Focussing blues


So I have been using Sony NEX cameras for quite a while now and bought a NEX 5 pretty soon after they became available here. The NEX 5 had a number of limitations for me so ultimately I purchased a NEX-7 when it was available and I had saved up enough for it. I started looking at the NEX and also the micro four-thirds cameras as a lightweight, travel camera that could take high-quality photos. Prior to the NEX I was using an entry level Canon DSLR which I was quite happy with but for the size and a few other limitations with the style of photography I was interested in.
Having used the NEX-7 in almost every mode I can find on it I am continually frustrated with it’s focussing – well, one particular aspect of it anyway, which has caused me to miss literally hundreds and hundreds of shots. Even with centre-point auto focus, the NEX-7 will refuse to focus on what’s in the middle of the frame if there is a more contrasty background. This pretty much kills any photos of people. I have lost so many great people shots (ones you can’t get back of family on holidays, special moments etc) because of this. I am committed to never buying a ‘contrast-detect’ auto-focus camera again.
Recently I have just given up on auto-focus and use manual focus now. Either that or I use the DMF mode which allows me to manually focus once the camera thinks it has focussed. The results, as far as focussing is concerned, have been great. Unfortunately this method still has a couple of problems.
Firstly, I am still missing a lot of shots that I could easily get with a cheap point-and-shoot camera as you can never focus as fast manually as a camera can so you miss out on all those fleeting, gold moments. Secondly, I have found that manually focussing often comes at the expense of good composition. The NEX has a couple of good manual focus tools. The first is focus-peaking which highlights areas that are in focus (with yellow, red, or white outlines). The second is focus-assist which zooms in on an area (the centre) of the composition, allowing you to concentrate on specific parts of the photo. Unfortunately you are not always interested in focusing at the centre and moving the zoom area around is particularly cumbersome, especially if you are using the viewfinder. What this has tended to lead to for me is photos that arguably are better focussed but their composition is pretty poor. The example above is pretty representative of a lot of shots I took on a recent trip. I was concentrating so much on working around the poor focussing of the NEX and I ended up with many shots where the subject was just pretty boringly placed in the center. Since I was using the zoom to its full-extent in many cases, cropping in post-processing (eg to change from landscape to portrait mode) didn’t work very well as I lost key parts of the image.
There are many things to like about the NEX cameras but focussing certainly isn’t one of them. I understand the NEX-6 is a lot better as it doesn’t exclusively rely on ‘contrast-detect’. I look forward with some interest to the NEX-7 replacement but my heart is really starting to lean back towards a DSLR.

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