So there’s this problem with my camera where I can’t shoot unless the contacts on the lens aren’t touching the contacts on the camera. I mentioned previously that that the only lens I could shoot with now was my Nikkor 105mm as it’s attached via a Nikon-to-Canon lens mount adapter.

I’m pleased to report that I can now shoot with any lens and so have a functional system, albeit fudged. Realizing that the camera doesn’t recognize lenses and if the contacts touch then the shutter won’t properly release, the simple (and obvious) solution is to not have them touch. Putting that to the test, I tore a small piece of paper to put between camera and lens and voila: I’m back in business. Mostly.

Manual focus with Sigma  120mm-400mm

Manual focus, Sigma 120mm-400mm

There are two problems with this, one of which can’t be overcome. The unbeatable downside is that, because there is no communication between camera and lens, auto-focus is no longer an option. So everything I’m shooting now is in manual focus. Not an insurmountable problem, but as someone who shoots fairly wide regularly (and with my unfortunate, horrible vision), manual focus changes things, positively and negatively.

One, I’m taking more shots to make sure I have “the one.” Not great during shoots because I’m filling up cards quicker than I should. Zooming in for detail on the camera and deleting images is an option but incredibly time-consuming and distracting to the shoot. On the positive side of things, my eyes are much more focused on focusing. I’m much more focused in general about what I’m doing. So theoretically, shooting in manual focus is a good thing.

In practice, though, it’s tricky. When a model can hold that perfect look, awesome. But that’s really not easy as it would seem, even for a simple portrait. The longer a pose is held, the less natural it looks and that perfect look disappears. So I have to work faster. More often, though, I’m shooting a model in some amount of motion and that’s the challenge; my chances for hitting that one shot are decreased. Every nanosecond is different.

I can look at a shot that is near perfection and then, zooming in, find just the smallest amount of blur. And any amount, unless it has just that right feeling, is enough for the trash bin. Even shooting in auto-focus, most photographers are going to miss more shots than not. I have to train my eyes. I have to master manual focus. I can’t blow shots when everything before me is perfect.

The other problem with the paper technique is that I can’t simply change the aperture on digital lenses. The key word there is “simply” because I DO have a workaround for changing the aperture. What’s the solution? Let me take you through a rundown of how I now roll.

Manual focus, Sigma  24mm

Manual focus, Sigma 24mm

Let’s say I want to take a kinda wide aperture shot (maybe f/2.2) with my 24mm to focus on some detail, heavily blurring out the background. I pop the lens onto my old 5D MKII, turn it on and set it to aperture-priority. I then set it to the desired aperture; in this case, f/2.2. Next, I hold the DOF preview button and, without turning off the camera, remove the lens. Finally, I pop it onto the 5D MKIII and turn the camera on. The lens holds the aperture setting so that I can now shoot at whatever aperture I want on a camera where I can’t control it digitally.

Going to the other end of the spectrum, I had a property shoot the other day so I dialed down the aperture to f/11 (using my back-and-forth routine) before I took the first shot.

It’s a hassle, but it’s manageable. Until I can get it into a shop (which may be a very long while), this is what I’m doing.

Manual focus, Sigma 120-400mm (crop)

Manual focus, Sigma 120mm-400mm (crop)

Practically speaking, I won’t use multiple f-stops on lenses during model/client shoots. I haven’t in the past so I certainly won’t start now. For the 24mm, 50mm, and 105mm (which I don’t have to worry about), I’ll continue to shoot at or around f3.5. There might be the one or two shots that I take a little wider, but for the most part I’ll stick to one aperture setting for shoots.

I’m not entirely sure what’s going on with the 120-400mm, though. Since the lens is going to change aperture naturally by changing the focal length, I can’t set it at its widest aperture and expect it to stick. For now, I’m setting the aperture on the wider side and taking what I get. I’m debating locking the lens to 120mm and then operating as if it’s fixed length, managing my own distance to the subject rather than changing focal length. At least that way, I can be sure the aperture will stick.

So if you find yourself without lens to camera communication, there IS a workaround (on Canon cameras, at least). It just gets a little complicated and takes a little more patience when shooting.

About the Author

Hello, I'm Scott. I take photos. Do things. Whatnot. Mixed Digital Media Artist.

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