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Give auto focus cameras time to auto focus

I thought I'd start out with a simple topic for the first installment of the MAGIC MIRROR Co.'s 4T's, but one which, based upon viewing many of my own family's snapshots, needs to be addressed.

Here's the quick and dirty version. When using your 'point & shoot' camera, be sure to let the auto focus feature work properly. After composing the scene in the viewfinder, press the shutter button only half way! This will allow the auto focus to determine the correct distance to your subject, and virtually guarantee sharp, in focus pictures. You'll know that the auto focus has 'locked on' to your subject because every 'point & shoot' camera has some type of auto focus indicator. This is usually a green or amber LED that is visible either in the viewfinder itself, or just outside the viewfinder, on the body of the camera, where it can be seen with your peripheral vision. Once this LED is glowing steadily, your subject is in focus, and you can gently press the shutter button all the way down to take the picture. Gently is the key thing. Even if your auto focus has 'locked on', your pictures will not be sharp if you shake the camera when you press the shutter button. You can tell a picture that suffered from camera shake, because nothing in the image will be in focus, while if you held the camera steady, but didn't let the auto focus do its job, something will be in focus, but probably not what you were aiming at! I'll discuss 'camera shake' at another time.

Now for those of who are interested in the more detailed, lengthier version, peppered with a bunch of snotty comments... read on.
Many people seem to believe that today's 'point & shoot', auto-everything cameras are mind readers... that the camera will 'know' that their six year old is 13 feet away when he blows out his birthday candles, or that their prize-winning rose is only 3 feet away. So they'll raise the camera to their eye, point it at their subject, and smash the shutter button down with enough force to bend an iron rod. Then, when they get their out-of-focus pictures back from the corner drug store's one-hour photo lab, they complain that their 'stupid camera' doesn't work.

The truth is, the camera did exactly what it was 'told' to do. Unfortunately, that wasn't what the photographer 'wanted' it to do. There is a difference! What the camera did, what it was 'told' to do, was take a picture while it was still focused at the distance of the last thing it took a picture of. If that 'last thing' is the same distance from the camera as this thing, then the picture should be in focus, and the person is a great photographer! But if the 'last thing' was that award-winning rose that was 3 feet away, and 'this thing' is little Jimmy blowing out his birthday candles 13 feet away, the picture will be out of focus, and the 'stupid camera' doesn't work!

Try this little experiment. Go outside, where you have a clear view to some distant object. Hold a book, newspaper, or something else 'readable' at a comfortable distance, and focus your eyes on the type. Read for a couple of minutes. Now, quickly look up at the distant object and focus on it. Took a fraction of a second, didn't it? In other words, the distant object wasn't immediately in focus when you looked up. Your eyes had to lock onto it, and adjust for the difference in distance. This works from far to near as well, try it. The same thing is true with your auto focus camera.

The point here is that auto focus is not instantaneous! It's generally very fast, but it does take some time to happen. And it needs your help to happen! The camera won't focus on a subject just by pointing at it. Now here's the trick to this whole auto focus mystery. (It's really no trick at all, but you'd be surprised at how many people don't know what to do here!) You have to press the shutter button... (I can hear you now, "That's what I've been doing, the 'stupid camera' doesn't work!) ...press the shutter button...but only half way! This will engage the camera's brain, telling it to shoot out its invisible tape measure, and figure out how far away it is from your subject, and set the focus to that distance. If you just smash down the shutter button, the camera's 'tape measure' probably didn't have a chance to get all the way to your subject. Or maybe it overshot the subject and was reeling it back in. It doesn't matter which. What does matter is that when you press the shutter button all the way, the camera's little brain thinks that you mean, "Take the picture right now, at whatever distance you've measured." And it does, and usually that's not the distance to your subject, so little Jimmy's out of focus, and the 'stupid camera' doesn't work, even though it did exactly what you told it to do!

So you've pressed the shutter button half way, and the auto focus has 'locked on' to your subject. You'll know when this happens because every 'point & shoot' camera has some type of auto focus indicator. This is usually a green or amber LED that is visible either in the viewfinder itself, or just outside the viewfinder, on the body of the camera, where it can be seen with your peripheral vision. (I'm going to say something here that you won't hear many guys say: If you don't know where to find this indicator on your camera, READ THE INSTRUCTIONS!)

Once this LED is glowing steadily, your subject is in focus, and you can gently press the shutter button all the way down to take the picture. (If you read the 'quick and dirty' version, the rest of this is going to look real familiar!) Gently is the key thing. Even if your auto focus has 'locked on', your pictures will not be sharp if you shake the camera when you press the shutter button. You can tell a picture that suffered from camera shake, because nothing in the image will be in focus, while if you held the camera steady, but didn't let the auto focus do its job, something will be in focus, but probably not what you were aiming at! And then you'll say, (all together now...) "The 'stupid camera' doesn't work!"

I hope that this might help a few of you to take better, or at least more in focus pictures, because it's hard to enjoy them when they're not!

I'll have another Tool or Tip or Trick or Trap on this page as soon as I can think of a good one, so be sure to stop back.
Contact us by Email: owner@magicmirror.cx, Phone/Fax: 440-888-9990
Our mailing address is: 3120 W. Ridgewood Dr. Parma, Ohio USA, 44134-4434


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