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Thread: Cannot seem to get clear shots in low light - HELP

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    Member superbee15's Avatar
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    Red face Cannot seem to get clear shots in low light - HELP

    Have always been challenged by night shots. Late last year wanted to take candids and people pics at a night (outside) and so purchases a Canon EF 50mm 1:1.8 - I know it's at low end of market but this was 1st additional lens to 550D kit lenses. Did not know much about the lens and as not had any practice I just used in Auto. While party was under blue fairy lights I was totally disappointed in shots - mainly due to clarity - some color issues. In early July (lens had not seen the light of day since Dec due to issues) I decided to try it again this time in a restaurant at night. Again I was disappointed in quality of shots. I am obviously doing a few few things wrong but at other times it seems to lack clarity when focus should have been right?

    I used an Aperture of 2.

    I would like to be able to have a shot of 2-3 people at a time but this most always may mean they are/may be at different distances from camera. To achieve this is it a simple matter of a higher app and therefore does this negate the benefit of buying the quick lens? I would also prefer no flash but that means more challenges.

    Included 3 samples which seem to have reduced clarity due to resizes.

    The 1st shot actually has the best overall look but still not as clear as I would have thought. The second does not have any area focused correctly and 1 focus point is on the male. The 3rd has the best focus of any shot which is the girl in front. The rest are out of the DOF.

    Any help appreciated.


    IMG_4664.JPGIMG_4680.JPGIMG_4671.JPG

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    i would say you need a greater DOF, especially when the subjects are not on the same focal plain
    #3 the left hand person has reasonable sharpness and then the others are ever more OOF.
    use a higher F number, say F8
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    This worries me a little. To get higher DOF you need a smaller aperture. The 1st photo is taken with a flash, at ISO400, aperture f2, yet the shutter speed only came out at 1/20 sec. The exposure looks okay but the shutter speed with all those other variable looks way too low.

    Am I missing something?
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    As a general rule you will need to increase your ISO to then allow your shutter speed to come up. This will help with camera shake problems but does increase noise slightly. Of course as you increase your f-stop you will need to keep increasing your ISO to hold the same shutter speed and that of course introduces more noise. It is a balance thing.

    I know you said you would prefer no flash but take one anyway, once you have some 'keepers' you are free to experiment without flash. <<edit>> I assumed you had an external flash in that statement.

    Play with the camera tonight. Put the ISO on 1600 or higher at f5.6 and see what results you get. Shoot in RAW and you can reduce the noise in post processing.

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    All shots taken in RAW with camera in M. I set 1/20 thinking it may be ok. I changed some ISO's. I realise upping the f-stop will improve the DOF but is this then negating the benefits of the fast lens or am I mis-understanding things?
    Only have built in flash.
    Use DPP and not investigated reducing noise yet.
    Will try some things as suggested in next few days.

    Thanks

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    So far some good answers, and I'd agree with all of them, but with a few variations on how you could try some of those shot types again(ie. practice a bit to get your technique right).

    Any number of subjects can be used for practicing .. not just people too!

    In #1, the shutter speed hasn't helped to get 'ideal sharpness'.
    Either or both camera shake and subject movement will have caused the blurry look, and lack of clarity you may seek.
    Try to stick to a minimum of 1/60s of you can(which is quite easy to do).

    #2 same as #1.

    #3, as already mentioned f/2 will give a shallow DOF, which is obvious in this particular shot, but needn't have been.
    That is, you could(possibly) still have used f/2 and hence shallow DOF, but only if you had focused differently.

    Look carefully at the image and take note of the woman on the left(our LHS, not theirs) and the woman in the centre.
    The woman on the left, is sharp(ie. focused) and the woman in the centre seems to have her hand around the one on the left.
    The hand is also in focus .. ie. suggesting a deep enough DOF could have been captured if focus was set differently.
    Had you focused on the woman in the centre, the DOF may have been sufficient to have the woman on the left and the man on the right rendered sharp enough.
    (f/2.8 - f/4 could have ensured this too).

