« Happy Birthday Ansel! | Main | Mastering the Fuji X100 »

Monday, 20 February 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Yes, I use it frequently with my NEX-5N. Yes, it works, although with conditions. That is, it is stronger in some types of content/lines than others. I must sometimes combine it with MF assist magnification.

And, yes, it works the same with the viewfinder and the rear screen.

I am, however, slowly reaching the conclusion that manual focus lenses, such as my Leicas, offer a Pain/Gain ratio approaching, or exceeding, 2.0. The rewards are just not strong for the inconvenience.

Although it wasn't 'real work' and I've used an AF lens in MF mode instead of a manual one, I've used focus peaking several times in my wife's Sony NEX-5N. In my experience it works fine but, even in the most restricted mode (there are two different settings for sensitivity), areas separated by longer distances than DOF are 'peaked' when large apertures are used and so accurate focus cannot be trusted in, save in very contrasty parts of the image. It's a very similar case to using the usual "focus confirmation" beep -or LED dot- when manually focusing a fast prime: not enough power to resolve close distances.

Just my 2 euro-cents...

I too haven't got the luck to get a Nex 5n or 7 to try yet, but from what i am told and what i read over at LL peaking is the final solution for manually focusing lenses on modern digital camera - at least if you are >40 and starting to lose the prime of your eyesight: and i am already 6 years beyond that threshold.

I am going to answer this because I think photographing your 1-year constantly moving child is "real work". Peaking as a focusing method has its origins in video and honestly, that is where it is really useful on these Sony cameras. Try to nail your focus with peaking while photographing a moving subject. It's an exercise in frustration. You cannot nail focus without enlarging the view (although you can get close in normal view) and by the time you have achieved focus through that two step process, your subject has moved. I should say though, it works remarkably well on static subjects.

I'll be looking forward to the comments.

The thing that has surprised me is how little discussion I've seen about the impact of non-auto diaphragm lenses. I would think the large depth of field of the lenses commonly adapted to APS-C would make focusing very challenging when stopped down. Are people focusing wide open, then stopping down to shoot, or does it really work just fine stopped down?

Have a look at http://www.luminous-landscape.com/forum/index.php?topic=56246.0

I have a NEX 5 camera and use it regularly with manual lenses and it works very well.

I played with the focus peaking on my wife's Sony NEX 5N, using the 18-55 kit lens in MF mode as well as Canon EF 35mm f/2, Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8, and a manual focus Tamron SP 90 f/2.8 macro. I haven't done any "real work" with it though, so take my comments with a grain of salt if you wish.

The focus peaking is definitely helpful but has some ways to go before I would rely on it. In no particular order: First, it depends on contrast, meaning that the "peaked" parts of the image are the ones with most contrast and not necessarily the ones that are truly in focus. Second, the camera seems to analyze the downsized image that is fed to the screen, not the full-size image coming from the sensor. This becomes obvious when you magnify the image on the focusing screen - the outlined (peaked) part of the image suddenly becomes much narrower or moves (this is where the dependence on contrast also comes in). Thus, you cannot compose and have a precise indication of where your focus is at the same time. One should also keep in mind that the focusing is done at working aperture, so you don't have the SLR advantage of focusing at a (usually) wider aperture than actually shooting.

Third, the peaking needs a fair amount of light and contrast to show up reliably, and it is a bit slow to appear and to react to camera movement.

In summary: is it useful? Yes, but the current implementation has (IMHO serious) limitations. I think most of them can be addressed by more powerful in-camera processors, so I'm hopeful for the future.

I rented a NEX-5N to test if it could be both a quick vacation camera AND a digital buddy to my M6....and the answer to both is 'sorta'. The focus peaking is a huge help, enough so that in my mind it's the bare minimum requirement for a camera where I'm planning to use adapted lenses, but it's not a cure-all. The high-res viewfinder is still more useful, but with focus peaking, shooting a 28, 50, and 90 on the Nex was doable, even when shoot my 7 month and 5 year old. More missed focus than on my M6, but a lot more opportunities opened up, so i call a fair trade.

Comparing against when I tried the same on an Olympus E-PL2 and Panasonic GH-1, the Panasonic's actual viewfinder was about as effective, and the experience on the E-PL2 made give up on the concept altogether.

What do you mean by "real work"?

Work for money?

Work one would do anyway, whether amateur of professional, which focus peaking might improve or make easier?

Anything but boring test shots that say little about how it would work with more interesting and/or complex subjects?

