Getting Focused with Mirrorless Cameras

Today’s Post by Jay Farrell

My switch to Fuji mirrorless cameras wasn’t without it’s challenges, especially in the area of autofocus speed/performance. Firmware upgrades help, but I want to share some tips about how I’ve changed my approach to conquer those sometimes quirky focus issues.

I consider that getting to know your camera and through this, building a partnership, trusting your camera, even with weddings where there’s no do over. Autofocus challenges happen in low light conditions, points of low contrast or strong backlighting. This can happen with SLR’s too but, in my opinion, mirrorless has not matched their performance. As with any equipment, it’s what suits your needs and how well you can use it.

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Here are some game changer focus tips when shooting in demanding conditions.

By pressing the AF lock button, when you hit the shutter button, the focus point is already locked. This is useful to me during weddings, when being in focus already helps me capture that decisive moment. It is not meant to track moving subjects like continuous focus, though it will to a certain extent if you move with the subjects or the depth-of-field compensates for it.

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Locking the focus point on the ground and waiting for the subject to pass by that spot is an old street photography trick. You don’t follow subjects, they come to you. With this technique, you have to be careful with depth-of-field and I rely on it more than I probably realize.

Manual focus with peaking or split image focusing manual focus: With split image you see two images coming together as the image comes into in focus or with peaking see the colored distortion lines at their sharpest.

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Zone focusing uses a distance based focus point where the subjects in that zone will be in focus. This comes in handy for moving subjects or dancing at weddings. Smaller apertures are your friend as it’s more forgiving to distance miscalculations.

Setting your focus point to the nearest point of contrast and let depth-of-field compensate. Also consider lens choice. With the Fujis, I use my XF 23mm f/1.4 R and XF 56mm f/1.2 R lenses the most, the 56mm won’t focus as fast in low light and is not my go to lens for dancing shots. I needed the 56mm several times since it was a crowded room and couldn’t walk closer. It was slow to focus in low light, so I locked my focus point on the nearest point of contrast instead of between the eyes if it wouldn’t lock fast there. Using f/5.6, depth-of-field compensates…using f/1.2 can get you in trouble. Since firmware upgrades, I seldom do this. But it’s there if you need it. And I can’t say I’ve never had to do any of these things when I used SLR’s.

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Jay Farrell is a Nashville-based documentary/photojournalist style wedding photographer and just over two years ago, he switched from Canon 1D series SLR to Fuji mirrorless. Please visit his website at www.jayfarrellphotography.com.