Filmmaker Philip Bloom has a number of self-proclaimed obsessions in life. One is his cats (he has 8 and we are pretty sure this isn’t going to be the final number) another is cameras (he has dozens) and getting the most out of them. In this video, he takes a very in-depth look at yet one more obsession he has – autofocus and getting one which just works for video, in every type of situation.
For stills, the best AF technology seems to reach almost perfect accuracy in recent high-end models (think A9 MKII/ 1D-X III and the new D6, although many lower-end models also produce a very high rate of tack sharp images). For video though, the story is much more complicated and as most of the people working if the film industry (but also in many other high-end commercial video productions) will tell you AF is typically nowhere to be found on set and they are still using manual focus pulling as their main (and usually the only way of getting critical focus).
The main question Bloom asks in this rather long and technical (although rather funny and well made) video is – can some of the modern video (and mirrorless) cameras really handle AF in a way that can actually be useful and more importantly reliable enough for a working video professional.
We are not going to go over all of the different tests Bloom did (like drawing a face and trying to figure out if the face recognition system on the camera will recognize them as a face – hint – they sometimes do, or wearing silly masks to see what the system will recognize), but we can say that despite some very glaring drawbacks (like the current lack of eye-tracking AF in video or touch to focus function) the FX9 comes very close to being a usable camera for shooting AF videos.
This whole discussion needs to be put in perspective though. Bloom’s work is documentary/narrative in nature for the most part. He doesn’t shoot action-packed blockbuster Hollywood movies that might have a very different set of requirements (that is true for some other genres by the way). So what might work for him based on his tests might not necessarily be enough for others and on the same token what might not be acceap[table to him might be just fine if all you do is shoot talking-head interviews in a studio environment.
Some of the other cameras Bloom test in this video besides the Sony FX9 are the Sony A7R IV, Fuji XT-4, Canon EOS-R (and even the RX-100 VII) but not to the same level sadly. One last point – lenses are important and although some newer thrid party lenses seems to work fine for video AF, for the most part, your best bet is with native lenses (and even in that case, not all lenses are born equal – maybe this will be Bloom’s next obsession?).
You can find more photography-related technology videos on our photo-tech section here on LensVid.