Manual focusing for Portraits

Started 8 months ago | Discussions
LoneReaction
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Manual focusing for Portraits
8 months ago

I've acquired a Samyang 85mm F.14 lens to use with the Sony A7. On the Nex-7 I've always relied on AF so am inexperienced with MF.

I read about people being able to nail focus without magnification, and I am unable to do that. With magnification it takes me 5-10 seconds to take a shot. At 85mm without any stabilization, things really starts to get shaky. I will have to practice more and in hope that my accuracy and speed improves.

What is your modus operandi when taking a portrait?

This is not a A7 specific topic, I would be grateful if anybody with experience with MF and peaking on NEXes replied

Some of my attempts:

Was practicing focusing on the closest eye while my girlfriend was talking to her friend over dinner. I'm grateful she puts up with me using her as target practice! Kind of looks like the sample photo for the FE55 lens, haha.

Samyang 85mm F1.4 @ F1.4, Resized to 8MP, PPed in LR5

I find that in low light it was much harder to determine an area is in focus, due to noise from the EVF. This is a lowlight attempt.

Samyang 85mm F1.4 @ F1.4, Resized to 8MP, PPed in LR5. Light from a ceiling light not included in the photo.

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Stu 5
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to LoneReaction, 8 months ago

LoneReaction wrote:

I've acquired a Samyang 85mm F.14 lens to use with the Sony A7. On the Nex-7 I've always relied on AF so am inexperienced with MF.

I read about people being able to nail focus without magnification, and I am unable to do that. With magnification it takes me 5-10 seconds to take a shot. At 85mm without any stabilization, things really starts to get shaky. I will have to practice more and in hope that my accuracy and speed improves.

What is your modus operandi when taking a portrait?

This is not a A7 specific topic, I would be grateful if anybody with experience with MF and peaking on NEXes replied

Some of my attempts:

Was practicing focusing on the closest eye while my girlfriend was talking to her friend over dinner. I'm grateful she puts up with me using her as target practice! Kind of looks like the sample photo for the FE55 lens, haha.

Samyang 85mm F1.4 @ F1.4, Resized to 8MP, PPed in LR5

I find that in low light it was much harder to determine an area is in focus, due to noise from the EVF. This is a lowlight attempt.

Samyang 85mm F1.4 @ F1.4, Resized to 8MP, PPed in LR5. Light from a ceiling light not included in the photo.

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That is one of the problems of not having I.S when using the magnifier. The first one looks like the focus is good on her left eye. I can't say the lens quality is great though at f.1.4 and that is letting you down. The lens will perform better closed down a bit. I shoot actors headshots for a living and would never dream of using a 85mm f1.4 lens wide open for a portrait and nor would the vast majority of pros with any experience. The lower the light the more difficult you are going to find it as the viewfinder quality goes down. In an ideal world you would be using a tripod to make the job much easier. The grip might help you but try before you buy. Always focus on the eye on a tight portrait.

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chromnd
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to LoneReaction, 8 months ago

First of all, you did a great job! The focus on the first one is perfect and the detail is superb (unbelievable it's ISO1250!). I also like the second one which suffers of course some details because of the high ISO - but still this image is perfectly usable.

I have a NEX-6 and also the Samyang 85mm f1.4 though it's ~128mm on the APS-C sensor. I was very surprised how sharp your first image was. I struggle to nail the focus with this lens and have no chance to focus without magnification. At 128mm the missing stabilization is really a problem when using the magnification.

Here is one shot of my son with this lens, but it's not nearly as sharp as yours (though I still like it, so I kept it) - I think I missed the eye-focus here of about 1-2cm.

I always pre-focus using focus peaking then magnify to fine tune the focus. It also take me a view seconds to do so, so my subject has to be very steady especially with this shallow depth of field.

I sometimes use the "VIEW" setting for the EVF. For the NEX-6, this means that all the settings are not applied in the live view, like ISO, Aperture, Speed,... . In low light conditions this makes it easier for me to focus. Unfortunately I lose the live histogram functionality, as it is always corresponding to the image in the viewfinder which will not reflect the final result with this setting.

Most of the time I try to use AF with my SEL50. It's much sharper and easier to operate especially with children:

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Lightshow
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to LoneReaction, 8 months ago

Theres nothing wrong with the 1st, 3rd, & 4th shots, catching a great moment trumps a super sharp boring picture any day.

