on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Focusing The Manual Way

Making Explicit Focussing Decisions

Hans Strand

Hans Strand is an internationally recognised photographer who has received numerous awards for his work and published three books. He lives near Stockholm in Sweden.



I am a landscape photographer and ever since I started in 1981, I have always preferred to use manual focusing. Not that autofocus was an option these days, but still... My first camera was a Contax RTS together with 4 Carl Zeiss lenses. I then gradually stepped up in format from 35mm and finally to shooting with an 8x10” view camera. Quality has always been an important issue for me and therefore I have always aimed to produce images with highest possible technical precision. As the digital era came I bought my first DSLR in 2003, but was not blown away and in 2007 I moved up to medium format using a Hasselblad. There I finally found the quality I wanted. In 2012 Nikon launched their D800E with 36.2 megapixels. I then realised that with this camera and great lenses I could come very close to medium format and with a much lighter equipment. I bought four Zeiss lenses with the Nikon ZF.2 mount. It was a f/2.8 15mm, f/2.8 21mm, f/1.4 35mm and an f/2 50mm Macro. Immediately I found the lenses so much more precise and sharper than any of the Nikon lenses I had tried. I now use this lightweight combination in more than 50% of my work. This year I have upgraded my collection with two of the Zeiss Otus lenses, the 28mm and the 55mm and also a Zeiss Milvus 18mm. They have really become game changers for me. Using these lenses I have moved the technical quality of my DSLR photography to new levels.

Since I am mostly shooting landscapes I prefer using manual focusing. I have never really understood how to use autofocus when shooting a landscape. Even the largest swarm of focus points in the viewfinder will never know exactly where you want to place the focus point. Autofocus is therefore not the optimum method for landscape photography and will in most cases need a manual after correction. When I make a photograph it always follow the procedure of positioning, composition and focusing. I prefer to compose through the viewfinder and not by using live view. When I am happy with the composition I focus the lens.

I have upgraded my collection with two of the Zeiss Otus lenses, the 28mm and the 55mm and also a Zeiss Milvus 18mm. They have really become game changers for me.
This also using the viewfinder. I know that live view is an option many photographers prefer for focusing, but I find it too slow and therefore I prefer to focus in the viewfinder. With fast lenses like f1.4, accurate focusing is rarely a problem.



This is a premium article and requires a paid subscription to access. Please take a look at the subscribe page for more information on prices.

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL