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Auto Focus Vs. Manual Focus

Learning How to Use the Right Focus Mode With Your DSLR


If you're someone who's migrating from a point and shoot camera to a DSLR model, there are quite a few aspects of photography that you're going to have to learn about before you can begin having success with your advanced camera. One of the most confusing aspects can be figuring out when you should use manual focus, versus when it's better to use an auto focus mode.

To learn more about the debate of auto focus versus manual focus, read the tips below.

  • Auto focus mode is one where the camera determines the sharpest focus, using sensors that are devoted to measuring the focus of the scene. In autofocus mode, the photographer doesn't have to do anything.

  • Although shutter lag usually is minimal with a DSLR camera, the quality of the auto focus mechanism can determine just how much shutter lag your camera will see. When using an auto focus mode, you can negate the shutter lag by pre-focusing on the scene. Just press the shutter button halfway and hold it in that position until the camera's auto focus locks onto the subject. Then press the shutter button the remainder of the way to record the photo, and the shutter lag should be eliminated.

  • With manual focus, you're going to use the palm of your left hand to cup the lens. Then use your left fingers to slightly twist the focus ring on the DSLR lens until the image is in sharp focus.

  • When using manual focus, you may have better luck determining whether the scene is in sharp focus by using the viewfinder, rather than using the LCD screen. If you're shooting outdoors in bright sunlight, holding the viewfinder against your eye is going to allow you to avoid glare on the LCD screen, as the glare can make it especially tough to determine the sharpness of the focus.

  • To see which focus mode you’re currently in, press the Info button on your DSLR camera. The focus mode should be displayed, along with the other camera settings, on the LCD.

  • Sometimes, you can set the focus mode on the interchangeable lens, by sliding a switch, moving between auto focus and manual focus.

  • Depending on the DSLR model, a few different auto focus modes should be available. AF-S (single-servo) is good for stationary subjects, as the focus locks when the shutter is pressed halfway. AF-C (continuous-servo) is good for moving subjects, as the auto focus continually can adjust. AF-A (auto-servo) allows the camera to choose which of the two auto focus modes is more appropriate to use.

  • Auto focus tends to have problems working properly when the subject and background are a similar color; when the subject is partly in bright sun and partly in shadows; and when an object is between the subject and the camera. In those instances, switch to manual focus.

  • When using auto focus, the camera normally focuses on the subject in the center of the frame. However, most DSLR cameras allow you to move the focus point. Select the auto focus area command and move the focus point using the arrow keys.

  • If the camera lens has a switch for moving between manual focus and auto focus, it usually will be labeled with an M (manual) and an A (auto). However, some lenses include an M/A mode, which is auto focus with a manual focus override option.
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