Do Cameras Need the AF Assist Lamp Anymore?

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus OMD EM10 Mk II product photos (1 of 7)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 8.0

Before you go on, no–we’re not talking about your camera from 2012, older or even a bit younger. Instead, we’re asking a question as it pertains to the state of technology in cameras as of this year.

For a while, many photographers used the AF assist lamp to improve their autofocus performance in very low light conditions. During our tests, we turn this lamp off because it alarms way too many people that we’re taking a photo, it distracts people, and it doesn’t give us the absolute performance readings from the camera.

But as of this year, we’ve found that in very low lit conditions, we didn’t really even need it.

Earlier this year, we tested the new Olympus OMD EM5 Mk II and later on we tested the OMD EM10 Mk II; and neither camera needed an AF assist lamp to focus accurately in dark locations. The same thing applies to the likes of Fujifilm, Sony, and Canon. It’s very fair to say that autofocus technology has come to the point where cameras can focus very well (though sometimes slowly) in low light conditions. Part of this has to do with phase detection pixels being placed on camera sensors and improved overall autofocus sensors. While speed and locking onto a moving subject in low light can still be a bit problematic for most, modern cameras are still incredibly capable and with a Photokina year coming up, we’re sure that they’re just going to become even better.

So is that little annoying AF assist lamp really needed anymore?

Chris Gampat the Phoblographer Sony A7s product images (5 of 8)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 5.6

Here’s an example. Actually, no here are many examples:

  • I’m a former wedding photographer, and when I had assistants, I’d always tell them to ensure that their AF assist lamps were turned off. Why? Because when the lamp goes off, someone is bound to look at your camera to see where that light is coming from and you lose the look of your candid photo.
  • At a wedding I went to years ago, the photographer kept the AF assist lamp on for his D800; and it kept notifying wedding goers (including myself) that he was taking a picture.
  • At my cousin’s wedding recently, the photographer kept the AF assist lamp off even in the lowest of lighting situations because he didn’t want to alarm people to the fact that he was capturing a candid image.
  • At parties here in NYC, photographers who put the AF-Assist lamp on usually tend to have others give them dirty looks because of the fact that they’re basically shining a flashlight very brightly into a person’s face.

Again, I’m not really sure that it’s needed anymore because AF algorithms are just so good these days.