Manual Focus

Many digital cameras have an option called MF, or manual focus. It's especially useful when autofocus won't lock in on the subject you want to shoot, or when you wish to control depth of field by focusing the lens in between two areas or subjects. Some cameras activate manual focus via a menu and the four-way jog button or mode subdial, while others have a button or switch that toggles between autofocus and manual focus, and a focusing collar around the lens that you turn until the subject looks sharp.

Here are a few tips on using manual focus:

■ Check to see whether your camera has a distance scale. Many cameras allow you to set distance measurement in either feet or meters—use whichever you feel most comfortable with. The distance scale is useful when it's too dark or foggy to focus accurately by sight alone. It's also great for controlling depth of field, by focusing on two subjects, one after another, noting the distance to both subjects, and then setting the manual focus to a point in between the two.

■ Most digital cameras that are manually focused by rotating a collar around the lens utilize what is called focus-by-wire. It's a motor-assisted manual focus where turning the barrel one way gets you closer, and the other way, farther away. However, focus-by-wire doesn't have a beginning or end point, but turns continuously one way or the other. That's why there's no engraved distance scale on the collar. Once you get to the closest or farthest point, you can continue turning the collar but it won't do anything. So, if your camera has focus-by-wire, it's best to use a very light touch, and resist the temptation to keep turning the collar once the image looks sharp.

■ Some of the better digital cameras with manual focus and a high-resolution LCD viewfinder have the equivalent of a split image rangefinder/microprism in the viewfinder. That's a midsized square window that automatically appears in the middle of the viewfinder when the manual focus mode is activated. In that window is a 2X or 4X magnification view of the subject, so you can see greater detail and focus accordingly. It's an extremely effective way to assess whether or not the subject is in sharp focus.

Once you have taken your photo using the manual focus mode, remember to switch back to autofocus. Generally, autofocus is easier, faster, and more accurate than manually focusing the lens.

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