Sony RX100 M4: Manual Focusing and Focusing Support

How is Manual Focusing Supported on the Sony RX100 M4? - Overview | Sony RX100 M4 Manual Focus Methods | Locking Focus, Setting and Storing Fixed Distances | Support for Manual Focusing | Conclusions | References

On this page, I describe how manual focusing works with the Sony RX100 M4 camera and how it is supported.

Note: For an overview of manual focusing methods, see page Manual Focusing Methods.

 

How is Manual Focusing Supported on the Sony RX100 M4? - Overview

Depending on the needs of the photographer, the Sony RX100 M4 offers several methods of focusing manually:

The Sony RX100 M4 allows you to lock focus, albeit there is no direct function for this, and also, with some "trickery," to store fixed distances for later use:

Manual focusing is furthermore supported in several ways (but note that these methods can also be used for autofocus):

 

Sony RX100 M4 Manual Focus Methods

Manual Focus (MF)

To focus manually, first set focus mode to MF (set in menu "Shooting p. 4 > Focus Mode"). Focus mode selection can also be assigned to one of the twelve positions in the Fn Button menu (set in menu "Custom p. 5 > Function Menu Set.").

Focusing manually is done using the control ring at the lens. Some people say that this is intuitive and provides a focusing experience similar to an camera with manual focus. Others, however, say that the experience is rather "indirect", since focusing is "by wire," and turning the wheel is rather tedious because there are no stops at the end (which a manual lens provides). All in all, I have to agree with the latter. I more or less hate manual focusing with the RX100 M4, but not as much as on the RX100 M1, because there are some improvements. Nevertheless, Sony should have taken a look at the Leica X Vario, which does manual focusing so well that is "feels" manual, even though it is "by wire."

For example, on the M1 I never know, which direction to turn the control ring and where I am on the distance scale. Except for the sharpness of the screen, this camera does not provide any information on the set distance, which is really a shame for such an otherwise well-made camera. The M4, however, displays a distance scale, which helps a lot.

My other problem with manual focusing on the M1 is, however, that, being used to an EVF, I find it hard to recognize on the LCD screen when an object is in focus - even focus peaking and magnification do not help me much, paricularly in bright light. The M4, on the other hand, offers an EVF, but only experience will show, whether it really helps me when I focus manually.

Direct Manual Focus (DMF)

Direct manual focus (DMF) allows you to override autofocus manually (and vice versa). To use direct manual focus, first set focus mode to DMF (set in menu "Shooting p. 4 > Focus Mode"). Focus mode selection can also be assigned to one of the seven positions in the Fn Button menu (set in menu "Custom p. 5 > Function Menu Set.").

Note that DMF works in two directions: You can (1) either focus automatically and then override the focus manually by turning the control ring at the lens, or you can (2) focus manually first and then fine-tune focusing using autofocus. Also note that when using DMF, manual focus support is available (for details see below), provided that you activated it in the menu. Here are the detailed procedures for using the two approaches:

  1. To use DMF the first way, you have to half-press the shutter button to focus automatically. Then turn the control ring to adjust the focus manually while still pressing the shutter button half-way.
    If you activated Manual Focus Assist, the screen will be magnified for 2 s, 5 s, or as long as you half-press the shutter button.
    You can also change magnification if you assigned the Focus Magnifier function to a function button and press it briefly. This function will be active all the time, not only while half-pressing the shutter button.
    If you activated Focus Peaking, it will also be active all the time, not only while half-pressing the shutter button.
  2. To use DMF the second way, first turn the turn the control ring to adjust the focus manually, then half-press the shutter button to focus automatically.
    Note that in this case, Manual Focus Assist does not work, but you can still use the Focus Magnifier function provided that you activated it.
    If you activated Focus Peaking, it will also be active all the time, not only while half-pressing the shutter button.

