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Auto Focus vs Manual Focus: What to use and when?

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Ever wondered what that pesky little AF/MF switch on your lens does? Well, we’re going to talk about that today. Auto Focus (AF) or Manual Focus (MF), the question has been haunting rookie photographers for years now. Yes, AF is quite convenient, but MF puts everything in your hand, and you can just get the focus exactly where you want it.

The thing is, with AF, the entire focusing relies on how good the camera is at identifying potential subjects.

Generally, with higher-end cameras, the AF is quite good. Higher-end cameras tend to have more focusing points, and hence it’s easy for the AF to determine where the user wants the focus to be.

In cameras at the lower end of the budget spectrum, or with point and shoot or a smartphone camera, AF tends to be not that great. So if you want that crystal clear focus on your subject, you might have to rely on MF.

Also read: Nikon vs Canon: A beginner’s perspective

When should you use Auto Focus?

Frankly speaking, you can do so every time. Auto Focus is fast and hassle-free. Most of the times we don’t even bother thinking about it. Half press the shutter to focus and then boom.

Depending upon what camera you own, the AF may or may not be amazing. However, even on budget DSLRs, the AF has been continually getting better to the point where you don’t even think about it anymore.

AF works seamlessly on almost all focal lengths. A majority of cameras can easily differentiate the subject from the image and get you that crystal clear focus.

When should you use Manual Focus?

You must be wondering now if AF is so good, why do we even have Manual Focus? We end up using AF 90% of the time anyway.

MF may seem useless, but in certain situations, it can be a lifesaver. For instance, in a photo where the subject is behind a lot of clutter, AF can struggle with properly focussing. MF is the only option in such cases.

Also, while using zoom lenses, you’ll find AF struggling to acquire the subject in the photos at times. Again MF comes to the rescue.

MF’s biggest application is while shooting video though. You can get creative with focus-panning and can create really amazing looking shots out of simple objects just by changing the focus from foreground to background.

It is also a widely used technique in cinematography to divert the viewer’s attention from one point to another.

Also read: Optical image stabilisation vs Digital image stabilisation

Yadullah Abidi

Yadullah is a Computer Science graduate who writes/edits/shoots/codes all things cybersecurity, gaming, and tech hardware. When he's not, he streams himself racing virtual cars. He's been writing and reporting on tech and cybersecurity with websites like Candid.Technology and MakeUseOf since 2018. You can contact him here:

  • Though the MF rarely & is used once sometimes, some Oldy Guys here in Nepal are ruining the Student’s time by taking extra time in the name of outdated Manual Focus, they are just extending & wasting the valuable/ precious time of the students.

    For me, I occasionally use MF for distinct Focusing.

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