Why You Should Use More Manual Focus Lenses in 2021

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I like the fact that more people have begun using manual focus lenses over the years. I remember a time when people would refuse to use them. I still know people who hate them today, but I also know folks who shoot often and sincerely appreciate them. That’s because manual focus lenses promote art to photography that folks think is antiquated. At the same time, there’s a lot that’s considered antiquated that people love about photography. But truly, a manual focus lens can do much more for your photography than autofocus lenses can. And they can make you a better photographer.

This is one of those situations where I’m going to utter the words of one of my yoga teachers. “Don’t think about it, just do it,” is what she would tell me. You can easily rent a manual focus lens at LensRentals and try to shoot differently.

The really cool thing about manual focus lenses is how you use them. And let me first start off by saying this is targeted at people who mostly use autofocus lenses. Those people would sit there, focus, and hope that they get the subject perfectly sharp. That’s not really how you use manual focus lenses. Instead, you’re supposed to zone focus in most situations. That’s how you can capture a scene quickly. If you’re shooting a landscape, you know it’s not going anywhere. With a model, you shoot a few frames after you do a ton of setup work and then move on to another idea. Typically you shoot less. And if you pre-plan, you’ll get much better photos.

With manual focus lenses, you think in two different ways: either super fast or super slow. And typically, you should go super slow.

But the best part about working with manual focus lenses is that you’re an active part of the creation process. I sincerely don’t believe that’s the case with modern-day autofocus. Modern autofocus is too good, too fast, and too smart. Of course, it has its time and place. AI being used to figure out that a bird’s eye should be in focus is a wonderful and truly innovative tool. But those types of photography really require it. I’m not telling you to go photograph birds using manual focus lenses. You can shoot a bunch of other stuff instead:

  • Portraits
  • Landscapes
  • Street photography
  • Food
  • Weddings
  • Photojournalistic events
  • Protests
  • Parties
  • Cityscapes
  • Seascapes

There’s a ton of stuff you can photograph. But you need to undo the whole idea that we need to shoot everything within a split second. Be creative. Show motion by slowing the shutter speed down. It doesn’t need to be critically sharp. It’s easy for people to capture images that are right in front of them. Fewer people create images using what’s in front of them. And manual focus lenses force you to do that.

On top of all this, manual focus lenses make you do everything differently. You compose differently because you’re looking at a scene and then figuring out what you want in focus. That’s often sort of different from how folks work with autofocus. With manual focus, you tend to second guess yourself and work harder to be a more active part of creating the image.

Essentially, you just end up shooting slower. There’s nothing wrong with slowing down a bit. I think we all need to do just that. We don’t need to hurry up, shoot, then rush home to edit all our images on a computer for seven hours. We can take our time, shoot, and then maybe not even need to edit at all.

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.