Author Topic: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?  (Read 688 times)

PeterN

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Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« on: August 03, 2020, 09:06:02 »
I just came across this article in which the author argues that back button focusing is no longer necessary.
I use back button focusing to easily switch between AF-C and AF-S but haven’t tried his method yet.

What are your thoughts: is it outdated or not?

https://petapixel.com/2020/01/21/is-back-button-focus-becoming-an-outdated-photography-technique/
Peter

Erik Lund

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2020, 09:28:24 »
Written by a guy ho says it's confusing and he has difficulty managing all of the buttons  :o

I rarely shoot with back button focus, but that's due to the strong habit of switching between AF-S and AF-C or manual focus for too long time  8)
Erik Lund

Øivind Tøien

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2020, 10:12:25 »
I just came across this article in which the author argues that back button focusing is no longer necessary.
I use back button focusing to easily switch between AF-C and AF-S but haven’t tried his method yet.

What are your thoughts: is it outdated or not?

https://petapixel.com/2020/01/21/is-back-button-focus-becoming-an-outdated-photography-technique/
Not at all for me, the AF-On button mimics the logic of manual focus so there is a smooth transition between the two. It is too illogical to me to stop focusing by pressing a button. Also, with some AFS lenses I prefer to set focus manually, typically infinity focus with my 12-24mm where AF can be unreliable when things it is focused on get very small. So then i set the distance scale to where I know from experience that the infinity point will be at a certain focal length. No action is then needed to to prevent the AF to kick in when the shutter button is pressed.

Besides that, if one does not want to move the thumb away form the stick, it can be programmed as an AF-on button. I have it programmed to AF-On/AF-area mode combination for a quick switch for subjects like BIF coming straight at me to lock focus on closest subject with my D500.

The only case I have tried to simplify things is under seriously low temperatures in mid-winter (below -30°C) where gloves get too thin and very thick mittens make it too difficult to reliably operate the stick (focus point would often uncontrollably end up at one edge of the frame or another, same with bodies that only have a multi-selector). Then I lock the focus point to the center of the frame and use 3D tracking, lock on to the centered subject and recompose. (Pressing the AF-on button works with some difficulty.) Focus on the shutter button could then be a further simplification, but not as flexible as the AF on button.

BTW, in discussions about focus modes on DSLR's I often see descriptions of how users have programmed buttons to switch from dynamic AF to single point AF. I wonder how many users are fully aware that the dynamic modes initially use a single point and only will move to a surrounding point if the point of the subject it is focused on leaves the initial focus point? Except for the non-ideal conditions with thick mittens and 3D tracking mentioned, I keep my D500 in 25point dynamic mode pretty much the whole time.

Erik, yes habits are hard to break; it took me a while to even get used to moving focus point with the stick instead of a multi-selector. Even more reason to not mess up an action pattern programmed into ones cerebellum by changing the use of the AF-On button!
Øivind Tøien

Ilkka Nissilä

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2020, 10:49:05 »
Not at all for me, the AF-On button mimics the logic of manual focus so there is a smooth transition between the two. It is too illogical to me to stop focusing by pressing a button. Also, with some AFS lenses I prefer to set focus manually, typically infinity focus with my 12-24mm where AF can be unreliable when things it is focused on get very small. So then i set the distance scale to where I know from experience that the infinity point will be at a certain focal length. No action is then needed to to prevent the AF to kick in when the shutter button is pressed.

I use AF-ON to focus (and have deactivated focusing using the shutter button) because it allows me to use manual focus at will, focus once and have the focus stay still without extra work (e.g. for tripod-based landscape, macro or architectural work, I compose, set the focus, and then I may do multiple exposures and I don't want the focus to move anywhere during that time), focus and recompose, or focus continuously without changing any setting or mode. With film I would also do spot metering and not want the focus to change while I'm doing my checks, with digital there is so much latitude that I rarely go through that.

I would find it irritating if the camera started to focus on its own without specifically being told to do so, even if I may activate metering or take shots.

Quote
BTW, in discussions about focus modes on DSLR's I often see descriptions of how users have programmed buttons to switch from dynamic AF to single point AF. I wonder how many users are fully aware that the dynamic modes initially use a single point and only will move to a surrounding point if the point of the subject it is focused on leaves the initial focus point? Except for the non-ideal conditions with thick mittens and 3D tracking mentioned, I keep my D500 in 25point dynamic mode pretty much the whole time.

It depends on the subject; for portraits and generally when photographing people not moving very fast, I find 25-point dynamic to often focus on the hat, hair, sleeve or something other than the eye I am aiming for; 9-point dynamic and single point are much more precise (and often with people subjects I don't have enough depth of field to ignore such differences in where exactly the camera focuses). 25-point dynamic is better suited for fast movement. I use 25-point dynamic for figure skating and birds in flight. I don't typically program any camera function button to switch between these, I just push the mode selector and turn the dial and stick to the setting that works for the overall situation.

MILLIREHM

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2020, 11:12:15 »
Am I wrong or did we already discuss this article somewhere else on NIkongear? My memory says yes, a quick search says no.

The headline does not suit the uncertainty of the (somewhat confused) author and I would by no way consider backbutton-AF as obsolete but rather see it as way ahead. It takes some time to master it but now I dont use shutter release AF at all. As a consequence AF-S mode is obsolete and I eliminate it wherever the camera allows me to do so (unfortunately the Z6 does not).

