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Autofocus Done the Right Way

To see a good example of real thought applied to real photography, see True Focus and Absolute Position Lock (5th page) in the Hasselblad H5D 50C brochure.

It’s an example of what happens when a company thinks about real challenges for real photography—instead of shoveling web features into a camera (e.g. design excrement like Sony Play Memories that cannot be removed from the menu system). A pity that Hasselblad has implemented a modal leveling feature and not one like the Sony camera, which allows viewing the image with a superimposed leveling feature—each company has its own scattershot design quirks.

But on the whole, reading the Hasselblad brochure makes one thing very clear: the camera is designed to solve the issues that photographers need solved. It does not cater to silly trends or throw in yuck that gets in the way; it’s focused on getting a job done reliably. And that’s where Sony (to pick on Sony) is still 100% clueless.

There are many useful, time-saving, error-avoidance and productivity features that a smart company could add to make really great cameras. The Ricoh GR has a few of these. Why is it so hard for camera companies to see this?

Robin D writes:

I must say I am somewhat sceptical about this claim from Hasselblad as it seems like an extreme solution to address being unable to get multi-point autofocus working properly or investing in on-chip focus points. As such I regard it as a technological red herring. As with most MF systems it takes forever to go from shot to shot and with typical MF focal length lenses the DOF is awfully thin. So they have certain issues.

As an ex engineer I appreciate what they have done and why, but it doesn’t really solve the issue: when one locks focus and recomposes the photographer is fighting 2 focus issues (1) the camera movement in several axis and (2) subject movement. While models are, generally, excellent at keeping their movements to a minimum, it is still a fact that they occur, thereby completely devaluing an investment. In short it will work with products but not people.

So, yes it attempts to solve a problem for the photographer but, and pardon my cynicism, it sounds like a bit of marketing FUD (Fear Uncertainty and Doubt)

DIGLLOYD: I’ll point out the following:

  • D800 had AF problems with off-center focus spots and these are never as good as the center one.
  • Focus points often awkward to use or don't cover desired spot (quite restricted area on full frame, better on APS-C or mirrorless).
  • Field curvature and lens performance off-center are often troublesome for AF system (impaired micro contrast), so focusing at center is often more desirable.
  • I’ve had more than my fill of AF-system errors to last me a lifetime. Anything that eliminates a variable is a big plus in my book.
  • Full frame cameras have similar DoF issues at equivalent apertures like ƒ/1.2 and ƒ/2 as medium format at ~ƒ/2 - ƒ/2.8.

One must consider all the issues, and yes a subject can move. There are always variables, but compounded variables makes it harder. I tested the H40D. The technology seems to work. To call it FUD is a repudiation of physics. Whether it matters for one’s work style... well, that’s up to the photographer. And that’s the point of pretty good vs best, for anything. Try shooting an Otus 55/1.4 and see that at ƒ/1.4 there is about a 2mm focus tolerance range for peak performance on a head shot (portrait): high grade lenses show trivial errors, mediocre ones mask the issue.

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