving toward you/away from you subject. Macro photography is most often accomplished by manually focusing the lens. Also, you still can achieve focus to a certain degree of moving targets by selecting the proper lens aperture (the one that provides you with a deeper or wider depth-of-field.
     
  11. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

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    #11
    I don't understand why some of you find manual-focusing difficult, unless you haven't used a film camera with manual lenses before. Manual focusing is not difficult at all, unless you are trying to focus the lens on a moving subject (toward you/away from you). Macro photography is most often accomplished by manually focusing the lens. Live View is mostly accomplished with manual focusing. Also, you still can achieve focus-to a certain degree-of a moving subject by selecting the proper lens aperture (the one that provides you with a deeper or wider depth-of-field). Not only that, but you can also see (thought the viewfinder) how the subject gets blurred or clearer as you turn the focus ring. I don't know about the D40, but I imagine that it has a depth-of-field button. Right?
     
  12. Schnebar macrumors 6502

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    California
    #12
    About this topic and not to hijack it but...

    I am just a 18 year old student with a canon xsi and was wondering if I should be doing manual or auto focus. I took a photography class last semester and the teacher made us focus manually and manually set our exposures. After the class I have taken pictures on vacations of like animals and stuff and still set the focus, f stop, iso, and shutter speed manually. I just thought that I should get used to it because pro photographers do that and if I want to get better I better do it all manually. But some of my shots come out a little out of focus because I use small f stops usually and I have to toss them. So is it fronded upon to use auto focus. Obviously you get less control over what is in focus but what is your input?
     
  13. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

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    #13
    It's an excellent idea to learn how to use any camera on manual mode, but there are other modes you can use where the camera assists you. For example, lots of film cameras have a light meter that tells you the lighting conditions before you press the shutter button. Also, you can set these cameras to "aperture priority," or "shutter priority."

    You can use Av (aperture priority) mode on your XSi, and the camera chooses the best shutter speed possible. You can also set your XSi to Tv (shutter priority), and the camera selects the best aperture possible.

    It means that once you have learned what each aperture does for DOF, you can use Av mode to your advantage. It also means that once you have learned what a fast or slow shutter speed does, you can take advantage of the Tv mode of your camera. If you have already learned about such things at school, it would be to your advantage using some of the "creative" modes of your XSi. It will save you quite a lot of time, and provide you with a lot of more hits (less missed shots) that are properly exposed and in focus.

    For macro photography or for stationary subjects, manual focusing works well. For moving subjects autofocusing has the advantage. Back in the days of film cameras used for sports events, quite a lot of photographers would focus the lens on a certain preset distance, and then wait for the player to step into that specific area before pressing the shutter button. The camera's motor drive would then roll around 6 photos per second (Nikon F3 with motor drive. I have one). This was achieved by selecting the lens apertures that provided the deepest DOF possible for the lighting conditions, and the use of fast films.

    My suggestion is for you to buy a "Canon EOS XSi digital SLR photography guide." Such a guide would duplicate the owners manual, but in great detail, with clear explanations and examples (photos, charts, etc.) that tell you all you need to know about your XSi.
     
  14. RainForRent macrumors 6502

    RainForRent

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    #14
    I shoot almost exclusively in aperture priority– I like to control my depth of field, and let the camera worry about shutter speeds.
     
  15. cube macrumors G5

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    May 10, 2004
    #15
    It is difficult because standard DSLRs focusing screens are crap compared to film cameras.
     
  16. chrono1081 macrumors 604

    chrono1081

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    #16
    I shoot full manual and have a number of cameras. I think on a 20D or cameras with similar smaller viewfinders its a little harder but on full frames like the 5D or 1DsMark III its no problem at all. It all depends on practice. The more you do it, the easier it gets. Try it for a few weeks, most people end up liking it :)
     
  17. atlanticza macrumors 6502a

    atlanticza

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    #17
    There are occasions when manual focussing is the only way to go such as in low light situations. Accurate auto focussing depends on contrast, and some camera may "refuse" or "hunts" to take the shot if the contrast is not high enough. The same problem may occur when the subject matter has multiple possible focus points. In all you shouldn't have a problem with the technique provided you have a "reasonable" DSLR - unless, of course, it has a LCD focussing screen rather than an optical one.
     
  18. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #18
    Only really on the low-end bodies that have only the green dot- the higher-end bodies with the left/right triangles and the green dot aren't bad at all in MF mode- but unless you're in huge aperture range, you can always use a hyperfocal distance calculator to hit the zone.
     
