Photo Tips Podcast: How to Use Manual Focus #84
How to Use Manual Focus #84
Perhaps the most obvious answer to the question of how to use manual focus is to use your eyes and your fingers. Roll the focus ring with your fingers until you see that your subject is focused with your eyes. Although this seems rather obvious, there’s a bit more to consider than just those two things if you are want to use manual focus to achieve sharpness. First is your diopter dialed in? Whether you are shooting DSLR or mirrorless you will find that there is a flat lever, round knob or round dial on the side of your viewfinder. It can be at the top, bottom, left or right side of the viewfinder. It is a device that will move the diopter of your viewfinder. It’s the glass inside your viewfinder that allows you to make minor corrections for your particular vision. So the great part is if you have minor vision issues, adjusting the diopter will allow you to shoot without using your glasses. However if you have vision issues beyond what your diopter can correct, you’ll need to be wearing your glasses while you are shooting and this also means that your prescription better be up to date. Otherwise you won’t know whether or not your image is truly in focus. To be clear, if you have to wear glasses while shooting be sure to adjust your diopter while you’re wearing your glasses. To adjust your diopter, move the lever or turn the knob until you see that the numbers inside the viewfinder is sharp. Again I said numbers, not the image itself. By numbers I mean the display which shows your f/stop and shutter speed and other information inside the viewfinder. To make the numbers display, just press the shutter button halfway down. Although not all cameras have diopters, pretty much every camera I’ve seen lately has a diopter. If you can’t find yours please double check your manual – sometimes it’s not totally obvious.
Once you have dialed in your diopter, make sure that your camera is set to manual focus, this can be a switch to the side of the lens or an actual item in your menu that you have to turn on. The only thing left to do at this point is to roll the focus ring until you see what you want is in focus. But wait, as you do this there are a couple of other things you might want to keep in mind. When the camera detects that something, and by something I mean anything, is in focus a dot will appear either on the bottom left or bottom right of your display. This may be somewhat helpful or not. For those with mirrorless you can enable focus peaking. Focus peaking is when your mirrorless camera lights up the things that it detects is in focus usually by way of placing zebra strips over those areas. Again, you’ll probably need to activate this option; while you’re there see if you can change the color of the zebra stripes. For some people certain colors work better than others. Honestly I find focus peaking to be very distracting but again to each their own. If you don’t have focus peaking you might find that some cameras place boxes over the areas that are in focus. This is often the case in DSLRs. Either way, know that if you see more areas highlighted than your main subject it’s because there are multiple things sitting on the same plane as your subject. Remember, your camera is only ever capable of focusing on a single plane.
If you do not have any of the things I just mentioned you might have something called “focus assist”. This is mostly available only in mirrorless cameras. I have never seen this in DSLR live view modes, so I believe it is only for mirrorless cameras. In Focus Assist, when you turn your focus ring in manual focus the camera automatically magnifies to the center of the frame so it’s easier to find focus. This is helpful if your main subject is sitting the center of the frame. Otherwise, not so much?
If on the other hand you are shooting a DSLR you can basically do the same thing by putting your camera on live view and then pressing the magnify button. This is usually the same button on your camera that will magnify the image in play back. Normally you can magnify the image up to 10x. Once you do that using the joystick, or touch screen to move the display to the area you want to focus and then move your focus ring on the lens until you see focus. From there just press fire. You do not need to back out the magnification. The camera will simply do that for you. If you are using mirrorless, you may or may not be able to do this.
I think that covers the different methods of manual focus, but if you find that you cannot get good focus in manual focus? Most likely it is because your diopter has not been dialed into your particular vision or your prescription is bad. For those who don’t wear glasses, I would definitely get an eye exam. I know that sounds crazy but I’ve seen this too often. For those who are dialed in? Perhaps your lens calibration is off. But honestly, in 25 years I’ve never actually seen a lens that was off. Although I do know that it happens, I just haven’t seen it. Lens calibration is a whole nother animal so I will leave you to find the answer for your camera on Google.
Lastly, a participant recently told me that what he used to do was he used to zoom in on the subject find focus and then zoom back out until he found his composition. Although this used work like THIRTY years ago, it is no longer the case. Manufacturers no longer make zoom lenses capable of holding the same focus throughout the zoom. It’s a long explanation, so I will just leave it there. It is what it is, so don’t do it!
Wow, I thought this was going to be a rather short simple episode but I guess Lawrence was not off his rocker when he asked this question. Yes, this episode came to you complements of a listener. If you have a question you want answer to? Just send me an email at [email protected]