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MF setting for "walkabout" photography?


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Hi All,

I'm not sure which subforum I should post this question i.e. from a newby:

- I generally like taking photos of oldtowns (e.g. in Europe), but also am developing interest in Street photography.

- I'm yet to recheck the instruction manual but I presume I can set my A7ii camera to always default to Manual Focus? (I'm currently using the 28-70mm F3.5-5.6 "kit" lens, but the question applies to when I'm using other lens as well).

- And the reason of MF, would it be recommended if for those wondering around and taking photo, I set the camera to MF mode, distance to 5 meters, Aperture 8 (or anywhere up to 11), that means nearly all distance will be in focus? (except perhaps right in front of the camera?)  Would you do that?

Any expert advice will be much appreciated, thanks in advance ?

Best wishes,

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If you set the focus mode to manual, it should stay like that even after turning the camera off/on. You can assign focus mode auto/manual to a custom button for easy switching.

I wouldn't rely on hyperfocal distance for street photography. Maybe when shooting at 28mm you'll have reasonable depth of field, but at 70mm with those settings and camera, depth of field will be about 1-2m in total when focussing at 5m.

Out of curiosity: what do you dislike about autofocus? If you want to go unobtrusive, you can disable AF confirmation beeps and AF assist light in the menu.

Edited by Pieter
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jm2004, there's a compromise mode called DMF. The camera will autofocus, and then you can tune-to-taste using manual focus. As soon as you move the focus ring, the camera switches to MF. 

But I get the feeling that you are looking for a fixed-focus answer without the need to twist the ring each time.

Autofocus is fine except when it picks the wrong part of the subject. Face recognition is wonderful except when it insists on picking the wrong face. But do experiment with Sony's suite of auto-focus capabilities. Aren't they one of the main selling points of these cameras?

One feature is that you can set the exposure to follow the focus point. If you autofocus on a face (by face recognition or spot focus, etc) you get the exposure right for that face. Now, ok, I'm a somewhat newbie photographer, but that is one thing that I find a godsend.

(answer based on a6000/a6500 experience)

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I don't have the a7ii, but the common behaviour for my Sony cameras is that the lenses do not keep their focused distance after turning on and off. The macro lens with the collar autofocus is maybe the only one.  The only way to guarantee the lens stays at a focused distance is to use a fully manual lens on an adapter.  You will find them much easier to manually focus anyway as the autofocus lenses are dreadful for delicate manual focus as the friction resistance is so low to facilitate fast AF, so one can jog them very easily...

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You need to get an app that computes hyperfocal distance as a function of focal length and aperture.

At 28mm and f/8, subjects between 1.65m and infinity will be in acceptable focus if the focus point is at the hyperfocal distance of 3.29m. 

At 70mm and f/11, subjects between 7.46m and infinity will be in acceptable focus if the focus point is at the hyperfocal distance of 14.92m.

Note that the near focus is approximately half of the hyperfocal distance; that at longer focal lengths it is not possible to achieve  a depth of field that extends from close objects to infinity; and that zoom lenses are more difficult to set up for walking around for manual focus all focal lengths than for a single focal length.

Many street photographers use either 35mm or 50mm prime lenses and manually focus at the hyperfocal point. Then they don't need to refocus while walking around. For example: For the 35mm lens you can set the aperture to f/11 and everything from 1.87m to infinity will be in focus if you set the focus point to 3.75m.

But you should ask yourself why you want to use manual focus with a zoom lens. I assume your camera and lens support autofocus. Set the camera to aperture priority (A) and set the aperture to a low f-stop for shallow depth of field or to a high f-stop for maximum depth of field and use autofocus.

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Hi Pieter, Thad, dgarc and jackpinoh,

Thank you very much for providing your very detailed responses. They are very useful and I've learnt quite a new few things from your replies.

In regards to Pieter’s question: I don’t hate autofocus at all ?  but when doing street photography I thought might as well have this “deep” DOF so I just need to press the shutter release.

Best wishes to you all,

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On 12/5/2019 at 5:34 PM, dgarc said:

I don't have the a7ii, but the common behaviour for my Sony cameras is that the lenses do not keep their focused distance after turning on and off. ... ... ...

True. They do keep their focus mode though.

But hey, here's a thing we're forgetting: no focus distance scale. So setting a specific focus distance (unless measured out!) would be a hit-or-miss focus on an object guessed to be that far away. Or  a manual lens.

I actually wish it was possible to display the focus distance. Having gone from film to a decade or more of point&shoots, I missed out on the whole era of DSLR: do some cameras actually do that?

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7 hours ago, Thad E Ginathom said:

I actually wish it was possible to display the focus distance.

Doesn't it already do that? If you toggle manual focus and turn the focus ring, you'll see a horizontal bar indicating the focus distance. Not sure if it can be disabled but if so, do check the menu for this setting.

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  • 1 month later...

OK, there is street photography, and then there is  street  photography.

If you are talking about pictures of people, in the street, aware you are taking their photo, then something like a  35 mm lens, is great.

Normally I ask people, and then hand them a fiver, as a thank you.

Yes 135 mm is good for portraits, but hardly of use in a street scenario, due to other people wandering into the pic.

If on the other hand you want to  photograph  surreptitiously, then, something like a 20mm  pancake lens, will do the trick.

Best advice I can give you, is, go to a Sony dealership, with your camera body, and try a couple of lenses, before making a decision

Good Luck

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  • Posts

    • Hi Pieter, Not yet. I've thought about that, to use a tripod. But I've no time to try that yet. I'll try it this weekend and let you know.  Thanks!
    • Did you try manually focussing at 135mm, camera on tripod / solid ground, delayed release? If you can get sharp pictures that way, at least you know the optics are fine.
    • I don't know how those cameras would fare as aviation cameras - either of them are far beyond my scope of purchase - but people have been taking pictures of planes and other man-made flying objects well, as long as they have been around.  Unless the aircraft is flying straight at you or flying perpendicularly away from you, the AF lagging behind the shutter should not be an issue and in almost all cases you would be shooting at infinity so internal lens movements to acquire focus should be at a minimum.  If you are expecting to crop a lot, I guess a camera with higher resolution would be better for you but that also depends on what you are going to do with the image.  If you are going to be printing large mural sized prints, higher resolution image would be better but if you are going to print at or below 11x17 or not print at all, even a cropped image from my A7II will be good enough on any consumer grade monitors on the market.  I have seen images printed from the first generation Olympus OM-D E-M5 (16MP) at 11x17 and they were excellent.
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