Nikon 35mm SLR: manual focus vs. auto focus

Discussion in 'Nikon' started by S. S., Sep 19, 2004.

  1. S. S.

    S. S. Guest

    Dear Gurus,

    Since an AF Nikon 35mm SLR will also have the capacity to do manual
    focus, I am wondering what is the advantage in general of an MF Nikon
    over an AF Nikon. I understand that an AF one probably will be bulkier
    and heavier than an MF one, and the MF lense speed is faster. But in
    addition to those, what are the benefits, image quality-wise, of an MF
    Nikon? Are MF feature of an AF body the same as MF feature of an MF
    body? Thanks in advance for help!

    S. S., Sep 19, 2004
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  2. S. S.

    columbotrek Guest

    A MF body has a nicer focusing screen for MF work and the MF lenses turn
    more and with additional resistance. By nicer I am referring to the
    microprisim screens vs what is basically ground glass for the AF bodies.
    These features are desirable if you are into MF. If you do not need
    the speed, MF is more accurate than AF. You can carefully pick the exact
    point of focus where as the AF systems seem to get the focus point some
    where inside of the DOF and go with it. The Nikon MF bodies are compact
    and stoutly built. If you are into fast action shooting, the AF bodies
    and lenses are great. But if you are more into things shot from a
    tripod the MF system holds some advantages. I am sure that is why Nikon
    still makes MF bodies. Not all of us are sports photo journalists. As
    far as the MF lens speed being faster, f stop is independent of the
    focusing method.

    Perhaps if you were to mention what bodies/lenses you are considering...
    columbotrek, Sep 19, 2004
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  3. S. S.

    Tony Guest

    Actually the MF will be the heavier given similar models. They tend to be
    old designs with mechanical linkages and metal bodies. The only advantage to
    them is that some equipment snobs will tell you that you'll learn more about
    photography from them - they are wrong, and in fact actually don't have the
    vaguest idea how wrong they are, but that's the way they are, and no amount
    of evidence is gonna change them.
    Go for AF - and take a look at Canon and Pentax while you're at it. Nikon
    has been running on empty for a while now.
    Tony, Sep 19, 2004
  4. S. S.

    Alan Browne Guest

    This was recently discussed here.
    Alan Browne, Sep 19, 2004
  5. Not true- many budget AF Nikons are lighter than many MF Nikons, the N/F55
    and N/F75 in particular.
    Not necessarily true- while there have been faster 35mm and 50mm (and
    marginally faster 105mm and 135mm) lenses for MF Nikon, AF lenses are mostly
    just as fast (and the 28mm f1.4 is available only in AF)
    Image quality? No real improvement, although certain Nikon legends were
    never brought over to AF (and some, such as the 180mm, were apparently
    improved on).

    The benefits of a Nikon manual focus camera are mostly ergonomic- to those
    with a more patient approach, twiddling dials and knobs can be far more
    satisfying than assuming that once the button is pressed everything will
    just whirr into place. If you prefer to focus manually, an autofocus lens in
    MF mode will feel somewhat loose and unpleasant.

    If I may use an analogy (as I am known to), the manual/automatic issue is
    something like climbing a mountain versus taking the chairlift- you get the
    same result, and the view is still nice, and you can even spend the ride
    marvelling at the technology that is getting you there so easily- but when
    you get to the bottom again, it's easy to feel like you haven't actually
    done anything.

    OTT maybe, but a lot of people feel this way.
    Martin Francis, Sep 19, 2004
  6. Image quality? No real improvement, although certain Nikon legends were
    Clarification- the 180mm was improved on in the transition to AF, which
    should indicate that manual focus lenses, despite their many merits, aren't
    always top of the tree.
    Martin Francis, Sep 19, 2004
  7. S. S.

    Gordon Moat Guest

    Since the obvious difference is the method of focus, the most noticeable
    difference to the user of either is the differences of the viewfinder and
    focusing screen. The autofocus lenses can be manually focused, though the
    throw is often shorter, and the feedback seems very loose (not very
    In general, the autofocus bodies are all bulkier. However, the lower
    priced autofocus SLRs are largely plastic construction, making them
    lighter than many of the manual focus bodies. Most of the older manual
    focus bodies are very compact, though the mostly metal construction makes
    them heavier. While there is a level of mechanical complexity to older
    manual focus bodies, often many are very reliable, and quite simple to

    With the lenses, there are a few manual focus lenses with autofocus
    matching lenses. The 50 mm choices of the same lens speed offer a
    slightly lighter autofocus version, since they are mostly plastic. The
    focus helical on a manual focus lens is metal barrels, which adds to the
    weight. Some manual focus lenses have no autofocus equivalent, like the
    35 mm f1.4, all the shift lenses, all the f1.2 lenses, somewhat legendary
    105 mm f2.5, 300 mm f2.0, all Medical Nikkors, all Reflex Nikkors, and a
    few others.

