When to Use Manual Focus and Autofocus in Shooting Videos?

When to Use Manual Focus and AutofocusFor a long time, films were silent, and viewers rely on the movements of the actors for them to understand what the movie is all about. With the advancement in technology, combined with the talent of filmmakers and their crew, movies today tell stories in a very understandable and entertaining manner. Hence, if you are an aspiring filmmaker, you should be creative enough. Aside from your creativity, knowing when to use manual focus and autofocus and all its functions are crucial so that you can become good at this craft. Of course, you must also have the perfect camera.

What to Look for in a Good Camera for Filming?

As mentioned, your camera is the number one tool so that you can tell your story to your audience well. You do not have to buy a high-end camera right away, but you need a pretty decent one so that you can get great shots. Here are the things that you need to look for:

  • Customizable Functions

Choose a camera that will allow you to customize most of its functions, if not everything, so you can get the scene that you want. These can include the brightness, contrast, night mode, and the likes.

  • Optical Zoom

Look for a camera that has a wide range of zooming capabilities so that you can take a close-up shot of your subject no matter how far you are. Also, when it comes to zoom, digital zoom is not as important as the optical zoom.

  • Lightweight and Ease of Use

Since you will hold the camera for a very long time, it is best to choose something that is lightweight. You also need to choose the one that will be comfortable in the hands for long periods.

  • Sound

The sound is important in films, so make sure to choose a camera with a good built-in microphone. If you want a better-quality sound, your camera should also allow you to connect an external mic.

Now that you already know the basic features that you need to look for when choosing a camera, let us now learn the basics of focusing.

What is Manual Focus and Autofocus?

Manual focus is focusing your camera lens by hand so that you clearly see the details of the scene you are shooting. This can be done by rotating the focus ring of your lens, and in some cases, you would need to move a lever. Also, if you are using a digital camera to shoot videos, you need to turn off the autofocus function first before you can use the manual option.

Autofocus, on the other hand, is relying on the camera to focus on the subject you are filming. This is made possible because the camera uses sensors in guessing which part of the frame needs to be focused on. Most cameras have this feature, but when it comes to filming, this is less likely used because most productions have a person in charge whose job is to focus on the subject as told by a director.

When to Use Manual Focus?

There are certain situations when you are better off with using the manual focus of your camera, and they are the following:

  • Crowded Scenes

In a scene where there are a lot of people, the best option is to use the manual focus because when you use autofocus, the camera will try to focus on every person in the frame instead of the person you are really trying to capture. Hence, the audience cannot identify who really is the main character, especially if your actor is not famous or if it was not mentioned beforehand. With manual focus, you can blur all the other things in the frame except for the subject.

  • Closeup Scenes

Similar to macro photography, using manual focus when you want to shoot your subject up close is the most ideal because you will have a good and clear shot of your subject. When you use autofocus, a slight movement from your subject will cause your camera to refocus especially if your subject is not a person but an animal which you cannot instruct not to move.

  • Low Lighting

Using autofocus in a low-lighting condition is the worse you can do when shooting because your camera will keep on focusing and you will never ever get the shot that you want. However, you will get a clear shot of your subject when you use the manual focus function of your camera.

  • Fast Moving Subjects

When shooting fast-moving scenes, your best bet is to use the manual focus so that you can get a good shot. When autofocus is used, your camera will still try to focus when your subject is already gone. Using manual focus will prevent missed opportunities especially if you like filming wildlife.

When to Use Autofocus?

Most filmmakers will tell you never to use autofocus when shooting videos. However, there are instances that this function is better used than manual focus and they are the following:

  • Running and Gunning

Running and gunning in filming is when you are shooting without any equipment except your camera. Autofocus is helpful in this situation because you no one will help you except yourself and your trusty camera.

  • Shooting Vlogs

When shooting vlogs where you will just stay in one place, the better option, of course, is manual focus. However, if you are vlogging but you are on the move, your best bet is to use the autofocus function of your camera. This is because this function will help you stay in focus even if your camera is moving.

  • Subject is Moving Toward the Camera

Shooting manually during scenes where your subject is moving at an inconsistent speed toward the camera is not very ideal. This is because you will just have a blurry video. Shooting in autofocus will allow you to have a clear shot, at all times, as your subject moves toward the lens.

Final Words

Now that you already know what to look for in a camera and when to use manual focus and autofocus, it is also essential to find time to learn how to shoot videos really well. Although you might be talented, learning the technicalities of filmmaking is also needed to be a good storyteller. You do not necessarily have to go to a film school, but you can equip yourself by doing a lot of reading. After all, the internet and the local library are good sources of books and publications about filmmaking.