I got a question from a workshop participant asking about focus peaking. What exactly is it? Where is it on my camera? And what does it do? All good questions!
Focus peaking has been around for awhile, but initially only video photographers used it. Focus peaking shows in real time what is in focus by highlighting that area in a certain color. Focus peaking is looking for contrast, and often can be set to different sensitivity levels. For video producers focus peaking was critical when doing a shot where the subject slowly comes into focus. It shows when the subject is in focus by highlighting the edges in color. So even if your vision isn’t great, you can see the color and know what’s in focus.
When mirrorless cameras become popular, focus peaking was an added benefit. Since mirrorless cameras use an electronic viewfinder (similar to video), focus peaking could be used to show when the shot was in focus. Digital SLRs can’t show this in their viewfinder, but some cameras can show this information in live view, including the D850.
Here is a photo of my D850 with live view turned on; focus peaking (red areas) shows me what is in focus. I chose red as the indicator color. At F13 my foreground and background are in focus (remember focus peaking shows edges with contrast, not smooth areas). If you switch between F2.8 and F16, the red will show less or more in focus directly tied to your amount of depth of field. Very cool! For the D850 shooters out there, just turn on live view, hit the info (i) button and toggle to “Peak”. I set my sensitivity to ‘2’. You have to set your lens and camera to manual focus to use focus peaking.
Focus peaking helps still photographers determine what is in focus. We are always seeking out techniques to help determine maximum depth of field and focus in grand landscapes. Focus peaking, combined with depth of field preview, hyperlocal distance and imagine review all help us get the maximum sharpness in the scene. I like that the ‘hybrid’ D850 (both mechanical and electronic shutter) blends some benefits of the mirrorless (focus peaking) with the instant optical viewfinder and shooting a DSLR offers.