    With the zoom lens choices, the manual focus versions are generally
    heavier than the autofocus choices. It should be noted that most of the
    zoom lenses are newer construction in autofocus versions, and generally
    better lenses than manual focus zoom choices. If you want to use mostly
    zoom lenses, stick with autofocus.
    One thing to consider is that autofocus works by comparing changes in
    contrast to pick a plane of focus. Under subtle variations in lighting, a
    subject or object at a fixed distance could actually cause the lens to
    continue to shift focus. Of course, this is when the autofocus lock, or
    even just manually focusing the autofocus lens can work better. With a
    manual focus only lens, you choose the plane of focus, based upon your
    eyesight, and the feedback in the viewfinder. If you have bad eyesight,
    then you would probably do worse with manual focusing.
    Okay, some of the autofocus bodies allow changing the viewfinder, or just
    the viewing screen. Those that allow that change have screens with manual
    focus aides, like a split screen view, or fine ground screen. The
    contrast is generally very good, and makes manually focusing fast and

    The kit zoom autofocus lenses, and some of the lower priced Nikon G
    series lenses, have almost no manual focus grip area, making them very
    difficult to manually focus. Combine that with a lower priced camera
    body, like the N65, and doing anything manually focused would be

    One thing that none have mentioned so far is that shutter lag is much
    longer in autofocus. Even if you manually focus an autofocus lens, often
    the autofocus body is much slower to react to your finger pushing the
    shutter button. Many of the manual focus only bodies are actually quite
    fast responding, making them good for using your reflexes while shooting.

    There is one aspect of autofocus that is very difficult to copy using
    manual focus. That is follow focus of an object moving towards you, or
    away from you. As the speed increases, it can be tough to follow the
    plane of focus, though some of the better autofocus bodies are very good
    at this.

    I am one of the few people on this news group who is largely
    anti-autofocus. I do not like the lack of precision, or the lack of
    control. I have rented autofocus cameras, though I largely use them in
    manual focus. Of those, I like using the F100, F4, and F5 (in that
    order). My mom has an N65, which works great for her, though it has a
    somewhat dark viewfinder, and not a very good screen for manually
    focusing. I also do quite a bit of night and low light photography, using
    fairly fast manual focus lenses, and manual focus bodies. In general,
    that type of imagery would often make autofocus useless, or hopelessly
    slow to react, or throw the autofocus assist light onto my subjects
    (distracting, ruining spontaneous nature of the images).

    My uses are quite specific, and rarely match how others take photos. I
    hope I answered some questions for you. In general, the better autofocus
    bodies allow you to easily use manual focus lenses, and really are more
    versatile than just a manual focus body. If you want zoom lenses, stick
    with autofocus. Hope that helps.


    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio
    <> Updated!
    Gordon Moat, Sep 19, 2004
  8. S. S.

    Ted Azito Guest

    As the late-for-all-intents James Doohan's character, Scotty, said,
    "Ye canna change the laws of physics." You don't get something for
    nothing. When you have a camera body with more functions, more
    subsystems, more complexity and yet it weighs less, and we can safely
    bet costs less to make, then, it's like Johnny Mercer
    said-"Something's Got To Give". What gets left out is simplicity,
    ruggedness, and straightforwardness of operation.

    You won't necessarily learn more about photography from the MF
    camera, because the AF Nikons go both ways. You can turn the autofocus
    off and in fact most of the time you will. But autofocus is something
    a lot of people just never will need-I'd say among people who are any
    good, more than not.

    Unless you are going into a field where autofocus has made a
    demonstrable improvement, I'd avoid it. I'd take advantage of the
    favorable used market in mechanical manual still-supported SLRs and
    their optics, with the idea you can always add an autofocus body and a
    couple of lenses to the system if you go Nikon.

