Go Back   Rangefinderforum.com > Cameras / Gear / Photography > Coffee With Mentors > Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

Bill Pierce - Leica M photog and author

 

“Our autobiography is written in our contact sheets,  and our opinion of the world in our selects”  

"Never ever confuse sharp with good, or you will end up shaving with an ice cream cone and licking a razor blade."  

 

Bill Pierce is one of the most successful Leica photographers and authors ever. I initially "met" Bill in the wonderful 1973 15th edition Leica Manual (the one with the M5 on the cover). I kept reading and re-reading his four chapters, continually amazed at his knoweldge and ability, thinking "if I only knew a small part of what this guy knows... wow."  I looked foward to his monthly columns in Camera 35 and devoured them like a starving man.  Bill has worked as a photojournalist  for 25 years, keyword: WORK.  Many photogs dream of the professional photographer's  life that Bill has earned and enjoyed.  Probably Bill's most famous pic is Nixon departing the White House for the last time, victory signs still waving. 

 

Bill  has been published in many major magazines, including  Time, Life, Newsweek, U.S. News, The New York Times Sunday Magazine, New York Magazine, Stern, L'Express and Paris Match.  :His published books include  The Leica Manual,  War Torn, Survivors and Victims in the Late 20th Century, Homeless in America,  Human Rights in China,  Children of War.  Add to that numerous exhibitions at major galleries and museums.  Magazine contributions include  Popular Photography,  Camera 35, Leica Manual,  Photo District News, the Encyclopedia of Brittanica, the Digital Journalist, and now RFF.  Major awards include Leica Medal of Excellence, Overseas Press Club's Oliver Rebbot Award for Best Photojournalism from Abroad,  and the World Press Photo's Budapest Award. Perhaps an ever bigger award is Tom Abrahamsson's comment: "If you want to know Rodinal, ask Bill."

 

I met Bill in person through our mutual friend Tom Abrahamsson.  In person his insight and comments are every bit as interesting and engaging as his writing.  He is a great guy who really KNOWS photography.  I am happy to say he has generously agreed to host this forum at RFF  From time to time Bill will bring up topics, but you are also invited to ask questions.  Sit down and enjoy the ride!

 


Reply
 
Thread Tools Search this Thread Display Modes

Back Button
Old 07-13-2018   #1
Bill Pierce
Registered User
 
Bill Pierce's Avatar
 
Bill Pierce is offline
Join Date: Sep 2007
Posts: 1,162
Back Button

Most cameras autofocus and then lock focus when you depress the shutter button. Press further and you take a picture. If, after you locked focus, you reframed the image, you will probably have to focus again to take a second picture. When you want to quickly shoot several frames of an active subject this need to refocus every frame can lead to just keeping the main subject in the center of the frame or shooting not because the moment is right but because the subject is in focus.

But this problem is easily solved with most autofocus cameras with “back button focus.” Somewhere on most cameras there is a way to move the focus to a “back button” and make it a function independent of the shutter button. Focus, then frame effectively and trigger the shutter when the moment is right. Most pictures benefit from intelligent framing and selecting the right moment to push the button even when you are shooting several frames looking for that moment.

I suppose my question is why isn’t back button focus the standard way of focusing? Combining focusing and tripping the shutter if it eliminates the option of reframing and shooting multiple frames without refocusing doesn’t make sense to me in the majority of shooting situations. And yet that's how I see many cameras set up. Any thoughts?
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #2
dmr
Registered Abuser
 
dmr's Avatar
 
dmr is offline
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Somewhere in Middle America
Posts: 4,520
My first autofocus camera was a P&S, and I'm assuming that the designers of the higher end cameras simply adopted the same {word here, workflow maybe?} of the cheaper P&S and the auto-exposure higher-end cameras and combined all of it into one button push.
__________________
My (NEW) Gallery
My Blog
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #3
retinax
Registered User
 
retinax is online now
Join Date: Aug 2015
Posts: 832
One can use half-press-the-shutter-button focus in the same way as back button focus, it's just a matter of getting into the habit of not fully releasing the shutter button after taking a shot. If you need to keep the same focus for a longer time, back button is still better of course. But it's two separate steps, too many error sources to be the standard configuration. And what about AE lock? another button with the same thumb? On the shutter button instead?
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #4
dmr
Registered Abuser
 
dmr's Avatar
 
dmr is offline
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Somewhere in Middle America
Posts: 4,520
Isn't it true that sometimes, manual focus is the correct technique?
__________________
My (NEW) Gallery
My Blog
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #5
Oren Grad
Registered User
 
Oren Grad is offline
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 267
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
I suppose my question is why isn’t back button focus the standard way of focusing?
Why do even very expensive digital cameras come out of the box set for auto-everything and for jpg rather than raw?

