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While I rely heavily on Auto focus most of the time, there are still occasions when I switch my camera over to Manual focus. For moving situations, Manual focus is sometimes faster than Auto focus for the simple reason that, as good as your Auto focus system is, you're still smarter than it is. If you're in a situation where a moving object is traveling in a very predictable way, then you might be able track focus manually very smoothly as you wait for the precise moment that you want to shoot. Your Auto focus system may rack in and out of focus as it looks for the point.
Manual focus is also useful for times when Auto focus doesn't lock, either because your subject lacks contrast, or because there's not enough light in the scene to focus. Of course, if there is not enough light for your camera to focus, then there may not be enough for you to see either, but that's still worth a try. Finally, I sometimes use Auto focus and Manual focus in combination. If I'm shooting the same subject over and over, for example, if I am shooting a landscape in rapidly changing light, I'll frame my shot in Auto focus, or using Auto focus, then switch the camera to Manual focus.
As long as I don't bump the lens, my Auto focus choice will now be locked in. Now I can just keep shooting without having to wait for Auto focus. This can also be handy for a portrait shoot, where your camera to subject distance never changes, and you want to be able to shoot without waiting for focus. To switch to Manual focus, you need to look on your lens, and find an Auto focus/Manual focus switch; there should be one somewhere. So I'm currently set on AF, Auto focus. I am just going to move that over to the MF, Manual Focus. And now when I half-press the shutter button, I don't get a beep, because the camera is not engaged in any focusing.
Instead, to focus I need to turn the focus ring on my lens. And as I turn it, the distance gauge turns also. This is showing me at what point I'm focused on, and it's measuring both in feet and meters. It's not a real granular gauge, so if you're thinking that you would measure focus to your subject, and dial in a very precise measurement here, you are not going to really have an easy time doing that. Manual focus is difficult to do in low light, because of course, you are just looking through the optical viewfinder, and if it's real dark in there, it can be hard to see if something is in focus.
I will very often use Manual focus in conjunction with Auto focus. For example, let's say I am shooting a portrait, and the distance between my camera and my subject is not going to change. So I want to be able work quickly, I don't want to have to refocus all the time, but I want to be shooting a lot, because their expression is going to be changing. And maybe I've got enough depth of field that I know that after I've manually focused, I don't have to worry too much about things going out of focus. So what I would do in that instance is actually put the camera on Auto focus, half-press to let the camera choose focus, and then switch my lens over to Manual focus. Now focus is locked in.
Now I can just shoot, and shoot, and shoot, and not have to worry about it hunting for focus. Notice, it's beeping right now. That's because, when you're in Manual focus mode, if the camera thinks that the focus you've dialed is correct, it will beep at you. So I am going to throw that off a little bit, and I get no beep. If I turn it back just a little bit -- and now I am going to have to find it, which could be tricky. But when I get in there, and actually get the focus set to what the camera thinks is correct, it will beep at me; there it is. So that's a little kind of automatic verification you get, even when you're shooting in Manual focus mode.
So don't entirely write off Manual focus as something that's left over from the old days, it actually can be useful in a lot of situations, particularly when you combine it with the Auto focus capabilities of your camera.
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