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How to Shoot: Manual Focus vs. Autofocus

  • How to Shoot: Manual Focus vs. Autofocus

If you own a DSLR or a more advanced SLR, you should have noticed that there are two focusing modes you can choose from – manual focus and autofocus. Until the first autofocus SLR, the Polaroid SX-70, was introduced in 1978, photographers had to manually focus the lenses when shooting photos. In the three and half decades between now and then, autofocus technology has evolved and advanced significantly, becoming more reliable, sophisticated and widely used. Autofocus makes taking photos a lot easier than it used to be, and this has led to an dramatic increase in the number of people owning cameras of any kinds.

Although it seems quite convenient to let your camera focus  for you, many photographers still prefer to perform this task manually. A number of photography instructors actually recommend their students to learn to shoot with manual focusing first before switching on the autofocus feature so they are familiar with both modes. It is argued that there are certain types of photography where autofocus either does not work, or does not produce the desired results. I find this argument to be quite true as I personally do switch between the two focusing modes depending on the environment and subject I’m photographing.

The biggest advantage of autofocus is the speed. There are many expert photographers who can manually focus in a split second, but the majority of us, the beginners and intermediates, still takes a bit of time to find that perfect spot. Autofocus comes in handy when the subject we are photographing is moving and quick adjustment is needed. With manual focusing, the subject may be out of the frame before we could focus properly. Furthermore, thanks to technology, autofocus provides accurate focusing that is sometimes more accurate than what manual focusing could offer. It makes photography so much easier that even those with little experience can take beautiful photos.

You may wonder, that if autofocus makes things so much easier and is no less accurate than manual focusing, why are people still use manual focusing. The answer is that autofocus has its own limits. Autofocus works well as long as the environment is well lit so the sensor can determine if it has focused properly. If the environment is dark, such as a dimly lit room or outdoor at night, the camera will have trouble focusing on the subject, preventing the photo from being taken. In this situation, it is recommend that you rely on your eyes and focus manually. Also, autofocus sometimes does not handle transparent objects well. For example, if you are photographing through a closed window, the camera may consistently focus on the glass rather than the objects outside; manual focusing does not have this problem. Professional photographers also tend to shoot portrait photos using manual focusing to get the results they want.

So that’s the two focusing modes, their advantages and disadvantages. What is your preferred focusing mode? Please share your thoughts by leaving comments below.

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