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Fujifilm has some amazing manual focus assist modes that combine cutting-edge technology with decades-old principles. But who actually uses manual focus anymore?
When Manual Focus works better
Fujifilm’s autofocus system has been rapidly evolving in recent years. But there are times when manual focus is the better option. Here are some times when I personally prefer manual focus with my Fujifilm:
- Ensuring maximum foreground-to-background sharpness in landscapes.
- When my distance to the subject isn’t changing, manual focus helps me work quicker without worrying about an erroneous AF lock.
- Areas of low contrast and/or low light can be difficult for autofocus, so switching to a manual focus mode can sometimes be quicker and more accurate.
- With an extremely shallow depth of field, manual focus can provide more accuracy.
There are a number of different situations for different photographers where manual focus is better than autofocus, but these are a few
Add in the advantages of mirrorless cameras and you have a robust manual focus system.
Dedicated back-button focus
One thing that really revolutionized my photography style was programming back-button focus in my Sony cameras.
This ability is “standard” in Fujifilm cameras by using the AF-L/AF-ON button while in MF, unless you’ve already reprogrammed that button.
Back-button focus allows you to take advantage of autofocus while staying in manual focus. Point the camera at your subject, press a button to quickly focus, and then recompose and shoot away.
This is one more perk to staying in manual focus and learning how to back-button focus when the situation warrants.
Fujifilm Manual Focus Assist modes
Fujifilm has four (or three, depending on how you look at it) Manual Focus Assist modes. They can be cycled by long-pressing the rear command dial on cameras that have a rear command dial. On cameras without one, like the X-S10 and X-E4, you’ll have to go into the Focus Assist menu.
See the table below to check which Focus Assist modes are found in your camera.
Manual Focus Assist modes cycle between Standard, Digital Split Image, Digital Microprism, and Focus Peak Highlight.
There is no “better” manual focus assist mode or default setting that I use. Each one is useful in different situations, so you’ll just have to experiment to find out which ones work best for you and when.
Which Manual Focus Assist modes are found in different Fujifilm X cameras?
|Focus Peaking||Digital Split Image||Digital Microprism||Dual Display|
No tricks here. You’ll have a clean image without any kind of overlays or special algorithms. This works best when the other focus assist modes are too distracting.
You’ll get the most out of this by pushing the rear command dial and zooming in (explained later), or using Dual Displays in the EVF.
2. Focus Peak Highlight
The Focus Peak Highlight manual focus assist mode will highlight the areas of strong contrast between edges. Or, in other words, areas in focus.
You can adjust the highlight color and intensity in AF/MF Setting -> MF Assist -> Focus Peak Highlight.
- There are four colors available – white, red, blue, and yellow (not in all cameras). I’ve found that I prefer red as it’s easiest for me to see in most situations. Blue is the close runner-up. I can’t distinguish the white or yellow very well.
- Each color has a High and Low selection available. Low has a higher focus threshold and will be harder to see, while high is less sensitive to sharpness and brighter. I prefer high, as it’s easier to see. But sometimes Low is better with super-dense intricate details so the whole frame isn’t entirely highlighted.
When should you use focus peaking?
Focus peaking works well in most circumstances. In situations that don’t have any straight edges – where the other MF Assist modes don’t work as well – focus peaking excels. It also works well in portraits to ensure the proper eye is in focus.
Here’s Focus Peaking (red, high) as seen on an X-T30 LCD:
3. Digital Split Image
Did you ever use an old film SLR that had a split prism in the center of the screen to help you focus? This is the digital equivalent.
Things just won’t line up when your scene is out of focus. Straight lines will be broken up. They will be brought back into alignment as you bring everything in focus.
You can set either a color digital split image or a monochrome split image. I prefer
When should you use the Digital Split Image manual focus assist?
This tool is much more specialized. It’s difficult to use in scenes with soft edges, particularly curved, soft edges, like portraits. Hard, defined straight lines, such as those found in architecture, are perfect for digital split image.
Here’s the Digital Split Image as seen through an X-T30 EVF:
Digital Split Image, like the other manual focus assist tools, is much easier to see when magnified.
Which one of these focus aides do you prefer for this image?
4. Digital Microprism
The Digital Microprism is Fujifilm’s newest manual focus assist tool, found on cameras released with & after the X-T3 (X-T30, X-Pro3, X-T4…). This too simulates how you would manually focus older film cameras.
If you understand Digital Split Image, Digital Microprism is best though of as a bunch of little digital split images in the center of the screen. You’ll see the boxes accentuated when the image is out of focus, and then nearly disappearing when the image is in focus.
Digital Microprism, like the others, is much easier to use when magnified. It’ll take up the whole frame wherever your focus point is set.
Other Fujifilm Manual Focus tools
Focus scale indicator
You’ll see a distance scale on the bottom of the screen (LCD and EVF) when in manual focus.
- The distance scale can be set to either meters or feet (Screen Set Up).
- The blue bar is the depth of field scale. It indicates the front and rear areas of acceptable sharpness. The white line indicates the hyperfocal distance.
- The depth of field scale can be set to either Pixel Basis or Film Format Basis (AF/MF Settings). Pixel will have a smaller scale because there’s less room for error – this is the desired setting for pixel peepers. Folks using “zone focusing” – guessing your subject distance & setting the distance scale this way – should use Film Format.
Some Fujifilm cameras like the X-T2 and X-H1 have a feature called Dual Display.
You’ll see two split windows when this is enabled; a large window and a small window. One window can display the entire composition while the other window will display a 100% magnification focus aide.
- To enable Dual Display, cycle the DISP button while in MF and either looking through the EVF or at the LCD. It will not be mirrored in the other display; this allows you to have different displays in the EVF and LCD.
- You can swap the window layout in the Screen Set-Up menu under “Dual Display Setting.”
- Dual Display only appears while in Manual Focus.
- The zoom area can be moved with the joystick.
Electronic Rangefinder (ERF)
The X-Pro2 and X-Pro3 have a similar feature called the Electronic Rangefinder. Cycle the Viewfinder Selector on the front of the camera until the ERF appears in the lower-right of the OVF.
Manual Focus zoom magnification
You can magnify the focus area for more precise focusing using any of the manual focus assist modes explained below.
On cameras with a rear command dial, simply push it in to enable/disable magnification. This requires that the R-DIAL is set to FOCUS CHECK in your Function (FN) Setting menu.
On cameras that don’t have a rear command dial but have the FOCUS LEVER SETTING – PUSH option in the Button/Dial Setting menu, make sure this is set to ZOOM. Then push the joystick in to enable/disable magnification.
- Focus Peaking has two levels of magnification.
- Focus zoom works in both manual focus and autofocus.
- This will not work when looking through the EVF when Dual Displays are shown.
You can automatically enable focus magnification whenever you rotate the focus ring. Enable Focus Check in the AF/MF Settings Menu.
I’ve found this to be kind of annoying and leave it off. I prefer to have manual control over this, as it’s programmed to activate by using the controls in the previous section.
I hope this explains all of the great Fujifilm manual focus assist tools – please leave any questions or comments in the section below.