If you’ve never shot with an old manual focus film SLR, you’ve probably never experienced the joys (and pains) of focusing with a split screen and microprism ring. YouTube user ttcalan created this short video that demonstrates how the system looks and works. He writes,
Just a demonstration of how manual focus works on a Minolta X-700. It’s shot through the viewfinder and shows how the split prism and microprism ring help the photographer focus. I also show how stopping down the lens causes the split prism to go dark.
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.
One of the interesting technologies Sony introduced into its line of NEX mirrorless cameras last year (starting with the NEX-C3) was “focus peaking”, a feature from the video recording world that highlights in-focus areas of an image to aid in manual focusing. You know those colorful pixels that image editing programs use to indicate blown out or underexposed areas of photos? It’s like that, except for focus. What’s awesome is that you can adjust things like focus, focal length, and aperture, and then see the depth of field adjust on your screen in real time. Check out the 10-second video above for a demo. Read more…
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.
If you’ve never used a rangefinder camera before, this video provides a visual look at how focusing works (a Leica M2 is used). Basically you’re given a second (smaller) image of the scene, and your goal is turn the focus ring until the two images match up for the subject you’d like to have in focus. Read more…
The concept of hyperfocal distance is used in landscape photography to achieve the greatest depth of field and acceptable sharpness for both near and far objects. In the two minute tutorial above, wildlife photographer Chris Weston walks through some hyperfocal distance focusing techniques. You can also find a couple informative tutorials at DOFMaster and Cambridge in Colour.
Want more precision in your focus adjustments when shooting video with your DSLR, but don’t want to shell out money for a pricey follow focus? Flickr user Adam Lisagor shot this photo showing how he created his own DIY follow focus for $6. All you need is a steel hose clamp, drawer handle, nut, and bolt. Drill a hole through the clamp, and put it together as shown above.
I put a rubber band around my focus ring before I put the clamp on it (to protect it). You can also put another rubber band on the ring, draw your witness marks for focus, and wedge a paper clip in the focus pull ring to show you where your focus is.
There you have it, an easy way to get a handle on your focusing (pun intended).