Zone focus with RX1 - neat little trick...

Discussion in 'Sony RX1 Forum' started by Ray Sachs, Mar 18, 2017.

  1. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend Subscribing Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    This will probably be of interest to almost nobody, but it's bigly (big league?) of interest to me, so I'll share it just on the off-chance anyone else is interested...

    First, the "problem". This isn't a huge problem - I've worked around it without much trouble on both the original RX1 I owned and the new RX1R II, but it's far from the easiest manual focus system to use for zone focus. First, the manual focus distance always resets to infinity when the camera is turned off and back on. And the focus ring totally focus by wire - no tactile feedback at all. And the ring seems to be speed sensitive, so if you turn it really quickly, you can overshoot your target and have to fine tune a couple of times. Also, the electronic distance scale is pretty bad. It's only visible when you're actually turning the focus ring, and on my copy of the new camera, my most commonly used 2 meter focus distance is actually in focus when the distance scale says I'm focussed to 1 meter. I don't think this was the case with my copy of the original RX1, but regardless, you can't trust it and better test it to find the distance on the scale you really want to use. So, in short, zone focus can work and work well, but the camera was clearly not designed with this type of use in mind and there are many others that handle this take much more easily. BTW, most of this is true of the Nikon Coolpix A as well, but for some reason, the Coolpix just works better in this mode. Maybe because the focus ring isn't speed sensitive and the distance scale is always showing when the camera's in MF mode. It just works more easily...

    BUT, there's a great workaround. There's a ring located just behind the focus ring that has two marked positions and is used to move the camera from a normal focus range to a much closer near-macro range. It works to literally move the lens assembly forward and backward and it's totally mechanical - it does the same thing when the camera's turned off as when it's on. It has two marked settings, the standard position is marked for 0.3 meters - infinity and the other is marked 0.2-0.35 meters. Here's a photo of the ring.

    33127733530_86c1f880de_c. IMG_1555 by Ray, on Flickr

    If the camera is powered on in manual focus and defaults to it's infinity focus, you can actually turn this mechanical ring to get it to focus at various points between macro and full infinity. And you can turn it with focus peaking or magnification showing, so you can find it's precise location for a given focus distance, like one meter or two meters. So, what I've done is made a small white mark at the point where the lens is focussed at 2 meters, which is the focus distance I almost always use with zone focus - I'll sometimes focus a bit closer in really tight quarters, but in most situations with any sort of decent aperture (i.e., not wide open), a 2 meter focus distance gets me decent focus on everything from 3-4 feet out to farther than I need to worry about. So, if I have (or move) that setting to my white dot, I can turn on the camera in MF mode and I'm instantly set. As seen below... If I'm shooting mostly street I don't really have to touch this ring or the focus ring. I just have to be sort of careful not to accidentally knock the focus ring and change the electronic focus off of it's default infinity setting. This is totally accurate and repeatable and, frankly, awesome. It takes the RX1 from being a usable but pain-in-the-butt zone focus camera to a wonderful one. It's not as cool as a true mechanical lens or even the way Leica does it on the Q or the push-pull semi-mechanical focus rings on some Olympus and Fuji lenses. But it's still wicked cool and makes a great street camera an even greater street camera...

    33511436385_4b33de256d_c. IMG_1556 by Ray, on Flickr

    If this is relevant to even one other person, great! If not, well, just a few wasted minutes and electrons. I saw this trick on DPR during the long gap between owning the first and current RX1 and had forgotten about it, but someone brought it up again recently and I tried it. Great little hack!

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  2. BruPri

    BruPri SC Top Veteran

    May 11, 2011
    Seattle, Washington USA
    Bruce J. Pritchard
    Curious Ray, what are your custom preset #2 settings, and what do you usually do aperture wise with this method?
  3. Ray Sachs

    Ray Sachs SC Legend Subscribing Member

    Sep 21, 2010
    Not too far from Philly
    you should be able to figure it out...
    That's my street setting, where getting the shot is more important than IQ, so I have it set to aperture priority and auto ISO with a max ISO of 25,600 and a minimum shutter speed of 1/500, which seems to work for me as I often shoot moving subjects while I'm also moving. I tend to shoot in good light at anywhere from f8 to f11 to make sure I have plenty of DOF. In low light, I'll open up as wide as f3.6 or f4 and just keep in mind that my 'zone' of focus is a good deal narrower. I have it set at f2 in these photos because that was the aperture I used to calibrate the focus distance as precisely as possible, but I wouldn't shoot at f2 using zone focus. When I flick it over to the #1 setting for more general static shooting, its set with a minimum shutter speed of 1/125 and a max ISO of 6400. I'd set the min shutter speed at 1/80 if they gave you the option - that was what the original RX1 used as a default and I was always happy with that for general static subject shooting - but the new camera only gives you options of 1/60 and 1/125 so I err on the side of caution and go with 1/125. If I want to customize beyond those two settings, I just use the native PASM modes. I think I have custom setting #3 set for something, maybe eye-focus or something? But I never use it, so I've honestly forgotten what it's set up for. I'm better than 90% of the time in custom 1 or 2 and the rest just using one of the PASM modes. I have my Coolpix A set up almost identically, BTW, although with different max ISO values...

    BTW, in moving between #1 and #2 custom settings I generally change between auto and manual focus too, but with your explanation on the E-mount site of how you set up your RX1 for back button focussing, I'm keeping the front focus selector set to "M" from now on and just using the AEL button for AF when I want it. I found both of these little tips, yours for back button AF and the one using the macro ring for MF, within a few hours of each other. I'm psyched to go out and shoot with the camera set up this way. It was already a really good camera for how I shoot, but with these two little improvements, I think it's gonna be a flat out wonderful shooting experience... Right up there with my DF honestly...

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