    But I'm only guessing here, I have a feeling you may have used an auto focus mode. That is, not auto focus, but a mode of focusing that automatically selects the subject, and hence the focus point.
    If this is so, then try a manual focus point selection mode.
    That is, a focus mode where you choose which point in the viewfinder is the one that will focus. For starters the centre point is the easiest one to work with(whilst you learn your way).
    Then using this focus point, let the camera/lens do the focusing .. all you do is choose which point will do the focusing.

    Also, set the camera to Auto ISO. Don't worry about the technicalities of exposure control yet. The camera can do a reasonable job of it. Learn compositions, and focus point selection and the moment to shoot, etc.
    Shoot in Aperture Priority mode, choose and vary only the aperture value. Shutter speed should be set to a min of 1/60th in such situations, more if your technique or the people are moving too fast.
    This can be(or should be able to be) set in the Auto ISO area.
    So you can set the upper limit of Auto ISO to something like ISO6400, and it should let you specify a minimum shutter speed from where to start boosting ISO.
    If you set the camera to a min of 1/60s in A/ISO, what happens is that, if the light is low and shutter speed drops, the camera automatically boost ISO to keep the shutter speed at a min 1/60s.
    if ISO tops out at 6400, then the shutter speed drops.
    This is a good mode to learn about how to 'control' your cameras controls without getting frustrated about not getting shots.
    As long as you don't want to view your images at the pixel level, or print 1 meter wide prints .. higher ISO is where the advantage of having a DSLR is. ISO6400 on your camera is very usable.

    (ps, turn off the flash .. especially if its an onboard flash if it's an external flash and you can vary the angle of the head .. experiment with various angles of tilt to soften the flash light quality).


    (side note)
    Now having said all that .. I think there could be the possibility that your camera/lens is front focusing.
    I say this because all three images have misfocused a bit compared to what one would have expected to see .. but more importantly by about the same amount in each three images.

    in #1, the two people's faces are slightly blurred, but to my eyes there seems to be some focus on the mans shirt. This could be an illusion to us at the posted image sizes.
    Also in #2: the woman's face is blurred, but it appears to me that there is again some detail rendered better on her jacket/jumper arm and shoulder.
    As already said in #3, the woman on the left is sharp enough, and the other womans hand on the shoulder seem to have more sharpness than the other two faces.

    All those points are forward of what would be expected to be the points of focus.
    The problem is that it looks like an auto focus selection point mode may have been used tho, and so it's hard to confirm this possibility.

    Can you see the focus points via the software you've used to convert the images?(which looks to be DPP).
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    The thing seems to be focussing incorrectly. DPP says the focus points are where you would want them, not where the image is sharpest (e.g.: on image #2, focus point is on the nose of the man, but focus on the ladies' shoulder seems sharper).

    Note that f/2 gives you a very shallow DOF when you're close to your subjects. I expect the subject-distance of the third for example not to exceed 2 meters. Entering these parameters in DOFmaster says the DOF is just 12 cm, 6 cm before and 6 cm after the focus-point. As Arthur explains, training the focuspoint on the person in front is not the wisest thing to do than. You seem to have the camera select the focus point, next time select a focus point by hand.

    You ask what f/1.8 is good for if it has this shallow DOF? Well, to be able to focus at low light to begin with, but also to provide that shallow DOF. You may not like it now in this specific application, but when shooting landscapes in the dark for example it might make a lot more sense to shoot at f/2 (at 20 meters distance for example, the DOF has increased to 13.4 meters - just toy around with DOFmaster here to get a feeling of what could work for you).

    As with most lenses, the nifty fifty needs to be stopped down a stop or two before it reaches it's "sweet spot" - at f/4 it is mighty sharp. It's popularity stems from this sharpness in combination with affordability - it costs just some $100 or so. Compare that to the hefty price of a 24-70/2.8L for example, which (at 50mm) does not really outperform the 50/1.8.
    Ciao, Joost

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    With all shots on the night I let the the camera select the focus point - as suspected - as a result the following were focus points:
    #1 Very point of the females nose;
    #2 The side of the males nose just below his left eye;
    #3 Just under the young girls left eye.

