God knows I love photography. But it’s not my only hobby. I’ve been an avid horse rider since I was a child. I still ride today (after a very long break), and recently I’ve taken up a very, very big task : the education of a 3 yr *young* mare.
Pftt, that’s a pretty big chunk to chew. Probably way more than I can actually handle. But I’m learning a few things in the process. Including this : whenever you’re trying to teach a horse any complex move or pattern, there is ONE thing you absolutely want to avoid. Riding for your end result. Trying to accomplish an ambitious goal the first time around is guaranteed failure and disappointment.
Like, if you’re trying to load a trailer-untrained horse, you’re in for some painful times. On the other hand, if you’re prepared ahead of time and taken enough opportunities to get your horse acquainted to the sight of the trailer, than being around it, etc, plus actually taught the horse to move forward on cue, you have a pretty good chance of loading it painlessly.
What the hell does this have to do with photography, right 😉 ?? Well it IS relevant, if you take this analogy and apply to something complex and tedious as manual focus. Most people today use autofocus cameras without thinking about it. In fact I’d bet most people are not even aware than there was a not so remote time when there was NO autofocus, it just didn’t exist yet.
With the rise of the new hybrid cameras, manual focus lenses are surfacing to our consciousness again. Along with the need for a way to use them. I’ve tried before with my M4/3 body, and even with an electronic viewfinder, it can be a daunting task.
SONY made a wonderful move when they created their NEX family of cameras, they implemented a feature called Focus Peaking. It outlines contrasty edges in the color of your choice (red, yellow or white) as you turn the focusing ring. When the outline of your subject is shimmering, hit the shutter and get a sharp picture.
It’s a brilliant focusing aid, though it’s not foolproof, and needs getting use to. The main issue when you shoot people is that there is little contrast in a human face, so you’ll have to really look for the slightest blinking spot in edges like lashes or nostrils. Ears and hair are treacherous because with a very fast lens wide open, depth of field is so thin you can still miss critical focus on the pupil.
Though it’s easier with static subjects, you still need to make visual choices about the very specific parts of the image you want in focus.
I guess what I’m getting at is this. If you want to get proficient at manual focusing, the focus peaking of the NEX cameras is really the best possible way to go at it, but you’ll still need to practice an awful lot (as in, as much as you can). It’s a slow and deliberate process than calls for a lot of concentration and a good dose of patience.
That’s where the horse training analogy starts making sense. If you try to pick manual lenses and expect to nail focus with a high hit rate from the get go, you’re doomed, even with an assist as useful as focus peaking. OTOH, if you take your time, learn the craft by shooting every day, even things as mundane as mugs on the coffee table (how many test shots of your feet do you have ? lol), you *will* get better and eventually pretty accurate. So reliable in fact that you might work up the confidence to take up moving subjects. Not fast action, mind you, but kids fooling around, which is already putting the bar pretty high as they can be totally unpredictable 😉
Right now I can’t shoot my NEX half as much as I want to. Because I’ve collected a bunch of Olympus OM mount lenses, but haven’t had the adapter for them delivered yet ! (I know, this is silly). So I’m stuck with using the 2 FD’s I have for now (the not too exciting 50/1.8 and the better but more challenging 135/1.5). I also have the terrible little Chinese cruddy Fujian 35/1.7, that is so cheap to start with it has no resale value to speak of, it’s either keep it or trash it. I’ll keep it, it’s pretty good for phony artsy pictures.