 

Locking Focus, Setting and Storing Fixed Distances

Focus Lock

Locking the focus at a certain distance for one or more shots is useful in a number of occasions, such as sports photos where AF is too slow, series of photos, etc. (one might debate whether this is a manual focus method, but it fits in here...). The Sony RX100 M4 provides the following options for locking focus:

While the technique of pressing the shutter-release button halfway down is easy to use, the coupling of exposure and focus lock can lead to problems. For example, when we take a picture of a landscape, and the image looks too dark, I point the camera lower to brighten the image up - but now the focus may be too close. The other way round, when I point the camera to the sky to darken the image, focus may not find a target.

The "AF/MF Control Toggle" function* has the advantage that it sets the manual focus to the same distance as AF set it before. Thus, for pre-focusing you can first use the AF to set the appropriate distance and then switch to manual focus. Of course, this works only in cases where AF finds focus (for example, it may not work for sky or macro photos). You can use this technique either to quickly focus at nearby objects such as playing children or sports people, or to focus at distant objects such as the sky. In the latter case, this replaces the missing "infinity" setting (or is a workaround for it...).

*) Alternatively, you can also use the Focus Mode function for this purpose. See below for the difference between these functions.

Locking the focus as described here is not appropriate for setting the focus at a known distance (infinity is an exception; you may, of course, focus objects for which you know the distance) and particularly, for storing it for later use. This topic is discussed in the following.

Setting A Fixed Distance

Regrettably, the Sony RX100 M4 displays a rather coarse distance scale when in manual focus mode. Therefore, the question arises how you can set a fixed distance of, for example, 2 m on this camera. The only way to achieve this, is to select a target at a known distance (you may have measured the distance to the target using a measuring tape or using other aids) and then

*) Both functions set the camera to the same (fixed) distance as AF did. You may ask yourself whether using the "Focus Mode" or the "AF/MF Control Toggle" functions makes any difference. For the moment it does not, but there is an important difference between the two regarding the ability to store the fixed distance for a longer period of time ("permanently"). For details, see below.

Storing Fixed Distances

Why would you want to store a certain fixed distance permanently? You would want to do this to be able to recall this distance quickly and easily later. One application of this would be to store a certain fixed distance (e.g. 2 m or 2.5 m) for later use similar to the snap focus distances on the Ricoh GXR and GR cameras. Some people use this feature for street photography (2.5 m is the default snap focus distance on the Ricoh GR). Another application would be to store one or more hyperfocal distances for later use (for landscape for street photography, for example). See page Hyperfocal Distance for more information (in preparation).

In both cases, you have to prepare the fixed distances in beforehand (i.e. focus on targets at known distances using AF* or MF** and store the distances in memory locations), because the Sony RX100 M4 distance scale in MF mode is rather coarse.

*) AF: Storing a fixed distance for a longer period of time ("permanently") requires the use of a memory location, but the state of the "AF/MF Control Toggle" function cannot be stored in such a location. You can only store the state of the "Focus Mode" function. " See the addendum for more information.
**) MF: When the "Focus Mode" function is set to "MF" there are no problems with storing the distance in a memory location.

For more information, see page Hyperfocal Distance > Setting the Hyperfocal Distance (or any Fixed Distance) (in preparation). The information in the last two chapters was inspired by the email exchange with a Russian RX100 owner who found out how to set and store fixed distances.

Addendum: The Interplay of the "AF/MF Control Toggle" and the "Focus Mode" Functions

The "Focus Mode" function allows you to select between several manual and automatic focus modes (MF, DMF, AFS-S, AF-C). It is the "primary" method to select the focus mode, can be accessed from the menu ("Shooting" menu, page 4), the "Fn Button" menu if assigned to it, and also from the Left/Right Buttons of the Control Wheel if assigned to them.

The "AF/MF Control Toggle" function switches between AF and MF, that is, in both directions, and might be regarded as a simplified version of the "Focus Mode" function. It can be assigned to the Left/Right Buttons of the Control Wheel. In fact, it allows fast and easy switching between manual and automatic focus, but it is only meant for temporary use and sets the camera into a "specific mode." This is revealed by several indicators:

 

Support for Manual Focusing

The Sony RX100 M4 offers two tools that are meant to make manual focusing easier:

In the following, I explain these methods in more detail.