    Would there have been any benefit in changing to different 'Metering Mode' - I was on 'Evaluative'?

    #2 was no flash, others were with flash (built in) and ISO on #2 was 3200 with others ISO400.

    'arthurking83'
    So you can set the upper limit of Auto ISO to something like ISO6400, and it should let you specify a minimum shutter speed from where to start boosting ISO.
    I have camera set at 6400 max (which I think is max for the camera) and I could not find a way to set a minimum on the 550D.

    in #1, the two people's faces are slightly blurred, but to my eyes there seems to be some focus on the mans shirt.
    Yes that's true but not sure why there was blur. This and #2 were some of reasons to question what I and camera are doing.

    Also in #2: the woman's face is blurred, but it appears to me that there is again some detail rendered better on her jacket/jumper arm and shoulder.
    Yes that's also true but one is very puzzling given the focus point. The male may have moved as he does not want to stay still while photo's are going on! This also questioned by 'jev' in post.

    As already said in #3, the woman on the left is sharp enough, and the other woman's hand on the shoulder seem to have more sharpness than the other two faces.
    Yes again agree with that and my limited understanding says that that is just DOF.

    Now having said all that .. I think there could be the possibility that your camera/lens is front focusing.
    What is front focusing?

    'jev'
    I expect the subject-distance of the third for example not to exceed 2 meters.
    Yes all shots were between 1.2 and 2 meters at max. The room was very narrow and long so using fixed lens meant moving and going sideways.

    Thanks for some great comments and observations.

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    Ausphotography Regular MissionMan's Avatar
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    I think this is one of the benefits of using manual mode. You can set both your shutter speed and Aperture and let the camera compensate with the ISO.

    The reality is you will get a better outcome with a higher ISO and more noise, than a lower ISO and movement blur unless this is your targeted outcome which is sometimes the case. The reason for this is you can correct noise in post production, but you can't correct issues with motion blur.

    The other potential issue is what method of focus you are using. I.e. Continuous focus. I generally find continuous focus is better because if your subject moves forward after you have locked focus, the camera will continue to compensate by refocusing where as this may not have happened if you had the shutter release partially depressed.

    My recommendation is to experiment in a controlled environment (without people) to get to grips with how the system works and gain a slightly better understanding as there might be a large number of variables that are impacting the outcome.
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    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by superbee15 View Post
    ......

    'arthurking83'
    So you can set the upper limit of Auto ISO to something like ISO6400, and it should let you specify a minimum shutter speed from where to start boosting ISO.
    I have camera set at 6400 max (which I think is max for the camera) and I could not find a way to set a minimum on the 550D.

    ....
    Quote Originally Posted by MissionMan View Post
    I think this is one of the benefits of using manual mode. You can set both your shutter speed and Aperture and let the camera compensate with the ISO.

    ......
    Apologies about the min shutter speed then.

    if the camera doesn't allow the min shutter speed selection, then do as MissionMan says too .. that's what I'd also do.

    Note that some cameras such as the lower end consumer oriented types may not have super accurate focusing systems.
    That is, I don't think that off centre focus points use cross type sensors which are more accurate than the more commonly used single line phase detect sensors.

    It's not unusual to get focusing innacuracies with the non cross type sensors when focusing.
    I suppose this could be another reason to use manual focus point selection.

    Low light makes AF systems more inaccurate.

    Even tho there may be a possibility that your camera/lens combo here is front focusing .. don't take that as a certainty.
    There too many other factors here that could have contributed to the final outcomes.

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    Ausphotography Regular bitsnpieces's Avatar
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    The metering mode shouldn't matter in terms of image quality, but will matter in terms of result - that is, on evaluative, it may see the overall scene as dark (since you're doing night shots), and then compensate accordingly, meaning, lower shutter speed, increased ISO, use a larger aperture, smaller DOF, etc, to get as much light in - this can lead to issues like blur from camera shake due to slower shutter speed, or a DOF too small to get a group, so lack of focus. On the other spectrum, if it's bright, you may get faster speeds, etc, but I'm excluding this as you're referring to indoors and under low light. Using spot metering will make the subject you want correctly exposed, and not care about everything else. This can be good as the decisions the camera decides to make may work better to properly expose the subject you want and not worry about the negative effects to the background, but that means you do lose the background, if that was something you wanted in the photo too.
    I would still recommend spot metering anyways as the subject is most important. Maybe to practice first, try the centre weighted one, which is spot, but also evaluates a little around the spot - then move unto spot when you know how it works.
    Arthur posted a great post about this - I'll have to find it again for you.

