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How to focus manually by Thorsten von Overgaard

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In his current newsletter, TvO reviews the new Leica 75 Noctilux lens. I don't have an M, but a guy can always dream. Anyway, I'm cutting and pasting his interesting thoughts about focusing, which apply to any digital camera, really, not just a range finder, if it has a manual focus mode (and even if it has peak focusing):

http://overgaard.dk/Leica-75mm-Noctilux-f-1-25-review-and-sample-photographs.html

 

The secret sauce to focusing with a rangefinder is: be sloppy! Focus like you know how to do it, be reckless about it. The harder you try, the harder it gets. It means that you turn the focus ring (usually clockwise, as seen from behind the camera), and the moment the focus matches, take the photo. Then either move slightly back and forth with the body until you see that it matches again, then take another photo. Or, turn the focusing ring counter-clockwise back, then clockwise again until you see it matches, then take the photo.

Don't turn the focusing ring back and forth to "nail the focus" or "test where the most focus is", because it's not an old safe that will open magically when you hit the right combination. Trust what you see, and when you see that the focus matches, press the shutter.

The result of this will likely be that some photos will be in focus, and some won't. But you just need one that is in focus, and that's why you may take a few to make sure you get it. Don't think that it's supposed to always work with just one single photo, and that if you can't do that, you have failed the test to enter the Leica Cult.

Here's how it works: You put on the EVF to get a Live View of the scene, and as you focus, the EVF 10X's the view so you can really nail the focus. Then you take the picture. Ah, this is the way to make sure you don't mess up this focusing thing, you think.

What do you know? Some times that works, some times that doesn't work. "That's strange", you think. "I really have no talent for this manual focusing".

Stop blaming yourself. Take some more photos instead! What happens is that you focus, and before you take the photo, the subject moves, or you do, or you accidentally turn the focusing ring a tad as you take the photo. It doesn't really matter what it is, but that's the way it is. To make sure you get one or two that are as much in focus as intended, you take a few and re-focus for each.

You don't refocus, take the photo, then check the screen of the camera. No, you focus, take the photo, refocus and take another one.

Never check that screen for other than the exposure. Even when it is really sharp, it doesn't look as sharp on the screen. And often when it looks really sharp on the screen, it isn't (but is just high contrast that makes the picture on the screen look really crisp).

Let's repeat: Be sloppy. Focus, take a photo, re-focus and take another. Keep doing just that.

Edited by bags27

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"or you accidentally turn the focusing ring a tad as you take the photo."

 

This bites me on my M w/75mm lens more than on the Q, probably due to the smaller depth of field on the 75mm lens.   I'm learning  to carefully remove my fingers from the focus ring before taking the picture.  It helps with the Q, too.

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To be a sloppy focuser is not advice I need.

I have that one nailed.

And I have proof. Lots of proof.

David

which is why i use AF on the Q... yes sometimes when i shoot wide open i miss the focus spot... but it is way more accurate than MF w/my old eyes

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I find I have more success using manual focus. I like the tip about removing my fingers from the focus ring gently.

 

Amy

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Manual focussing( Long time M and R shooter here, ) is like playing an instrument ; when playing a rapid passage on a violin, you know where the notes are, you don't look for them , simmilar to rapid manual foccussing : as you bring the camera to your face , you already have your left hand around the focussing ring and dial in by feel (learned through experience) the focussing distance, than fine focussed by swaying the body slightly back and forward until the image in the viewfinder springs in focus ; just like playing and instrument, you know when.

Fortunately I am right eye dominant, which helps a lot.

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Yeah why not, they are probably going the way of the White Rhino

Edited by Peter L

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which is why i use AF on the Q... yes sometimes when i shoot wide open i miss the focus spot... but it is way more accurate than MF w/my old eyes

Agreed. I struggle mightily to focus sloppy with auto focus engaged on my Q.

But with my M9, I am a master.

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AF often misses focus. Or more precise; AF needs practice to use with perfection. So no focusing method or technique is foolproof.

The basic of Leica M is the rangefinder. I will assume, that you use a Leica M because of the rangefinder and the optical viewfinder. I’m aware of people using rangefinder lenses on Evf cameras or using the Screen or the Evf finders for the Leica m. If your needs are for longer focal lengths or for closeup work, I will suggest using another camerasystem.

