An Introduction to Manual Focusing

An Introduction to Manual Focusing

In a world where autofocus technology is rapidly advancing, it's easy to overlook the benefits of manual focusing in photography. Despite these advances, manual focusing can still offer greater accuracy, and faster focusing in some situations. In this blog post, we will explore the world of manual focusing and provide tips and techniques to help you experiment with manual focusing in your photography.

Anyone who has spent time taking photos knows the horrible feeling of pressing the shutter button to capture the perfect moment, only to miss the action because the camera wasn’t quite satisfied with the focus.

When focusing manually you control exactly when and how the lens focus changes, allowing for a much quicker response from your cameras shutter when the trigger is pressed. In some situations where the light is low, or your shooting through a translucent material like glass or water, autofocus can easily become confused leaving manual focusing the only option.

So how do you manually focus? Vintage cameras and lenses are designed to be manually focused from the ground up, and offer several features not found in their digital counterparts to help you quickly and accurately focus on your subject.

Focusing screen

The focusing screen is a ground sheet of glass held between the mirror and the viewfinder in SLR cameras, and often contains a split-prism spot in the centre. This allows the user to easily see when items are not in focus as the two sides of the circle don’t align as they should. When the subject is pulled into focus the two sides align perfect and the image will be sharp.

An image of a roll of film through the perspective of a split prism viewfinder. The roll of film is not in focus.

Here we see the roll of film is not in focus and the two halves of the circle are misaligned.

An image of a roll of film through the perspective of a split prism viewfinder. The roll of film is in focus.

Here we see the roll of film is now in focus and the two halves of the circle are aligned.

Lens design

Manual lenses offer a much thicker focus ring that can be controlled more precisely and easily than digital lenses. They also contain several markings along the barrel to provide exact measurements for range of focus. For more information on how to use the zone focus markings, check out our blog on zone focusing.

While manual focus may seem intimidating at first, it can be a powerful tool for photographers looking to gain more control over their images. The split prism focus screens and thicker focus rings found on vintage cameras and lenses can help make the transition to manual focus easier and more intuitive. Don't be afraid to give it a try and see how it can improve your photography skills and expand your creative possibilities. With practice and patience, manual focus can become an invaluable technique in your photography toolkit.

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