With shutter release triggered AF it always overrides my manual ovverrides, the AF-stop buttons on the lens (if present) do not work both reliable and fast enough. With AF- ON i can keep continuous AF going as long as I want to  but quickly stop it when it is counterproductive such as BIF against the sky and focus hunting/pumping, foreground objects like branches, birds sitting in the reeds and such like.

When it really needs to be fast i am not fast enough with both the stick and the muliti selector. Sometimes it is better toplace AF- field as expected, focus and adapt compositoin then.
So far for me the single field AF and group AF modes worked best, 9-field AF mode is not present on all cameras

My current settings for speed mode include FN1 button to switch to group mode and FN2 to spot metering. Having the lens buttons set up to have the Group-AF and AF-ON functionality merged will yet stillhave to be tested out
Wolfgang Rehm

Erik Lund

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2020, 11:55:17 »
Am I wrong or did we already discuss this article somewhere else on NIkongear? My memory says yes, a quick search says no............



Here is the other thread:  ;)

https://nikongear.net/revival/index.php?topic=9394.0
Erik Lund

MILLIREHM

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2020, 12:11:42 »


Here is the other thread:  ;)

https://nikongear.net/revival/index.php?topic=9394.0

Thanks Erik for the link! that was it, yes! So actually its is not the same article but yet another guy writing about the same approach change.
Wolfgang Rehm

bobfriedman

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2020, 12:14:11 »
I always use back focus  button when in AF mode.. always to select focus and reframe. I always rely on no more than a couple of focus points in AF.
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chambeshi

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #8 on: August 03, 2020, 12:33:58 »
I agree with many in this thread and the previous. Wherever it's feasible, KISS rules. BBAF is simple to use in quite a few genres. Muscle memory is a force to be reckoned with, as many of us find long practiced behaviours deeply embedded.
I've yet to try using the thumb to shift the AF cursor via a touch-screen LCD, so perhaps a new generation will grow into this method.
Saying this, it will be interesting to read reliable feedback how well the modified AF-On works in practice on Canon's EOS-1D X Mark III - with its modified Smart-Controller. Swapping the thumb between the cursor control & AF-On is usually very quick in practice for action scenes.
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PeterN

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #9 on: August 03, 2020, 14:15:01 »


Here is the other thread:  ;)

https://nikongear.net/revival/index.php?topic=9394.0

I tried to find this thread but apparently missed it. Perhaps add these posts to the other thread?
Peter

Jack Dahlgren

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2020, 17:07:48 »
I find discussion in this group to be better reasoned and informative than almost everything else written about photography.

Yes, back button activation is a key part of photography used by those who want quick, stable, easy and accurate control of focus.

Matthew Currie

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #11 on: August 03, 2020, 23:35:53 »
So far, as a user of a non-joystick camera, BBF is much faster than trying to select focus points.  Whether I'd get used to switching to a joystick and AF lock, i don't know. I don't know how fast the point moves, but I suspect it's still slower than focusing and recomposing.  I can see that it might result in more accurate focusing when shooting fairly close, but I have a feeling I'd keep forgetting where I left it last and be locking focus to the wrong things. 

I do question the article's suggestion that instead of BBF one can use AF lock.  While sort of true, I think there's a big difference between something which defaults to off and turns on at will (BBF) and something that defaults to on and requires an action to stop.

Jack Dahlgren

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #12 on: August 03, 2020, 23:54:02 »
I do question the article's suggestion that instead of BBF one can use AF lock.  While sort of true, I think there's a big difference between something which defaults to off and turns on at will (BBF) and something that defaults to on and requires an action to stop.

It is not a very good article.

Jan Anne

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #13 on: August 04, 2020, 09:20:05 »
It’s all about predictability, with AF-On the autofocus always behaves the same when I pick up the camera without the need to check any settings. I remember the frustration of missing quick shots because the camera was still in manual focus mode after a long night of shooting stars, with AF-On my thumb is in full control whether an AF lens should focus or not without changing buttons on the camera or lens.

If there’s something that should change is the addition of a second AF-On button controlling a second set of AF points. Don’t know about you guys but when I’m shooting a certain moving subject I tend to switch between the upper left and right rule of thirds points depending in which directions the subject is looking. Especially with fast moving birds this can drive me nuts, have the option of two AF-On buttons would work like a dream for these kind of sessions.

Maybe the eye-AF is also an option here but haven’t tested it yet.
Cheers,
Jan Anne

Ilkka Nissilä

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Re: Back button focusing: a feature of the past?
« Reply #14 on: August 04, 2020, 09:59:22 »
If there’s something that should change is the addition of a second AF-On button controlling a second set of AF points. Don’t know about you guys but when I’m shooting a certain moving subject I tend to switch between the upper left and right rule of thirds points depending in which directions the subject is looking. Especially with fast moving birds this can drive me nuts, have the option of two AF-On buttons would work like a dream for these kind of sessions.

I'm not sure which camera you use but the D850 (and a few other DSLR cameras) lets the user assign a preset focus point to a custom function button. Now, you could have left rule-of-thirds point selected by default and when pressing and holding the function button down, it'll switch to the right rule-of-thirds point and this way you could switch between the two. This isn't as convenient as having two AF-ON thumb buttons, but it's something that could work for your situation with some practice.  I wasn't able to find this function in the Z6/Z7 manual, though. Also, I think it would be convenient to be able to combine it with AF-ON without having to press a separate button. The D780 has two thumb buttons (AF-ON and AE-L/AF-L) but they can't be reprogrammed to this particular function. I think this is an unforced error, to be honest.