In the world of cameras, AF stands for “autofocus,” while MF stands for “manual focus.” AF lenses focus automatically when you press down the shutter button, unlike their MF counterparts, which utilize a focus ring to shift focus.
I’m Caleb, and I’ve been a photographer for more than five years. My specialty is sports photography, and I’ve shot various events from the semi-pro to college level.
In this article, I’ll explain the difference between AF and MF lenses and some of the pros and cons of both types. If you’re shopping for a lens and are unsure which one is better, keep reading for a simple explanation of the facts.
What Do AF and MF Mean on a Camera Lens
AF and MF refer to different focus systems. AF means ‘autofocus.’ Lenses like this focus automatically when the shutter button is pressed down. MF means ‘manual focus.’ These lenses require you to manually shift focus by turning a focus ring.
It’s worth pointing out that AF lenses generally have a manual focus mode, which you can toggle with a switch. This lets you use the AF lens like you’d use a manual focus one.
The Pros and Cons of AF and MF Lenses
While AF lenses are undoubtedly the most popular, even being a requirement in some photography niches, there are various pros and cons to both AF and MF lenses.
Pros of Autofocus
The obvious advantage of autofocus lenses is that they’re faster at getting the subject into focus. In some fields, such as sports photography, this makes autofocus a de facto requirement for getting high-quality results.
They’re also easier to use. While manual lenses require turning a focus ring, autofocus lenses only need you to press the shutter button to change focus.
Also, autofocus may deliver better image quality in some situations. Today’s autofocus systems are quite advanced, allowing the lens to accurately focus on even moving subjects that a photographer with a manual lens would struggle with.
Cons of Autofocus
One major con of autofocus is the ‘focus hunting’ effect. This is when the lens has a hard time picking out the correct focal distance for the subject, and when it happens, it can quickly slow you down or mess up your shot.
Additionally, autofocus places more control in the hands of the machine rather than the user. While this makes the experience easier and isn’t inherently bad, it might hinder your creative vision if you prefer a higher level of control over focus.
Finally, you should know that autofocus lenses are usually more expensive than manual ones. Sometimes, the price difference is significant.
Pros of Manual Focus
A major reason why manual focus lenses haven’t fallen out of favor entirely is the creative control they offer. While using a manual lens is indeed slower, it comes with the benefit of letting you, the photographer, make the choices.
Manual focus can also be useful in spots where autofocus might struggle. An example is low-light environments, where an autofocus lens might have more ‘hunting’ thanks to the conditions.
Because of their cheaper cost, manual focus lenses are also more accessible. It’s sometimes possible to get a relatively high-end manual focus lens for much less than a similarly capable lens with autofocus.
Cons of Manual Focus
Manual focus isn’t without its downsides. Using a manual lens is more intensive, as you have to handle the focus yourself instead of just pressing a button. While some prefer it this way, it makes it harder to get into these lenses as a beginner.
They’re also worse for shooting moving subjects. For that reason, you won’t see many action or sports photographers using these lenses. This also applies to other niches that often feature moving subjects, such as news photography.
You’ll also have to spend more time staring down your viewfinder to get the focus right, which might be an inconvenience, depending on the nature of your work.
Here are some frequently asked questions about autofocus and manual focus.
Should I Use AF or MF?
That depends on a variety of factors. AF is more popular for its accessibility and ease of use, but MF lenses offer more control and lower prices. You should use lenses that fit your own goals and style of photography.
What Mode Do Professional Photographers Use?
Autofocus is more popular than manual focus, but professionals use both. While autofocus lenses are still the more common option just about everywhere, manual lenses still have a significant presence in niches like portrait photography.
What is the Difference Between Continuous and Autofocus?
Continuous focus is a specific type of autofocus. In this mode, the lens continues to track a moving subject on its own without the user having to press the shutter button again. This mode is popular with action and sports photographers.
In short, AF lenses use autofocus, while MF lenses use manual focus. Autofocus is the more popular of these two systems and is easier to use, but manual focus lenses can still deliver great performance and are usually more affordable.
What kind of lens do you prefer? Would you ever give manual focus lenses a chance? Let us know in the comments!