In all books I have read on (street) photography, the question of manual versus autofocus is usually addressed – sometimes even in one dedicated chapter. The answer to this question seems to be not straightforward – this is very much up to the individual preferences of the photographer – zone focusing as a technique is for me an excellent solution to have the camera ready for quick snapshots. As my main lens – the 17 mm/1.8 by Olympus – has a focusing ring that can be simply pulled back to activate what they call the snapshot mechanism. Pulling back the focusing ring not only directly activates the manual focus, but also reveals the distance and depth of field indicators. This is very helpful and highly convenient when out in the streets and I have made excellent experiences with the zone focusing techniques thanks to the DoF indications on my lens.
However, in situations where I keep moving, taking pictures in aperture mode led to some rather blurred results. This is why, in some situations, I switch to shutter mode to control the shutter speed. Usually, I then experiment with manual and autofocus. While the autofocus in my camera is light speed, you are somewhat at the autofocus’ mercy regarding what is identified as the point in focus – especially if you take pictures from the hip and the subject is not in the center.
Often, the results with autofocus are good, but there are was well pictures where the point of focus is completely off. My decision to use manual or autofocus depends on the situations and guts (to shoot from hip in shutter mode or with the camera at eye level in aperture mode). However, even thought there are apps and ways to find the DoF when using lenses without the indicators, the distance and DoF indications on my main lens make switching between manual and autofocus almost seamless – you can concentrate on the subjects and way of shooting instead of technical aspects.
To exemplify the descriptions above, I would like to share a photo taken last summer during the weekly markets. It was late morning and the fruit and vegetables seller probably already had some good business as he was no very much absorbed by his smartphone. Holding it in landscape might even indicate that he was watching a video. Not very courageous that day, I shot from the hip while moving. But, he was distracted enough by looking at the screen that I could have worked better in aperture mode and a more thorough effort in composition. Either way, the picture below shows that the autofocus concentrated on the almost empty vegetable baskets, putting the vendor in a slight blur. I still like the photo very much – the message changed though through the point of focus – and it is one example of the question between manual and autofocus.