A TOP reader named Peter Erbak wrote from the Czech Republic yesterday to ask if we'd written anything on Sony's focus-peaking. I haven't—I haven't even seen it in action, thanks to the demise not long ago of the retailer in my area that carried Sony cameras.
I'm interested in hearing from people who've used focus-peaking with manual-focus lenses for "real work." If that describes you, what do you think?
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Hugh Crawford: "It works, sorta. It's never spot on, the way you can get with enlarging the LCD 14x. If you are used to manual focus TLR cameras and use the 'too close, too far, split the difference' technique, it's pretty good, but not pixel-peeping good and make-24x36-inch-prints good."
Featured Comment by Michael Houghton: "It is really rather good, if you choose the right level of peaking (and colour) for the setting. It doesn't, of course, actually show focus—just contrast edges—and it works at the level of pixels you are looking at, not the full resolution, so it might peak with the whole shot in view but not at the pixel level, which can be confusing. Since the NEX displays the actual stopped-down image on the display, and then amplifies the image to get acceptable brightness, it does sometimes find transitory peaks due to sensor noise, and as a result it can be quicker to focus wide open then stop down.
"It takes a little practice to learn how to 'read' the peaks as they build up and drop away while you focus, but with a little learning effort you can get very fast rough focussing that you can quickly refine by zooming in. It will also peak in video mode and with autofocus lenses. It does prefer a contrasty lens, though, and tends to work much better a third of a stop down from open."
Featured Comment by Björn: "It's the best way that I have yet been able to focus with manual lenses on a digital camera. Its still not as good or fast as an old Canon AE-1 or even a good rangefinder. It tends to be very problematic in low light and low contrast situations, because the focus color doesn't show up because the camera obviously uses the edge of an object to determine focus and under those circumstances a precise edge is harder for the camera to see. Also when photographing people the focus color doesn't always show up in the eyes of people, more like around their ears, and if you use a large aperture you will miss focus on those occasions. You have to use the magnification function to be able to focus in those situations and that slows you down.
"The point of focus peaking is that its supposed to be a fast way to determine what is in focus, and when you have to use the magnification feature 50% of the time when shooting people that kind of uncertainty can be quite a pain. It works quite well in normal light and when your subject isn't moving too fast, but then again so does magnification focusing and good old zone focusing. All that said I do prefer it to other ways of focusing if you tweak it a little bit by shooting in Raw+JPG and setting the camera to a black and white preset so that the focus color shows up more distinctly on the screen."
Featured Comment by Bob Ware: "You must try it to believe it! I recently acquired a Sony NEX-5N and have adapters for both Nikon and Pentax lenses. Manual focus confirmation is assured by a shimmering outline around the subject. I find this much more informative than any other type of focusing confirmation system in other still cameras."
Featured Comment by Christer: "I have a Sony NEX-5N with the short kit zoom, and I also use the camera with some of my (current) Summicrons. Focus peak: you never had it so good! Especially if you wear glasses, like I do. I have variable focus (???) eyeglasses which can be a pain when used with some viewfinders. I sometimes manually fine adjust the focus when I use the NEX in AF mode. The image shown will then be enlarged five or 10 times so that focus can be really pinpointed. Of course you can select what area you wish to be enlarged so that you need not move the camera.
"For manual lenses, peaking is even better. You can use the peaking facility with maximum aperture to really nail down focus, and then shoot at whatever aperture you wish. Peaking is convenient, quick and cool."
Featured Comment by J Holmes: "Not really sure it is highly effective in stills (and especially in the case of wide apertures). I own a 5N and really am beginning to think Sony offered it up as a way to appease NEX shooters for a lack of native lenses. I have used it with legacy lenses as well as native and find it to be reasonably fast but not tremendously accurate."
Featured Comment by Doug: "Just like with using a rangefinder for the first time, one has to spend some time dialing in focus peaking and practicing with it. After using it on the Nex-5 and Nex-5N for eight months, I am very confident with it in most situations, and magnification is there for backup. You definitely can't pick it up and shoot with 100% confidence on the first day, but peaking works well with practice."
Featured Comment by JKP: "I really love focus peaking and focus confirmation in my A77. Really handy feature, also for macro photo, and I use it a lot. I have never been really into manual focus, now I would judge my manual focus to be 20–45 % of my shooting...not just because of the focus peaking, but also focus confirmation. But I mostly use it for video work, like follow focus. It is so easy to make controlled change of the focus plane during video shooting, somehow it takes my video work to the next level because of ease of use."
Featured Comment by Peter Foiles: "Using peaking properly is an acquired skill. If shooting a face at wide aperture for example you may initially think that having the face surrounded by peaking means it is in focus but what you will discover is that the ears are in focus and the eyes not. Once you experiment a bit and really understand exactly what it is doing then it works well.
"The combination of magnified view and peaking is as deadly accurate a focusing method as I have found in my 40+ years of photography, though it is a bit tedious."