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tn1krr
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to LoneReaction, 8 months ago

LoneReaction wrote:

I find that in low light it was much harder to determine an area is in focus, due to noise from the EVF. This is a lowlight attempt.

Samyang 85mm F1.4 @ F1.4, Resized to 8MP, PPed in LR5. Light from a ceiling light not included in the photo.

For low light when noise in EVF becomes issue putting the camera to the B&W creative style eliminates some of noise and makes any peaking more obvious. Works also in RAW-only mode, makes the jpg sidecar B&W (B&W show when viewing in camera) but RAW is naturally always RGB so you get color in PP RAW processing.

Another thing I've found in ultra low light that 1st level of magnification (7.2x in my A7R) may give better results than the max magnification due to extra noise and grain in 14.4x.

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stjarvis
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to tn1krr, 8 months ago

I haven't tried switching to BW, I'll have to give that a go.

Currently how I manually focus is: use peaking to get close, zoom in, focus past the subject while watching whatever I'm focusing on, then correct focus. Once you get use to it, it's pretty quick.

I focus past the subject so that I can see when the subject is sharpest. I've found if I don't do that sometimes I'll think I've got perfect focus, but I'll actually be a little off.

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tn1krr
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to stjarvis, 8 months ago

stjarvis wrote:

I haven't tried switching to BW, I'll have to give that a go.

Currently how I manually focus is: use peaking to get close, zoom in, focus past the subject while watching whatever I'm focusing on, then correct focus. Once you get use to it, it's pretty quick.

I focus past the subject so that I can see when the subject is sharpest. I've found if I don't do that sometimes I'll think I've got perfect focus, but I'll actually be a little off.

I do that "focus a bit past and back" too, gives one confidence that the focus is really nailed. Works best with real MF lens where the feedback is instant and amount you need to turn back stays constant. Fly-by-wire works too but one needs to be even more careful.

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edwardaneal
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personally
In reply to tn1krr, 8 months ago

you probably don't care, and thats cool, but I would never use MF for subjects that move. Unless I was shooting portraits in a studio with posed subjects I would stick to an AF lens that would allow me to quickly adjust to any subject movement. For this reason I just purchased the Sigma 60mm f/2.8. When I shoot portraits I want all of the facial features to be pretty much in focus. I know some people like that razor thin DOF where only one eye is sharp, but personally I think it looks weird to most people so f/2.8 is plenty fast enough for portraits for me.

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Old Pirate
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My unsolicited opinion is this....
In reply to edwardaneal, 8 months ago

Have you ever noticed that folks who earn a living with a camera always take portraits using a tripod, or if in fashion shoots they use a lighting system that allows them fast shutter speeds which aids in sharpness.

I'm not being critical at all, but low light photography hand held is tricky to begin with and asking for razor sharp manual focus adds to the problem.  Not unlike shooting a rifle.  You might be able to put a bullet inside the bulls eye iris on every shot, but to hit the retina without a rest is a hit or miss proposition for most and shooting wide open with fast lenses is like trying to hit the retina every time.

Marksmen use rests of some sort, so why would a focused photographer believe he/she can do it differently.

I certainly know I can't.

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EinsteinsGhost
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to LoneReaction, 8 months ago

I think you did a fine job with MF. If it is something you just started with, you will only get better (speedwise) with practice. Practically all if my photography with E-mount has been with MF and this has included portraits of children who refuse to sit still, in good light or otherwise.

In good light, peaking set at low is a no brainer. Under low light, I go medium to narrow down quickly and use first level magnification (7x) to fine tune. I am usually done in couple of seconds. In fact, under low light I prefer MF thru the EVF. These are typically situations where AF even on DSLR/DSLT slows down dramatically (below 0ev).

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LoneReaction
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to chromnd, 8 months ago

Thanks for all the replies.

I have put "Creative Style" as one of my shortcuts so I can easily switch from color to B&W for fast and easy peaking. This is a great for quick focusing (without magnification)! I will try out the "focus past and back" technique too.

If I were to shoot a headshot again I would probably go for F2.8-F4 next time. I like the look that F1.4-F2 (on full frame) gives for full body shots.

I hold my breath when trying to focus in focus magnified mode. The rifle analogy is nice. If Sony could do software stabilization on the magnified image it would be awesome.

Can't wait for the FE55, it will be what I will use for full to half body portraits at public events. CDAF is really accurate for static objects. I really do hope Sony makes a fast 85mm in 2014. In the meantime I'll make do with the Samyang, thankfully most of my photos have static subjects.

