Touchscreen on My Camera
Sometimes I find myself shaking my head at the new features that get introduced in technology-based tools. Who would ever need that? That's certainly how I felt when Panasonic introduced touchscreen focusing in their G-Series Micro 4/3 cameras. When I replace my aging G1 cameras with the newer model, I scoffed at the hullabaloo about touchscreen features and immediately disabled them. Old dogs, however, can occasionally learn new tricks.
As it turns out, I've decided this touchscreen business has a lot more to offer than I originally thought. Being an old view camera guy, depth of field issues were always handled through small apertures and the use of tilt and swing camera controls. Unfortunately, neither of these is available with my new digital tools. Sure, there are small apertures, but diffusion kicks in so strongly as to make the everywhere-fuzzily-focused results unusable. I found the upper limit to sharp images is around f/10. If I need more depth of field, I need to rely on an alternative technique.
Fortunately, there's a very easy solution that I suspect many of you have been using for some time — blended focus images. I used this technique extensively photographing the pahoehoe lava during my recent trip to Hawaii. Because I had the camera pointed down at the ground and needed a deep depth of field to keep all parts of the image in focus, the only practical solution was to blend two exposures — one focused fairly near, the other focused some distance away.
And this is where the touchscreen comes in. With the camera set on a tripod so I could frame my composition, I determined the exposure and locked it with the press of a button. I then focused on the foreground by simply tapping on lower part of the LCD screen. The autofocus zeroed in on the area of the image I'd tapped, and I'd make the first exposure. Next I would simply tap the top of the LCD screen at a part of the composition that was more distant. Again, the autofocus would zero in on that area and I'd then make the second exposure. It's much more complicated to describe it than it was to actually do in the field. I developed a two-handed dance with the cable release in my left hand and my right forefinger doing the focus taps. Tap, click, tap, click. Done.
Back home, it was an incredibly easy process to simply blend these two exposures in a layered Photoshop file in order to create a tack sharp image with great depth of field even though I was using a fairly wide aperture. The images below are screen captures at 100%.
Distant section of the near-focus frame
Distant section of the far-focus frame
Close section of the near-focus frame
Close section of the far-focus frame
I found this method focusing so flawless and easy that I quickly felt foolish for having so readily dismissed the touchscreen feature as a gimmick. I guess that's the thing about gimmicks, they're only gimmicks until they become indispensible tools — at which point their status as gimmick dissolves in our hard-earned wisdom. Thanks, Panasonic, for being so much wiser than I was.