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I have a Nikon D3300. I recently switched over into complete manual mode (on the camera) with manual focus (on the lens). I find that the camera does not focus at all. All I get is out-of-focus shots. This goes away when I switch over to auto-focus.

My questions:
1. What am I doing wrong? Why is this happening?
2. How do I get rid of this?

P.S: I am using a wide aperture.

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When using manual focus you have to adjust the plane of focus using the focus ring to acquire correct focus. You will have to choose this yourself and if I understand you correctly you have not done this. Of course there is a slight chance that the lens will already be set to focus at the depth you want but they are slim indeed. Using a wide aperture will make this even less likely since a wide aperture will give you a very small depth of field.

I know you are using a Nikon 3300 and are probably using the 18-55 mm kit lens too (if you're using something else they will work similarly anyway), but the following image shows the Canon counterpart. Their construction is very similar however. The lens has two rings, one for zooming and one to adjust focus manually.

enter image description here

To set the focus manually either look through the viewfinder or use live-view and then turn the manual focus ring of your lens (make sure to set it in manual focus mode first since you might damage the auto focus gear if you turn it otherwise). You will see that some areas blur out and others come into focus. This is a result of you moving the plane of focus of the lens. Make sure that whatever you intend to have in focus is and take the picture.

Please note that shooting as manually as possible when starting out doesn't necessarily give you the most educational experience. It might be better to familiarise yourself with the camera first and then introduce the more advanced features one at a time. Especially auto-focus is something that is very handy and manual focus is best used in special purpose photography such as macro and astrophotograpy.

  • I did not know about the focus ring at all! This has been very helpful. Thank you very much! – Sriram Jun 22 '14 at 4:48
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    When I clicked on this question I have to say, I did not expect the answer would be "the photographer has not attempted to focus the image" and was hoping for an explanation of what can cause the image to look out of focus in spite of correct manual focusing, with the green square. I almost never use manual focus any more because of so much trouble with that. I agree with your advice - beginners should be using auto-focus with the aperture and shutter priority modes, to learn what those do, without worrying about focus. – Jasmine Jun 23 '14 at 19:54
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    @Jasmine I rarely use manual focus either and that probably goes for most photographers, even the professionals out there. I have to say though that I don't agree with that "beginners should be using auto-focus with the aperture and shutter priority modes". They can use whatever mode they feel like, manual settings has it's place but there's no intrinsic benefit from using it, it has to be concious choice. I just don't agree with the view that complete manual control in every possible way always is the best way to start your photography as it can kill ones new found hobby. – Hugo Jul 5 '14 at 20:57
  • I don't agree with that view either. If you use the aperture priority or shutter priority, and you know why you chose one or the other, then you can look at the settings the camera picked and understand how to make that same shot in manual mode. Or if there's something you don't like about the shot, you can look at the auto-generated settings and maybe figure out why. EXIF is one of the best educational tools we have. – Jasmine Jul 7 '14 at 18:05
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    There's almost a joke there - "My camera won't focus in MF mode", "Hmm, maybe the focus ring is broken...", "Focus ring?" – Steve Ives Oct 17 '16 at 21:00
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When you are using manual focus, it also very important to be sure that dioptric correction of your viewfinder is set correctly. If that is not correct, your photos will never be in focus when focusing manually.

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