If someone takes the camera out of the box, points it and presses the shutter button without re-setting anything, odds are they’ll get a usable picture. This is self-defense on the manufacturers' part; even a relatively small proportion of uninformed camera buyers could generate a hefty burden of customer support calls and/or "my camera is defective!" flak on the web if default settings required the user to know what he or she is doing.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #6
Archlich
Registered User
 
Archlich is offline
Join Date: Oct 2009
Posts: 1,259
Quote:
Originally Posted by Oren Grad View Post
Why do even very expensive digital cameras come out of the box set for auto-everything and for jpg rather than raw?

If someone takes the camera out of the box, points it and presses the shutter button without re-setting anything, odds are they’ll get a usable picture. This is self-defense on the manufacturers' part; even a relatively small proportion of uninformed camera buyers could generate a hefty burden of customer support calls and/or "my camera is defective!" flak on the web if default settings required the user to know what he or she is doing.

I found my GA645 Professional (yes it's in the name) defaults its shutter button to activate both AF and exposure locks, which is annoying (luckily it would still lock the distance by pressing the MF button). Not many unknowing customers would buy into such a machine, which cost 155,000 yen back in 1995, in the first place. Most earlier Professional AF cameras like that came before the internet age. So why?

I assume it's just intuition: when both exposure and focusing are automated, pressing the shutter button is the only manual chore that lies between the user and making a picture. Vast R&D had been put into algorithms, patterns and other techno-logical stuff for decades to perfect the process, so why bother cutting it short in the final leg?

It's the general direction of the whole camera thing had been heading for for more than a century: smaller, faster, easier. For those who prefer to do it themselves it's not a bad thing. The progress had left versatility: you can have control, which in this case comes in the form of the back button, and sometimes you can just point & shoot.

People would say I don't need this and that in a camera, but it's not always the same for everyone and every scenario. It can be handy...when you're tired of being serious all the time.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #7
Timmyjoe
Registered User
 
Timmyjoe's Avatar
 
Timmyjoe is offline
Join Date: Jan 2009
Location: Chicago, IL
Posts: 2,918
About five years ago I read something from Peter Read Miller, talking about using the back button for focusing, particularly when shooting sports. I tried it and found it really awkward on my Nikon DSLRs. Probably because I was used to using the shutter button for autofocus since my first autofocus camera in 1996. But I stuck with it, and now it feels like the only way to work. All my autofocus cameras are now set up for rear button focus and the shutter button is only for AE and tripping the shutter.

Best,
-Tim
__________________
http://www.timcarrollphotography.com

New Photo Books
Sturgis Stories
& Scenes From Sturgis
now available
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #8
Oren Grad
Registered User
 
Oren Grad is offline
Join Date: Jan 2012
Posts: 267
On the specific issue, though, for me it depends critically on the exact layout and feel of the back buttons, and which one(s) can be mapped to the AF function. Afraid I've not been comfortable with back button AF on those Canon and Nikon bodies on which I've tried it. I'm happy to have it as a user-settable custom function rather than a default.
  Reply With Quote

Same here
Old 07-13-2018   #9
Tim Murphy
Registered User
 
Tim Murphy is offline
Join Date: Oct 2015
Location: Harrisburg, PA
Posts: 378
Same here

Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmyjoe View Post
About five years ago I read something from Peter Read Miller, talking about using the back button for focusing, particularly when shooting sports. I tried it and found it really awkward on my Nikon DSLRs. Probably because I was used to using the shutter button for autofocus since my first autofocus camera in 1996. But I stuck with it, and now it feels like the only way to work. All my autofocus cameras are now set up for rear button focus and the shutter button is only for AE and tripping the shutter.