    Autofocus is just not an improvement _for most people_, and it
    presupposes an electronic camera that puts you out of business with a
    dead battery or electronic failure. If you can provide evidence that
    this isn't so, I'd say you might change us diehards. But it is so, and
    as long as it is, we're going to uphold the standard. The vast
    majority of M Leicas ever made are still operational and you can
    seriously consider an old M3 that isn't mint as a user camera. That
    isn't remotely true of the vast majority of cameras made back then,
    and the same standard shouls be applied to new purchases today-Is this
    thing going to be usable in twenty, thirty, fifty years?

    Otherwise, buy a disposable.
    Ted Azito, Sep 20, 2004
  9. If you are taking pictures of people in a crowd, such as people on the
    street, or walking down a boardwalk, it is very easy for the Auto Focus
    mechanism in your camera to become confused, and not know exactly who to
    focus on. I find that manual focus is much more reliable in a situation like
    this.....I can always crop out what I don't like in the photograph later,
    and just get the particular individual that I had in focus for the shot, or
    use the other people as a sort of, "background" for the individual that is
    in focus, and is therefore, the real subject of the shot.
    William Graham, Sep 20, 2004
  10. S. S.

    Wm Gardner Guest

    While I am certainly no guru, I'll chime in..........I carry a small
    Nikon body as a spare. My FE2 (predecessor to the current FM3) has been
    incredibly reliable. Traded my first one in on a F3 in the mid to late
    '80s. Missed it so much I bought another shortly afterwards. Simple
    functions, can always be counted on, and much smaller than an AF body
    (especially the pro models).

    I take it out sometimes just for the experience. A camera like that can
    help you take better pictures because it makes you slow things down a
    bit. You have to pay a little more attention to what you are doing. My
    subjects tend to be stationary though, if you shoot things that are
    moving on you (sports, wildlife, etc), I wouldn't bother with a MF
    camera. You can do it of course but it is so much easier with AF.

    Hope it helps,
    Wm Gardner, Sep 20, 2004
  11. S. S.

    S. S. Guest

    I am trying to decide whether to go with a Nikon F4 / F5 or an MF Nikon prior to F4.
    S. S., Sep 20, 2004
  12. S. S.

    S. S. Guest

    If you have bad eyesight,
    Thank you very much for the answer! I do wear a pair of prescription
    glasses. Do you know whether wearing glasses has any impact on manual
    focus in particular and handling 35mm (versus digital where you do not
    need to look into viewfinder) in general? Thank you once again!
    S. S., Sep 20, 2004
  13. S. S.

    Dallas Guest

    Try manually focussing with an autofocus lens and autofocus camera. It's
    not as easy to do as would be the case with a manual focus lens, using a
    manual focus camera with a split prism screen.
    Dallas, Sep 20, 2004
  14. I don't think he's talking about refractive correction, unless perhaps
    yours is extreme. As we, ahem, get older, there are various sorts of
    deterioration in vision. It's well known that close-up vision declines
    as the lens becomes less flexible, but unfortunately the eye's focusing
    slows down, as well. Perhaps the worst effect for focusing a camera is
    increased flare susceptibility: bright lights in the field of view
    tend to obscure details in dark areas more than they used to.
    Stephen H. Westin, Sep 20, 2004
  15. S. S.

    Dallas Guest

    What lenses are you looking to use?

    If you buy an F4 you will be able to make use of pretty much any Nikon
    lenses, including pre-AI manual focus, G type and AF-S. With AF-S lenses
    the F4 becomes a very good AF body (not so hot with ordinary AF lenses).

    The F5 OTOH, is only able to use pre-AI lenses with a Nikon modification
    to the mount. Otherwise it is probably the most adaptable Nikon body

    Of course it will cost a lot more than an F4.
    Dallas, Sep 20, 2004
  16. S. S.

    Dallas Guest

    So the rest of the world is wrong and Mr Spadaro is right.

    What an idiot.

    What a complete and utter idiot you have become.

    What a complete and utterly prejudiced idiot you have become.

    Has something been eating at your grey matter that you could bring
    yourself to make such inane comments? You are the Godfather of brand
    prejudice and as such, who can take anything you say seriously anymore?
    Are you still pissed off about your Nikon scanner that broke and had to be
    Dallas, Sep 20, 2004
  17. S. S.

