I have always set up my cameras to zone focus by simply going into manual focus mode, setting the focusing distance scale to my desired focusing distance and shooting away. The problem with this approach is that it is difficult to keep the focusing distance consistent because more often than not I am accidentely bumping the focusing ring. However using the settings I describe below I have been able to circumvent both of these issues and have a reliable zone focusing setup.
What is zone focusing?
Zone focusing can be described as the technique of arriving at a depth of field (zone) that will render all parts of the scene that fall within that field as acceptably sharp (in focus). Creating that zone focused area is done using a combination of aperture, focusing distance and focal length.
There are some really in-depth and technical articles on the web that go into great detail about zone focusing and acceptable sharpness - I'll leave it to you to search these out but as long as you have an understanding of how depth of field works, you should be able to follow along with the rest of this article where I describe how I set up my Fujifilm X-T2 and 18mm f/2 for zone focusing.
Setting up the X-T2 for zone focusing
The settings below are intended to be used with the auto focus S setting, which is the S on the autofocus switch at the front of the X-T2. The reason for this is that in manual focus mode, an accidental bump on the focusing ring will through out your focusing distance and thereby change your zone of focus, whereas in auto focus S, moving the focusing ring has no effect on changing the focus until you half press the shutter button at the same time.
Of course, you could set your distance on the camera using the focusing in manual mode (focus mode M), then change over to focus mode S so that the camera effectively locks focus in its last position, however I prefer to use the auto focus S method as I dont have to keep switching the front lever every time I want to re-adjust my focusing distance. Your preference is your preference.
There are three broad steps to setting this up on the X-T2:
- Disengage auto focus on the shutter button
- Set up the distance scale on your camera display
- Set the camera to allow you to change the focusing distance only when you hold the shutter button down halfway and turn the focusing ring
Disengage auto focus on the shutter button
The first step in this set up method is to effectively set the camera up for back button focusing. To do this, first of all you need to disengage the auto focus on the shutter button and set up the camera to use autofocus only with the AF-On function. This is so that when you press the shutter to take the shot, the camera does not try and re-aqcuire focus and change your focusing distance. I find the most convenient button to assign to AF-On is the AF-L button on the back of the X-T2. This most closely simulates traditional back button focusing that you find many DSLR users preferring to use across the board
To disengage auto focus from the shutter button enter the set up menu and select Button/Dial Setting>Shutter AF>AF-S>Off and whilst you are there, select Button/Dial Setting>Shutter AE>AF-S/MF>Off.
To set AF-On to the AF-L button, go to Set Up menu and select Fn/AE-L/AF-L Button Setting>AF-L>AF-On. Then set Button/Dial Setting>AE/AF Lock Mode to P which will initiate AE&AF when the AF-L button is pressed and for as long as it is held down.
Shutter AF Off
Set Up>Button/Dial Setting>Shutter AF>AF-S>Off
Shutter AE Off
Set Up>Button/Dial Setting>Shutter AE>AF-S/MF>Off
Set AF-L to AF-On
Set Up>Button/Dial Setting>Fn/AE-L/AF-L Button Setting>AF-L>AF-On
Set AE&AF ON to P
Set Up>Button/Dial Setting>AE/AF Lock Mode to P
Set up the distance scale on your camera display
In order for you to set the correct focusing distance for your zone focusing to maximise the area in acceptable focus, you need a scale to work off. The X-T2 allows you to customise both the viewfinder and the LCD display to show you a distance scale for focusing. To do this head to set up>screen set-up>disp.custom setting and select MF Distance indicator. Whilst you are in this menu also go to set up>screen set-up>focus scale units>m to set it to metres (or feet if you must). To finish this step off, go to the AF/MF Setting menu and select Depth-of-field scale>film format basis.
