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12-06-2021, 01:17 PM   #1
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Manual focussing for portraits.

I'm starting to take more portraits - studio/flash. My goto lens is the 77mm limited on K-1. I tend to use a single spot focus point with the camera held on portrait orientation. All works mostly fine. For full body shots I need shorter focal length. I tend then to use the 43mm, again on single point focus. I hand hold and tether to laptop, so I can move around a bit. So far so good on standard compositions. However, with compositions where the single spot has to be re-positioned this becomes a frustration. So I got thinking about manually focussing. Manual focussing is my default mode for landscape/real estate/product etc all using LV and tripod, so why not for portraits?

I am on an age where I need reading glasses, so I have to have my dioptre setting set so I don't then have to use specs.

The "studio" will not be especially well lit, as I try not to have any ambient light present.

Edit> I'm thinking I might like the Irix 45 manual lens as I realise it will have a better focussing ring. True?

To the question(s). Has anyone got any suggestion what is the best way to hold and manually focus accurately when moving around
a bit? I guess the assumption should be that the subject is not moving too much, but may not be absolutely stationary. Is it really worth the bother or are focus misses going to be too great when manually focussing? There's a lot to think about when posing a subject and trying to get the best expression, that I think it would be more natural to manually focus at the same time, rather than try to pose and align the subject's eye to the single focus point. I just find that I'm not that accurate at doing this. So suggestions please ...


Last edited by BarryE; 12-06-2021 at 01:30 PM.
12-06-2021, 02:35 PM - 1 Like   #2
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It could be difficult to get that level of manual focusing hand held while moving about. You could also move your focus point around, but to me that is much more cumbersome than what you are doing, I think it just has to do with how well you can manually focus through the viewfinder.

Last edited by ramseybuckeye; 12-06-2021 at 06:46 PM.
12-06-2021, 02:52 PM   #3
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QuoteOriginally posted by ramseybuckeye Quote
It could be difficult to get that level of manual focusing hand held while moving about. You could also move your focus point around, but to br that is much more cumbersome than what you are doing, I think it just has to do with how well you can manually focus through the viewfinder.
Thanks Tom. The moving about is just to not end up with a static, forced pose. So moving, yes, but, gently. My guess it's a skill that I should develop with practice. I'm guessing it would be easier with a lens designed to manual focus. Or maybe it's just too hard/risky/unreliable an approach ...?
12-06-2021, 05:11 PM - 1 Like   #4
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Try manualy focusing with the lenses you already have in studio situations (the focus ring might be flimsy, but this test is just to determine how well you can manualy focus in low light situations), if you achieve accurate focus in those relatively low light situations you might be happy with a manual focus lens for portraits.

QuoteOriginally posted by BarryE Quote
However, with compositions where the single spot has to be re-positioned this becomes a frustration.
Have you tried using just the centre focus point and recompose the shot after focusing. This method has its disadvantages, as you have to recompose without changing your distance (or if the lens has curvature of field), but except when using the lens wide open this should be compensated by DOF (I don't know about the K-1, but on my K-3 centre focus points are anyway more accurate than focus points on the edges - accuracy at F2.8 vs F5.6 I think).
It's not everyone's cup of tea, but I usually don't bother switching focus points for occasions like this.

12-06-2021, 06:49 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by BarryE Quote
My guess it's a skill that I should develop with practice. I'm guessing it would be easier with a lens designed to manual focus. Or maybe it's just too hard/risky/unreliable an approach ...?
definitely a skill, and really every lens is different, some autofocus lenses can be difficult to manually focus since the throw is too short.

QuoteOriginally posted by othar Quote
Try manualy focusing with the lenses you already have in studio situations (the focus ring might be flimsy, but this test is just to determine how well you can manualy focus in low light situations), if you achieve accurate focus in those relatively low light situations you might be happy with a manual focus lens for portraits.
I agree, practice with each lens you may use.
12-06-2021, 09:49 PM   #6
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I believe that some manual focus lenses are more accurate than others. For example, my old smc 50mm F1.7 is spot on, but my Samyang 85mm F1.4 is almost impossible to focus at F1.4. I usually resort to just imagining it is an F2.5 lens and if so manual focus works well. Using focus peaking in live view does work pretty well though I admit.
12-07-2021, 09:51 AM   #7
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I give up! I realise I cannot realistically manual focus with the OVF. Ok I can, just, but I have to flood the subject with so much light it becomes unacceptable. I tried a variety of f2.8 and faster lenses, modern and older FAs. Sure I can focus manually and get acceptable results at f8 plus, but even at f5.6 I miss too often.