Questioning Moose

Briefly -- NEX-7 with Konica SLR Hexanons (24f2.8, 40f1.8, 57f1.4) -- it works well for quick focusing, as does just eyeballing the evf view as with a good ol' matt screen SLR. For more considered focus the magnified view is the most reassuring option (I'd like a firmware update giving the option of a highly magnified view in the central 50% with the normal mag frame edges still visible).

We're spoiled, and although I recollect you don't like adapters, I don't like spending hundreds/thousands on lenses if I don't have to, especially if you're comfotable with those old ones. Sony still has some work to do on ergonomics, but the technology is working.

PS - I usually focus at working aperture (this works with evf) and thus also get a good idea of final dof.


As to the 'real work': gig photography in dark venues, a really challenging environment for peaking! If I adjust the settings and pick my focussing targets with care, pretty usable. Some examples at the link.

I tried my Ricoh GXR-M with 35mm and 50mm Zeiss lenses last week for a stage performance shoot. I used f/2.0 and focus assist Mode 1 most of the time. I found that peaking was not accurate when using 1.0x magnification on the LCD screen (peaked on the screen, but out of focus in the file), and had to switch to 4.0x magnification to get accurate focus at the widest aperture.

It was like using a view camera for an action shoot. It was a worthwhile learning exercise - I'll be taking my D700 for all future jobs.

A work colleague showed me how it works for about 5-10 minutes a few weeks ago. Works extremely well on the Sony NEX-5N.

This could easily breathe new life into recent manual lenses as a whole if focus peaking is successfully ported to other camera manufacturers.

I use it when I have manual focus lenses like the LensBaby attached. I use these lenses a lot for both wedding and senior photography.

Basically it uses pixels of a certain color (iirc, red, white, or yellow) to highlight edges that will be in focus when you snap the shutter. It takes depth of field into account and is quite accurate.

I think that a question related to focus peaking is whether using legacy lenses provides good results on the Sony NEX-7. There are a few reports on the Internet about a magenta cast with wide-angle M-mount lenses, but there is little or nothing about lenses of 35mm and above or about small-sized lenses in other mounts, which would make for an easily portable and relatively affordable rangefinder-like camera with a built-in viewfinder.

I'm an Architectural and relestate photographer although I did only buy the Sony 5n to shoot family as well as "street" style market photography that will hopefully end up as a book.

I wanted to love focus peaking but it hasn't been very accurate for me without using the MF assist zoom as well. Without AF assist I was getting very inconsistent results, ranging from just missed to Sugimoto style blurry. For shots of my wife and daughter I found it peaked on hair and shoulders, so lots of out of focus faces.

If you zoom it will peak on the highlights of the eyes but now that your zoomed in 9.5 times - if you still can't tell it's sharp then you seriously need a stronger prescription and it's a wonder you can compose the shot at all.

One shot of a park bench and a fence on a bright sunny day, red peaking everywhere on the screen, got home and it was so far out of focus it's embarrassing, and that was with a 28mm f3.5 stopped down after focusing to f5.6, I'm wondering if it picked up on high contrast bokeh or something.

Bearing in mind that I've had my NEX-7 for only a week and still familiarizing myself with it I've found focus peaking maybe less useful than I thought it would be. Firstly, it's a bit of a distraction and there's no direct way to toggle it on and off (at least that I've found). It's also selective of what edges it highlights and which it doesn't. Lastly it's just not useful for accurate zone focusing. I read a suggestion somewhere that it highlights more edges with more contrasty lenses (Leica) but the Zeiss I'm using are plenty for me. To sum up, kinda useful ... for now.

On the other hand, the ability to do two quick button presses to zoom in with the viewfinder to 5.9x magnification, then again to 11.7x (if required) is brilliant. Since the lens is at working aperture (the viewfinder adjusts gain accordingly) there's no possibility of focus shift. A sensor with this resolution isn't at all forgiving. You also really see what your lenses are capable of, or not!

I really like the focus peaking feature on my NEX. I had a bunch of old OM manual focus lenses that I've been able to use flawlessly on my NEX. The peaking feature making focusing incredibly easy and I've yet to find a situation/subject matter where it doesn't nail the shot.

One trick is to set the "creative mode" to B&W and shoot RAW. All the image data is preserved when you import the photos to a computer, but the highlighting of the peaking feature stands out much better against the B&W background.

Not too much to say other than it works, it certainly can be used for real work - I have shot a fashion feature using a lowly NEX 3 and Nokton 40mm - and it can be damn fun. Something about waist level shooting with manual focusing brings me right back to my Yashica Mat days.

And Sony really nailed MF with the NEX 7. With an AF lens like the Zeiss 24mm, a simply twist of the focus ring drops you directly into MF assist with peaking (if enabled). Use a MF legacy lens and a single press of the MF/AEL button does the same.