    Roger Guest

    I've finally pretty much made the switch from manual focus bodies to
    AF. I still use a lot of my MF lenses. I made the switch because of
    the electronic focus indicators, generally higher strobe sync and
    ability to use matrix metering (or color matrix metering) with some

    I've used MF bodies for 45 years. If I were going to buy a "pre" F4
    body it would have to be the FM3a :) for all the features (especially
    strobe features). I should mention that I did not go this way because
    of the difficulties I have in working with the FM3a viewfinder in low
    light. Had I done that, I would also really miss the matrix metering.
    Right now my favorite "manual focus" body is the F100. My decision is
    entirely feature driven. When not traveling I use a F5, when traveling
    I'm more likely to use a F100. I still use a F3 or F3HP with MD4, but
    less and less.

    For me, bulk can be a problem. When I really have to travel light and
    still need a SLR, I rely on an F3 and 28 f2.8 AIS and 50mm f1.8 AIS
    with maybe a 105mm f2.5 AIS, but not always carried. My life on my
    last few trips has been greatly simplified by switching to the F100.
    The high eye point and lighted VF with electronic focus confirmation
    has made my post-work evening and low-light photography much more

    As others have pointed out, lens speed is entirely independent of the
    body. Of the cameras mentioned, the IMO image quality will not differ
    with camera body. Exposure accuracy may at times be attributed to the
    features in the body. One reason I like my F100 is that it has feature
    for exposure control not found on a F5 (at least ones that I find
    convenient with non-CPU lenses). These are toggled exposure lock (an
    option) and "instant" compensation controlled by the command dial (an

    If the F100 had color matrix metering (like the F5) .......

    Hope this helps,

    Roger, Sep 20, 2004
  18. S. S.

    Gordon Moat Guest

    In general, you would want a better screen that allowed easier focusing
    manually. There are a few options to consider, such as high eyepoint
    finders. The smaller manual focus bodies are not so good for that, though
    the F3HP, and the F4 are well suited to manual focusing for eyeglasses
    wearers. The other option is to not wear your eyeglasses, and use a
    diopter lens on the finder. Any optics place could make one, or if your
    eyesight is correctable in whole number increments, there are many Nikon
    made diopters for most of the manual focus bodies.

    Some people prefer to keep their glasses on while shooting, while others
    like the diopter choice. My personal preference is to wear contact
    lenses, and use a 0 diopter on my cameras. I should mention that my
    eyesight without contact lenses is actually fairly good, and I have a
    very weak strength prescription. I guess since you asked about Nikon, I
    should mention that I use a Nikon FE for most of my 35 mm work. While the
    eyepoint of the FE is not as good as for the F3 or F4, it is a much
    smaller and more compact camera body.

    I think the idea of digital, using just the LCD (like on a P&S), leads to
    other problems. There is no way to hold a camera steady at bent arms
    distance. Also, judging focus is questionable on an LCD, and I would
    hesitate to recommend manually focusing using one like that.

    Prices on the F4 are actually fairly low currently, with many good used
    examples. Check the prices at KEH in Atlanta first <>,
    since sometimes EBAY auctions go too high on prices. The F4 would also
    allow autofocus lenses to be used, though only with a centre focus area
    selection. The F3 is slightly smaller and lighter, and just a little less
    expensive than an F4. Avoid the F3AF, since that early autofocus camera
    has some weird lenses, and is not very ergonomic.


    Gordon Moat
    A G Studio
    <> Updated!
    Gordon Moat, Sep 20, 2004
  19. S. S.

    Nick C Guest

    Both are very good camera bodies. The F5 will cost considerably more than
    the F4 but that's to be expected. I have both cameras and it suites me to
    use the F4 much more often than I use the F5. Although both bodies are
    top-o-the-line, each has advantages in how they are used. Since Dallas has
    already mentioned the lenses, I won't repeat what he said. IMO, you will not
    go wrong with either camera body but you should be aware that some parts for
    the F4 may not be readily available, if repairs are needed. But accessories
    for the F4 are readily available and inexpensive. An F4e with a MF23 back is
    a potent tool photographic tool and IMO, more user friendly than the F5.

    Nick C, Sep 21, 2004
  20. S. S.

    DGENR8 Guest

    As I uderstand it, the F4 has no idea what to do with an AFS lense.
    Indeed, it is less "hot" on account of AF not working at all :)

    Also, G type lenses will only work in the Program modes; so no A,S, or M.


    Proud F4s owner.
    DGENR8, Sep 21, 2004
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