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Tipps for manual focus


No longer a newbie, moving up!
May 24, 2012
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I am going to get my first pure manual focus lens soon.

I'm kind of excited (its a classic, optically very good) but also kind of fearful.

Whats your tipps for manual focus ?

I know:

- Move the focus until its sharp, continue to move until its no longer sharp, then backward the half distance into the center of perceived sharpness; do this in one movement, keep your grip on the focus ring.

- Especially with very bright lenses, like f2.0 or even less, put your feet into the direction you are focusing. This way you limit the amount you will shake in the direction of the focus plane. With a focus plane of only a centimeter or so, this might be a vital difference.

Thanks for any input !
1) Focus from Infinity inward, briskly. When it looks good , STOP! Your focus will be very close, and just a teeny-tiny bit of movement after the stop ought to put you right at the focus point. Focusing from Infinity and inward is easier, because rate of change is faster, and it's easy four our brain to spot "differences". Moving from minimum focus and outward is a long, slow slog through distances that look a lot like their neighbors. ( I do not agree 100% with your description above, I do not believe in running past the STOP point).

2) Practice manually focusing your lens. Use a soft pencil to mark the focus distance you arrive at. Focus two or three times on the same object, and see if your pencil marks are reallly close together; they should be. After a month or two with a lens, you'll get pretty good at focusing it.

3) Look at the focusing scale markings on the lens. I mean really study them, see what the marked distances are. A lot of older Nikon lenses have distances that give some pretty good clues as to how the lens was expected to be used, as far as ranges, and marked distances, and marks that coincide with a few f/stops in particular. Take note of the hyperfocal distances on the DOF scale, and spend a bit of time looking at the f/stops the DOF scale lines up perfectly with for your hyperfocal distances.
Thanks Derrel.

Will hold it in hands this evening, very excited now ! :)
Shooting tethered ..................................
If you shoot tethered tells you before hand everything... focus, exposure depth of field , FOV.

My main go to lens is a TSE 17mm f4 L lens and all the TSE lenses are manual focus.
IMO the learning curve is steeeeeep and do not think I have using a TSE lens all figured out...

If I am looking for getting the best to perfect photo first, as you are doing now I would be asking for educated advise.

2nd I would be tethered .........................
Nice D750 specific trick: one can get focus peaking in life view by selecting Color Sketch as the effect: Nikon hates focus peaking (it almost got into D750)

The issue of course is that you cannot get a RAW file during effect mode. Because Nikon thinks if you are using effects you dont deserve a RAW file. Or something.
I don't know if it will work with a purely MF lens, but I do know that with an AF lens (with AF turned off) you can still take advantage of the camera's AF system.

Just activate the AF system (back button or half press the shutter release) and as you manually focus, look for the AF confirmation light in the viewfinder. It's a green circle on the far left side, in the viewfinder, it should light up when focus is achieved at the active AF point.

Another, possibly better, method is to use live view and look at the display while manually focusing. The cool part is that you can zoom in the display (often to a factor of 10), so that you can very precisely see where the lens is focused. The caveat is that this would require you to have the camera in front of you, rather than pressed up to your face, so camera shake could be more of an issue...so it's best done with fast shutter speeds or a tripod etc.
Don't know what lens you're getting but just a comment. I have some very nice, fast manual Nikon lenses but they also don't work with the light meter in the camera. Have to manual focus and manually use an external light meter..........
Yes, thanks, I found out all by myself when I tried it on my new lens. :)

Doesnt work with a non-cpu lens. I can only use M and A.

Its kinda tricky to focus but man its fun too.

The focus confirmation light works quite well. Its white on the D750 though.

Another, possibly better, method is to use live view and look at the display while manually focusing. The cool part is that you can zoom in the display (often to a factor of 10), so that you can very precisely see where the lens is focused. The caveat is that this would require you to have the camera in front of you, rather than pressed up to your face, so camera shake could be more of an issue...so it's best done with fast shutter speeds or a tripod etc.
Yes. Thats how I focus with AF lenses when the light is really low, already.

