car photography

Manual Focus vs. Auto Focus: Which one do I use?

Okay so we all know your lense has a manual focus and an auto focus, but do you really know when to use which one and why to use them?

 

Well, the short answer is: use auto focus whenever you can.

 

Now, let’s get into the long answer and the explanation of both manual and auto focus.

 

I have spoken to many photographers and asked them if they use manual or auto focus, and to my surprise some of them even said, “there is a manual focus?” I know, I know, how do you own a DSLR and not know there is a manual focus?

 

Not to my surprise, a lot more people use auto focus than manual focus and that makes sense, it really does. Why would you use manual focus when you can have your camera do the focusing for you?

 

Your camera and lense are pretty smart when selecting the focus. Well, it doesn’t really select it for you; you still have to point the focus to a certain spot but it’s really good at keeping the focus on that part.

 

When you use manual focus I found that it could sometimes be hard to get the right thing in focus, especially if your eyesight is bad.

 

So when is it right to use manual focus?

Detail Shots

When doing detail shots I found that it’s best to use manual focus. Reason being is that the narrow depth of field can make or break your shots. These shots require very precise focusing and the slightest wrong focus can really mess up your shots. Using auto focus on detail shots will most likely not get you the best results.
 

BMW Shoot

 

Interior through windows

There comes a time when you want to shoot an interior through the windows/glass. Why? Because it gives off a pretty cool effect and if you haven’t tried it then I suggest you try it.

 

The reason for the manual focus on this is because your camera will have a hard time focusing on the right object. Since the glass is in the way, it will most likely try to focus on the glass or it will have problems focusing on anything. When using manual focus for shots like these, it gives you full advantage of the focus point, thus creating a much better outcome/shot.
 

Mercedes-Benz S63 AMG Coupe Photoshoot

 

Panning/Rolling Shots

Okay before I start explaining this one, I want to say that I usually use continuous auto focus for this but let me tell you why you might want to use manual.

 

Sometimes your camera has a hard time keeping up with the object if it’s in motion, especially if you’re not panning with the object smoothly. In order to prevent this, you can focus on a spot that the object will be in when you press the shutter release button and almost always guarantee that it will be in focus when you do take the shot as long as you focus in the right spot.
 

Rolling XB

 

Darkness

If you have ever tried to use the auto focus in the dark, you would quickly see that your camera has a hard time focusing on anything because it can’t see what to focus on. This is when manual focus comes in handy. You can focus on anything you want without worrying if your camera will capture the right focus point, you control it!
 

Untitled

What about auto focus?

So for auto focus, you have two different types: one shot and continuous, or AI Servo for you Canon folk.

 

One shot is used mainly in stationary objects because it focuses on one specific point and assumes that the object won’t move. I use this for the majority of my shots when the cars aren’t moving (unless I’m trying to achieve a certain effect).

 

Continuous/AI Servo is when you’re shooting an object that is moving (like rolling shots for example). It works by predicting where it will be ahead of time so that the focus can be on that object. This does not always work the way you want it to, which is why I added the little tip about using manual focus for these kinds of shots earlier.

 

That’s all folks!

Awesome, now you know when to shoot in manual and when to shoot in auto. If you don’t know how to shoot in manual it can take some to get used to it but I promise the results will greatly make you consider using it in certain shots like I explained above.

 

If you use manual focus for anything other than what I mentioned above, I would like to hear about it so drop a comment below and let me know.

 

Featured image credit: Aleksandr Poltavskiy

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  • Vincent Chiaro

    What about for shooting action shots like at a racetrack? I typically use AI Servo + high speed shooting. It’s a little bit of spray and pray but generally I get a few OK shots. Is that what the pros do though?

    • Elvis Pasic

      AI Servo is generally the best way to do that but if you can predict where the car will be on the track and manually set the focus to that position then I am willing to bet that you will get some nice clear shots. I will ask the guys that I know who do motorsport photography how they usually do it and I’ll get back to you. I could probably get some great input from Nick Busato http://learntoshootcars.com/ltsc-interview-with-nick-busato/

  • Chris Walker

    pleased that you used my M4 photograph, it was indeed manual focus on a 50mm prime, I find for fine details like this using manual focus and live view can really help pick out some lovely little items.

    • Elvis Pasic

      It’s a great shot! I completely agree with you on that, especially if you’re using a low aperture!