Best,
-Tim
Dear Tim,

I generally only shoot birds and animals so back button focusing works better and yields more keepers when the camera is set to the proper range of AF points and set on AF-C.

I've never had any success in shooting a burst with the shutter button doing both the exposure and focus. But I suck at photography so don't follow me!

Regards,

Tim Murphy

Harrisburg, PA
__________________
Then the coal company came with the world's largest shovel
And they tortured the timber and stripped all the land
Well, they dug for their coal till the land was forsaken
Then they wrote it all down as the progress of man.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #10
Ko.Fe.
Kostya Fedot
 
Ko.Fe.'s Avatar
 
Ko.Fe. is offline
Join Date: Jul 2013
Location: MiltON.ONtario
Posts: 7,107
I asked our daughter why she doesn't use it. She told me it works better for her with single button. I understand, she doesn't use any strap and she needs more fingers to hold full sized DSLR and pro lens secure.

Also, I don't know how it is on Fuji, but on tiny Canon SL2 here is not so much space to place this button. I have tried it and it is no go camera for me due to this.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #11
Darthfeeble
But you can call me Steve
 
Darthfeeble's Avatar
 
Darthfeeble is offline
Join Date: Sep 2008
Location: Logtown, California, USA
Age: 72
Posts: 1,465
After reading all the good things about back button focusing I gave it a try, it just doesn't work for me. Perhaps the lack of dexterity in my hands causes it or I'm just set on shutter focus function but I gave it up.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #12
Doug
Moderator
 
Doug's Avatar
 
Doug is offline
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Pacific NW, USA
Posts: 12,932
I find it faster and easier to half-press and recompose than to go the extra step to back-button focus, though the latter idea is attractive. Partly a dexterity problem... I've lost pics because of that.
__________________
Doug’s Gallery
RFF on Facebook
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #13
Godfrey
somewhat colored
 
Godfrey's Avatar
 
Godfrey is offline
Join Date: Dec 2011
Posts: 8,966
Back button focus is yet another one of the complications added to cameras when autofocus became the norm. It's only really useful to people who tend to want to make multiple images at the same subject distance in rapid sequence ... for everyone else (most folks just make one photo), it's just more to do to get the focus correct. It means you have to manage multiple controls when shooting, which means more decisions and more likelihood of making an error.

I prefer to have my AF cameras set to Manual focus with a button set for "AF on demand." This means I'm normally using the camera the way I always have, stretching back fifty-some years, focusing manually most of the time as my subject stays put or moves about. But when I want I can get focus roughed in by pressing a button after targeting the subject.

Essentially the same thing, but the thought process is different.

Of course, most of the time I use cameras that have only manual focus (either a body limitation or a lens limitation) with no AF options at all. That works best for me most of the time.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-13-2018   #14
Contarama
Registered User
 
Contarama is offline
Join Date: Sep 2010
Location: Tulsa
Posts: 1,235
I dont have any AF lenses but my digital block is set up BBF and being an above consumer grade rig it has a dedicated button (in the right place). I am a manual guy for now but all you old timers going on about your eyes and manual focus all the time sort of worries me.
__________________
Art is the ability to make something...even if it is a big mess...
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #15
ruby.monkey
Registered User
 
ruby.monkey is offline
Join Date: Jul 2007
Location: The Garden of England
Age: 49
Posts: 4,553
The vast majority of camera-users just want a single button press to get an adequate photo. BBF is one more complication getting in their way.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #16
Dogman
Registered User
 
Dogman is offline
Join Date: Oct 2007
Posts: 1,423
It's not always convenient to use and hardly ever consistent between cameras or models of the same brand.

Of the cameras I've used, Canons were easy and simple with a button placed where the thumb could reach it naturally. Canon may be considered dead boring these days but they have some of the most natural handling cameras I've ever used. My Olympus OMD EM1 lets you pick between two buttons for BBF and neither of them are in the right spot for my fingers. Awkward. On the other hand, Fuji doesn't have real BBF on the XP1. You have to focus and then lock it with the AFL button. That's okay when you get used to it but, on the XP2, it has a kind of BBF by using the AFL button to focus but the button is flat against the camera body and placed in a position that's not easy to reach consistently. The XP2 does allow follow up shots without refocusing when you keep a slight pressure on the shutter release button after the first shot. I can't remember how the XT1 works but I don't recall it being the same the XP1 or XP2.