    Regarding having a fast lens - from my understanding, it isn't about getting fast lenses for night shots. The way I look at it is, it all depends on the DOF you want. If you want a big DOF to capture a group, you use a smaller aperture. If you want a small DOF to isolate a subject from the background, you use a larger aperture (oh, and maybe I got the terms mixed up, is f1.8 big or small aperture? And vice versa, f8 for example, big or small? Terminology... >_>) Anyways, hopefully you know what I mean. Having a fast lens basically gives you the ability to do better isolations in shots - I don't see it as the 'go to' for night shots. But, one advantage is, if people were in a line, then yes, put on that 1.8 or 2 or whatever you want, then you can use a lower ISO, so less noise, higher quality image.

    So as other users have mentioned, for your images above:

    1) It could be just your DOF is too small, so you need more DOF to capture the group, especially if they're at different distances. As mentioned by others, don't be afraid to use a higher ISO. As Arthur said, put it on aperture priority, so you can choose the aperture you need to make sure everyone is focused, and then let the camera pick the ISO and shutter speed required. Regarding the minimum shutter speed, I think some cameras have it automatically set to a certain speed, until their Auto ISO hits its limit and can't go higher, then the shutter speed starts slowing down - some cameras probably allow you to manually set it - yours may be automatically set, I'm guessing since you weren't able to find any option for this.

    2) It could be your camera just isn't focusing properly. Do you use the AF lamp assist or anything? That little bit thing just between the shutter button and lens, is that for IR remote only? Or does that function as a little light to assist in auto-focus? Try using that. One guess I have could be that it's not being used, so when the camera is trying to focus, it's probably a little too dark for the camera to figure out where the exact point of focus should be, and in the end, when you take the photo, it's in the wrong spot.
    My camera for example uses the flash to do it as it doesn't have the little lamp. So check to see what yours has because if it's done via the flash, it'll fire some small bursts of light, focus during those bursts, then when you take the photo, it'll be focused more correctly.

    3) Are you using wide auto focus or selective? So wide, or whatever it may be called on the Canon, is when it looks at the overall image, and then picks what it thinks it needs to focus on. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong.

    4) My other guess is what Arthur said, and what I'm also leaning towards, but not the definitive answer here, is front focusing. What this is is say you've focused the eyes, you know it's focused there - should be good. You take the shot, but the focus in the photo isn't on the eye, it's on the nose instead - that's front focus - although the camera is trying to focus on the eye (software), the end result due to the mechanics inside (hardware) is actually on the nose. This is the same for 'back focus' if the end result was on the eyes instead, for example.
    So although on the camera, you may have seen the focus box on the eye, the results will be different.
    Going through the focus points you gave, I'm guessing that's where the camera had it's little green box on? If that's the case, then this looks like it could be a front focus problem, where the camera is set to focus on a spot (tip of the nose, just under the eye, etc), but the end result, it's the things in front of it more in focus (like the shirt, jacket, hand, etc)
    This in turn rules out my guess of #2, where it just isn't focus on the right spot as you've now specified where your focus boxes were.
    This is something you'll need to take to the repair shops to fix, unless the 550D has an access point for you to do it yourself, like my a55 (though it's dangerous because if you mess it up, it can be very tough to fix it or a world of hassle nonetheless).

