Auto Focus Cinema

RANT WARNING!

No… Just no. Auto focus for DSLR motion picture was a topic raised at a discussion panel I took part in this weekend at the PhotoCine Expo. Auto focus works great for shooting stills with just about any modern camera but it just isn’t appropriate for cinema. To clarify, I think it’s a must for shooting quick and gritty, reference material or home movies. But with the shallow depth of field and artistic styling of images rendered by a RED camera or DSLRs, it just isn’t a good idea. Nikon’s new D7000 does 3D facial focus tracking by recognizing a face and keeping focus on it which is cool, but why would you want to focus on just a persons face. What if the shot calls for a long, slow focus pull between two subjects that are 20 feet apart? Okay fine, you could use software and tell the lens to pull focus from distance ‘X’ to distance ‘Y’ and specify a given focus pull rate. But now you just have a mechanical focus pull done by a computer that has no emotion or feeling. There is no organic allure or life to the scene.

To add to this proposed flaw I present exhibit B: Auto focus lenses are loose and sloppy and don’t work well for motion picture. Due to their inherent mechanical pitfalls such as loose tolerances, low quality internal components, and short focus throw, this makes auto focus lenses a poor choice for motion picture since it introduces image shift, unreliable and unrepeatable focus marks, and other inconveniences. A cinema lens uses manual focus for a good reason. It keeps the image stable when racking focus and allows the shooter to pull focus in a way that expresses the emotion or passion that a scene should be able to convey. Basically, there is no way to instill life or humanity if you assign focus to a computer. When the day comes that a computer can carry out such tasks, I’ll be locking up my vacuum and hiding in my safe room.

(REVISION) Oh and I almost forgot to mention that pulling focus is more than just a tradition. It’s a craft that many have spent a career refining. This is why there is a job on a professional movie set for a “focus puller”. It’s not just a crabby old guy who doesn’t want to change his ways or embrace a new piece of technology, Auto focus in cinema just isn’t… Cinematic.

Published by

Matthew Duclos

A connoisseur of fine motion picture lenses, Matthew has spent over half his life servicing, refining, selling, manufacturing, and collecting cinema lenses from around the world. Chief Operating Officer of Duclos Lenses and Founder of TheCineLens.com, Matthew has been contributing to the motion picture industry for over 15 years, and to this site for over 5 years.

One thought on “Auto Focus Cinema”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s