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07-07-2011, 08:08 PM   #1
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manual focusing: does it ever get easier?

Hi, another newbie question. I own a fairly new Kx and overall I love the camera. I own 2 auto lenses (the kit and a cheap but decent Promaster 70-300). Not long ago I bought a used Rikenon P 1:1.7 50mm and I'm simply not happy at all with the results--lots of out of focus pictures. I bought the Pentax magnifying viewfinder, which I suppose must help a little, but IMO is hardly worth the $30 something it cost. Yesterdayl I took my little Ricoh out for another test and found that I could get good sharpness with things like signs and gravestones, even at 1.7. However, I couldn't get an in focus mimosa tree to save my life, regardless of aperture setting. My other house, tree, garden pics weren't all that sharp either. So I guess I better stick with signs and gravestones with this lens

Here is my question: are all manual focusing lenses the same, in terms of difficulty getting focus? I'm considering all kinds of older lenses now, from zooms to a 100mm 2.8 Pentax M because they can be had for so much cheaper that most automatics. But I'm wondering if I should forget buying any more manual lenses, based on my experience with this one Ricoh lens. I read that the Ricoh was a sharp lens, and I don't doubt that for the previous owner it was, but if I can't even get one clear picture of a mimosa tree, should I ever spend money on another manual lens?

Any opinions out there? Are some manual lenses (eg. higher magnification lenses from 100 to whatever) easier to focus than others? I know of nobody else who owns a Pentax, so I can't try anybody else's out. Please advise. Thank you, Jim

07-07-2011, 08:17 PM   #2
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I've got the Pentax A50/1.7 and can sympathise to some extent.

Are you using in-focus / catch in focus confirmation ? Not sure how to set it on the Kx, but on the K20D, its a menu item. Then with MF lenses attached, or the switch set to MF for AF lenses, I get focus confirmation on the screen when I press AF (I have AF set to only work on the button, not shutter)

The next thing to do then, is to work out which side of the MF confirmation is actually focused I found that my K20D-50/1.7 Combo focuses correctly coming from near-to-far... but if I go far-to-near I end up back-focused a bit if I just rely on the confirmation blip.

This should be simple to determine - just take a few shots of exactly the same scene noting if you focused near-to-far or far-to-near. You may find as well, that similar to mine, the 'confirmed' MF area is quite wide - I try to get the point where it *just* turns on.

Also - even though its 'manual' - its a good idea to understand how exactly those little AF points work (using contrast differences) so you can make sure you stick them on exactly the right spot they need to be for your particular composition - remember as well that A or M lenses (or equiv such as M42) will only Meter AND AF Confirm on the Centre Spot. For this reason I often have my metering set to spot as well (but take care to meter on the brightest object in frame first in then recompose...)

Its still occasionally hit and miss - but I did get this shot in low-light with strobes using the A50/1.7. I figure it'll just get 'quicker' to do with practice:
All sizes | Falling #7 | Flickr - Photo Sharing!


(p.s.. complete novice myself - so take answers with grain of salt and do wait for more knowledgeable answers )

Last edited by adr1an; 07-10-2011 at 02:51 PM.
07-07-2011, 08:22 PM - 2 Likes   #3
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The answer is YES!
As a HUGE fan and collector of vintage glass(which are also MF), I can tell you that there is light at the end of the tunnel for you my friend.

Here are a few ideas that come to mind.
  1. Using catch-in focus.
  2. Using LiveView and the magnifier to preview and lock in on that focus.
  3. Using a cover over yourself to better see your shot(if applicable).
  4. Investing in an optical LiveView magnifier to enhance visibility
  5. Using a larger(external) screen to display your liveview.
  6. Installing a split screen(or equivalent) to help nail focus via optical viewfinder
  7. Installing a viewfinder magnifier to raise magnification and improve visibility.
  8. Installing an eyecup to help enhance visibility and framing.
  9. Use all of the above and scare the b'jesus out of innocent bystanders.

PS. I find nothing more exciting that collecting and shooting with vintage glass.

ex: a quick snap of my son.

focused on the eye, at f/2(thin dof), as you can imagine, would not sit still for one second.

Last edited by JohnBee; 07-07-2011 at 08:29 PM.
07-07-2011, 08:34 PM   #4
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Another YES!

+1 JohnBee summary. If you use viewfinder with fast lenses #6 is a requirement -- the stock screen cannot show DOF of lens faster than f/3.5 or so...

07-07-2011, 08:42 PM   #5
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QuoteOriginally posted by rhodopsin Quote
Another YES!

+1 JohnBee summary. If you use viewfinder with fast lenses #6 is a requirement -- the stock screen cannot show DOF of lens faster than f/3.5 or so...
I use Digital Preview a bit to test DoF - is that still 'off' as well ? I agree with the stock viewfinder its hard to pick out - thats why I figured the Dig Preview was sufficent when I really needed spot-on DoF ?
07-07-2011, 08:49 PM - 1 Like   #6
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I cannot say anything about the Ricoh lens, never tried one.

