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Autofocus vs Manual Focus lens

Evan Bedford , Apr 11, 2007; 05:49 p.m.

I am saving up money to buy a Nikon 24mm prime lens for a D80 to use mostly for street photography. I see that I can buy a manual or autofocus lens but is one neccessarily better than the other? I understand that autofocus is better for some situations like action but will the manual focus lens generally produce a sharper image if focused right? An autofocus lens can be used manually as well, right? so does that mean the autofocus lens is always the better lens because it can do both?


Steve Levine , Apr 11, 2007; 06:20 p.m.

Manual focus lenses won't allow any metering on most Nikon DSLR's. This alone should be enough to make you get the AF. Yes you can manual focus with AF lenses.

Ben Hutcherson , Apr 11, 2007; 06:35 p.m.

In my experience, 24mm and wider lenses are fairly difficult to focus manually even on cameras specifically designed for manual focusing. Of course, the depth of field is great enough that critical focusing isn't all that important. This works against you, though, in that if you need to critically focus, things don't "snap" in and out of focus quite like they do with longer lenses. While I generally prefer plain matte focusing screens, I generally always have to install at the very least a split image and preferably a microprism screen to get dead on focus every time with my 20 and 24mm lenses.

I can't imagine having to manually focus a wide angle lens on a small, dim DSLR viewfinder that's not designed for manual focusing in the first place.

Beau Hooker , Apr 11, 2007; 07:37 p.m.

I think that, assuming the autofocus is accurate, one type of lens won't necessarily "out-focus" the other. Although I'm sure there are plenty of people with strong preferences. I'm not sure where you live but, FWIW, the latest issue of Shutterbug Magazine (in the US) has *very* glowing reviews of the new Nikon-mount Zeiss manual-focus lenses and I believe one is a 24mm, if I recall correctly. Anyway, if you have access to a bookstore that carries Shutterbug you might want to have a look. The review was very flattering to Zeiss's efforts saying they're some of the best 35mm lenses they've ever made. It had me thinking about a Nikon-to-Canon adapter just to try one out! ;-)

pico digoliardi , Apr 11, 2007; 09:33 p.m.

> In my experience, 24mm and wider lenses are fairly difficult to focus manually even on cameras specifically designed for manual focusing.

Well, in my experience that's not true. Maybe you weren't using a camera with an adequate finder. The Nikon F with the microprism center 'snaps' w/a focus very well. I can't say if the D80 is as good. It would be a shame if it were not.

Kieran Nottelling , Apr 11, 2007; 09:51 p.m.

Most AFs allow MF anyway, so just go for one of them. Besides, since they focus so precisely, I find they give sharper images than MF.

Ben Hutcherson , Apr 11, 2007; 10:06 p.m.

Pico, I have used pretty much the whole range of pro manual focus Canons, including both versions of the F-1 and the T90. Their viewfinders are hardly inadequate, and that of the new F-1 is the absolute best I've ever seen or used.

Please note that I also said when using a matte screen-I actually find the microprism, generally not my favorite screen type, ideal for use with wide angles. I just recently bought a "course" microprism screen for my old F-1 that only works with lenses 2.8 and faster but is really easy to use with those lenses. It's become my favorite wide angle focusing screen.

In any case, though, to my knowledge all DSLRs ship from the factory with a plain matte focusing screen. Thus, you don't get any kind of focusing aide unless you upgrade the screen. Since the microprism has lost popularity in favor of the split-image, I'm not even sure that any non-pro DSLRs offer a microprism screen.

Edward Ingold , Apr 13, 2007; 05:02 p.m.

The D80 electronic focusing works when manually focusing a lens. There are 11 possible spots in the D80. Pick one and watch the green arrows and dot in the lower left edge of the screen. While a wide angle lens does not pop in and out of focus as smartly as a 50/1.4, it doesn't have to. It's all a matter of technique.

For critical focusing on a plain screen, you go a little past the point of sharpest focus and back again. It takes a little practice, but what else to you have to do? I have used the green dot for confirmation, but I really don't need it.

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