Getting older. Inevitable consequence of life, like taxes. I’ve read a lot of reviews by people waning nostalgic about the X100s and how they feel like it enables “proper” photography, slowing down due to it’s quirks, forcing more thought. All true, but for me, getting older means I can’t see quite as well as I could, and that is as irritating as fire-ants inside a bathing suit.
I love my D800, but nailing focus in portraiture is about getting the eye in focus. My absolute favourite lens for this is the Nikkor 105mm DC, shot wide open at f2. The snag is, with the camera up to my eye, I can’t tell if the thing I want in focus actually is. I really want the subjects eyes sharp, but the auto focus hits the eyelash, or eyebrow, or cheek. The sensor AF point is just too big. So I chimp a lot. Switching to manual focus doesn’t help, the focus confirmation dot relies on the same AF system. And I did mention that my eyes weren’t what they used to be? Actually, while I’ve always enjoyed perfect vision up until recently, I don’t think I could ever nail the focus easily peering through the viewfinder. This issue isn’t limited to portraiture. Anything that I want with differential focus is tricky to nail. Shooting at wider apertures, macro stuff, it all becomes more challenging to nail it.
There is one way to nail it with the D800, which is to focus using the LCD on the back of the camera. Go and try it sometime. When your arms start shaking due to holding the camera away from your face, let me know how sharp the shot is! Or put it on a tripod….
So this is where the X100s comes in. After reading a bunch of stuff, including (shock, horror!) the manual, I have got to the settings that help me nail focus every time! My eureka moment was discovering that in manual focus mode, you can autofocus without switching modes, then fine tune the focus on a zoomed in viewfinder image. Sounds complicated? Nope, couldn’t be simpler.
The camera set up is as follows. I have the AE/AF Lock mode (menu page 4) set to on/off switch. This enables the AF-L/AE-L button on the back to activate the AF system in manual focus mode. I have the MF focus assist set to Peak.
The way I use the camera is as follows. I have the side switch set to MF and the viewfinder switched to the optical viewfinder. I have the eye sensor enabled, so the back LCD goes dark when I look through the viewfinder, removing that distraction. I figure out my composition and exposure, and press the AE-L/AF-L button. I can do this without taking the camera from my eye. This activates the auto-focus and the system finds focus and stops. It doesn’t continuously seek focus with the button pushed, so it acts like AF-S mode. If necessary, I move the focus assist box by hitting the up direction on the rear selector and moving the box as appropriate, then push the AE-L/AF-L button again.
Now comes the magic. To check or fine tune focus, just move the manual focus ring slightly. The viewfinder automatically switches to a zoomed in view of the AF assist box and you also have focus peaking to confirm that what you want in focus actually is. Tweak the focus ring as necessary and squeeze off a shot.
This all sounds much slower than it actually is. I use this method all the time, except with fast moving subjects of course. With a little practice, it comes very naturally and makes out of focus shots rare. If the subjects are dynamic, I just switch to AF-C and trust the AF system. This uses the small individual AF sensors, so it does a good job. I can’t manually focus that fast and without the zoomed in view I can’t nail the focus anyway, so I just trust it.
I hate to say it, but I’m really starting to prefer the Fuji X system for most of the stuff I do. I like the body style of the rangefinders over the SLR form factor. There has been a lot of buzz around the new X-T1, but that camera doesn’t appeal to me. It’s a small DSLR shape and if I want to use a camera like that, I’m going to use my D800, dodgy eyes or no. I like the X-Pro1, but it’s got a different back layout to the X100s, so I’m not sure I’d get on as well as I do with the X100s. Also, even with all the firmware updates, has Fuji got the X-Pro1 niggles ironed out? I don’t know and its hard to tell from the reviews as most of them are from initial firmware cameras when it was first released.
For now, I’m excited by being able to focus accurately with the X100s, and know that I’ve nailed it. Maybe getting older isn’t so bad, after all?
More to come……………….