I am Joe’s Autofocus
After tonight’s holiday shopping hell, I found myself at Barnes & Noble, trolling the periodicals for this month’s additions to my tear sheet collection. I’m probably the only photographer I know who has work appearing simultaneously in Outdoor Life Magazine and The Hockey News.
Et cetera, et cetera.
My only official deed of the day was a private function for the Spurs that went over well. I love it when big clients are satisfied. It’s the mark of a good day.
Now, on to the meat.
I reminded myself today of a conversation I had a couple years ago with a local newspaper shooter while we were both on the floor at a WNBA game. As a Nikon shooter who was thinking of switching to Canon, he asked me what I thought about the AF on my Mark II.
I said that even though it was fantastic, like all other AF systems it still had it’s faults, such as needing a little more time to think when faced with low-contrast situations. I used, as an example, the player who had just run under the net at full speed, directly at us. I said that quickly focusing on her face in that situation was nigh impossible, considering the low contrast of the scene coupled with the drastic falloff of the ambient light under the basket.
He said that would never do, and he would probably wait to switch, which made me wonder just what in the world he was expecting out of the new Canon digitals. I’ve known this guy for quite some time, and I know him not only to be a really cool guy, but also a good shooter, so it got me thinking about what people really expect out of their modern cameras.
Autofocus is a tool, with its pros and cons, just like any other. It’s designed to help you do your job, not to do your job for you. You still have to learn how your camera behaves, and use your mighty human brain to anticipate the scene. For example, when you are shooting in less than favorable conditions in AI Servo mode, you have to give your camera more time to think before you fire.
When shooting in dingy basketball light, for example, you can’t just hit the button quickly and expect the AF to instantly track. You have to keep the button down, tracking your subject and giving the AF processor time to predict the path of your subject, because that’s how servo mode works. It’s predictive autofocus. It uses data it collects to predict where the subject will be when the shutter is tripped. If it has no data to average, then your focus is less likely to be spot-on when you fire.
Now, if you’re shooting in bright sunlight, with a nice fast lens, then yeah, you can pretty much hit the button and expect the AF to be dead-on. Good AF depends on light and contrast. Cut down on those two things and you have to help it out as best you can.
The new digitals are great, but they can’t shoot for you. You still need to be a photographer.