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Auto Focus Insanity


Jay60p

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Auto Focus. All the youtubers are consumed with auto focus performance. Every review is praising or dissing AF
for every new camera. Everyone has videos of people jumping in & out of frame and watching the focus change to this & that. Is it tracking?? Is it twitchy, is it slow, is it focusing on the wrong subject etc etc. and the stupid AI algorithms are driving us camera owners crazy if it doesn't quite perform right. The first few months I had a new mirrorless I would end up watching every shot for signs of AF error, I become sensitized to every background twitch & focus shift, I was alternately disappointed or elated depending on the AutoFocus results.


Finally during a brief period of sanity I turned off the AF and went totally manual focus. I planned what my shots were going to do AHEAD OF TIME and set the focus WITH THE FOCUS RING! I stopped watching the shots for AF and could pay attention to everything else.  No more focus wobbles, jumps, twitches & tracking errors, just … calm.  Then I had a shot where two people were talking and one suddenly walked past the camera left while still talking. I followed him a ways and then panned back. Hey, he went out of focus! The other person said a few words and the shot ended. Later I watched this shot and sure enough he moved out of focus. But, it didn’t bother me. I realized if the focus had tried to follow him and then jump back to the other person it would have been quite distracting to me, but having a subject naturally move out of focus as he moved through the scene made me realize that happens in the movies all the time and no-one cares.  
So relax, turn off that AF.  Let the background trees stay out of focus when Camera Conspiracies jumps out of the shot. Manual Focus rules.

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At the end of the day the best lenses in the world are manual focus only which is kinda funny. 

I shoot sports which is probably the hardest in regards to manually focusing but I feel more in tune with the edit, can't describe it vs just sitting back letting the camera do most of the focus work. 

Some of my shots are slightly out of focus but my viewers/clients don't seem to care. 

MF is simply a skill that has to be practiced. I try to make an effort outside of gigs to go out and practice pulling focus manually. 

Letting my dog run around the backyard and tracking her is good practice I've found.  

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I shoot weddings hybrid.

Half of the time, my video orientated camera is either on a tripod or freestanding monopod doing it’s thing whilst I shoot stills.

I could not do this without AF, so whilst no fan of 90% of the muppets on The Tube, it’s essential for me.

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2 hours ago, MrSMW said:

I shoot weddings hybrid.

Half of the time, my video orientated camera is either on a tripod or freestanding monopod doing it’s thing whilst I shoot stills.

I could not do this without AF, so whilst no fan of 90% of the muppets on The Tube, it’s essential for me.

Out of curiosity, how do you do that and what do you promise and deliver the client?
I find wedding photography when I'm alone a full time occupation.
Tried to do wedding videography alone (without photography) and it was even more stressful and nearly impossible. 
What is your secret (outside of autofocus)???

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11 hours ago, Jay60p said:

Auto Focus. All the youtubers are consumed with auto focus performance. Every review is praising or dissing AF
for every new camera. Everyone has videos of people jumping in & out of frame and watching the focus change to this & that. Is it tracking?? Is it twitchy, is it slow, is it focusing on the wrong subject etc etc. and the stupid AI algorithms are driving us camera owners crazy if it doesn't quite perform right. The first few months I had a new mirrorless I would end up watching every shot for signs of AF error, I become sensitized to every background twitch & focus shift, I was alternately disappointed or elated depending on the AutoFocus results.


Finally during a brief period of sanity I turned off the AF and went totally manual focus. I planned what my shots were going to do AHEAD OF TIME and set the focus WITH THE FOCUS RING! I stopped watching the shots for AF and could pay attention to everything else.  No more focus wobbles, jumps, twitches & tracking errors, just … calm.  Then I had a shot where two people were talking and one suddenly walked past the camera left while still talking. I followed him a ways and then panned back. Hey, he went out of focus! The other person said a few words and the shot ended. Later I watched this shot and sure enough he moved out of focus. But, it didn’t bother me. I realized if the focus had tried to follow him and then jump back to the other person it would have been quite distracting to me, but having a subject naturally move out of focus as he moved through the scene made me realize that happens in the movies all the time and no-one cares.  
So relax, turn off that AF.  Let the background trees stay out of focus when Camera Conspiracies jumps out of the shot. Manual Focus rules.

Yes, proper manual focus rules, and is much more reliable than AF. No wonders focus pullers are very regarded professionals in movie business.

But is not so easy when using a gimbal for action shots, especially if you are a one man operation. In this case, good AF is very desirable.

Different situations, different needs.

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Different strokes for different folks. Both MF and AF are tools and it's up to you to decide what you need and want to use. 

 

Youtubers talk a lot about AF because in their situation it is essential/super useful. It's one of the reasons why I want to switch to a7 II as a GH5 user. 

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3 hours ago, Avenger 2.0 said:

Out of curiosity, how do you do that and what do you promise and deliver the client?
I find wedding photography when I'm alone a full time occupation.
Tried to do wedding videography alone (without photography) and it was even more stressful and nearly impossible. 
What is your secret (outside of autofocus)???

If I could bottle and sell it, I would at least consider it...

Full video and full photography coverage at the same time.

How?

It's like that guy that at one point in his life couldn't juggle 2 oranges but one day could juggle chainsaws.

How?

Practise, practise and more practise. He started somewhere and over a period of time, persistence and not a small amount of frustration...

For me, full-time wedding photographer for 20+ years and started introducing bits of video into the capture either for clients or for said practise purposes around 12 or so years ago and it grew from there.

But no one just picks up a chainsaw or two and starts tossing them around saying, "how hard can it be?". It's just a process same as pretty much anything else.

Some people in their right minds wouldn't even attempt it, but I have never been one to back down from a challenge.