  19. pna macrumors 6502

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    May 27, 2005
    #19
    I grew up shooting manual focus film cameras (e.g. the Canon A-1 that I still have), and didn't have much of a problem with it with lenses back then. I do find it more difficult now on my d40 with the 50mm/1.8 with only the green dot. This ls largely because the situations where I want to use that lens are either low light, or ones in which I want to use a wide aperture for a shallow DOF. The wide aperture situations that I bought that lens for are inevitably the least forgiving when it comes to focusing. It's not impossible, and I'm sure I'll get better, I've just missed a number of shots that I would have easily had if I hadn't been slightly out of focus, and it bummed me out a bit. Yup, it's definitely something to work on, but it's also something to consider if you're interested in that lens in particular and just starting out.

    On a side note, I think that gaining skill at manually focusing a camera isn't one of those that helps you to grow in the 'art' of photography. Understanding how light works, relationships between aperture / shutter speed and depth of field, composition, etc, I feel like are the things that stretch you as an artist. I'm unquestionably slower at focusing a camera than my camera is on autofocus these days, however, and it generally does a much better job of getting the focus spot on than I do. I've found that removing the need to even think much about the technicality of getting the picture in proper focus frees me up to think only about the feel I'm trying to capture in the shot. I'm happy enough to shoot on manual for everything else, but the autofocus is one thing I've simply accepted as a big improvement in technology since I started shooting manual film cameras twenty+ years ago as a kid.
     
  20. gamerz macrumors 6502

    gamerz

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    #20
    I considered buying the D50 over the D50, but chose the D50 because it had an auto focus motor.

    Sometimes I use manual focus if the lens is focusing on the wrong thing. The most difficult part for me is getting it accurate, and then once it is accurate, not to move the camera at all, or else the focus will get messed up. Also, sometimes the subject is moving due to say wind, which makes it extremely hard to get proper focus.

    Just my .02 cents.

    Eric D.
     
  21. hector macrumors regular

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    Sep 18, 2006
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    Cheltenham, UK
    #21
    Potentially think about the XTI? I own a D40 and wish I could AF with my 50mm f1.8. The Canon is a similar price and spec, so if you don't have money invested in other Nikon stuff then it may be sensible to go that route so you can use the excellent, low cost 50mm that will AF.

    Just my 2p:)
     
  22. AlaskaMoose macrumors 65816

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    #22
    All good points, and I agree with you. I only focus the lens manually when taking close-ups of flowers, macro photography, low light conditions, and such. The rest of the time the camera and lens are set to auto-focus., but the camera is usually set to aperture priority since I want to have some control on depth-of-field.
     
  23. cube macrumors G5

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    May 10, 2004
    #23
    But the screen itself is still bad. I haven´t used the new high end meters, but I´m sure it´s bad ergonomics to have to look at the side of the image, instead of prisms in the middle of the view.
     
  24. Mousse macrumors 68000

    Mousse

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    #24
    It's possible to replace the focus screens at least on the Canons. I've replaced the one in my 20D with a split screen. I brought a regular split screen and grounded it down to the same size and shape as the 20D's. Works great.:cool:
     
  25. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #25
    Blindly doing anything doesn't help you grow- but learning about hyperfocal distances, and depth of field calculations can certainly help you grow as a photographer and more importantly help you get the shot when all the automated stuff doesn't work because there's a higher-contrast item between you and the subject that happens to hit the focus point better.

    If you're just shooting an isolated subject then AF may work fine, but I find in the field that AF fails to lock on to the right subject more often than I'd like- especially with birds in trees, and with wildlife you often don't get a lot of time to correct before the shot's gone, so if it's not instinctual you miss the shot.

    Being able to work with a camera instinctively if you have a focus motor failure can be important for event photographers as well.

    If you manual focus so infrequently that it's not instinctual, then obviously it'll impact your attention to composition and the subject- but if it's automatic, then you've got no need to be "freed up" as it doesn't interfere- I never found it impeding to shoot with MF only MF bodies, but that's because when you do something often it's a part of the process and you don't have to worry about it- but if you do something infrequently then it's a distraction.

    I almost always shoot in MF mode in the studio, though that's because my shorter lenses don't tend to have MF override, but I still think knowing about focus, and how to focus is a valuable skill. I always have a DoF calculator with me when I'm out shooting.
     

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