The main advantage of the Rangefinder camera is the ability to watch elements outside the picture frame. The rangefinder focusing system is not very precise. And to be a little rude, rangefinder cameras are useful with wides and up to 50 mm. lenses. I use my 90 mm, but I miss the ability to focus closer than 1 m. And I find focusing difficult and slow, compared to manual focus Evf or slr, or last but not least AF on both. So no camera system is perfect . And no photographer is perfect. But with wide to 50 mm. lenses rangefinder focusing is quite easy. Use the rangefinder patch for close up ( from 70 cm. to 2 meters) on larger apertures. Use the distance scale set to say 3 m. Stop the aperture down to 8 and shoot away. Or use a combination of measuring the distance and using the dof scale. Focusing and reframing can be a problem close up and with 75 and 90 ( I’m leaving the 135 out, because i find it almost useless on a rangefinder). Focusing and reframing can be used with a little forgiving stopdown on all the shorter focal lengths. I almost only use the distance scale for wides up to 24 mm. No AF , no rangefinder, no split screen, no ground glass. Just using the finder for framing, it’s fast, it’s fun and efficient.

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I see this advice on using the distance scale, etc. so often. What it does, however, combined with small apertures, is reduce your expensive Leica M system to a one dimensional “everything in focus” camera.

 

 

Except for landscapes, not a Leica forte, I rarely shoot above 5.6. Why have 1.4 lenses if not to use them? I want to add dimension to a photograph. I do agree about rangefinders being best up to 50mm however. But those lenses can be used at 1.4 as well.

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I see this advice on using the distance scale, etc. so often. What it does, however, combined with small apertures, is reduce your expensive Leica M system to a one dimensional “everything in focus” camera.

Except for landscapes, not a Leica forte, I rarely shoot above 5.6. Why have 1.4 lenses if not to use them? I want to add dimension to a photograph. I do agree about rangefinders being best up to 50mm however. But those lenses can be used at 1.4 as well.

There are people who insist that the entire picture be in focus (ie: no bokeh) . Others can find beauty in bokeh. It depends on what the artist is trying to show.

 

Just because youhave a hammer does not mean everything is a nail, and does not mean that you need to shoot wide open all the time. (Although I tend to shoot wide open most of the time myself)

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I don't understand the urge to shoot wide open. If that were logically true, why ever have other apertures? Instead, for very bright shots just program a neutral density filter into the sensor and/or have wider exposure overrides. Considering depth of field is one my greatest joys (and challenges) as a photographer. I vividly remember the delight in discovering that Nikon AI lenses had color coded aperture rings so that I could really manage my depth of field.

 

For me, shooting wide open by default is a sad concession to the automated world. Wide open used to be not the sharpest aperture but the necessary one for dim light. Sharpest apertures were usually around F 8. That required some thinking about "what to leave in/what to take out" (Bob Seager). Depth of field doesn't mean that "everything's in focus." It means that you, the photographer, can select what is in focus.

 

The beauty of Leica lenses for me is that, far more than any other 35 mm lens system (including Zeiss), through micro-contrast they tell a story. There are many times (especialy portraiture) where the story is more one-dimensional and everything else is bokeh. But so many other times, with constant default to wide-open, a lot of that story never gets told. 

 

Here is one of my favorite technical pictures with the Q, because I was looking up into partial sun and yet wanting to get all the paper birds in reasonable focus while also referencing the building beyond the skylight for perspective. It was shot at F 10 and could not have been shot at F 1.7

Edited by bags27

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I don't understand the urge to shoot wide open. If that were logically true, why ever have other apertures? Instead, for very bright shots just program a neutral density filter into the sensor and/or have wider exposure overrides. Considering depth of field is one my greatest joys (and challenges) as a photographer. I vividly remember the delight in discovering that Nikon AI lenses had color coded aperture rings so that I could really manage my depth of field.

 

For me, shooting wide open by default is a sad concession to the automated world. Wide open used to be not the sharpest aperture but the necessary one for dim light. Sharpest apertures were usually around F 8. That required some thinking about "what to leave in/what to take out" (Bob Seager). Depth of field doesn't mean that "everything's in focus." It means that you, the photographer, can select what is in focus.

 

The beauty of Leica lenses for me is that, far more than any other 35 mm lens system (including Zeiss), through micro-contrast they tell a story. There are many times (especialy portraiture) where the story is more one-dimensional and everything else is bokeh. But so many other times, with constant default to wide-open, a lot of that story never gets told. 

