Side Note: All photographs in this entry were taken with Nokia C6-01.
I had a beer session with the legendary photographer David Chua and a few photo-kakis last Friday night, and many interesting conversations pertaining photography cropped out, with lengthy thought provoking sharing and discussion sessions following up.
One of the topics being brought on the table was the zone-focusing system.
Zone-Focusing (Fixed Focus)
Apparently, for some weird and unexplained reasons, a certain group of photographers started to emulate an old school technique of focusing their lenses, by adjusting the combination of settings to allow a permanent fixed-focus set-up. So much for moving forward, but this group was keen on exploring everything the difficult, old-fashioned and pain-staking manner. The zone focusing allows for a static focus at all times. The setting theoretically allows full depth of field coverage from, say 0.5m to infinity. Simply put, anything that is placed within 0.5m away from the camera to infinity will be in focus.
I was being told how useful this zone-focusing system can be. It takes away the need to worry about focusing in the photography process, and you are left with choice of subject, composition, and attacking your subjects at the decisive moment, which should be easier because you can act faster without the auto-focusing slowing you down. There is no need for auto-focus, or even manual focusing, all you do is set your focusing right before you start shooting, and as you do your photowalk, you just whack you subjects without the slightest thought of focusing. The clear winner is the ability to grab the moment as fast as you can click the shutter button. Sounds all sunny and bright, no?
Perhaps, a little lazy too if you ask me.
There are obvious drawdowns, of course nothing is perfect. To be able to achieve such enormous depth of field, the lens has to be stopped down to F11 or smaller. This undesirably presented two negative consequences: 1) the much, much ridiculously slower shutter speed which will introduce higher chance of blurring/shaking, especially shooting in shady and dark areas and 2) Non-existent bokeh (blurred background).
As I pointed out those disadvantages, I was directly assaulted by David in response by saying “When there's no special effects, no bokeh in your shots, ALL that's left is your subject content.” I do agree with that statement, no doubt, the fixed focusing system does allow you to concentrate on your subject content more, and whether your image works largely depends on your choice of subject content, and how you present it in your photograph.
Selling "Kuih Muih"
Just outside the train station.
Camwhoring through a weird reflecting wall.
Wall Art at Pudu Jail, or whats remained of it now. It is being demolished.
Then I was asked “Why don’t you try the zone-focusing?”
It was probably one of the questions that poked me right into my skin too deep that night, alongside with some other questions like “Why don’t you shoot film, why not give it a try?”
The Underwear Analogy
Oh well, I was going to give an answer which immediately popped out of my mind but I thought it would sound too impolite being said right out of my mouth loud. I think it would appear gentler, and make more sense as I pen them down here.
I see cameras as a necessity, much like an undergarment. There are many types of underwear in the market. Malaysian male in general prefer the mini-briefs, bridging to the borders of bikini briefs. However, discovering boxers and boxer briefs being popular in Australia, where you find them cheap and abundantly in any local stores, I have used boxers and boxer briefs ever since and never looked back. I am very comfortable wearing them, and have no intention of changing them. Should I try other sorts of underwear such as shorties, or trunks, or jockstraps? Or perhaps go a little adventurous and wrap around my waist a Japanese Fundoshi? Just for the fun of it? If you never try, you wont know, right? No, because I love my boxers, and I want to wear them. It is my personal preference, and it is NOT open for discussion.
I can say the same with the choice of using Olympus, and a DSLR system. And my reluctance to pick up Film, or any other systems. I have nothing against them, I just feel more comfortable using what I am using now, and I love them to bits. I see no reason to change, or pick up something new. I use what I have, I use what I love and what I am happy that way.
I am also comfortable shooting with the fast and responsive Autofocus of DSLR, and I need to shoot at F2 and beyond in really challenging situations. I need to do close up shots, and I do HELL a lot of close up/macro shots, even in normal shooting such as streets, food and people, and those cannot accommodate the use of Zone Focusing that only starts from 0.5m or further, to infinity in focus. I generally do not find zone focusing practical at all, for my usual shooting style.
