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I have a Nikon D5000. I have wanted the 50mm AF-S as a portrait lenses for a while, but it was sold out forever. I finally broke down and got the older 50mm AF. Good lens, but no auto-focus on my D5000

Now the 50mm AF-S is available. I am still in the return policy for the 50mm AF. Should I swap it? The AF-S is something like $80 more expensive. As someone who is relatively new to photography I have relied almost entirely on AF so far. Am I crippling myself without that feature? Is it worth the extra $80? Will having to use an MF lens teach me to be a better photographer?

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4 Answers

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Focusing manually, even with an optical viewfinder*, is very tricky to do accurately. Film SLRs tended to have a split prism which allowed more accurate manual focusing, as AF lenses and bodies weren't as common back then. The split prism broke an out of focus element horizontally, allowing you to achieve accurate focus by aligning the two halves of the portion of the image, a much easier task than gauging whether something is blurred or not.

A quick Google brings up this accessory which will allow you to use a split prism in the D5000, so you may wish to consider the cost of the accessory (along with any optical side-effects such an accessory will have) against the extra cost of an AF lens.

*I should add, live view is a very good option and probably the most accurate when using the zoom feature, but by 'optical viewinder' I mean as opposed to the digital kind common on bridge cameras and some compacts.

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A split prism can be really effective on a SLR. I find it much easier to manually focus an old SLR than a Canon DSLR. –  Francesco Mar 28 '12 at 21:09
    
Good answer. I think it is also worth mentioning the problem of focus-recompose versus a flat field. That is, using the split prism to focus on something near the edge of the frame introduces likely focus errors at wide apertures. –  James Youngman Mar 31 '12 at 23:39
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Personally I would swap it in a millisecond. Even though I used a totally manual-focus 35mm camera for over ten years, I'd never go back.

If your camera allows you to control the ISO-Aperture-Speed triangle manually, there are few further changes to gear that can result in powerful learning experiences. Provided your camera allows you to easily control the exposure triangle, all the rest of the learning experience is about criticising your own work, deciding what you like in your existing efforts, and why. Developing techniques that help you produce more of the kind of images you like, and working on figuring out how to translate the picture you saw in your mind at the start into a similar picture in the final result.

Switch to the AF lens. There is nothing in inherently wrong with manual focus, but it won't by itself improve your photography.

Some people like manual focus because it forces them to slow down and be more deliberate about how they take photographs. But there are other ways to do that.

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Auto focus is a very valuable feature to have. Using manual focus can sometimes be really tough to get the sharpest focus and auto focus technology these days is incredibly accurate. With the shallow depth of field from a fast lens like that, accurate focus tends to be a lot more important as well. Accuracy is also not the only thing to consider; being able to focus quickly is really helpful too. I know you mentioned it's mostly for portraits, so you probably won't have to much subject movement but you never know.

Then there are other considerations apart from auto focus. Again I don't know much about the lenses, but with newer construction you're usually looking at a better built lens, better glass and better durability. My personal recommendation would be to make the switch. $80 is fairly small jump in price, especially when you consider the relative cost to lenses in general.

As for MF helping you become a better photographer, I don't think it's directly related but if you make the switch and decide it is, there's always the option to turn AF off. There are other times you'll be forced to use manual focus such as low light situations so you won't have to worry about become too reliant on auto focus.

Personally, the risk of missing a great shot because I don't have auto focus isn't worth $80.

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Yes it is f/1.8. There is an f/1.4 but it is significantly more expensive. –  Taylor Huston Mar 29 '12 at 23:43
    
@TaylorHuston I'm sorry, I figured there would be more info on the two but I haven't found much. Still, I think the few things I've pointed out should hold true. –  Vian Esterhuizen Mar 30 '12 at 22:23
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Using a manual focus lens won't improve your exposure or composition skills; at best, it will teach you how to manully focus more effectively.

If you want autofocus, spend the $80. If you don't see yourself ever needing it, save the $80.

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