Manual focusing does get easier. But it is important to remember that the k-x, like most (if not all) modern dslrs was built with auto-focus lenses in mind. The view finder in particular is optimized for slower, dimmer auto-focus lenses.

There are a few things that you can do that will help.

1) Practice! Practice! Practice! It really does help. And it will not be an "aha" moment. You will just find that over time you get better. At least I did. I had to teach myself that "close" was simply not good enough.

2) You already have the magnifying viewfinder, I assume the OME53. Best purchase I ever made, would not go out without it.

3) You can try a replacement focusing screen. They are available for the k-x on ebay or from katzeye. Search for pentax focusing screen and you will get lots of hits. I have read several long technical explanations and I still do not think I'm qualified to explain why but a focusing screen made for a manual focus camera will work better with manual focus lenses.

4) Not all lenses are created equal, manual focus or auto-focus. Try the lens database here for some information on lenses. Some are simply better than others. Some just do not take sharp pictures.

5) You need to have a good understanding of depth of field. Are you using the Ricoh wide open or stopped down? Trying to manually focus a wide open f/1.7 lens on a tree will be frustrating. The depth of field at f/1.7 would be only inches or less. So some part of your photo will be in focus, just not all of it. That may be why your sign pictures are working since the area you are trying to focus on will be flat with little depth of field.

6) I know nothing about your Ricoh but be aware some lenses cannot be stopped down on modern cameras and will only work wide open. I'm thinking of M42 lenses without a manual/automatic switch. I doubt this is true for yours but you should check. In this situation you are always working with a very narrow depth of field no matter what you set the camera at.

7) You can also try focusing with live view and zooming in. This works better with a tripod for me but you can do it hand held as well. You might want to try this to test the lens and make sure it is functioning correctly. I use this method all the time for macro pictures.

8) Be aware that your camera may be front focusing or back focusing. In small amounts this is not noticeable with the kit lens or other slow lenses. But when you try to focus with a fast lens (f/1.4, f/1.7) the slight error becomes apparent. If you are getting good shots of flat things like signs this is not likely your problem but you should be aware of it.

9) The focusing mechanism of a lens makes a lot of difference for me. I have some with very long 'throws' where fine focusing is very easy and others where the focusing ring seems to make finding that right spot harder than it should, it just seems to go past instead of hitting that sweet spot.

10) It is also important to learn how to manually focus. I work my way back and forth at ever decreasing intervals until I can see the focus going from sharp to blurry. Take a look at this thread for some tips on manually focusing.

11) You can also use catch-in-focus on most manual focus lenses. I don't use it much but many report it works very well for them.
07-07-2011, 08:54 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by adr1an Quote
I use Digital Preview a bit to test DoF - is that still 'off' as well ? I agree with the stock viewfinder its hard to pick out - that's why I figured the Dig Preview was sufficient when I really needed spot-on DoF ?
The 'DOF issue' arises due to focus screen. Using Digital Preview/Live View bypasses focus screen, so, no problem with accurate focus of faster lenses.
07-07-2011, 09:01 PM   #8
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Another vote for JohnBee. I've been shooting for a long long time, from back before we had AF and zooms and SR and Sony and AWB and all that fancy modern crap. I now have 215 lenses, of which just 10 are AF. So how do I focus all those MFL's when my eyeballs are delaminating? Especially the f/1.2's and f/1.4's and f/2's? Well, I depend on CIF when possible, and focus confirmation otherwise. I have a katzeye-type split screen, which helps when pointing at well-lit contrasty subjects. I wear a baseball cap for shade.

And I stop the aperture down, and read the DOF scales on those MFL's, and I prefocus / hyperfocus. A few weeks ago I was on a 14250ft mountaintop in midday clear skies, glare so bright that I could barely see to frame shots. So I used a Zeiss 50/2.8 lens stopped down to f/11, prefocused to 8ft for DOF from 4ft to infinity. For portraits of nearby marmots, I mounted an Enna 100/4.5 with the aperture also at f/11, prefocused to 9ft for DOF from 7ft to 12ft. When the varmints were within that range, I shot. I couldn't use CIF with those lens anyway, but hyperfocal technique saved the day.

If the light is right, LiveView is fine. But for me, CIF and focus confirmation and the split-screen and hyperfocus work great. And a half-century+ of practice.

07-07-2011, 09:21 PM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by jjhenders Quote
Not long ago I bought a used Rikenon P 1:1.7 50mm and I'm simply not happy at all with the results--lots of out of focus pictures.
Congratulations on the purchase of a FANTASTIC piece! The build quality is not great, but the glass is remarkably incredible!!!