Of course, ultimately, I did not blurt all the above out in my answer as I was presented the question earlier. My answer was slightly different, and more optimistic.
I DID use the zone focusing system.
On my phone, the Nokia C6-01.
funky looking stairs.
Old elevator's lamp.
Would you colour your windows pink?
Nokia C6-01’s camera on Fixed Focus
Important Note: I am not comparing camera phone with other cameras such as compacts or DSLR. My thoughts on camera phones, stay with camera phones only, and do not apply to other systems. Please do not misread or misunderstand my opinion on my usage of camera phones, which I may NOT practise at all when I shoot with DSLR or compact camera.
You see, many people have gone Hoo-Haa over the absence of Auto-Focus in their new generation Nokia camera phones. Everyone seems to think that this is a bad thing. I would like to argue and differ in opinion. Auto-Focus on camera phones has never been good, especially in low light conditions. In fact, it can be so painfully slow, yet after seconds of focusing, you snap a shot and you found the focusing not to be accurate. There are a few ways to work around this problem: to improve the AF system, well good luck on that since many compact cameras still struggle to focus in low light/difficult situations, or use an alternative in getting rid of the auto-focusing system. Is this a smart move, or an excuse for not improving the Af system? Depends on how you look at it, really. In practical terms, I admit the fixed focusing system is not really a bad thing at all, considering the use on a camera phone.
There are a few reasons why Auto-focus is needed. Firstly, it is important to achieve the accurate focusing to enable the subject to stay within the “focusing zone”, or in photography terms, the depth of field. Miss-focusing, meaning the subject being out of the focusing zone will result in blurry and out of focus image, which happens a lot if your camera autofocusing system is poor. Secondly, in conjunction to the first point, the out of focus point can be used as an advantage in photography, as blurred background or bokeh to make the subject stand out. In practicality when it comes to shooting with a camera phone, the first point was not really relevant in the sense that the auto-focusing on any camera phones have always been poor and slow. About the bokeh, seriously, you are not trying to create bokeh from a camera phone, right?
Having used the Nokia C6-01’s camera more extensively now, I have started to appreciate the fixed focusing more and more. I can grab very quick shots of people, even before they started to look at me, or responded to my action of pointing the camera at them, achieving very natural expression looking outcome. Not needing to Auto-Focus really gives freedom to just think about composition and at what specific moment to release the shutter. Having the camera in my hand being ready to pounce on any photography opportunity at all times, without the slightest worry of the focusing slowing me down was quite a good experience. Fixed focusing was not that bad after all !!
I wonder what that food is.
Just by the roadside.
I do admit that fixed focusing on the camera phone has its flaws, not being able to go closer than 0.5m away from the camera. I wish Nokia has a built in macro function, that upon activation, allows the camera to go within 10cm to 25cm range in focus or something similar to that. Macro and close up capability is powerful, and should NOT be ignored. This could be the biggest mistake that Nokia ever did, but I bought this phone not for the camera, but for the phone itself. I found the camera to be quite good, with limitations, which I am happy to work around and deal with. Nonetheless, I cannot say the same for the rest of the crowd.
There is a future, and a place for the Fixed Focusing system. It is not as flawed as the crowd perceived it to be, I believe it is a good and powerful system, but it is not perfected, yet. I do find myself enjoying the camera, mainly thanks to the fixed focusing system. Should I have the need to Auto-Focus, being slow and unreliable as any other camera phones, it might have just taken away the joy of using the camera phone altogether !! Those who have discovered the blinding speed of Auto-Focusing system in DSLR cameras should understand the pain I was referring to.
Sunset at Times Square, KL.
You will be seeing more and more photographs coming from this tiny little Nokia phone of mine. I think it produces beautiful images, good colour rendition, fair resolution (which is really good for a camera phone) and with no lag as I press the shutter button, I really cannot complain much.
All images in this entry were taken with the Nokia C6-01, in my casual walk around town a few days ago. When I shoot with a camera phone, yes I do think fixed focus is the way to go.
Have you used your camera phone lately? Do share !!
Have you used your camera phone lately? Do share !!