The stunning simplicity of manual focus: don’t let AF technology get in the way

You don’t need us to tell you that modern AF systems are complicated. You have AF-S vs AF-C, AE-L, AF-ON, face, eye (left eye or right eye) AF, animal eye AF, tracking AF, AF point/area/auto-area selection AF, detection of contrast vs phase AF, touch AF, touch shutter AF, joystick AF, AI subject recognition AF and even eye direction AF. And all that, just to focus on one thing.

Of course, all this AF technology has a purpose. If you’re a self-filming vlogger, you need a camera that can track your face and keep you in focus. If you are a professional sports photographer, any technology that can increase your success rate will also increase your reputation and income.

But for ordinary everyday photography, this AF tech isn’t just overkill – it can actually get in the way.

And it takes a simple, “dumb” manual focus lens like the Laowa MFT Argus 25mm f/0.95 APO to bring this whole issue into focus (sorry).

When you put this lens, or any other manual focus lens on a camera, all of the autofocus technology suddenly becomes unnecessary, and probably at least 50% of the complexity of using cameras modern digital.

You are thrown back on your own physical resources. You have to look at your subject and turn a focus ring until it’s in focus. It doesn’t take a lot of effort. It means retraining your shooting reflexes after years of camera automation, and for a while you’ll probably continue to miss shots because you forgot to focus.

But if you persist, you will notice three things happening:

(Image credit: Laowa)

1. You will go back to using depth of field

There’s a resurgence in manual focus lenses, and the Laowa MFT Argus 25mm f/0.95 APO is just one example. These lenses usually have long-throw mechanical focusing rings. This means they have focus distance scales that are precise enough to be really useful and depth of field marks for easy hyperfocal and zone focusing. Remember these? Two very useful techniques that AF lenses have made so difficult that we don’t care anymore.

2. Your camera will react faster to the shutter

Do you remember when cameras triggered the shutter the instant you pressed the shutter button? Ah, those were the good old days. Now we have to wait for the camera to be happy with the focus. But with a manual focus lens, those days are back – and after years of autofocusing, you’re going to find your camera’s new instant reactions quite unnerving.

3. You’ll realize that you often only need to focus once.

Modern cameras are very smart. They are also very stupid. They treat each image as a new adventure, even if it’s actually the same as the previous one. They check the exposure when it hasn’t changed, they recheck the white balance even if the light is the same, and they refocus on a subject that hasn’t moved.

There are plenty of reasons you might want to persist with autofocus and they will often be very good. But don’t dismiss manual focus just because it’s “old” or because it looks like hard work. Despite everything we’ve gained with modern digital cameras, there are also a few things we’ve lost.

Oh, and a big shout out to Laowa, Samyang, TTArtisans, 7Artisans, Voigtländer, Zeiss, Leica and all the other classic MF lens makers. Please continue!

(Image credit: Laowa)

Laowa MFT Argus 25mm f/0.95 APO details

It’s not a typo. Yes, it’s an f/0.95 lens. Laowa’s Argus range offers ultra-fast openings that you will rarely see elsewhere.

It’s an MFT lens, so it’s for Olympus and Panasonic Lumix G cameras, where it offers a 50mm equivalent angle of view. It has an unchecked aperture ring, so it might as well work on a Blackmagic Pocket Cinema 4K camera.

For a manual focus MFT lens it’s quite large, but that’s because there’s a lot of glass inside. And there is another remarkable thing about this lens apart from the maximum aperture, and that is the price. At $449 (about £343 / AU$619), it’s pretty exceptional value for its specs.

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