Why Manually Focusing Is Easier With Mirrorless Cameras

Accurately manually focusing on a modern mirrorless camera is significantly easier than on a normal DSLR, which opens up many new avenues. This great video will show you how mirrorless cameras make it convenient and what that means for you. 

Coming to you from Mark Holtze, this great video discusses why manually focusing is much easier with a mirrorless camera. Personally, ever since I switched to a Sony a7R III for the majority of my work, I actually find myself manually focusing most of the time. Unless it's fast-moving action that I simply can't keep up with, I actually prefer to manually focus, as it ensures I get razor-sharp focus every single time, and after a month or so of getting used to it, I'm plenty quick enough to keep up with a normal shoot without affecting the pace. In fact, it often quickens the pace and makes culling easier, as I don't need to take any redundant shots in case I missed focus, since I can see for myself that I've nailed it before I take the shot. Another great benefit of this is that it allows you to easily tap into cheaper, vintage lenses. Check out the video above for the full rundown.

Log in or register to post comments

23 Comments

Mark Holtze's picture

Alex! Wasn’t expecting this. Coming by to check the feed and bam.

Thanks for the shoutout mate.

On topic. I would like to say I have a harder time landing manual focus on some modern lenses. I find the focus by wire to be a challenge. Anybody else get that or is it just me?

Usman Dawood's picture

In my experience, focus by wire sucks and I hate it.

Simon Patterson's picture

I'm the same - I also hate focus by wire. I find focus by wire to be so poorly implemented that it is often practically useless to me.

Mark Holtze's picture

Totally agree...I guess they don't put much into it thinking most people are shooting auto...which isn't a BAD choice, but I really wish they would implement it more organically.

Simon Patterson's picture

I don't know if they choose not to implement it well, or if there is a technical limitation that means they can't implement FBW to work just like a traditional focus mechanism. I guess the point is moot - FBW is so bad that I wouldn't consider buying anything as my main system if it uses FBW.

Mark Holtze's picture

Ok good, it’s not just me lol. Thanks Simon!

michaeljin's picture

Focus by wire is the devil.

Simon Patterson's picture

He is correct, although practically the difference between using these features for manual focussing on DSLR vs mirrorless is generally only for shooting stills hand held.

Most people use the rear screen (or an external monitor) on both DSLR and mirrorless cameras when shooting video. Using the rear screen is also often much more practical when shooting stills on a tripod. In those cases, both mirrorless cameras and DSLRs can provide the extra focusing features mentioned in the video.

The difference is that a mirrorless is using its primary AF system whether you usectge viewfinder or back panel. A DSLR can only use its primary AF system though the viewfinder. When using the back panel, its a different AF system. Canon's Dual Pixel us a pretty good secondary system, but most others are quite poor.

Simon Patterson's picture

That is also technically correct, although it is a bit like pointing out that many DSLRs don't have focus peaking on their rear screens. As Canon's dual pixel autofocus demonstrates, there is no reason any DSLR needs to have a secondary focusing mechanism that is inferior to any mirrorless camera. Just like there's no reason a DSLR can't have focus peaking in live view mode.

michael andrew's picture

My 5d2 and 7d have focus peaking with magic lantern

Simon Patterson's picture

Yeah my Canon 650d does, too. It was one of the main reasons I bought it.

michaeljin's picture

It would be less of an issue if DSLR manufacturers released interchangable focusing screens like older SLR cameras used to have.

Mark Holtze's picture

OH GOSH! YES IT WOULD. Sorry for the all caps. I have a way harder time landing focus on my Canon DSLR vs my dad's 40 year old Practika 35mm camera with the exact same lenses.

I was going to address it in this video and recorded a bit, but I figured it would open up a can of worms and just focus it on mirrorless. I mentioned the old vs new system. I'm not a pro one vs the other, I use both the DSLR and mirrorless systems for different things and I do love them both.

Mark Dunsmuir's picture

I really miss the split screen on my old AE1. REALLY REALLY.

Rob Davis's picture

There are aftermarket ones available. I don’t know how difficult a split-prism or one of those god awful micro prism screens would be if you actually wanted to use autofocus though.

michaeljin's picture

No clue as I've never tried it. Maybe someone could add some input here?

Rob Davis's picture

This was written in upside down world. Focus-by-wire is horrible.

Dan Seefeldt's picture

I'm so mad I didn't take some 400mm m42s for free. I thought they were no longer usable.

Mark Holtze's picture

Always take a free lens, always ;). Next time mate.

Dan Seefeldt's picture

A relative said he has an 800mm, so fingers crossed when he kicks the bucket.

Dittoes for easier focusing older film SLRs!My old eyes need AF and ibis. Focusing dslr & mirrorless manually, is challenging. OTOH, using rear LCD reminds me that I miss my Horseman LF rig! Lol!

Back before AF, VFs had actual optical designs to facilitate focus. From a contrasty ground glass to split image and microprism screens.

AF viewfinders were optimized for brightness and surrendered the ability to easily focus manually.

Now we laud the ability to manual focus because we are recognizing the limits of this sainted AF that actually betrays us in situations that really matter.

Mirrorless helps us see the errors of automation from focus to exposure. Thus maybe we will learn our craft better.