In Praise of Autofocus Cameras

Viewfinder diopter adjustment is, for me, is an essential camera feature. Since many manual focus cameras lack this feature, using a manual camera can be problematic. However, even when adjustment is possible, it never compensates completely for my changing vision. Autofocus makes this problem moot. 

Viewfinder magnifiers are available and useful, and I have one, but it adds another procedure to taking a shot, so I never set out to chase bees or butterflies using a manual camera. Still lifes, which I am now getting into, and any tripod shots are fine.  That being said, I have ventured out with most Minolta manual SLR models and managed to have some success. Even so, more shots are out of focus than I would like. I can’t be the only one with this problem. 

Autofocus opens up the world of photography to those with less-than-perfect vision or who don’t want to spend extra time when getting a shot. But even with 20/20 vision, it is easy to get the focus wrong with a manual camera. There is a reason the Maxxum 7000 was a huge success.

As someone who used an SR-T 101 for three or four years (many years ago) as my only camera, using a 7000i, while having a learning curve, ultimately proved to be more rewarding in terms of the final image. Having direct control over metering and focus modes, once I stopped conflating the two, greatly improved my photos.  

I get the attraction of manual focus cameras.  My XD 11 is a work of art— balanced, lightweight, and quite lovely—with an exposure compensation dial, of which I now make frequent use. However, if I want to be sure I nail a shot, I pick up an autofocus body.  

Maxuum 7 LCD: DoF readout with shutter, aperture, and EC.

For me, the ultimate Minolta is the Maxxum 7. It is at the pinnacle of camera technology, and, having had one for over a year, I still marvel at its capabilities. For example, when using a “D” lens, pressing the DoF preview button gives a readout on the back panel LCD that shows in feet/meters the distance to the subject, the actual DoF, and the hyperfocal distance. After having used an app for DoF/hyperfocal distance help, then discovering my camera would do this for me, was amazing in the truest sense of the word. The Maxxum 7 can also record aperture, shutter, focal length, and EC for seven rolls of film!!!   In fact the camera will allow one to shoot a partial roll, remove it, shoot another, then reinsert the original roll and the camera will advance the film to where you left off!  I have never missed a shot with the Maxxum 7.  While others may wish to do everything themselves—I get that—the camera as photographer’s assistant works for me. 

Being curious about other brands, I bought two mid-level cameras: one Nikon (N80) and one Canon (EOS 7).   Each camera came with a lens and accessories and each cost less than 30.00.  Both had the back story of having been bought for a photography class in the 1990s and never being used since (their appearance matched the backstories). Each performed well, the Nikon having a slight edge (I like the viewfinder grid).  

For some reason, AF cameras from the 80s and 90s get no respect as if packing all that capability into a camera is somehow a lesser engineering feat than creating a purely mechanical SLR. One need only read the comments from this Casual Photophile article to see examples of this. I don’t understand the antipathy. The mechanical excellence of a Nikon F3 or Minolta XE-7 in no way lessens the engineering achievement reflected in a Maxxum 7 or similar camera from Canon or Nikon. Why disdain one type over the other? Each is wonderful in its own way—that’s why I own both. 

4 Comments

  1. I’m generally a manual focus film gal. But I have an auto focus FujiFilm GA645Zi, which I use for my street photography. AND I have two digital cameras, one set up for IR and a Nikon D-40 that I inherited from a spouse upgrade. I use all of these cameras for the situations they are better suited for. Yes, sometimes I just carry the Nikon D-40 because I don’t feel like dealing with all the manual stuff.

    1. Author

      Hi Kate! Like you, I use all three types. I see cameras as tools, and try to use the best one for the job at hand. I love the look of film, especially for B&W and color for flowers. But, I also own Sony and Minolta digital cameras. I like experimenting. Recently I started experimenting with still life shots using Yashica 6×6. I love using that with a handheld meter.

      There is so much to explore in photography and no reason limit oneself artificially.
      Happy shooting!

    1. Author

      Thanks Jim! I wrote this post because,in reading various blogs and forums, I’ve seen AF cameras spoken of with such disdain, as if somehow manual cameras produce superior images. Having used manual, AF, and digital, I can’t understand the attitude. It’s a false dichotomy, like the digital vs film. Each person should use what best suits his/her needs and preferences.

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