Focus Peaking

In preparation

Focus peaking is an approach to highlight contours that are in focus. On the Sony RX100 M4, contours are highlighted

  1. in three different intensities (Peaking Level: high, medium, low); "Off" cancels focus peaking
  2. in three different colors (Peaking Color: red, yellow, white); inactive when Peaking Level is set to "Off"
    
     
 

Figures: Setting Peaking Level (top row) and Peaking Color (bottom row) in the Custom Menu

         

Figures: Peaking Colors red, yellow and white (from left to right; Peaking Level: Mid)

Magnification

In preparation

Magnification comes in two flavors: Manual focus assist and focus magnifier. Both show an enlarged portion of the image fullscreen.

Manual Focus Assist

Manual Focus Assist (or MF assist) magnifies an image section full screen for a predefined (2 s, 5 s) or unlimited time as soon as you turn the control ring at the lens to focus manually, starting at a magnification of 8.6 x. If you press the center button, magnification increases to 17.1 x, pressing it again returns magnification to 8.6 x, and so on (see the Figures below). Half-pressing the shutter button, cancels magnification, and you have use the to control ring again to re-activate magnification (or if you took a photo...).

    

Figures: Manual Focus Assist combined with focus peaking (Peaking Color red) (from left to right: after first button press = 8.6 x, after second button press = 17.1 x)

Moreover, the four direction buttons of the control wheel (and turning the wheel) allow you to change the position of the enlarged section within the image.

MF assist is activated in the menu: Custom 3. p > MF Assist (On, Off). Focus Magnif. Time is set in the same menu (2 Sec, 5 Sec, No Limit). See page Configuration for details.

Focus Magnifier

The Focus Magnifier function magnifies the center section of the image full screen after you press a dedicated control button (which one, can be set in the menu see page Configuration for details), starting at a magnification of 1 x. If you press the center button, magnification increases to 8.6 x, pressing again increases it to 17.1 x, pressing it once more returns to 1 x, and so on (see Figures below). You can cancel magnification by half-pressing the shutter button.

         

Figures: Focus Magnifier combined with focus peaking (Peaking Color red) (from left to right: after first button press = 1.0 x, after second button press = 8.6 x, after third button press = 17.1 x)

Moreover, the four direction buttons of the control wheel (and turning the wheel) allow you to change the position of the enlarged section within the image.

The Focus Magnifier function can be assigned to a control wheel button such as the center button. See page Configuration for details.

Manual Focus Assist and Focus Magnifier

You can activate both, Manual Focus Assist and Focus Magnifier, at the same time. So you can choose whether you want to have magnification activated by both methods or only by one or even none of them.

 

Conclusions

For "normal" photos, I use manual focus on the Sony RX100 M4 only on rare occasions. My personal problem with manual focusing is that, being used to an EVF, I find it hard to recognize on the LCD screen when an object is in focus - even focus peaking and magnification do not help me much, particularly if it is too bright. The EVF of the RX100 M4 looks a bit fiddly to me, and only experience will show whether it will be useful for me.

One instance for using manual focus are photos of the sky. Here autofocus often cannot find a target, and therefore we set focus to (about) infinity by locking the focus on a distance AF target. Another instance are sports photos where autofocus is often far too slow. Here, focus lock can be an alternative to AF as well: Either you pre-focus, keep the shutter button half-pressed, and wait for "the" moment. Or you set the distance using AF and a suitable target at the expected distance, lock focus by switching from AF to MF, and then wait for "the" moment.

My main application for manual focus are close-up photos, because here it often happens that autofocus does not lock or finds the wrong target. Even spot AF is not of much help, but I never tried the small spot AF - perhaps this would improve matters. See page Close-Up Introduction and First Samples for details on taking close-up photos with the Sony RX100 M4.

Note: For a more general overview of manual focusing methods, see page Manual Focusing Methods.

 

References

 

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29.07.2017