Focusing is perhaps the most important control on your camera, and focusing manually gives you total creative control. What’s more, turning off your autfocus can help you achieve more accurate sharpness in some situations, such as low-contrast subjects and fast-moving targets who’s movements you can predict.
But let’s be honest: focusing manually can be challenging. Luckily there are some simple techniques and features hiding in plain sight on your camera that you can use to make the job easier.
01 Move your camera
Often when you’re trying to manually focus on subjects sitting just a few inches or centimetres away from your camera you’ll find it difficult to find that sweet spot when adjusting the focus ring.
Don’t be dismayed! There’s a simple solution that can help you get your subject sharp more accurately.
When shooting subjects close up it is often easier to make these adjustments by eschewing the focus ring and simply moving your camera forward or backward until your subject appears sharp.
A simple way of doing this: adjust the focus ring until your subject is pretty much in focus. Then rock your body slightly forward or backward until your subject appears perfectly sharp.
02 Use your focus assist feature
‘What’s that?’ you might be saying. Using AF points in manual focus mode? Using manual focus doesn’t mean your autofocus points are off-limits… or even turned off!
Most DSLRs and interchangeable lens cameras offer a focus assist feature that is available in Manual Focus mode and allows you to fine tune your focus.
In Sony’s A7-series cameras, for instance, the MF Assist feature employs your digital zoom to magnify your subject in the EVF or Live View screen where you can fine tune your sharpness.
MF Assist is a default function on Sony A7 cameras, as its equivalents in other brands are as well.
On Canon DSLRs, for instance, you’ll find a focus assist feature that guides you in manual focus mode. Simply half-press the shutter button and hold it down.
Next, rotate your lens’s focus ring and you should notice your AF points light up as the corresponding areas of the frame come into focus.
When you see the AF point illuminate over your intended point of focus you’ll know that you have successfully achieved focus.
We’ve mentioned Sony and Canon here, but other camera manufacturers have similar features that operate in the same way.
03 Live View is your friend
We photographers have adopted our Live View screens for their ability to compose images easier, but how often do you use Live View to focus manually?
Try to get in the habit of using your LCD when focusing manually, as it’s perfect for zooming into a scene to achieve pin-sharp focus.
On most cameras you can magnify your scene at least up to 10x, at which you can usually tell whether your focus is accurate.