While the AF systems in most of today’s cameras will do a phenomenal job of snapping your photographs quickly and accurately into focus, there are times when switching to manual is a better option.
This is usually for one of two reasons: accuracy or speed. Yes, manual focus can be faster!
Whether you turn to manual focus through choice or necessity, there are two features that can help to guarantee that your focus is spot-on, rather than ‘almost there.’
The first of these is your camera’s focus-confirmation indicator. This is usually displayed as a solid circle in the viewfinder display, which illuminates when the camera thinks your subject is in focus. Although this is most commonly associated with getting a ‘lock’ when you’re using AF, it also works when you switch to manual focus, with the indicator lighting up when the camera senses that the area under the central focus point is in focus (even though the central focus point isn’t actually being used to focus with). However, although the focus indicator is useful, it relies on the same sensor used by the camera’s AF, so it can struggle under low-contrast conditions or with layered subjects.
An alternative (and arguably more accurate focus aid) is Live View, which enables you to frame your shots using the rear LCD screen. What is most useful is the option to zoom into the preview image, which makes focusing manually far easier than it is when you’re peering through a diminutive viewfinder. Most cameras will also allow you to move the preview area around the frame for even greater accuracy.
A word of warning, though: do not zoom in too far. Although it’s tempting to magnify the image by the maximum amount, this will leave you looking at pixels rather than detail. Instead, zoom in fully and then back out by two magnification ‘steps.’ On most cameras, this provides the perfect balance between image magnification and detail.
Beyond Auto is Chris Gatcum’s easily accessible guide which will set you free. Unlike other beginners book it does not attempt to explain each and very button, dial and feature on your camera, or explore precisely where each pixel comes from. Instead it concentrates on the key creative controls, including exposure, focus and colour; essential skills that’ll enable you to take the sensational pictures that Auto mode simply can’t.