    Now, this is only speculation. If I was to test and find out, I'd have these in mind:

    Does this only happen with the lens you purchased? Have you tried another lens? So even if it means you'll use a higher ISO, the main point is to see if the images are clear though.
    So if on a different lens, you are getting the same result, then maybe it is front focusing.
    Next test - try it during the day - that way ISO and shutter speed isn't a problem or anything, you can purely focus on where it's focusing. Maybe grab a few objects and point them together, some in front, some behind, and take a few photos at different distances. Again, if it's the same results, then it could be front focusing problems.
    One way to really test if there is a problem or not is with a test chart, something like this:
    http://regex.info/blog/photo-tech/focus-chart
    There's a free one you can print on this forum somewhere to make yourself - I've done it, but I can never remember the name or find it - I should probably favourite it next time I come across it - hopefully someone else knows and can link you to it.

    This is a very good way to test if there is front/back focus on your lenses or not.
    Hopefully this also helps explain for you what front and back focus is.

    MissionMan's suggestion on continuous focus is definitely an option. Lets say everything is okay, there isn't a huge problem - maybe you just needed to use the lamp to assist in focusing the right spot - maybe you just needed to pick the points you want to focus on yourself rather than using a wide auto focus and letting the camera do it itself, with the aperture of 2 you've set, the DOF is small, so if the subject moves a little, maybe a cough, adjustment of chair, etc, they're not in focus anymore. If your 550D has tracking, maybe use that, or using continuous autofocus to keep subjects in focus.

    But as everyone has said, just keep testing. Good luck
    Last edited by bitsnpieces; 24-07-2014 at 4:46pm.
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    Arch-Σigmoid Ausphotography Regular ameerat42's Avatar
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    Skimmed through the thread...
    To me this is missed focus. There needs to be a reason.
    Have you tried any using manual focus? Shoot some non-person subjects - a fruit or a vase or so - in similar conditions?

    Perhaps there's some focus misalignment in the lens. At the wide f-stops you want, this may be exaggerated.
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    Quote Originally Posted by ameerat42 View Post
    .....
    Have you tried any using manual focus? Shoot some non-person subjects - a fruit or a vase or so - in similar conditions?

    ....
    Personally I wouldn't recommend manual focus in this situation. There could be a possibility that you would nail it, but in reality it'd be a bit more of a fluke, than a skilled effort.

    Reason is, that the camera is setup in std form to make it hard to focus with a wide aperture lens set to a wide aperture. This helps to auto focus and gives a brighter image through the viewfinder.
    What you see through the viewfinder is akin to an f/4-f/5.6 aperture setting, but if the lens is set to f/2(hence a shallow DOF) you can't really tell exactly which part of the image is properly along the plane of focus on the rendering of the image.
    And FWIW: the focus confirmation indicator in most cameras is also a bit hit and miss too. To a lesser degree than judging it by eye through the vf tho.

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    Ausphotography Regular bitsnpieces's Avatar
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    Only reason I ruled out one of my thoughts for being mis-focused was that superbee mentioned where the focus point was locked onto, so comparing that with the image, the sharpest bit isn't where the point superbee mentioned, but more in front of it. Again, still worth a try to test out - I don't think manual focus will ever prove much because it's always going to be spot on where you've out it right? It's the auto-focus that can mess up because that's based on the camera itself. Just a hunch from when I was calibrating my a55

    I guess one question is, reading am's post on misalignment in lens, can focus problems be the lens itself? Or is it always the camera?

    So I wondered what the results would have been like if we try a different lens on that camera.

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    Get a good flash with ETTL to put on top of your camera. (from AP site sponsor ... http://www.protog.com.au/buy/yongnuo...-camera/YN568C) Bounce the wonderful extra light off the ceiling or wall to get a more even light.
    That wonderful extra light will get you to a higher f/# for DOF and keep the ISO down a little. The ETTL lets the camera and flash figure a lot of the equation out for you.
    For noise reduction, this software probably works better than DPP ... http://www.imagenomic.com/download.aspx The download at the bottom (Community Edition) is free.
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    Ausphotography Regular bitsnpieces's Avatar
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    That plugin works independent of Photoshop though right?

    The plugin doesn't appear in my Photoshop, and I tried copying the plugin which was in the folder into the Photoshop plugin, so it appears, but it isn't free (I didn't know about the community one and had a standard one, which requires me to pay now to unlock it... so I don't know if that's affecting the community version or not...)