I don't know that it is as quick or satisfying as a traditional RF mechanism, but with practice it can become quite effective.

I give up -- what is it?

"What do you mean by "real work"? Work for money? Work one would do anyway, whether amateur of professional, which focus peaking might improve or make easier? Anything but boring test shots that say little about how it would work with more interesting and/or complex subjects?"

I just meant real pictures as opposed to test shots or just trying it out.


Mark Crabtree:

You are right, stopping down the lens makes it harder to focus. I find that I have to adopt a 'view camera' approach to obtain an image that is satisfactory - a very deliberate and methodical process. It's similar to opening up the lens, composing on the ground glass, putting a loupe on the ground glass to focus, recomposing, stopping down, then releasing the shutter. To me it's technical retro - which could be perceived as either a good or a bad thing. I think it's the latter as it doesn't suit the concept of a compact camera with a relatively small sensor.

Even a Pentax Spotmatic or Praktica MTL is more advanced, having dedicated stop-down metering levers / buttons!

Isn't it "Focus peeking" rather than peak as in mountain?

The best implementation of focus assist I've seen is by JVC. I used to own a JVC proHD camera, and have used focus assist exclusively with Fujinon manual lenses, both indoors and outdoors under harsh sunny conditions, and my experience has been 100% positive.

The technology, as implemented by JVC at least - is amazing, and currently exists on all their semi and pro camcorders.

Nex, MF lenses and focus peaking- real fun work

the soft peaking on my favorite feature ! just now i can use manual lenses and hit correct focus point.
i got bunch of old high quality lenses from olympus, minlota etc.. all manual focus from 80'ies but high end optics. its works great with adapters on sony new. i can focus the exact point i want and get great images.

I haven't had the opportunity to try focus peaking for myself, but it does seem a useful "additional tool" to have in the box of tricks.

What I would like the manufacturers to do is rather than having the manual focus magnified image take up the whole screen, thus losing framing, is to (as an option at least) only magnify the central part - say the central 2/3rds, and underlay that with the whole frame. That way you can quickly manual focus, whilst still retaining your framing vision.

Now, it may well be harder to do in reality than theory, but an idea of the concept could be seen in many modern graphic displays that use varying degrees of transparency to let you see content underneath the main window.

Why....? I like a focus preview button and a depth of field indicator on the lens barrel....that was more then enough for ages....and that is more then enough now. Every electronic wizardry used to sell camera's the unskilled general public distracts professional more then it helps them.

Depth of field indicators in meters and feet should be mandatory to all lenses. I use a Nikon 1.4 50 on a GF1 and use that hyperfocal if I want to shoot freely and I focus if not....no problems what so ever. Same goes for my analog middle format Fuji camera's as well.

So Mr. Crabtree....you are absolutely right, spot on, on the Mark (so to speak) not having auto everything turns photography into a deliberate and cerebral proces as it should be. I wouldn't have it any other way, I learned to HATE autofocus, autoexposure and what not, full stop. I have found out that the quality of my photo's increased as I took more and more control of situation and learned to trust my own senses instead of relying on processed witt of others.

Greetings, Ed

No personal experience with this (avoided the NEX temptation by moving up to SLT) but isn't this the cue for a poll Mike?
e.g. :- what percentage of those who've tried the adapter/legacy lens rigamarole with focus peaking assistance contunue to use it on a regular basis vs. those who gave it a brief try and then went back to AF.

Oh no. Here I thought we had found the magic answer and I would expect my next camera to have focus peaking. On my m43 camera, I often use OM Zuiko manual focus and find the double press to magnify then press again to return to normal are of little value in anything requiring speed. Plus, if the light ain't good, determining focus by the sharpness of the "noise" in the EVF isn't all that accurate.

Now I've learned from the comments, that the Holy Grail isn't focus peaking. OK. Can we go back to split screen ground glass? I could focus fast and reasonably accurately with that. And it's retro!

@Stephen: If the NEX 7 works the same way as my 5N, you can dismiss the peaking by tapping the bottom of the control wheel to call up exposure compensation. Of course, now you have the exposure compensation scale visible, which you may see as a bigger distraction. Pressing the center button on the control wheel dismisses the exposure compensation, and brings back the peaking

@ David: I use B&W also, but set the contrast to -3. I use Yellow peaking color, Low for w/a lens (15mm for me), Mid for normal to short telephoto lenses (28 and 50mm), and High for telephoto (90mm and 300mm for me). I tend to set focus at about f4 for my 28mm f2 Ultron then stop down. Some of these rangefinder lenses show some focus shift at smaller apertures.