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KwhyChang
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to LoneReaction, 8 months ago

Nice thread. The only things I did were program magnification to button C1 so it's handy. Also this seems counter intuitive, but I turn focus magnification to off because I found that when I stopped zooming mag would turn off. By turning focus mag to off, it stays on while I'm focusing until I touch the shutter button, then I quickly  frame and shoot.

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Dave

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pmazolo
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to LoneReaction, 8 months ago

I do MF with ony Eyeballing + Focus Peaking, no magnification (the controls for fast zooming in MF with non SONY lenses could be better on the A7), I have a decent hit rate using 70mm f2.5, see statistics here:

http://www.fotograf-stockholm.nu/

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120 to 35
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to LoneReaction, 8 months ago

LoneReaction wrote:

Thanks for all the replies.

I have put "Creative Style" as one of my shortcuts so I can easily switch from color to B&W for fast and easy peaking. This is a great for quick focusing (without magnification)! I will try out the "focus past and back" technique too.

If I were to shoot a headshot again I would probably go for F2.8-F4 next time. I like the look that F1.4-F2 (on full frame) gives for full body shots.

Good lesson learned from your tests.

A portrait should have enough depth of field to cover all the areas of the face that are significant for the picture. One does not normally want one eye to be in focus and the other eye blurred. There is some use for f1.4 in product photography on a model, where you want an earring or necklace to be in focus and the face slightly blurred, but not for normal portraits. You can get this effect to some extent even at 2.8.

I think f2.8-f4 on 85mm is the minimum for full body shots. You want the body and clothing to be all in focus. Try f2.8-f5.6 for head shots.

I hold my breath when trying to focus in focus magnified mode. The rifle analogy is nice. If Sony could do software stabilization on the magnified image it would be awesome.

It is not difficult to nail focus handheld on a model that is not moving. Take one shot, judge the focus and in which direction you need to change it, then take another, and so on.

Can't wait for the FE55, it will be what I will use for full to half body portraits at public events. CDAF is really accurate for static objects. I really do hope Sony makes a fast 85mm in 2014. In the meantime I'll make do with the Samyang, thankfully most of my photos have static subjects.

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joe6pack
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Re: My unsolicited opinion is this....
In reply to Old Pirate, 8 months ago

And for my unprofessional opinion, IMO, this is what burst mode is for.

Subject is not always in motion, neither is my hand. My 3N, according to manual, can take 9 frames per second. If the subject is standing still, I should be able to get at least a good shot even if the focal length is 85mm and my shutter is 1/40.

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120 to 35
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Re: My unsolicited opinion is this....
In reply to joe6pack, 8 months ago

joe6pack wrote:

And for my unprofessional opinion, IMO, this is what burst mode is for.

Subject is not always in motion, neither is my hand. My 3N, according to manual, can take 9 frames per second. If the subject is standing still, I should be able to get at least a good shot even if the focal length is 85mm and my shutter is 1/40.

It might work but when you take one shot with Electronic First Curtain Shutter any vibration caused by the shutter action happens after the shot and is not important. Think what could happen with bursts.

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120 to 35
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to chromnd, 8 months ago

Composition is very good in both photos, but especially in 2 where the picture is more complex and depth of field and focus are just spot-on for the subject.

Technically 1.8/50 is more or less like 2.8/85 as far as DOF is concerned. This can explain the difficulties with getting the focus right at 1.4/85.

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LoneReaction
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Re: Manual focusing for Portraits
In reply to 120 to 35, 8 months ago

120 to 35 wrote:

I think f2.8-f4 on 85mm is the minimum for full body shots. You want the body and clothing to be all in focus. Try f2.8-f5.6 for head shots.

Thanks for the advice, it will be useful. I get most of my portrait shots shooting at cosplay conventions (costume play, where people dress up as their favorite characters, just click on the flickr link below and scroll down a little)

Normally in such conventions it is really crowded, and often to get background without other people in it, I ask the cosplayers to follow me to a nearby spot, instead of just shooting into the crowd like a lot of people do. However often I am unable to get a clean background that is far away as there are too many people in the area, or the cosplayers are already posing nicely at a spot, so I resort to using wider apertures for background separation. I used to use F1.8 on the SEL35F18 quite often for full body shots.

There will be another cosplay event tomorrow, and I look forward to making more mistakes and learning 

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