Manual focus: what you need to know to get sharp images

Manual focus: what you need to know to get sharp images

How to use manual focus in Live View

The Depth of Field Preview button on your DSLR stops the lens down to the selected aperture to allow you to see the area of sharp focus. However, the image in the viewfinder becomes so dark you can hardly see it.

Many photographers now use Live View to examine this depth of field in detail. Another option is to simply capture an image, play it back, and zoom in to check that everything is in focus.

Here is a quick guide to how to use manual focus in Live View.

How to use manual focus in Live View - step 1

Step 1: Press your camera’s Menu button, navigate to the Live View function settings, then set Live View Shoot to Enable.

SEE MORE: Live View – how to use it on any camera

How to use manual focus in Live View - step 2

Step 2: Compose your shot and zoom to frame your subject. Then move the AF/MF switch on your lens to MF.

How to use manual focus in Live View - step 3

Step 3: Press the Live View button and use the arrow keys to navigate the white oblong to where you want to focus (find out What is Live View telling you).

How to use manual focus in Live View - step 4

Step 4: Press the Magnify +  button, once for zooming in to 5x magnification, then a second time for 10x.

How to use manual focus in Live View - step 5

Step 5: Now smoothly rotate the focus ring on your lens to obtain the sharpest image you can at 10x magnification.

How to use manual focus in Live View - step 6

Step 6: Press the Live View button again to close Live View. Now press your shutter button to capture the image.

SEE MORE: Focus and focal length – the true benefits of using a DSLR

Camera-assisted manual focus

Below is a quick guide to how you can use your digital camera to help you find the right focal point to manually focus on.

How to use camera-assisted manual focus - Step 1

Step 1: Engage manual focus by moving the switch on the side of your lens to MF. Zoom the lens to the required setting.

How to use camera-assisted manual focus - Step 2

Step 2: Look through the viewfinder and half-press the shutter button, holding it down to activate the display.

How to use camera-assisted manual focus - Step 3

Step 3: With your left hand cradling the camera, use your left thumb and index finger to rotate the lens’s focus ring.

How to use camera-assisted manual focus: step 4

Step 4: Watch for a focus point to light up in the viewfinder and the Focus Confirmation Light to come on as focus is achieved.

SEE MORE: Breaking bad photo habits – 10 foolproof ways to improve your pictures

How to use manual focus for macro photography

Although most macro lenses have autofocus, manual focus is the best technique for close-ups of small subjects.

You’ll quickly get frustrated trying to autofocus on a butterfly or bee because even the slightest movement, by you or your subject, will cause the lens to go off on a slow hunt for focus – and by that time the subject is long gone!

SEE MORE: What is a macro lens – magnification, minimum focus distance explained

Manual Focus: everything you need to know to get sharp pictures

Instead, set your lens to manual focus for the distance that your subject will be when at the desired size on the sensor (often 1:1). Now slowly rock back and forth with your DSLR until the subject is at its sharpest in the viewfinder.

Then gently squeeze off a few shots to maximise your chances of a sharp image (check out these great examples of insect macro photography to see how it’s done!).

If you do insist on using AF for your macro photography, however, here is our quick guide to how to set your autofocus for macro photography.

PAGE 1: Overview; best scenes for manual focus; finding your manual focus controls
PAGE 3: How to calculate hyperfocal distance; final tips on using manual focus


10 common camera mistakes every photographer makes
How to use a camera: exposure modes made simple
New camera anatomy: 12 key camera settings to get you started right
24 camera features every beginner must memorize

  • Man, the Como Park Conservatory AND Mall of America in one article?? Go, hometown!

  • Harryhall1989

    There’s just one thing that’s confusing me. If the focusing rule of thumb is 1/3 in front and 2/3 behind and the example distance is 9ft, then why is it 4.5ft in front of the subject, as this is half of 9ft? Shouldn’t it be 3ft in front and 6ft behind?

  • Christopher Lee

    Do you have a lens with a focusing scale? Think of it less as “distance” and more as in “percent distance.” The difference between 1, 2, and 3 ft. for example (compared against 2 ft.) is 50%/150%, but the distances between 99, 100, and 101 ft. are comparatively smaller in terms of relative impact.

    Basically, your depth of field often covers a 1:2 ratio spread on either side of your focal distance, where that “spread” begins at the appropriate marking on the lens and expands linearly to both sides. The spacing on the focus scales usually indicates this.

  • BTW

    I have to question why there are two hyperfocal charts for full frame and APS sensors. Focus and depth of field are solely a function of optics – the sensor has nothing to do with it. While sensor size will make a difference as far as framing and the needed distance or FL to achieve the same field of view between full and APS sensors and hence impact the depth of field, the charts do not make that distinction which makes me not believe them.


    I noticed that. Thought maybe there were other conservatories that looked identical, then I thought that was too much of a coincidence.

  • Dewey

    Manual focus. I have several older very nice Manual Lenses that i have adapted to my Nikon d7100 One can only shoot in Manual or Aperture Priority. Focusing is a slight Problem because unlike the old SLR’s you do not have Split Screen Focusing and at my age (68) my sight is not that good.. But Manual focusing works much better for Night time Photography, along with Live View