There's a lot of shit I have never been able to make work, - commercial photography or video for one thing. Don't know why, long since given up trying to fathom these things, - I'm more or less pegged at what relatively few things I can do and one of those few things happens to be hybrid wedding capture. The wedding bit seems to be the key part for me. I've been to 700+ of the things, - probably part of my why & how ;)

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2 hours ago, Márcio Kabke Pinheiro said:

Yes, proper manual focus rules, and is much more reliable than AF. No wonders focus pullers are very regarded professionals in movie business.

But is not so easy when using a gimbal for action shots, especially if you are a one man operation. In this case, good AF is very desirable.

Different situations, different needs.

 

7 hours ago, MrSMW said:

I shoot weddings hybrid.

Half of the time, my video orientated camera is either on a tripod or freestanding monopod doing it’s thing whilst I shoot stills.

I could not do this without AF, so whilst no fan of 90% of the muppets on The Tube, it’s essential for me.

You are pros. You know when AF is needed and when it isn't, and you know how to use it. I am speaking more to the hobbyists/

enthusiast/ family photographers who may be looking into mirrorless for the first time (like I did) and maybe putting too

much importance into full-time AF performance to choose a camera purchase. There will be times when the situation is

uncontrollable and unpredictable and you cannot set up a fixed depth of field to cover everything happening,

and AF is useful. In easier situations you don't need to hand over control of your focus to an algorithm that doesn't

know who or what it should keep in focus.

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Well so-called true pros use manual focus. Or so I've been told 😉

I don't think it makes much difference whether you do something for a living or not, - you either need or want AF or prefer MF, - it comes down to personal choice mostly.

As above, I need AF some of the time to the point I use it all of the time. Or I'd forget. I have switched to manual before only to push the record button and wonder why everything is OOF only to realise moments later, it's the muppet behind the camera at fault 😂

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I haven't yet been fortunate enough to own a cam that does reliable AF. For the majority of what I do (marketing videos) manual is still best as I want to decide what's in focus and when.

But I would dearly love, as mentioned, to have the option of AF for gimbal shots and even "2 people walking down the corridor pretending to have a conversation" shots.

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2 hours ago, Jay60p said:

 

You are pros. You know when AF is needed and when it isn't, and you know how to use it. I am speaking more to the hobbyists/

enthusiast/ family photographers who may be looking into mirrorless for the first time (like I did) and maybe putting too

much importance into full-time AF performance to choose a camera purchase. There will be times when the situation is

uncontrollable and unpredictable and you cannot set up a fixed depth of field to cover everything happening,

and AF is useful. In easier situations you don't need to hand over control of your focus to an algorithm that doesn't

know who or what it should keep in focus.

For new hobbyist/family photographers, reliable AF is a big selling point. A decent touch screen and AF interface - you know what Sony can't seem to figure out - makes the upgrade from a phone experience seamless. Phones make everything so easy, gotta give people a reason to buy a "real" camera. Just tune out the noise, who cares what people are saying on youtube to get clicks and views?

My sole source of income is shooting photos and videos, and I pretty much use AF 100% of the time.  I shoot in retina searing Florida sun - often on equally bright white sand beaches and I shoot on a gimbal a lot. Great AF is a life saver for me as the only way I can properly check focus in real time is through the EVF - I wear reading glasses and until something is about 2 feet from my nose its fuzzy. But everything beyond that is fuzzy with the glasses on. Its tough to see any LCD outside when its so damn bright, and I'd need a 42" panel to properly check focus at a viewing distance that didn't require destroying my vision wearing glasses in the sun. I just bought a EOS R body to tinker with over the S1 specifically because of AF. Until something like a global shutter is a reality, AF is one of the most significant selling points where you can leapfrog the competition. Unless you're Panasonic pretending PDAF doesn't exist.

Chris

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Manual focus guy here. 

FWIW, I put a bigger loupe on my GH5's EVF and a neat-o chamois eye cushion.  Blocks the light on a bright day and allows me to pull focus.  And I'm not a gimbal shooter, so this traditional method is fine by me.  There's also, I think, a pleasant aesthetic that shots have from a human finding focus.

All that adds up to me in the "don't really care much about AF" camp.  

Of course, if I'm ever planning mission critical shots where AF would be the solution, then I'd certainly rent or buy the proper gear.

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I am a hobbyist and I was a big champion for AF, now I'm a big champion for MF.

What changed for me was:

  • I thought MF would be way harder to get right than it actually is (although I don't shoot in the most difficult situations)
  • I also thought that having something perfectly in focus at all times was required
  • I was upgrading and it came down to the A7iii vs GH5 and the only significant downside of the GH5 was poor AF, so I did an few experiments with MF and discovered that I actually like the look of MF as it makes things more human and suits the style I prefer

I think that there are situations when AF is great (doing those gimbal shots where you run around the bride/groom at a wedding for example) but I suspect that a lot of people new to this just haven't put in the work to discover how good they are at MF and what the aesthetic really looks like.  Plus, Hollywood gets shots OOF all the time.

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I actually do similar, - depends on the scenario but use the AF to get a lock and then flip it to manual.

Especially during things like wedding ceremonies where some dick stands up to take a picture on their phone and the AF locks on to them...and then does not return to the original subject.

Oh, FFS, more self-inflicted muppetry 🤪

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Even though I'm not shooting as many videos as I do photos, over the last year I also became full-manual type of guy.
But I must state that I'm not getting paid for my work, it's only my hobby. Therefore I have no expectations / requirements / clients to satisfy and just can go with the flow.

I realize this may sound cheap, but manual focusing made me reconsider my frames, what they depict, what I want them to capture.
It's not pointing and shooting anymore (I hope, lol).

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