Which focus mode should I use with my X-series camera?

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w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerMost people know what it means to focus with your camera lens. To do this, you adjust the distance of the lens (or an element inside the lens) from the sensor. There are two ways you can focus your camera – automatically (Autofocus or AF) or manually (MF).

As you probably already know, autofocus is there to do the hard work for you, and in most shooting situations this is all you will need to take great in-focus photographs. What you might not know is that there are different types of autofocus for different situations; this is what we hope to give you a better understanding of here.


Focus modes

focus-mode-selectorThe focus modes are generally set using a dial on the front of your camera. On some cameras this control is a switch on the side of the camera.

Single Autofocus (AF-S)

With single autofocus, once you half press the shutter button, the camera will focus on the closest object within the focus area (which we come onto shortly) on the screen. You can then take a picture knowing that the subject is in focus. This can be a very useful setting for portraiture, still-life, macro work and landscape photography.

Continuous Autofocus (AF-C)

When using continuous autofocus, half pressing the shutter button will focus on the closest object in the focus area, and then while you hold the shutter half pressed, will continue to refocus on that point. This mode can be very useful for sports, action, children & pets who are moving and wildlife photography – a great choice for moving subjects.

Manual Focus (MF)

As useful as the autofocus modes are, there are many situations where using manual focus could be the better option. Don’t worry, we’ll go into the manual focus mode in a bit more detail later on.


AF modes

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49 focus points

The “Focus mode” lets you choose how often the lens will focus while the shutter button is held half-pressed, while the “AF mode” determines where in the frame the camera will focus.

Most of our Fujifilm X-series cameras offer 49 focus points. From this you can select a single AF point, a group of points, or even make all of them active. Let’s look at the different options available:

AF mode: Single Point

AF-S + Single PointWhen combined with the AF-S focus mode, this delivers highly accurate autofocus on a specific area. You can choose one of the 49 available focus points and also change the size of the focus point to suit your subject. This is your “go to” focus configuration.

When combined with AF-C focus mode, this tracks a subject with a fixed direction of movement, e.g. moving straight towards the camera. Again you can choose which of the 49-point focus areas to lock onto and also change the size, however this time when you half press & hold the shutter button you activate the continuous tracking on that area. Fully press the shutter button when you want to take the shot.

AF-S + Zone

AF mode: Zone

This setting is effective for a subject with moderate movement which the Single Point mode may have difficulty capturing. You start by choosing a 3×3, 5×3 or 5×5 block of AF area points and then position them where you want them in the frame. We recommend you choose the phase detection AF areas for faster autofocus speeds – these appear in a different colour and make up the middle 5 x 3 points.

When combined with AF-C mode, the camera will continue to refresh the autofocus while the shutter is half pressed and this is how we recommend you use this mode. This way you can “lock” onto your subject once it enters your chosen block size by half pressing and holding the shutter button, the camera will then continue to re-focus as you follow the subject with your camera.

If you use the Zone AF mode with AF-S, the camera will simply lock onto the closest object within your block of focus points once and then stay focused at the same point. If the object then moves it is possible your image will not be in focus.

AF-C + Wide tracking

AF mode: Wide/Tracking

This mode is perfect for capturing a subject that moves unpredictably up/down, left/right and closer/further from the camera, where you do not wish to move your camera around to “chase” the subject.

Decide the composition and layout of your shot first and then move the AF point to the point where you want to start tracking the object from. When combined with AF-C, half press the shutter button while your subject is within the AF point and the camera will lock onto the subject and follow it wherever it moves within the whole frame while the button remains held. Fully press the shutter button to take the shot.

Note: The Zone and Wide/Tracking modes are only available on the X-T10 and X-T1 (firmware 4 and above) cameras.


More about Manual Focus

Here are some examples of how and when MF might be used:

When the light is dim. The autofocus sensor in your digital camera needs light and contrast to perform properly. When you’re shooting in low-light, AF may not be able to see subtle, indistinct details, so it will have a hard time locking onto a specific area of your subject.

