In photography these days, the camera is capable of making a lot of the choices needed to properly create a clear, properly exposed photograph. But do photographers use the easy option of autofocus when taking their photographs too?
All levels of photographers use autofocus. The ease and speed it offers are just as attractive to a professional as they would be to an amateur. Some would argue there are even times when autofocus is required.
What is the difference between autofocus and manual focus? Why is there a stigma behind autofocus? And most importantly, when is the proper time to use manual focus versus manual focus? This article will answer these questions and many more, giving you the rundown on whether professionals use autofocus.
Professional Photographers Like Autofocus too
Professional photographers absolutely use autofocus. It is arguable that for some jobs, such as sports photography, autofocus is almost required. It is a valuable tool for every level of photographer.
In the following sections, the reasons behind why autofocus is so important, and even when the different forms of it are needed and required, will be delved into in detail.
Autofocus Is Required (Sometimes)
Despite the stigma about autofocus, there are times when photography absolutely requires it. Most mediums where the subject moves too fast to rely on anything else is the perfect usage of autofocus.
- Sports Photography: Capturing the activity on a sports field is often happening so fast that autofocus is required.
- News Photography: News will not wait for autofocus. That is why news photographers likely rely on autofocus.
- Nature Photography: Sweet talking wild animals into staying still for a photograph is a talent few possess. Autofocus is often required to successfully photograph animals in the wild.
- Street Photography: Capturing life while it is being lived often requires quick thinking and quick hands. In these situations, autofocus could be very beneficial.
- Concert Photography: In concert situations, the subject is moving, the lights are moving, and everyone around the photographer is moving. Autofocus is essential.
Autofocus has not always been the same gear-turning mechanism of focal perfection that is loved by all levels of photographers. Before technology introduced the impressive range of automatically focusing lenses enjoyed today, photographers used a zone system.
- Zone Focus: There is a lot of calculation in photography, one of which is making an educated guess about the distance to a subject. Depending on the chosen depth of field, anything within that zone will be in focus. Although more rudimentary, this old school system of math counts as autofocus.
- Autofocus Points: Assuming you are not interested in casually making measurements before shooting, however, modern cameras and lenses introduced focus points. Focal points vary in number and location, but using these mini-guides, a photographer can tell the camera where to focus.
- Autofocus Areas: For those not wanting to pinpoint the focus, autofocus areas was the solution. Completely dependent on the camera, autofocus areas ask the camera to group autofocus points to create a more generalized focus area.
The Autofocus Lens
In its most basic form, an autofocus lens does just what it says it will: automatically focus. As technology has improved and more digital functions are incorporated into the camera and lens, autofocus has become an impressive tool.
An autofocus lens will locate and focus on the subject of the photograph with ease. The autofocus should deliver an in-focus, isolated subject with little photographer input. In many cases, however, autofocus requires some slight tweaks by the photographer.
The Manual Lens
Believe it or not, autofocus lenses have been around since Kodak introduced them in 1978. Before that, manual focus lenses were the only option.
Unlike the autofocus lens, the manual focus lens responds only to adjustments made by the photographer. Usually an excruciating game of micro-adjustments, the manual focus lens is rotated, creating different depths of focus. By zeroing in on the right focus depth, the photographer captures the subject isolation they desire.
The large disadvantage to manual focus is, needless to say, problematic or burry focus. Between the photographer’s eye, the viewfinder, the camera, and the lens, focusing an image goes through several layers, and there can be any number of issues within those layers.
Do Not Confuse Auto Mode and Autofocus
Before continuing, however, it is important to understand the difference between Auto Mode and autofocus.
- Auto Mode: The camera and the lens are complicated pieces of equipment. To make it user-friendly, the many choices involved in creating a photograph are easily put into effect by the camera itself, using Auto Mode. Auto Mode is asking the camera to make the choices to create a properly exposed, clear image.
- Autofocus: Unlike Auto Mode, which makes decisions in the camera to properly expose the photograph, autofocus deals only with asking the camera to find the focal point. All other decisions may or may not be up to the photographer, depending on the shooting mode.
How to Use Autofocus Like a Pro
Even with autofocus, however, the photographer still has control over the image and the focal point. And while many photographers, professional and hobbyist alike, enjoy autofocus, they might approach how to use it differently.
- Manual Autofocus Selection: Even with the magic of autofocus, determining where in the frame the camera will try to focus is still very much up to the photographer. By moving the autofocus selection in the frame, any photographer can whittle down the area the camera is attempting to focus on.
- The Diopter: On many camera systems, it is possible to adjust the settings of the diopter. By tweaking this setting, you assure that what you, the photographer, see as in focus, the camera will as well. This is a handle, and little known setting, and strongly advised for eyeglass and contact wearers.
- The Delay: Asking the camera to focus means asking the camera to take the time to focus. This will inevitably create a delay. When shooting on autofocus, be sure to accommodate the delay of autofocus.
- AF Assist: Without enough light, the camera simply cannot focus reliably. Especially when shooting in low-light situations, the AF Assist is a crucial tool. Though initially concerning, the AF Assist will flood the photograph with light to find the focus.
When Is Manual Focus Preferred?
Regardless of the ease of autofocus, there are times when manual focus is really the best and only option.
- Portraiture: Portraits are one of the most recognizable forms of photography. Successfully capturing a person in the precise way you wish to represent them is a tricky business. While autofocus may make focusing easy, it does not appreciate the delicacy required to properly choose the right focal spot.
- Macro Photography: Macro photography is so fascinating because of the severe depth of field for such up-close objects. In macro photography, the focal point makes the picture. Additionally, anything out of focus or not crisp will be immediately recognizable to even the most casual observer.
Photography Is a Constantly Shifting Medium
Cameras and photographers are a constantly shifting medium. During the civil war, photographers lugged their large-format cameras onto battlefields, but these days, an iPhone provides instantaneous studio conditions and subject isolation.
Many new methods of photography are initially eschewed by the professionals and relegated to hobbyists or lower-level photographers. However, they soon become mainstream, regarded as vital forms of expression.
- Polaroid Photography: Polaroid cameras made instant photographs a reality for a whole new generation of photo enthusiasts. While initially used for vacation photos and birthday parties, these days, the vintage feel of a Polaroid photograph is both sought after and duplicated through the use of digital filters.
- Phone Photography: Technology has come a long way from the miniature screens on flip phones. As the phone has developed, so has its camera. Phone photography has grown into an extremely available and intelligent photographic artform.
- Aerial Photography: Before drone photography, a photographer needed some way to get up high enough for aerial images. But these days, the aerial landscape images captured by a drone, using, among other things, autofocus are enjoyed and appreciated.
The idea that professionals would dismiss autofocus as a tool of the hobbyist is simply false. Since its inception, the autofocus lens has grown into an impressive camera essential, along with plenty of examples.