Its especially comfortable with the D750 because 100% is just one click. Placing the AF point however is unfortunately uber slow.
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I think it'll take some practice. I've always focused manually, that's how I learned. I usually focus a little past where it seems in focus, then turn the ring back and forth and adjust from there as needed. Most of the time I'd expect to do that a little not a lot - if need be I'll take a break, maybe just long enough to look away then back into the viewfinder.

If I'm having trouble focusing I may try to focus on a line or edge of an object then reframe as needed, with the line/edge being part of the subject or scene that's the same distance from the camera. Or if I need to focus and reframe I might need to adjust the focus after I reframe.

I'd practice and start with photos that are non-essential and just for fun til you get the hang of it.
I think it'll take some practice.
Yes, definitely.

And it doesnt help that this compensation dial for dioptrines tends to get into the wrong setting while being in the bag. I'll have to fix it with tape, I guess.

However, when I nail focus, depth of field, as well as lack of camera shake or motion blurr, the results are absolutely gorgeous. :)

And I kind of find it hard to mount any other lens. For starters, my new lens is all metal. Just so much more quality feel !
Checking the diopter adjustment is easy enough, just look into the viewfinder with the lens cap on, get the viewfinder digits to their sharpest. I am "fortunate" enough that my correction is only one click from the end of the range! I just whack it over and click one up. :) It makes for very interesting reactions when I show the camera to friends and let them look through it. "Dude, yer viewfinder's broke!"

I was also fortunate enough to find a split-image focusing screen for my F4, so I have the rangefinder and microprism collar for manual focusing, and the screen does not affect its use with AF lenses. There was a company that made such screens for other cameras, but I'm not sure they're still doing so. it wasn't worth 150 bucks to me to get one for my D7000......

Nikon bodies never had shutter-priority or program modes without CPU lenses, so even the most modern cameras won't give you anything but M and A with a non-CPU lens. If you have it entered into your non-CPU menu list, it meters just fine in those modes (D3x00 and D5x00 excepted - no metering on those.)

My old 85mm f:1.8 is an absolute joy, giving me a moderately longer perspective on my D7000. I have a 50-1.4 pre-AI that I can't mount on the D7000 (but works on the F4) that I'm going to do the AI conversion on so I can mount it. You're absolutely right in the fact that these things have a feel all their own, and are very satisfying to use!
Not very useful for my own application, since I'm using a 100mm macro lens, but for newbies who might stumble upon this thread for a different application:

A Guide to Mastering Manual Focus

Explains hyperfocal distance, and zone focusing.
Having used Manual Focus for my entire photographic career ... I hate MF-ing. That being said ... I can see where the challenge of MF can be stimulating and fun. It will definitely sharpen your reflexes and there is nothing like a Full Metal Lens on a Full Metal Body (sorta like Full Metal Jacket- lol) ... It feels and says "Real Photographic Equipment" in your hands.

I haven't used a MF lens on a dSLR (only mirrorless) so I haven't a clue on the feel and speed of MF on a Nikon. A Split Image on a SLR can be extremely quick, but shooting a non-static subject in a fluid environment is always iffy. But once you nailed a moving object, you'll feel pretty good about yourself. Fuji has a Split Image option which works quite well.

Giving it more thought, I suspect/assume that there isn't an automatic aperture release/shutdown linkage from the shutter release to the lens. So you'll have to focus wide open then manually adjust the aperture ... That will slow you down and render the camera-lens combo, I would think ... pretty much useless on moving subjects, (unless you shoot wide open). :apologetic:

I would suggest practice ... But what's the point in practice if you're shooting static subjects. So just go out and have fun.

Good Luck and Good Shooting,

PS- Giving it even more thought, practice moving from focus ring to aperture ring. That should increase the speed from focus to shutter release. Memorize every click/stop on the lens, so if your aperture should be ... Say, f/5.6, you know how many clicks away from wide open f/5.6 will be. If you're shooting handheld, knowing the stops will increase your shooting speed ... The faster you can release the shutter, the less chance you will move and throw off the focus.

The only way I would know how to get a lens for Nikon F without automatic aperture would be porting a Leica R, Zeiss Contax or Olympus OM lens to Nikon F with Leitax.
After I've tried it for a while, I have to say, manual focus is really anything but easy. I strongly think about getting a KatzEye for my D750.

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