Slight differences in operation between models generally means I just use the standard old shutter button for focusing each shot. Either that or go with burst mode and waste a few shots.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #17
sepiareverb
genius and moron
 
sepiareverb's Avatar
 
sepiareverb is offline
Join Date: Feb 2007
Location: St Johnsbury VT
Posts: 8,265
Quote:
Originally Posted by dmr View Post
Isn't it true that sometimes, manual focus is the correct technique?
Agreed.

The X1d allows the back button AF to work with the camera set to manual focus. I love this feature. I can drive the lens to focus, then tweak focus manually as needed.
__________________
-Bob
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #18
Doug
Moderator
 
Doug's Avatar
 
Doug is offline
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Pacific NW, USA
Posts: 12,932
Quote:
Originally Posted by sepiareverb View Post
...The X1d allows the back button AF to work with the camera set to manual focus. I love this feature. I can drive the lens to focus, then tweak focus manually as needed.
Same convenient way as the Leica S2, but it's different on the Q which unfortunately has just AE-L or AF-L or both with the button... so on it the focusing is either fully AF or fully Manual.
__________________
Doug’s Gallery
RFF on Facebook
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #19
shimokita
白黒
 
shimokita's Avatar
 
shimokita is offline
Join Date: Aug 2007
Location: Japan, Tokyo
Posts: 746
With my dSLR I use the back focus button technique together with the center focus point... it's fast and I select the focus point. The only time I don't use this approach is with my x100t, which is my social media camera. Here I use face recognition but more importantly I can hand the camera to a complete stranger to snap my photo without having to go into a lengthy explanation.

Together with manual focus (film SLR) that's three different techniques... what ever works best ; )
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #20
Ronald M
Registered User
 
Ronald M is offline
Join Date: Aug 2005
Posts: 4,486
Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Most cameras autofocus and then lock focus when you depress the shutter button. Press further and you take a picture. If, after you locked focus, you reframed the image, you will probably have to focus again to take a second picture. When you want to quickly shoot several frames of an active subject this need to refocus every frame can lead to just keeping the main subject in the center of the frame or shooting not because the moment is right but because the subject is in focus.

But this problem is easily solved with most autofocus cameras with “back button focus.” Somewhere on most cameras there is a way to move the focus to a “back button” and make it a function independent of the shutter button. Focus, then frame effectively and trigger the shutter when the moment is right. Most pictures benefit from intelligent framing and selecting the right moment to push the button even when you are

shooting several frames looking for that moment.

I suppose my question is why isn’t back button focus the standard way of focusing? Combining focusing and tripping the shutter if it eliminates the option of reframing and shooting multiple frames without refocusing doesn’t make sense to me in the majority of shooting situations. And yet that's how I see many cameras set up. Any thoughts?
Simple. A great number of people don't get it. So Nikon keeps it simple stupid. People think the camera is supposed to do all the work.

Some consumer cameras do not even have an easily accessible button like my ancient D40.

Only 15% of people can drive manual transmission too.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #21
Keith
On leave from Gallifrey
 
Keith's Avatar
 
Keith is offline
Join Date: May 2006
Location: Australia
Posts: 18,545
I always separate focus from shutter actuation when I can ... depending on the camera of course. I also vary that back AF button between single and continuous AF depending on the situation.
__________________
---------------------------
flickr
  Reply With Quote

World has changed
Old 07-14-2018   #22
waileong
Registered User
 
waileong is offline
Join Date: Nov 2004
Posts: 556
World has changed

It's continuous autofocus now. Or the camera focuses for you, using AI (ie face detection) or even moving subject detection to keep the subject you want in focus.

