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6 minute read

Close Focus Tips for Sharper Macro

Macro photography is all about pin-sharp detail, so get yours perfect with these quick and easy focusing techniques

What brought you to macro photography in the first place? For most of us, it was the amazing detail you can find in everyday subjects. From incredible close-ups of plants and animals, to the intricate beauty of watches and finely engraved jewelry, there’s detail to discover that you’d never see with the naked eye. But to get great detail, you need accurate focusing – and with macro that can be tough.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Close Focus Tips for Sharper Macro

Photo © Bryan Minear

Why? Well, there are a number of reasons. And the most important of them is depth-of-field – the areas of the image that are in focus. When you’re using a macro lens, you’re focusing closer to the camera than you can with a normal lens, and this means that the depth-of-field becomes very shallow. Even at small apertures like F16 or F22, which would typically ensure large areas of images are sharp, it can be very small when making images close up, and minor changes to the position of the camera or the subject will shift the focus away from where you want it to be. Thankfully, FUJIFILM X Series cameras have lots of options and tools that can help.

Now, with this level of control required, it’s easy to assume that the accuracy of the camera’s autofocus is the only option for close-up images, but manual focusing can be just as useful, or even more so on many subjects.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Close Focus Tips for Sharper Macro

Photo © Bobbi Lane

On most FUJIFILM X Series cameras, you’ll find a single switch on the front of the body that switches between these modes, with single (S) and continuous (C) autofocus, as well as manual (M) mode. All of these modes are useful, as well as other options you can find out about here.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Close Focus Tips for Sharper Macro

Autofocus for Macro

When is autofocus most useful for macro? It’s when you’re going handheld or framing a moving subject. This could be when you’ve seen a butterfly by chance out on a walk, when photographing an animal whose movement is unpredictable, or even creating an image of a flower in a field where there’s slight movement caused by the wind.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Close Focus Tips for Sharper Macro

Photo © Jonathan Irish

Once you’ve selected the main focusing mode via the switch on the camera, the remaining AF options can be found in the AF/MF SETTING > AF MODE menu, or in the Quick Menu. There are four options: SINGLE POINT, ZONE, WIDE/TRACKING, and ALL.

Single Point allows you to select one focusing point across the frame, Zone uses a group of focusing points in the frame to track a subject, while Wide/Tracking covers the whole frame and tracks a subject within it. The All setting lets you switch between all three of those modes as required without heading back into the menu.

For macro work, when the subject and camera are still, stick with Single AF mode and a Single Point area, then use the Focus Lever on the back of the camera to select the required focusing point. The Focus Lever provides fast access to all the focusing points and, once a point is selected, you can change the size of it using the front or rear command dial.

If the camera and subject are moving, try using the Continuous AF mode setting on the front of the camera, and either the Single Point or a small Zone area positioned over the subject you want to be sharpest. You can then keep the focusing active by half-pressing the shutter button, or by using any button you’ve set up to use as AF-On.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Close Focus Tips for Sharper Macro

Photo © Bobbi Lane

The Wide/Tracking AF area can also be used when photographing a flitting butterfly, dragonfly, or the like. Using the Continuous AF mode, you’ll need to position the AF area over the subject, then start focusing to begin the tracking. Your X Series will then track the subject around the frame, also letting you move towards or away from it. The clearer the subject and the more distinct it is from the background, like a red bug on a green leaf, the better it’ll work.

Can You Use Face Detection AF?

Sure! If your macro subject has eyes, try switching on Face/Eye Detection from the AF/MF SETTING > FACE/EYE DETECTION SETTING menu. You’ll be surprised how many subjects this works on!

Much like the Wide/Tracking mode, this will lock on to the face or eyes, and keep them in focus as you or the subject moves. You can switch the function on and off, put it in Auto mode, or even prioritize whether the camera focuses on the left or right eye of the subject.

When to Use Manual Focus

Some photographers choose to manually focus on macro subjects – and many macro experts prefer to use this method all the time. Manual focusing can be quicker to fine-tune, and it’s also a good method to use if the AF mode isn’t focusing on the exact part of the subject you want to be sharpest.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Close Focus Tips for Sharper Macro

Photo © Bobbi Lane

If you want to focus manually, turn the focus selector switch to M, and use the manual focusing ring on the lens. There are a number of display options that will really help you out via the touchscreen or the viewfinder. Try switching on FOCUS PEAK HIGHLIGHT in the MF ASSIST menu. This will put a colored outline around the in-focus parts of the image so you can quickly see what is and isn’t sharp. You can set the color of this outline and its intensity, which really helps make it stand out across a wide variety of macro subjects.

You can also switch on Focus Check, which will magnify the selected focusing point when you turn the manual focusing ring on the lens. This makes it much easier to check sharpness, and you can move the view around the frame using the Focus Lever.

Try the Rocking Method for Manual Focusing

If you’re focusing manually and handholding the camera, here’s a great technique to try. Set the focus to sit roughly on the subject, and then rock gently forward and backwards. Using the Focus Check or Focus Peak Highlight modes, you’ll then see the subject slowly come into focus and can release the shutter when it does. This method can be more successful and more accurate than turning the manual focusing ring on the lens alone.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Close Focus Tips for Sharper Macro

Photo © Bobbi Lane

Use Focus Bracketing

Did you know that many FUJIFILM X Series cameras have a Focus Bracketing mode? This lets you make a series of images, each one focused at a slightly different point. This is useful both as a fail-safe and for making a focus-stacked image, which effectively increases the depth-of-field. In both cases, your camera will need to be mounted on a tripod, or some other solid form of support.

So, say you’re using the camera handheld and you miss the focus slightly, there’s a good chance that one of the bracketed images will have the correct focus!

Focus stacking is a bit different. In this route, you make lots of pictures, focused right across the subject, then load those pictures into a piece of software that combines all of the sharpest parts.

You can find the Focus Bracketing options in SHOOTING SETTING > DRIVE SETTING > BKT SETTING. In there, you’ll be able to set the number of FRAMES, the STEP between them (which is the change in focus distance), and the INTERVAL, which controls how long the camera will wait between the frames.


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