This manual focussing test led me onto trying to see, with a static mannequin, how wide an aperture I can focus with AF on the 77 & 43 (both have been AF adjusted). I can get to f4 OK, but below this, down to f2.2 (ish) the dof is so narrow which meant that the misses increased. A small movement in my part would throw out the focus just enough. (Fully static test on tripod was better, but there were still quite a few misses).This led me to wonder even though I love the rendering of the 77 whether, the new DFA* lenses focus that tiny bit more *consistently* than these older screw drives or whether even with modern lenses the number of misses due to either the photographer or the subject making small movements, mean that wafer thin dof images are a bit of a lottery? So those dreamy, narrow dof photos are probably the few that are actually captured fully in focus. Or maybe not ...?

I'm happy enough working at f5.6 or so for the look I can get, though I would like to throw the backdrop out of focus a tad more (if only I had a bigger room :-( ), so I'm not going to beat myself up trying to get very wide aperture shots with these two lenses, but I would like to understand better the issues. So I'll keep on experimenting/learning and try and avoid gambling on the new DFA* lenses, which I know I will dislike for being too big and heavy.

I now know manual focussing for portraits will not work for me. Sad coz I prefer manual focussing for my other stuff.

12-08-2021, 05:48 AM - 1 Like   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by BarryE Quote
Or maybe it's just too hard/risky/unreliable an approach ...?
As one of the ardent old "dyed in the wool" manual focussing Luddites, I grew up perfecting my art of photography to pay the bills... long before AF had been invented or even thought about.

It does require additional effort and practice on your part, but there many, many fine images out all captured on manual kit.

IMHO it's worth giving it a bash, it can be most satisfying when it all comes together.

12-08-2021, 07:37 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Kerrowdown Quote
As one of the ardent old "dyed in the wool" manual focussing Luddites, I grew up perfecting my art of photography to pay the bills... long before AF had been invented or even thought about.

It does require additional effort and practice on your part, but there many, many fine images out all captured on manual kit.

IMHO it's worth giving it a bash, it can be most satisfying when it all comes together.
I 'feel' where you're coming from. The more organic/rustic, often with obvious imperfections, does resonate with me. So achieving something manually, albeit in this case with loads of tech behind the process, does generate an extra sense of satisfaction. However, I do feel that I'm swimming against the tide when I see so many "perfect" productions - photos included. I will persevere, but in the background, as I want to improve my AF hit percentage, then I can work backwards, so to speak, with more confidence. Face/eye/eyeball/iris/rod/cone recognition feels too automated to me, but I suppose I might jump on board with it some time later.
12-08-2021, 01:33 PM   #10
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If you are shooting handheld, you make it much harder to get perfect focus with thin DOF. There is no shame in using a tripod and removing at least one barrier to better images.
01-09-2022, 02:41 PM   #11
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The modern urge to have shallow depth of field on a portrait is suicide..

just use a lens that can get you f/8 or f/16, then take a tape measure and measure out a fixed diameter circle, adjust the lens to that distance, and youll be spot on 95% of the time.... youll have a rather nice front and back layer of coverage..
01-10-2022, 01:29 AM   #12
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QuoteOriginally posted by filmmaster Quote
The modern urge to have shallow depth of field on a portrait is suicide..

just use a lens that can get you f/8 or f/16, then take a tape measure and measure out a fixed diameter circle, adjust the lens to that distance, and youll be spot on 95% of the time.... youll have a rather nice front and back layer of coverage..
That's useful advice. In a less formalised way, I'm probably thinking this way too. f5.6 and f8 is where I tend to stay and I've got a rough idea where the focus sphere falls. I just haven't mapped it out. I would probably help if I do. Thanks ...
01-10-2022, 11:04 PM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by BarryE Quote
That's useful advice. In a less formalised way, I'm probably thinking this way too. f5.6 and f8 is where I tend to stay and I've got a rough idea where the focus sphere falls. I just haven't mapped it out. I would probably help if I do. Thanks ...
find the voightlander vitomatic 2 camera manual online, the butkus website has it free pdf. They used a sport mode that when you put the settings right, the aperture would be set up for a close and medium range that truly will give you a more then acceptable photograph of anyone standing in those distance ranges.
01-11-2022, 01:36 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by filmmaster Quote
find the voightlander vitomatic 2 camera manual online, the butkus website has it free pdf. They used a sport mode that when you put the settings right, the aperture would be set up for a close and medium range that truly will give you a more then acceptable photograph of anyone standing in those distance ranges.
I'll take a look. Thanks ...
05-05-2022, 05:11 AM - 1 Like   #15
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In the old days we used to have focusing screens, split focus or whatever. These days not so much. The one thing I have found on my Pentax is that if I use a purely manual focus lens like a 135mm LS, then the camera focus system will still beep when you achieve focus, and it is accurate if you have the modelling lights on. I always aim for f8 in portraits and start off with a dark frame with the lights off. That way you can control how your backdrop is lit so it doesn't really matter whether it's still in focus because of the depth of field. Just a thought.
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