Note the NEX's are intended to be focused at the working aperture, native E mount lenses do not use full-aperture metering or focusing (A mount lenses on the LA-EA1 and LA-EA2 meter and focus at full aperture or if using the LA-EA2, at f3.5 or full aperture, whichever is smaller)

@Mark Olwick: No, it's Focus Peaking as it detects when contrast peaks. It's a video technology that Sony brought over to the NEX's and the A77 & A65.

Personally I find focus peaking to work reasonably well but critical focus still requires magnification.

Mark - no - it is really "Peaking focus", that is, it indicates the peaks of contrast in the image (which are generally created by the edges of objects in focus).

I forgot....
focus peaking, combined with the fabulous articulated screen does make wonders !

We should be wary of any technology that promises to solve our photographic challenges. What's next? Auto-compose?

Another tool, then. Focusing shallow in fluid situations is always a challenge, whatever the system. Peaking would seem to get you in the ballpark, then you rely on experience, on prediction, on an understanding of your depth-of-field and on luck.

One of my favorite focus methods is to aim the focusing spot on the critical subject or desired area, doing a half shutter-depress, then recomposing. Not elegant and certainly not perfect, but it works often enough with judicious 'chimping'.

The just-announced Pentax K-01 also promises focus-peaking.

I'm happy I started such lively discussion.
I'm particularly interested in your opinion
on using focus-peaking with third party fast manual lenses, like Voigtländer Nokton classic 35mm F1.4.
I intend to switch my K-5 for NEX-5N & some fast manual lens.


Man, I just had a brilliant idea.

Wouldn't it be great if someone built a camera with more or less the usual phase-detect AF setup with 1 or more focus points, with two changes:

1) Use a 2D array at the sensors instead of a 1D linear array.

2) optionally pump the output of the sensors onto the LCD as a split-screen image that you can manually align. Possibly even offer a couple of modes here? Overlaid images which you align, versus splitting?

I'd like to clarify , the focus peaking is as good or better than any other digital camera focusing aid, it's really fast and its sort of cool to see the plane of focus sweep across a lawn or rough pavement. If you are interested in getting a zone of focus it is excellent. It's sort of like using a microprism screen in a SLR ( Hot tip , A Rollie screen in a Hasselblad makes the focusing much less Hassel )

I only wish that there was a way of turning it on and off quickly because it messes up the composition having all these sparkles in the scene. If the button to zoom the screen were in a location ( or customizable ) that I could press it and the shutter release without having to re grip the camera, and there were a way to assign the peaking to one of the custom buttons, the NEX would be a much better camera.

I have few focus peaking samples in my blog post NEX 5N with LCD pop-up screen and you can see the red high-lighted regions in focus peeking with a manual lens. Sony helps manual focus with two added features

  • Peeking Level & Color -- I choose red

  • MF assist magnification with 4.8x and 9.5x in 5N


@Stephen: If the NEX 7 works the same way as my 5N, you can dismiss the peaking by tapping the bottom of the control wheel to call up exposure compensation. Of course, now you have the exposure compensation scale visible, which you may see as a bigger distraction. Pressing the center button on the control wheel dismisses the exposure compensation, and brings back the peaking

Yes, it's the same but not what I want which is for it to be off until I call it up. For me, final focus is the last stage at the end of a long process of deciding what to shoot etc. Anyway, I continue to play around with it.

If all the above says anything it's that you have to try it for yourself!

"you can dismiss the peaking by tapping the bottom of the control wheel to call up exposure compensation"

I forgot about that , but am reminded of how bone headed Sony is by disabling the histogram when you are using exposure compensation when that's the only time I'd like to see it.

BTW, the secret handshake of NEX owners at photo swap meets is "got any preset lenses?"
If you are using Nikon mount lenses , the "G" adapters turn all Nikon non G F mount lenses into presets.

I've used two different implementations of sharpness detection - Ricoh calls theirs Focus Assist, Sony calls theirs Focus Peaking.

One nice feature of the Sony implementation is the adjustability offered - both colour and strength of response can be tuned. Altering JPG contrast values, even if only shooting RAW, will also affect the aggressiveness of the peaking display.

One downside of the Sony implementation is that there is no easy toggle off, such as a half-press of the shutter, to put a clear view of the subject in front of the photographer.

For some subjects the peaking can be distracting - it would be nice to have an optional momentary disable feature tied to a half-press of the shutter release. Yes there are work arounds, but nothing as natural as a half-press of the shutter.

The Ricoh GXR implementation does offer this momentary disable on the half-press of the shutter button and I appreciate that greatly. One less button to press!

