Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Manual Focus--With an Emphasis on "Manual"

I once heard that for someone considering buying a new camera, and unsure what brand to buy, the best advice given is to buy what your friends have.  There are a variety of reasons for that, but the two biggest are built in tech support and potential for equipment sharing and advice (a variation of tech support).

Enough can’t be said for having a circle of photography friends that you can rely on for help and for partnering when going out to shoot pictures.  It’s when these friends also have the same brand camera as you (or maybe even the same model) that you find how much knowledge and experience can be drawn from each other. 
A friend of mine just recently bought into a new brand, the same brand that I have, and he purchased the same model camera as well.  He wanted to get together right away so he could set his camera up with the same settings that I had settled on for my camera.  As anxious as I was to share what I knew get him up and running with his new camera, I strongly encouraged him to read the manual first, determine what settings he thought he should use, and THEN let’s get together and compare notes.
This approach has two obvious benefits… First, he learns about his own camera and doesn’t just blindly copy the same settings I’ve chosen.  But second, and this is a selfish reason, is that I recognize that I’m not the expert on everything (might not actually be an expert on anything), and by him reading the manual, he’d be in a position to point out things that I might not know.  Another saying I’ve heard that I really like is, “there is more I don’t know than I do know”….profound in its humility.
The payoff for this strategy was huge when this last weekend my friend made a casual observation about his camera.  He was using a very old lens that would still fit on the camera, but not take advantage of automatic focusing when he remarked that an indicator light came on when the subject was in focus.  At first I didn’t understand what he meant, and then coolest “aha moment” occurred.  The tip was this… when shooting with a lens in manual focus mode, one way (the most common way) that people determine if something is in focus is simply by looking at the scene and making a visual judgement.  My friend pointed out that if you hold the shutter half-way down when doing this, a small indicator light shows up to signal when the subject has come into focus…wow, that’s huge!  No more guessing based on visual observation!
Yes, I’ve gone back and looked and the manual, and this “tip” couldn’t be more obvious…it’s in the second paragraph on the page that discussing manual focus.  I’ve read my manual, but missed this—probably because I had modern lenses and expected that I’d be using auto focus most of the time.  I know though that there are probably many other things in my manual that I’ve missed.  Reading, and periodically re-reading operating manuals, especially for complicated instruments such as cameras can be an invaluable way to help ensure you know how to use your equipment and maximize its capabilities and features.
And surrounding yourself with photography friends who like to learn and like to share is a wonderful habit to be in.

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