    I'm currently using Colormancer which is free and comes as a plugin inside of Photoshop - isn't as good as Imagenomic, but still does a good job

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    Site Rules Breach - Permanent Ban dtmateojr's Avatar
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    Your lens/camera has a front-focusing issue.

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    Quote Originally Posted by dtmateojr View Post
    Your lens/camera has a front-focusing issue.

    All these were taken at 1/20th second. Perhaps you might like to reconsider your conclusion?
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    Wow lots of info through those replies!

    Still to do more tests but some comments are:
    So far the high ISO shots with the 550D have not impressed me.
    Will be getting a 'proper' flash soon!
    Tested in AI Servo (my interpretation of continuous focus) and the 50m lens was a bit slow in keeping up with movement but at at least I would know that focus is not correct.
    Shooting in One Shot AF (which I did) with people moving may have been part of my problem as well.
    The 550D only has cross AF point for center point and all shots happened to have locked with outer ring points so focus may have been reduced. I found this in research: "The center AF point is a cross-type center point sensor while the other 8 AF points are horizontal line-only sensitive. With an f/2.8 or faster/wider aperture lens, the center point operates with greater precision."
    I would not try manual focus as eyes are not good enough.
    I have not found the kit lens to be as hit and miss yet but still inexperienced at low light shots in general.

    I will try some experiments over next few days with some static objects using the 17-55 kit lens and the 50 to see what happens.

    Thanks

    PS how do you do a number of quotes in the 1 reply (like Arthur did)?

  20. #20
    A royal pain in the bum! arthurking83's Avatar
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    Quickly .. multiple quotes are made with the + sign with the quote icon at the bottom far right of the person's reply.
    You add them and finally quote the final reply you want and they all appear in your reply screen.

    Quote Originally Posted by superbee15 View Post
    ....
    Shooting in One Shot AF (which I did) with people moving may have been part of my problem as well.
    ....
    This is the reason I would hesitate to conclusively say that your camera/lens combo is front focusing.
    The previous reply stating this with certainty is misleading!
    lenses don't front/back focus on their own to begin with .. it's the combination of camera and lens that does this.

    But because you used single shot AF, there is a very high probability that you or your subjects moved before the point of exposure!
    If I ever use single shot AF(extremely rare!!) I use it with a dedicated action.
    That action is what I think is not how many folks do it .. but should.
    The action is to press and expose at the same time.
    That is, I think many people do the half press to acquire focus, hold it at that point and then full press to acquire exposure.
    While it's not the wrong way to do it .. it's definitely more wrong, than the alternative.
    The way I use single shot focus mode is to fully press the release. That this does is to acquire focus and expose with the shortest possible delay between the two functions.
    This is a form of focus trap. Focus trap is a method of exposing a shot at the moment focus is acquired(save for a 0.01s delay in the camera's operation).

    The reason you don't want to use the half press to focus and then full press to expose, is that your delay between the two actions could see you or your subjects move fractionally fore/aft of where you think you should be.
    if your action is to naturally sway fore/aft and more accurately aft(backwards) a teeny weeny amount .. then in the time between focusing and shooting, you have moved the plane of focus back just enough to make focusing look inaccurate.

    While AI servo mode may seem a bit slow, in general it can make for more accurately focused images.
    I use AI, or continuous focus mode exclusively .. the only time I use single shot focus mode, is with an old manual focus lens! (too long story to explain it fully here).

    If you need any info on how to check your lens for focusing accuracy, just ask.
    If you want to do really quick tests, just shoot any medium/large sized targets(teddy bears, toy models .. whatever) but be sure to have the camera solidly planted on something.
    A tripod is best, but if you don't have one a table is good enough for preliminary testing.

    One last question, does this model camera have live view mode?

    edit: I forgot to add .. if you do some tests, don't worry so much about the kit lens. Work with the 50mm for now .. try to keep it all at the most basic level and take it from there.
    And be sure to post back with any data you acquire or questions you have.
    Last edited by arthurking83; 25-07-2014 at 5:22pm.

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