Here are a couple recent shots with that lens:







Those are just a couple recent random shots with it, I have pulled some tremendous shots with this lens in the past, this lens has also replaced my M-50mm 1.7...

As others have mentioned, CIF or "Catch In Focus" should help you tremendously...

(FYI: I shoot 95% of the time with MF lenses, and this includes a ton of extreme sports shooting)



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07-07-2011, 09:24 PM   #10
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QuoteOriginally posted by jjhenders Quote
Here is my question: are all manual focusing lenses the same, in terms of difficulty getting focus?
No. The worst lens for me is a 16mm fisheye, because every detail is really small in the viewfinder. Either I have a split-prism or guess at the distance. With the huge deth of field, a guess works fine. Slow lenses (f5.6 or more) are harder because the viewfinder is dimmer and the transition in and out of the zone of focus isn't as sharp. Low-contrast lenses have a similar problem. There's the previously mentioned problem where the viewfinder doesn't show the correct depth of field for a lens faster than f2.8. And with macro lenses, focusing at 1:2 or more magnification is harder.
07-07-2011, 09:40 PM   #11
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I was hoping the Pentax $30 some odd magnifyer was going to take care of this, but it doesn't seem to help that much. I've price the katzeye (or whatever it's called) and the price is prohibitive.
07-07-2011, 09:52 PM   #12
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I'm not sure if I understand everything written, but I will read and reread the suggestions and continue practicing and hope I get better. But until I do, I don't think I'll be buying any more manual lenses. And joe.penn, I know you get great shots with the lens. That's why I bought your lens when I saw it for sale. I saw some pics you shot with the lens and said, I've got to get that lens. Unfortunately, to this point I simply haven't figured out how to consistently get things in focus. I will keep trying, though.
07-07-2011, 10:14 PM - 1 Like   #13
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Ok, try the "Catch In Focus" feature - make sure it is enabled in your custom menu settings. Also, make sure your "Focus Confirmation" beep is turned up loud to you can hear it (obviously, with CIF you wouldn't need it).

A quick run down of using CIF:

1. With CIF enabled, make sure your K-X Focus switch is set to "AF" and not "MF",
2. Make sure you have your AF focus setting set to AF.S,
3. Push your shutter button "All The Way Down" and continue to hold down,
4. Turn your focus ring slowly towards focus, once the camera has focus confirmation, the shutter will fire.

It's best to practice this in good light (daylight) where your shutter speed is 500+, this will ensure that if you are moving the focus ring too fast you will still get a shot that does not have focus blur from turning the ring to fast.

On the lens, it is portrait sharp (appears a wee bit soft but still sharp) @ 1.7 - it starts getting crazy sharp @ 2.8 and above and sometimes a little to sharp if you are shooting portrait shots where you would like to have a little softness (best to use @ 1.7 if shooting people portraits with that lens). Don't forget to use "M" mode and "Green Button" metering - if not, you will be shooting wide open all the time.


Also to add to your original question, No, all are not the same - they are however almost near the same when matching the max apertures. This particular lens acts near identical to the 50mm M 1.7 whereas a bit different (focusing) to the 50mm M 1.4...


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Last edited by joe.penn; 07-07-2011 at 10:19 PM.
07-08-2011, 05:04 AM   #14
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QuoteOriginally posted by jjhenders Quote
I was hoping the Pentax $30 some odd magnifyer was going to take care of this, but it doesn't seem to help that much. I've price the katzeye (or whatever it's called) and the price is prohibitive.
They're both useful but not needed. You can probably find a Split Prism for less, on my K10 I found a new one for $25...

The Split Prism may help you get your subject into focus faster, but you still need to fine focus, it's this little bit of play that can make your image tack sharp...

If you're using in focus confirmation, you should be getting decent results, if not, maybe it's your lens. Personally, I would use the Kit Lens in Manual Focus mode and see if you can get better results on the same subjects...

For me, if I've been using AF lenses and decide to go Manual, I still need to "warm up" with practice shots just to get the focusing right. I've found each lens comes into focus differently than others., etc etc etc...

Practice, manual focusing is an art form and hard too
07-08-2011, 06:26 AM   #15
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QuoteOriginally posted by jjhenders Quote
I was hoping the Pentax $30 some odd magnifyer was going to take care of this, but it doesn't seem to help that much. I've price the katzeye (or whatever it's called) and the price is prohibitive.
What MODE are you using this lens in? You Are aware that M type lenses only work in M mode, correct? Or is this an A type lens (Auto aperture)?

No need for a $105 screen. Catch in Focus is your friend.









http://www.flickr.com/photos/rolleiman2007/collections/72157625711419963/


Last edited by JeffJS; 07-08-2011 at 06:46 AM.
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