Summary of Manual Focus on a Camera Lens

Manually focusing your own camera lens can seem tricky. Compared to the ease of autofocus, you might wonder why you even still have manual focus as an choice. It still has a variety of important uses, however , and it’s a great skill to learn. In this introduction to manual centering a lens, I’ll explain what sets manual concentrate apart, as well as how and when to set focus manually.

Desk of Contents

What Is Manual Concentrate?

Just about all camera lenses have the ability to adjust focus. Concentrating is when the elements of the lens proceed back and forth within the lens – or the whole lens moves forward and backward – to change how it tasks the light.

Manual Focus Macro
Right here, you can see how the background is softer than the subject

In practice, what this means is the lens renders a particular area “in-focus” and quick, with the regions in front plus behind becoming increasingly less razor-sharp.

Focus Chart Example
Here, you can see that the near and much regions are out of concentrate, while a plane associated with sharp focus crosses the center of the image.

Manual focus is when you adjust the in-focus region to be closer or further from the camera. Usually, this is accomplished by rotating the concentrating ring on your lens while autofocus is disabled.

Manual vs Autofocus on a Camera Lens

Concentrating the lens, whether simply by manual or automatic strategies, is just choosing where the region of sharp focus is . Manual focus and autofocus both do the same thing at the end of the day, that is to move the region of quick focus further away or nearer toward the camera. At a mechanical level, here’s the difference:

  • Manual focus is when you move the focusing ring yourself to transformation how far away the lens is focused.
  • Autofocus   is when the camera moves the lens components in order to place focus on your selected subject.

Autofocus can become  complex when you consider the impact of autofocus settings like AF-S or AF-C, along with AF area modes like dynamic tracking, Eye AF, and more. But don’t let this complexity fool you. Both approaches move the same lens elements and – when done correctly – position your focus on the same spot.

Nikon 105 Macro
On this contemporary macro lens, with autofocus, the manual focus ring still takes up most of the entire body. Manual focus is very important intended for macro subjects.

While you can get the same results from either manual or even autofocus, some images are significantly easier to get with one mode or the additional, and that’s why both modes exist. Later in this guide, I can explain when to use guide focus. Before I get to these situations, however , 1st you need to understand how to switch to manual focus.

How to Enable Guide Focus on Your Camera

The simplest lenses are exclusively manual focus. They have no focus engines, and no support for things like screw-driven autofocus. (Older Nikon AF-D lenses like the 50mm rely on the camera body turning a little screw to autofocus, for example , while newer lenses just need an electronic connection. ) Exclusively manual concentrate lenses, like the TTArtisan 50mm f/1. four , can be significantly less costly than autofocus capable versions, but they will always require you to by hand focus. Manual focus doesn’t always mean cheap, though: Lenses like the $8, 000 Noct are usually manual focus only, as well !

On many lenses with autofocus support, you’ll see a change with positions labeled The and M. Other lenses will have more complex options like M/A, A/M, or A-M. The differences depend on the lens in question, but they usually include whether manual focus override is possible while the lens’s autofocus is on. Nevertheless, if you’ve set your lens in order to the “M” setting, it almost universally means that you have turned off autofocus and got into manual-focus-only mode.

Focus Selector

To get to manual focus, regardless of your camera or even lens maker, this switch-on-a-lens interface is the most common. Relocating the switch lets you established focus manually, and if you need to get back to autofocus, it’s only one click back. With that in mind, it is easy to give manual focus a try, while still having the backup option of autofocus.

Other times, there will be a manual focus switch or even menu option on the camera itself. This usually functions the same way as the switch on the lens; it’s just a different way to do the same. If either the zoom lens or camera – or even both – are set to manual focus, the general actions are that autofocus is impaired. (Test this on your digital camera to be sure, since a few digital cameras still focus automatically whenever AF-On is pressed, even when set to manual focus mode. )

When to Use Manual Focus in Photography

Now that you understand learn how to set manual focus, let us take a look at some of the best times to use manual focus.

1 . Low Gentle

Low light levels, like a candlestick lit reception or black street, can present a particular challenge to the autofocus system. In these cases, switching over to manual focus may be easier compared to trying to fight the autofocus program. The performance difference in between autofocus and manual focus will be most noticeable upon older cameras, as some from the newer cameras can autofocus under really low light levels, levels that would even end up being challenging to manually concentrate in.

2 . Astrophotography

Astrophotography presents one of the most difficult subjects for autofocus, combining both very low lighting and a need for very specific focus. In this case I almost always choose to manually focus on the astrophotography subjects, even making use of magnified live view (a technique I’ll discuss a lot more later in this guide).

