In addition to the new X-E1 announced this morning, Fujifilm has also unveiled its upcoming version 2.0 of its X-Pro1 firmware. Autofocus has been a much-griped-about feature of the X-Pro1 (and the X100, for that matter), and the new firmware addresses that issue by improving the AF capabilities of the camera in different ways. Read more…
If you recently upgraded from a compact camera to a DSLR, one of the first things you probably noticed was that focusing is done completely differently. Instead of simply pointing your camera at a subject and letting the camera figure out what to do, you now need to think about autofocus points, which often don’t seem as “intelligent” as the focus systems in point-and-shoot cameras. The truth is, autofocus points are extremely powerful and give you a great deal more freedom — you just need to know how to use them.
To get you started, here’s a great primer video by photographer Phil Steele. Over the course of 9 minutes, Steele steps through five fundamental tips for achieving fine focus and tack-sharp photos: ditching full auto, focus and recomposing, looking for edge contrasts, using manual pre-focusing, and making use of live view to aid in manual focusing.
Face detection has become the snapshot photographer’s invaluable assistant in ensuring tack-sharp faces, but soon it’ll be able to add two more job responsibilities to its resume: exposure metering and speedier autofocus. Two patents recently awarded to Apple show that future iOS cameras (perhaps the next iPhone?) will have standard camera features that rely much more on face detection technology. The first patent, titled “Dynamic exposure metering based on face detection“, allows the camera to automatically select faces as the primary target for metering. In more difficult situations — group shots or people standing in front of a crowd, for example — the camera will use factors such as “head proximity” to select the primary subject. Read more…
Have you ever learned that you should autofocus on the same point twice in a row to achieve optimal focusing? Apparently it’s a tip that’s often taught to beginners. Roger Cicala over at LensRentals decided to run some tests to see if this theory has any merit:
[If communication between a camera and a lens is one-way], AF may be more accurate if you ‘double focus’, meaning you push the shutter button halfway down until the AF beeps, then release and push it halfway down again. The idea is that you’re providing the camera a ‘recheck’ of the AF point and a chance to fine tune focus. I was taught to do this when I started photography but I have no idea if it really helps. So I thought we’d look at that [...]
If the two click AF method works better than one click AF, that might give us some indication that the system is open and without feedback. Maybe. If it isn’t I’m not sure it means there is a feedback loop. Maybe AF is as accurate as it gets no matter how many times you pre-focus.
After a battery of tests, Cicala came to the conclusion that “pre-focusing” a camera does absolutely nothing for the accurate focusing of photos.
Ever since people started getting their hands on the 5D Mark III and the 1D X’s 61-point AF system, they have been complaining about the black AF points for one reason or another (mostly regarding visibility). Whatever the complaints, however, the resounding request has been the same: bring back the red-when-active AF-points from the last 1D. And even though we’re not sure if that’s how Canon intends to fix the problem, Canon Rumors is reporting that the the Japanese camera giant has heard the complaints, and is currently working on solution.
Admittedly, the fact that CR was told the solution “may not be ideal for everyone” is anything but heartening, but at least Canon knows there is a problem, and is very likely going to fix it in an upcoming firmware update.
Canon made a splash earlier this month by announcing its first EF pancake lens, the Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM. If you’re considering this lens, one thing you should know is that the autofocus noise may interfere with your videos unless you use an external mic. In his review of the lens, photographer Dan Carr writes,
Here then is probably the biggest problem with this lens. With any other Canon lens, if you think the AF motor is making too much noise you can either switch to manual focus mode to disengage the focus motors or with Canons l-series lenses and their ultrasonic motors you simply just turn the focus ring manually yourself and it doesn’t engage the noise producing AF motor. Unfortunately though, the STM motor works in a different way [...] Even when you switch to manual focus mode, rotating the the focus ring engages the STM motor to move the lens elements as the whole thing is a focus by wire system. This means that there is absolutely no way for you to get a silent video. Whether you let the camera do the focusing, as with the new cameras like the 650D/T4i , or whether you do it yourself, you are going to get the background hum as demonstrated in my video
Sony is reportedly focusing on autofocus as one of the main battlegrounds it’ll wage war on in the DSLR market. According to sonyalpharumors, the company is working on a new A99 SLT camera that’s already being tested by photographers in the wild, and one of the main selling points of the camera is a whopping 102 autofocus points — all of them cross type. For comparison, Canon’s 1D X has 61 AF points with 41 of them cross type, and the Nikon D800 has 51 AF points with 15 of them cross type. Granted, the autofocus performance of a camera is much more than the number of cross-type points it has, but perhaps this is the beginning of a new “cross-type war” now that the “megapixel war” is cooling down a bit.
Contrast detection is one of the two main techniques used in camera autofocus systems. Although focusing speeds continue to improve, the method uses an inefficient “guess and check” method of figuring out a subject’s distance — it doesn’t initially know whether to move focus backward or forward. UT Austin vision researcher Johannes Burge wondered why the human eye is able to instantly focus without the tedious “focus hunting” done by AF systems. He and his advisor then developed a computer algorithm that’s able determine the exact amount of focus error by simply examining features in a scene.
His research paper, published earlier this month, offers proof that there is enough information in a static image to calculate whether the focus is too far or too close. Burge has already patented the technology, which he says could allow for cameras to focus in as little as 10 milliseconds.
Canon’s new 1D X is an impressive fusion of the old 1D and 1Ds lines, boasting state of the art sensor quality combined with impressive speed, but there’s one downside that may be a big disappointment to some photographers: the camera loses autofocus when used with lenses with a max aperture of f/8.
While there aren’t any Canon lenses that naturally have an f/8 maximum, adding a 1.4x extender to a f/5.6 lens or a 2x extender to a f/4 lens results in a lens with a max of f/8. If you’re planning on upgrading to a 1D X but need extended reach (e.g. you do bird photography), you may need to shell out some extra cash for a faster lens.
Photographer Adrian Onsen wanted to use the AI Servo autofocus mode on his Canon 40D in low-light situations, but found that the AF assist beam is only emitted once until focus is achieved rather than every time the camera needs to refocus. He then purchased a laser pointer from a dollar store, disassembled it to obtain a defocused beam of light, and attached it to the top of his camera. The hacked-together AF assist tool ended up working pretty well — Onsen was able to shoot sharper photos at a dance club without anyone noticing the extra light. To learn more check out his in-depth writeup here.