X100 configuration – part 2 – focus

Right so this is a difficult one. Maybe the most difficult set of choices to make.

First of all. We’re all using the OVF right? In standard display mode the Autofocus distance indicator along the bottom of the VF overlay is shown with a white bar to show DOF. This is absolutely brilliant. If you manage to accidentally turn it off, then go back in an turn it on again.

Focus Mode is selected via the focus selector button on the side of the camera.

I haven’t even tried AF-C. (Well I did turn it on by accident once, but it eats the battery apparently.) It might work. Frankly I’d be amazed. I’m pretty much of the opinion that anything short of the very top end DSLRs are a bit rubbish. Canon 1D series – brilliant! Nikon D3 series – awesome! Canon 7D or Nikon D300/D700 – well maybe. Anything else – forget it.

So what’s left? AF-S single focus or MF manual focus. I’ve played around with them both a fair bit now. AF-S is okay. Plain old MF using the ring is good where you have nice light and can stop down a bit for zone focussing. The throw on the MF ring appears to be tuned for Macro or something. You have to do a LOT of rotation at closer distances. This makes it a lot slower at close distances than using a RF camera. When you do have things set for a good distance however shooting is instant and completely quiet. This is awesome for discreet event or crowd shooting. Note that you can set the ring to turn either way to cater for both the Canon and Nikon DSLR users.

And then it came to my attention (I’m a bit slow) that pressing the AFL/AEL button on the back of the camera with your thumb when in MF mode will actually kick in the AF. You can then fine tune (or not) with the focus ring. I haven’t yet played around with the Setup menu -> FOCUS CHECK option. But I do find it difficult to hit the OK button when I’m looking at the back of the camera, never mind with my eye to the viewfinder, so I expect it to be of limited utility, and unlikely to be usable in a time-limited situation. The only irritation is that it doesn’t light up the focus area with green to give focus confirmation, so you have to keep an eye on the distance meter.

Focus Frame selection.

Okay first off: Multi-mode … what’s that about? Just focus on the highest contrast thing you can find in the frame. The mind boggles.

Then secondly Area-mode + selecting an off-centre focus area – meh, this just seems completely pointless. This is not something I will ever be able to do in the field. Lots of button pressing and scrolling and fiddling, meantime you’ve missed half-a-dozen moments, just because just because you’re worried about hypercritical focussing with a 23mm lens? I don’t think so. Maybe for Macro. So no, it’s centre-focus then recompose.

Final recommendation?

1. OVF.
2. Make sure your distance scale and focus distance is showing.
3. MF mode.
4. Use AFL/AEL button to focus and recompose. Look for high-contrast objects at the right distances.
5. Don’t subsequently refocus unless your distance to subject has changed significantly.

Now I’m not saying it’s easy. And it’s not at all on par with even a semi-pro DSLR autofocus capability (like my 5DMkII), in fact it’s probably not even close to most entry-level DSLRs. However, for taking pictures of people at moderate distances it sure is a lot faster than I can manage with my Zeiss Ikon RF. I know some people can focus demon-fast with their Leicas. Good for them! If I can get a picture focussed with my RF in less than 3 seconds or so I’m jumping up and down with happiness inside. After only a few hours really using this camera I’m getting pretty good focus results at a reasonable speed I think. Sports-shooting DSLR users are going to think it’s rubbish, but RF users might like it rather a lot. In particular RF aficionados who can fine-tune their focus as the subject changes distance will get very good mileage out of this.

And when you have a subject that’s not moving much it’s quite a revelation to be able to shoot at 5fps completely silently! If the subject isn’t looking at you they won’t. Try that with a DSLR. People feel like they are being machine-gunned and ALWAYS turn to look at you. So when you’re working close to people this AF system might have some significant real-world advantages over DSLR AF, where you sometimes just get their backs as they run away from you, or hostile glances, anyway you get the point.

I’m definitely getting more comfortable with the X100 now.

Also this morning I had my X100 round my neck and my 5D2 with telephoto slung off my shoulder. No trouble at all switching between the two.

7 thoughts on “X100 configuration – part 2 – focus

  1. Thanks for posting your experiences and little tweaks with this camera. I’m hoping to have one soon and your ideas are good solid info regarding this camera.

  2. Thanks for the longer-term feedback- helpful to start thinking about where I might be spending my time once mine gets here.

    Q re: focusing though, you said it was essentially bunk and to go with MF, using the AFL/AEL button to pre-focus. When I had bought my Canon D60 oh so many years ago it had atrocious AF and I learned to just use the center AF spot on my subject and then recompose the photo as I wanted. It worked great and was faster/more accurate than MF’ing all the time. Would that approach work with the X100?

  3. @dave

    Yes that’s fine, and how I would use AF-S. But essentially with MF you achieve the same thing by using the AFL button.

    A lot of people prefer to AF this way with their DSLR cameras too. i.e. not use the shutter half-press to focus, but simply to release the shutter, with focus relegated to a thumb-activated button.

  4. Great stuff, I especially like the MF + AFL/AEL combo, and will try this out further.
    I was getting a little jaded with this new camera (only had it a day, so not really fair as I don’t like to read manuals etc), but this proves I need to think harder/outside the box…
    Looking forward to firmware mods regardless.

    Wish the directional control pad could be used to select the focus point just like my D700 however, as this would be more accurate for when I want to be more anal compared to focus and recompose technique…

    Regardless, keep up the great open thoughts very practical, I’m sure plenty of X100 owners appreciate your efforts!

    Also really looking forward to Adobe raw compatibility…




  5. The first time I saw the X100 (and even more after reading your nice user experiences, thank you for shearing!) I had to think at a small, extra camera I used to have in the film-era. Aside my Nikon F5 and Hasselblad equipment, I was happy as a child with my little Konica Hexar. Very nice 35/F2.0 glass, auto focus, deadly silent, non-obstructive look; a black little devil. Sometimes I was hired for my Nikon equipment and delivered a Hexar print… Those were the days.
    The deja-vu now called X100. Can’t wait to get it.


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