Select MF Distance Indicator
Set Up>Screen Set-Up>Disp. Custom Setting and check MF Distance indicator
Set Focus Scale Units
Set Up>Screen Set-Up>Focus Scale Units>m
Set DoF Scale
AF/MF Setting menu>Depth-Of-Field Scale>Film Format Basis
The final step
The final step in this setup is to set the camera to allow you to change the focusing distance only when you hold the shutter button down halfway and turn the focusing ring. With all of the other previous steps in place, this is simply achieved by going to AF/MF Setting>AF+MF>On. When ON is selected in single focus mode S, the focus distance can then be adjusted manually by rotating the focusing ring while the shutter button is pressed halfway.
Set AF+MF On
For some reason unknown to me, this also has the effect of preventing the aperture blades from closing down on each half press of the shutter button. If anyone can shed some light on why this happens at all when AF+MF is not engaged, I would love to know. In any case, I find that using this setting prevents the camera from doing this and therefore makes the whole operation feel a whole lot snappier.
Testing it all works
Once you go through all of these steps, make sure you are in focus mode S, look at the LCD screen or through your view finder, half press the shutter button and turn the focusing ring. The focus distance scale should appear and the focus distance should show on the scale. On either side of the focusing point there will be a blue line extending to the left and right of the focusing distance point. This is the depth of field indicator, showing your zone of focus. If it is not easy to see, select an aperture of between f/8 and f/16 and it should become more obvious.
Pressing the shutter button half way down on its own, the camera does not auto focus. If you press AF-L the camera will auto focus whilst you are pressing it until it acquires focus or until you stop pressing it, in focus mode S.
You will also notice that the aperture blades do not expand and contract when you press the shutter button when you are manually setting exposure using your own ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture settinge - this makes the camera super quiet, especially when you add the final touch - the electronic shutter, via Shooting settings>shutter type>ES Electronic Shutter.
So in summary
- Switch to Focus mode S on the front left of the X-T2
- Set Up>Button/Dial Setting>Shutter AF>AF-S>Off
- Set Up>Button/Dial Setting>Shutter AE>AF-S/MF>Off
- Set Up>Button/Dial Setting>Fn/AE-L/AF-L Button Setting>AF-L>AF-On
- Set Up>Button/Dial Setting>AE/AF Lock Mode to P
- Set Up>Screen Set-Up>Disp. Custom Setting and check MF Distance indicator
- Set Up>Screen Set-Up>Focus Scale Units>m
- AF/MF Setting menu>Depth-Of-Field Scale>Film Format Basis
- AF/MF Setting>AF+MF>On
- Shooting settings>shutter type>ES Electronic Shutter
I know!! Thats a lot of settings to change!! I hope one day Fujifilm gives us some way of creating a custom setting bank where we can allocate all of these settings and turn them on and off with one action - one can dream!
Putting it into practice
Now that the camera is set up as a fully manual zone focusing super quiet super fast picture taking machine, it is time to put this all into practice. My recommended settings for bright daylight to zone focus with the 18mm f/2 lens so that everything from about 80cm to infinity is acceptably sharp is to set your aperture to f/16, your focusing distance to around 1.6 to 2m. You will see the depth of field bars indicate a very broad range of acceptable sharpness, with everything from about just under a metre to infinity in focus!! That’s insanely great!!
You then need to balance this very small aperture setting with the rest of your required exposure. For example, for the way I shoot street photography, I set my shutter speed to anywhere between 1/320 and 1/500 of a second, and then I put the finishing touches on the correct exposure by adjusting my ISO dial accordingly, living between ISO 3200 and ISO 10000 for daylight, down to even ISO 1600 in super bright areas and up to ISO 12800 beneath awnings. If you are averse to super high ISO, you can change these settings to suit the amount of light you have to deal with but just bear in mind that for a decent zone focused area, you should try and stay at around f/8 to f/16, with f/11 being a nice compromise.
What I love about this setup is that the camera is extremely fast to shoot, with no noise and no aperture blade movement, whilst giving me total control of exposure. If I want my automatic camera back, I simply flip my settings to Aperture priority, and use the AF-L button to back button auto-focus.
I hope you find this setup useful - please let me know of any additional tips or questions in the comments below.