Ricoh offers two variants labeled Mode 1 and Mode 2. Mode 2 is similar to the Sony implementation but less in your face. Some prefer this, but I find it not as helpful as Mode 2.

The second focus assist mode Ricoh offers is quite different. It presents a low contrast greyscale image where areas of highest sharpness - focus - are highlighted visually. I like to think of this as Ricoh's "predator mode" after the sci-fi movie Predator. Some may find this alternate reality distracting, while others may appreciate how quickly it allows one to nail focus, with or without magnification also employed.

After using nothing but manual focus rangefinder lenses on both the Sony and Ricoh cameras for four weeks each, I found that my in-focus rate was higher with the Ricoh, and my level of focus frustration was correspondingly lower.

There are times when a subject conspires to confound peaking - having magnification as a fall back is available for both cameras. With both cameras the combination of focus assist/peaking and magnification is there too.

I found my hit rate with peaking alone on the Sony NEX-5N was not as high as I'd have liked, regardless of whether I used their very nice EVF or the rear LCD panel as my finder.

In contrast the Ricoh seems to better support me in my quest for in-focus images. The GXR could benefit from a higher resolution next generation EVF like Sony's - I'd bet then it would be an even stronger solution and that focus assist/peaking would be even more useful.

Predator mode focus assist really works, for me, yet whether one gets on with this approach or not is going to be an intensely personal affair. Some hate Mode 1 / Sony's implementation too. There is sadly no easy replacement for experiencing it yourself.

I find it a joy. I'm rocking the fully budget NEX3 and 35mm cctv lens combo and it's an absolute pleasure. By far the best manual shooting experience I've had with a digital camera. I get a similar hit rate to using the ground glass in my old Pentax MX when at large apertures in low light which is perfectly acceptable to me.

As others have said, there is a definite learning experience as it's a focus indicator. In low light switch to black and white and change the peaking to yellow and medium.

I heartily recommend the NEX series if you have a stack of good old manual lenses. The articulated screen is just an absolute wonder to use and the quality of image I'm getting from the my £199 NEX3 is quite fantastic.

(yup... I'm a fan)

I currently use both the nex-5n and the gxr. Peaking works very well generally,  but like any system you need to learn how it works and how you can use it best. So far it is the best system made for focusing with an evf or LCD in my opinion. 

I find it similar to an slr split prism where I need to swim the focus back and forth until I nail the focus,  rather than on a rangefinder where it is easier to snap into focus on the first try. I find it quite fast if you can rely on using other elements that you know are on the same focus plane to confirm your focus is on. This works less well for a face,  for instance , but works well with static subjects. Its strength is in the fact that it can focus just as easily on off center subjects. You can also easily touch to zoom into a precise area of the composition and fine tune that specific area. Also, I find it easier to use with tricky rangefinder lenses that have focus shift, tight tolerances, or wide angles where normally a secondary viewfinder would be required. I actually prefer using the nex with long lenses compared to a rangefinder as its level of precision is as high as you would need it to be, since you can always zoom in to get critical focus, whereas in a rangefinder you're always going to be butting up against the limitations of its baselength and magnification, or you have to be willing to carry magnifiers specifically only for telephoto, which I personally would rather not deal with.

Its weaknesses right now, at least on the 5n, is adjusting the peaking quickly. Currently you have to dive into a submenu to adjust its sensitivity, such as when you want more or less precision. It would be nice to be able to access this with a long press of a function button,  for instance. Also,  Sony doesn't provide a good way to toggle peaking, so you're stuck with it on all the time, even with af lenses. You can workaround by pressing the exposure comp button which clears all overlays (including peaking) but a small EV scale, but it would be nice to clear all overlays when you want to focus on your specific composition. 

Its nice that Sony's implementation lets you adjust the color of the peaking (white, red, yellow) although I find white to be the least distracting and most neutral of these choices. I can see how some users would want the overlay to be more noticeable though.

Ricoh provides the ability to toggle peaking and the second predator view style focus mode which I find no more useful than the normal peaking mode, but obviously some prefer it

You know, I tried a NEX-7, and it wasn't as straightforward as I thought. I guess the other commentators here have a point that it needs some practice and skill.

Strangely, I remember having more success with the early Coolpixes, but that could also be due to the small sensor. I did like that implementation though.

I have a Nex-5 and I did a firmware update to get this feature. It works really well with my legacy lenses, even on moving subjects. It's however a question of practise. Some complain that it's hard to use with a shallow DOF but to be honest auto focus rarelly works that great in those situations either. A combo of focus peaking and magnification if needed is a really quick(almost as quick as AF) and revarding way of using mf lenses on the nex.

The comments to this entry are closed.



Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 06/2007