 

Here is one of my favorite technical pictures with the Q, because I was looking up into partial sun and yet wanting to get all the paper birds in reasonable focus while also referencing the building beyond the skylight for perspective. It was shot at F 10 and could not have been shot at F 1.7

 

One of the best posts I have read on this great forum. I agree 100% - a lot of times it seems people feel like they are not getting their money's worth if they have an expensive lens and don't shoot wide open all the time - almost as if the character of their shots can only be differentiated by using this particular aspect of high end equipment).

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One of the best posts I have read on this great forum. I agree 100% - a lot of times it seems people feel like they are not getting their money's worth if they have an expensive lens and don't shoot wide open all the time - almost as if the character of their shots can only be differentiated by using this particular aspect of high end equipment).

The reason I like shooting wide open is because I like to make images with bokeh—not all images should have bokeh.

 

I have read that leica lenses are designed to be sharp wide open.

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The reason I like shooting wide open is because I like to make images with bokeh—not all images should have bokeh.

 

I have read that leica lenses are designed to be sharp wide open.

If that's your style, great for you. I'm just arguing that stopping down shouldn't be seen as lazy, but rather as a conscious act of composition. And even if Leica lenses are very sharp wide open, that doesn't mean that they aren't still incredibly sharp stopped down. On the above photo, I manually focused on the marble just before the glass skylight, in order to have depth of field inclusion on both the birds below and the skylight above. Notice the marble where I focused: even in a very small jpg (and especially compared to the original dng) it is impressively sharp at F 10.

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If that's your style, great for you. I'm just arguing that stopping down shouldn't be seen as lazy, but rather as a conscious act of composition. And even if Leica lenses are very sharp wide open, that doesn't mean that they aren't still incredibly sharp stopped down. On the above photo, I manually focused on the marble just before the glass skylight, in order to have depth of field inclusion on both the birds below and the skylight above. Notice the marble where I focused: even in a very small jpg (and especially compared to the original dng) it is impressively sharp at F 10.

I do not disagree with anything you have written here.

 

Different styles for different artists. Different style for different images.

 

Life would be very dull if every painting was done in the style of Monet, if every image was tack sharp as Angel Adams images are. Even Picasso went through different phases. We are all the richer for the diversity.

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The reason I like shooting wide open is because I like to make images with bokeh—not all images should have bokeh.

 

I have read that leica lenses are designed to be sharp wide open.

 

Don't get me wrong - I also love bokeh as much as anyone. It's just that I don't prefer to shoot wide open all the time just because lens happens to be sharp wide open. The advantage of the lens that is sharp at 1.2 is that is typically even better at 2.8 (usually better then the lens that is wide open at 2.8). So I'm more likely to shoot at 2.8 when I want bokeh, because as an example for portraits I happen to like the whole face sharp, instead of only eyes.

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I don't understand the urge to shoot wide open. If that were logically true, why ever have other apertures? Instead, for very bright shots just program a neutral density filter into the sensor and/or have wider exposure overrides. Considering depth of field is one my greatest joys (and challenges) as a photographer. I vividly remember the delight in discovering that Nikon AI lenses had color coded aperture rings so that I could really manage my depth of field.

 

For me, shooting wide open by default is a sad concession to the automated world. Wide open used to be not the sharpest aperture but the necessary one for dim light. Sharpest apertures were usually around F 8. That required some thinking about "what to leave in/what to take out" (Bob Seager). Depth of field doesn't mean that "everything's in focus." It means that you, the photographer, can select what is in focus.

 

The beauty of Leica lenses for me is that, far more than any other 35 mm lens system (including Zeiss), through micro-contrast they tell a story. There are many times (especialy portraiture) where the story is more one-dimensional and everything else is bokeh. But so many other times, with constant default to wide-open, a lot of that story never gets told. 

 

Here is one of my favorite technical pictures with the Q, because I was looking up into partial sun and yet wanting to get all the paper birds in reasonable focus while also referencing the building beyond the skylight for perspective. It was shot at F 10 and could not have been shot at F 1.7

 

Except for the fact that Leica intends for their lenses to be shot wide open.

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Except for the fact that Leica intends for their lenses to be shot wide open.

 

Pardon? That's pure nonsense! They intend their lenses to be used how the photographer needs to, to control exposure or DOF.

 

If Leica intended their lenses to be used wide open then they wouldn't bother to fit aperture blades.

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