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Tuesday, November 18, 2008

10 Tips For Better Autofocus

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1 Acadia National Park, Maine
It’s easy to take autofocus for granted. I know, I do. This technology is amazing—your camera has to figure out what should be sharp in a scene, focus the lens and take the picture, all in a fraction of a second. We expect our cameras to do this frame after frame without fail. Of course, autofocus does fail us at times. As much as the camera manufacturers would like us to believe that their autofocus (AF) technologies are beyond compare, it sometimes has problems and we get images that aren’t focused properly. Sometimes we believe manufacturers’ hype and expect cameras to be perfect in an imperfect world.

You can make autofocus work better for you. There are steps you can take with any camera you own that will get you consistently sharper pictures with autofocus. You could spend a lot of time studying how autofocus works and then compare cameras, but in my experience, this won’t help you get better pictures. Frankly, having used all sorts of camera models, I can tell you that no matter what the manufacturers tell you about their systems, each one seems to have its strengths and weaknesses. It’s true that certain pro cameras are designed for speed, including AF speed. If you’re photographing subjects like especially active wildlife, that could be a critical need, but if you’re photographing landscapes, it won’t matter.

The key is not to find the absolute “best” autofocus, but to get the best autofocus from your system. Here are some tips to follow.

2 St. Augustine, Florida
1 Lock Focus For Manual Focus
There are situations when the camera wants to keep changing its point of focus in continuous focus or it wants to shift focus points every time you press the shutter when you’re on single-shot autofocus. There are also times where you may find it hard to focus the camera manually, perhaps because you’re using a wide-angle lens and you need to be sure it focuses on a specific part of the scene. In any of these instances, you can use your autofocus to get you close by locking focus on a key part of the scene and then turning off the autofocus so you just have manual focus. You’ll be focused on a specific spot and, in essence, you’re using autofocus to help you with manual focus.

2 Lock Focus

It’s important to be sure that focus is in the right place in any scene, whether that’s a landscape or a flock of birds. When focus is off, it’s all too obvious and can ruin a perfectly good picture. Nature photographers often shoot in low-light conditions that can some-times make it hard to see to focus. We become dependent on autofocus in such situations. Watch the AF lights in your viewfinder as your camera finds focus. This will tell you where the camera is focusing. If the camera isn’t focusing in the right place, move your camera slightly as you press the shutter release halfway until the right place is highlighted. Keep the shutter release pressed to lock focus (or hold the AF button down if your camera has one) as you move the camera back to the composition and then press the shutter release all the way to take the picture.


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