Manual Focus vs Autofocus – Which Is The Best One To Use

Highlights: Manual focus gives you more control and is essential in low-light situations and when working with a shallow depth of field.

If you examined “manual focus vs autofocus” until recently, you’d always be told that manual focus is superior and should be utilized for photography and filmmaking. 

The answer is no longer clear-cut, thanks to considerable developments in autofocus technology. Depending on your camera, when, where, what, and how you’re shooting, autofocus may be the preferable option for video.

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Manual Focus vs Autofocus - Which Is The Best One To Use

What is autofocus?

Manual Focus vs Autofocus - Which Is The Best One To Use

Manual Focus vs Autofocus

Take a look at your lenses, and you’ll probably notice an AF/MF or AF/M switch, depending on the manufacturer. On the body of some cameras, there is an AF/MF switch. When your camera locks onto your focal point or when you choose where to concentrate, this switch allows you to convert between autofocus and manual focus settings.

After selecting AF, you can decide on an AF mode, whether you’re using a mirrorless or DSLR camera. These focusing modes will assist you in getting the most out of it. When shooting video, you’re probably not going to want to utilize single shot or AF-S mode because it locks the focus in one spot. If your subject is completely static, that’s fantastic, but it probably doesn’t happen very often!

When the autofocus is constantly adjusting, continuous AF is a better option for filmmakers. On some cameras, you can choose between “multi,” which covers the entire frame, and “area” or “zone,” which allows you to focus on a specific part of the frame.

Face/Eye detection, also known as Eye AF, is a significant advancement in AF modes. The autofocus detects and focuses on faces. This mode is ideal for vlogging, interviews, and documentaries.

What is manual focus?

Manual Focus vs Autofocus - Which Is The Best One To Use

Manual Focus vs Autofocus

When you change the lens switch on some lenses from AF to MF or AF to M, control of where your lens focuses shifts from the camera to you. On the lens, there is a focusing ring that you will turn to determine where your scene should be sharp and what sharp looks like.

When you looked through the viewfinder of an old manual-focusing camera, you’d see marks over your scene that you had to align to ensure you’d focused on your subject. You simply focus your camera by eye now: identify your focal point and twist the focusing ring until it appears sharp. When creating videos, an external monitor is a great investment to help you focus. Having a screen that is larger than your camera’s screen and may include focus peaking will undoubtedly improve accuracy.

What are the benefits of using autofocus, and when should I use it?

Manual Focus vs Autofocus

When you first start out in filmmaking, AF can be extremely beneficial. It allows you to focus on other aspects of filmmaking, such as exposure and lighting, without having to divide your attention. Then, as your confidence grows, you can practice manually controlling your camera’s focus.

When filming a fast-moving subject, it’s possible that you won’t be able to adjust the focus quickly enough to keep it sharp. In that case, you should delegate the task to AF. 

Setting your focus manually and filming yourself is difficult for anyone who is vlogging or self-shooting. Allow AF to sharpen your face in the shot instead. 

When shooting alone, it may be beneficial to let the camera work in AF so that you can focus on getting the other aspects of your video right.

When making documentaries or anything else that may be unpredictable, autofocus can be extremely useful. For example, if you need to adjust other parameters and focus when things change quickly, something may slip, resulting in less-than-ideal footage. By using AF, you can rely on the camera to produce a sharp image. 

AF, like shooting unpredictable things, is useful for getting good B-roll footage if you’re working in a fast-paced or changing environment, or if you’re working alone. Finally, some cameras now have truly excellent AF capabilities, and you may find that they can outperform you.

What are the advantages of manual focus, and when should I employ it?

Manual Focus vs Autofocus

The single most compelling reason to use manual focus rather than autofocus is that it gives you complete control over your work. MF does not rely on what the camera believes to be the correct focal point and provides you with the precision you require. With the few exceptions we’ve discussed, this ideally means that you should use manual focus as much as possible, especially if you’re working with different types of focus.

If you’re shooting macro or anything with a shallow depth of field, or if you’re working in low light, it’s especially important to use MF. The point of focus is extremely narrow when shooting macro or with a shallow depth of field, making it easy for the camera to slip off of it. Using MF gives you the precision you need to keep your focus where you want it. 

When shooting in low light, your camera may struggle to find a focal point and will hunt or “peck” around for one. It’s much easier to switch to manual mode and manually select the focal point. The same is true for older or slower equipment: sometimes it’s simply better to do it yourself!

Finally, if you intend to pull focus or rack focus in a scene, the control and precision provided by MF will benefit you. Keeping focus requires a lot of practice, and having complete control can be extremely beneficial.

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Manual focus will always provide you with the most precision and control over your focus. Still, there will be times when you should leave it to your camera.

Manual focus vs autofocus is always a matter of personal preference: use whichever mode is required to achieve the desired results.

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About the author: Trent (IMDB Youtubehas spent 10+ years working on an assortment of film and television projects. He writes about his experiences to help (and amuse) others. If he’s not working, he’s either traveling, reading or writing about travel/film, or planning travel/film projects.

Manual Focus vs Autofocus - Which Is The Best One To Use

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