Back button focus? That's for old farts like us now. So it's not a default.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bill Pierce View Post
Most cameras autofocus and then lock focus when you depress the shutter button. Press further and you take a picture. If, after you locked focus, you reframed the image, you will probably have to focus again to take a second picture. When you want to quickly shoot several frames of an active subject this need to refocus every frame can lead to just keeping the main subject in the center of the frame or shooting not because the moment is right but because the subject is in focus.

But this problem is easily solved with most autofocus cameras with “back button focus.” Somewhere on most cameras there is a way to move the focus to a “back button” and make it a function independent of the shutter button. Focus, then frame effectively and trigger the shutter when the moment is right. Most pictures benefit from intelligent framing and selecting the right moment to push the button even when you are shooting several frames looking for that moment.

I suppose my question is why isn’t back button focus the standard way of focusing? Combining focusing and tripping the shutter if it eliminates the option of reframing and shooting multiple frames without refocusing doesn’t make sense to me in the majority of shooting situations. And yet that's how I see many cameras set up. Any thoughts?
__________________
waileong’s Gallery
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #23
Huss
Registered User
 
Huss is offline
Join Date: Sep 2014
Location: Venice, CA
Posts: 7,223
Back button focus is so 2006. I like how on my Olympus I can set it up to automatically focus on the eye of a subject, AND I can pick whether that is the front or back eye.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #24
Chuck Albertson
Registered User
 
Chuck Albertson is offline
Join Date: Nov 2007
Posts: 521
When I explain back-button focusing to most people, it sounds to them like rubbing your tummy and patting your head at the same time, and they don't even bother trying it.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #25
maigo
Registered User
 
maigo is offline
Join Date: Apr 2015
Location: Burnaby, BC, Canada
Posts: 291
I've never even heard of BBF before. I wonder if my Sony NEX-7 or Nikon D50 can do it?

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
__________________
---------------------------------
My Flickr Photostream
My Flickr Albums
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-14-2018   #26
Huss
Registered User
 
Huss is offline
Join Date: Sep 2014
Location: Venice, CA
Posts: 7,223
Quote:
Originally Posted by maigo View Post
I've never even heard of BBF before. I wonder if my Sony NEX-7 or Nikon D50 can do it?

Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk
Page 98 on your D50 owner's manual.
  Reply With Quote

Old 07-15-2018   #27
willie_901
Registered User
 
willie_901's Avatar
 
willie_901 is offline
Join Date: Dec 2005
Posts: 5,293
I have no idea why back-button focusing is not offered on every AF camera. Maybe it's just a not-invented-here reactionary decision. I suppose some brands just assume people upgrading from highly automated cameras just want to point and shoot.

I often use back-button focusing in manual focus mode. I use this with the FUJIFILM OVF my camera(s). This is functionally identical to manual focusing. Instead of turning the fly-by-wire focus collar, I hit the back button. When focus locks, it won't change unless I turn the lens collar or hit the button again. Sometime I use the electronic rangefinder window in focus-peaking mode. This is a quick way to confirm the AF did not find an unintended object. With the X-Pro 2's 13 X 13 grid of phase-detection AF pixels this rarely occurs. The X-100T only has a 3 X 3 phase-detection grid so visual conformation is more useful. For my projects, I prefer focus and recompose. Occasionally I do use the X-Pro 2 joy stick.

I have started using MF with F2 XF primes' focus collar. In my view, this is FUJIFILM's first practical implementation of fly-by-wire manual focusing. The X-100T is almost as good, but the lens collar is a bit to small for me. Of course, using a well-designed mechanical focusing collar is more enjoyable. But now it not necessarily quicker or more effective.
__________________
Basically, I mean, ah—well, let’s say that for me anyway when a photograph is interesting, it’s interesting because of the kind of photographic problem it states—which has to do with the . . . contest between content and form.
Garry Winogrand
williamchuttonjr.com
  Reply With Quote
Reply


Thread Tools Search this Thread
Search this Thread:

Advanced Search
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

vB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off



All times are GMT -8. The time now is 01:23.


vBulletin skin developed by: eXtremepixels
Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.6.8
Copyright ©2000 - 2019, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.

All content on this site is Copyright Protected and owned by its respective owner. You may link to content on this site but you may not reproduce any of it in whole or part without written consent from its owner.