When you’re shooting fast action. With manual focus, you can set up your camera to capture a certain area. Then when your subject comes into the frame, you can shoot continuously to get the best exposure. This is ideal for shooting at races and can even be used for street photography.

When AF gets confused. Sometimes you are shooting something that has another object in front of it, like a fence or a branch. AF will try to focus on the closer object. This may also occur when another moving object moves into the frame. So, if you’re shooting animals in the wild or active children, manual focus often makes more sense.

For full maximum control. Some photographers actually prefer to use manual focus on a regular basis as it gives them more creative control. With advanced functions like focus peaking, techniques such as focus stacking and panning shots, MF allows the photographer complete control.

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Tutorial: Understanding Depth of Field

w360_6415757_tutorialbannerfordotmailerWhat is “Depth of field”?

Simply put, Depth of Field refers to the area in front of your camera that is in focus.

If your camera is set to focus one metre from the lens, Depth of Field refers to the area in front of, and behind one metre from the camera where subjects are still sharp enough to be considered in focus.

Along with Exposure and Composition, Depth of Field is one of the most important aspects of photography.

How do you control it?

Less is more

The main way to affect the Depth of Field is by adjusting the value of the Aperture

The bigger you set the aperture size (smaller number), the smaller your depth of field will be. The smaller you set the aperture size (bigger number), the bigger the depth of field will be. I know that sounds confusing but hopefully this diagram will help to explain it.

The yellow area shows the area in front of and behind the focal plane (the point when the camera is focused) that is in focus. It’s just a guide with no actual scale.

dof

The Depth of Field is actually also affected by the focal length of the lens, and also the distance of the subject from the camera (which is why there is more in-focus area behind the subject than in front of it), however for the benefit of just getting you started, in this post I’ll only talk about the aperture value.

Aperture Priority mode

X30 (top) and X100S (bottom) set to Aperture Priority mode
X30 (top) and my well-lived X100S (bottom) set to Aperture Priority mode

The best way to get started with adjusting the Aperture value is to set your camera to Aperture Priority mode. In this mode, you can control the Aperture value and the camera will still adjust the shutter speed and ISO value in order to correctly expose the image.

If you have a camera with a “M / A / S / P” dial on the top, switch it to “A” (for Aperture). If your camera doesn’t have this dial, just change the value on the Aperture ring to anything other than “A” (which in this case stands for Automatic) and set your shutter dial to “A” (Automatic). Your camera is now in Aperture Priority.

How does it affect my images?

Less is more

Using the largest aperture possible (smallest number) allows you to isolate your subject within a shallow depth of field and effectively make the foreground and background far less prominent. These example pictures were shot at f/1.4 using an X-T1 with XF35mm lens. They show foreground and background areas out of focus, allowing you, the viewer, to focus on the subjects.

More is more

Using a smaller aperture (larger number) increases the depth of field and allows you to include more, or all of your image, clear and in focus.

In this image, I wanted to get the tree in the foreground in focus, but still include the background as a prominent part of my image. Using a very wide lens with the Aperture set to f/8.0 allowed me to take this.

Aperture Priority at a glance

1. Activate Aperture-Priority
2. Generally shoot “wide open” – the lowest value Aperture your lens can shoot at. This means that your images will all draw the viewer into the part that you want them to look at – the part in focus.
3. “Stop down” your aperture (increase the value number) to get more of the shot in focus – great for group shots or landscapes / cityscapes

Conclusion

The amount of light captured in a shot is governed by three aspects – Shutter Speed, ISO value and Aperture value. You generally want as fast a shutter speed as possible (unless you are trying to capture motion within your image). You always want the ISO to be as low as possible to maximise the image quality and reduce noise.

However, there is no “you always” rule for Aperture as it is the one thing that affects your final image more than the others. Your decision to include all, or just a certain part of the image within the in-focus area is where you add your own creative touch to your image and direct the viewer’s eyes to the part of the image you want them to look at.