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Auto-focus vs. Fixed Focus



What is the difference between autofocus and fixed focus?

When choosing a digital camera (or a phone with a higher-functioning camera), you will invariably see references to either "auto-focus" or "fixed focus." This is actually a pretty simple distinction.

In a camera with fixed focus, everything in the frame past the macro level (meaning: very, very close) will be equally in focus, from your friend three feet away to the building in the distance a mile away. When your camera seems to adjust from out-of-focus to a specific focus point (so your friend is clear but the building behind them is blurry), that's auto-focus. Essentially, auto-focus establishes "depth of field," which means that everything not foregrounded is slightly (or, sometimes, completely) blurry, a distinction that mirrors how our eyes see distance.

Moreover, some camera phones feature "tap-to-focus," a variable of auto-focus, wherein you can choose what object is the central focus (if, say, you want to have the building in better focus than your friend who is closer to the camera), and many cameras feature adjustable focus, where you can manually decide between these options. Auto-focus cameras tend to take slightly longer to process your image (as it decides how to properly focus the lens for you), so if you like to be stealthy, quick, and don't care much about composition/depth of field, we recommend seeking out fixed-focus lensed cameras.


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