Stars in Sedona

three or more. Pre-Focusing

Consider a scenario where you are expecting action in a specific location: whether it’s somebody sliding into home plate, or the bride stepping to the doorway of the church, you want your camera to already be focused at that point, prepared to go. By setting focus personally on that point, you can simply click the shutter when the motion occurs, without worrying about acquiring focus.

4. Tricky Subjects

This next class is a bit more nebulous, yet it’s basically “times exactly where autofocus is just getting confused. ” This might be a suprisingly low contrast subject, like a darkish subject on a black background, or a transparent subject. In either case, it’s a subject that autofocus just isn’t working nicely on. In these cases, setting focus manually may be easier than fighting the system. Also, do not think that focusing manually demands you to set focus perfectly – sometimes the system just needs a little nudge within the right direction, by setting focus roughly in the proper place. I find this particular works really well for clear subjects and macros subjects, where the system may attempt to focus on the background instead of the front-end.

5. Shallow Depth of Field

Level of field is the common term for that concept of “in focus” areas I talked about earlier – for more info, take a look at our beginner guide to depth of field . Some lenses, especially at fast aperture like f/1. 4 and telephoto focal lengths, have very narrow depth of field. This narrow zone of focus can challenge autofocus systems. In these cases, manually centering may give better results. Many macro photographers manually focus simply by rocking forward and backward, then taking their picture at the opportune moment, instead of relying on autofocus.

Flower Macro Photo

6. Business Settings

Manual focus can also be a great option when working in the studio with still subjects. With your camera typically on a tripod, manual focus is a lot easier, and gives you the ability to become very precise with your concentrate placement.

How to Get Sharp Results with Manual Focus

There are a number of ways to get better results with manual concentrate, but the first one, unfortunately, isn’t a trick. It’s just good ole’ practice. Manual focus is a skill, and requires developing a little bit of dexterity, especially when working with relocating subjects. With that said, it’s certainly a skill you can develop. Knowing intuitively which direction to move the focus ring, and even approximately how much, all comes down to muscle mass memory. Practicing your method can help with building this “feeling” for it.

Fortunately, technology is always there to help us out. There are a few items to make sure you’re getting the most accurate impression of your concentrate area. The first is the diopter adjustment (usually a steering wheel on the side of your viewfinder). Based on your eyesight, the viewfinder by default may not look very sharp to you, or it might require some straining just before it looks clear. Your view through the viewfinder needs to be immediately and effortlessly crisp. If it isn’t, it’s likely to be far more difficult to focus manually, so you should alter the diopter control.

On the other hand, if you choose using the camera’s rear screen to focus, you’ve got even more choices to make your life easier. The first is the particular use of a loupe . While you’ll still be limited by the quality of your screen, this tool both magnifies the screen and blocks glare, making it simpler to gauge focus.

Hood Loupe Product Photo
Example of a loupe

Another helpful tool is the simple magnifier button to zoom within on your live view display. Many mirrorless cameras support magnifying the image in the viewfinder via the same button, as well. It takes a bit more time but offers a much easier view quite often.

Also, \ to go it alone. When in manual focus, several autofocus systems will still be working, and you’ll often have a good indicator like the brackets plus dot, to help guide you. The brackets > < indicate what direction the system thinks you should turn the ring, while the dot shows when you’ve achieved focus under the active focus point.

If you have a newer camera, chances are good that it works with focus peaking, too. Concentrate peaking is a graphical representation, overlaid on your screen, where objects that are in concentrate are outlined in brilliant colors. This is a great guide focus aid, particularly on fast lenses with a correspondingly narrow depth of industry. Often , focus peaking even works when you’re using old, manual-focus-only glass! It is a great way to revive old lens if you have a newer camera.

Lastly, if you’re still having difficulty nailing focus, consider widening your level of field. Stop your own lens down to a smaller aperture value, take a step back, or even use a wider angle lens. Any of these will give you more level of field and therefore give you some slack when concentrating.


Knowing how to set your camera up for manual focus, and how to manually focus once it’s fixed, is a great skill to have. There are plenty of scenarios where autofocus will have difficulties or fail completely, but that doesn’t indicate you need to put away your camera. You just need to practice and understand how to shoot via manual focus. Plus, being comfortable with guide focus opens up a huge collection of specialty, adapted, plus manual focus only lenses that you can explore.

Just don’t start to think that manual focus is “better” or “more professional” than autofocus once you learn how to use it. Both are simply tools.   I would rarely use autofocus for Milky Way photography, but I would rarely use manual focus for shooting sports! They have their own strengths and weaknesses. The key is to learn how to use both hand-in-hand so you do not miss an important photo.

Let me know in the comments section below if you have any thoughts or questions regarding manual focus in digital photography!

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