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Ricoh GR: Zone Focus to Shoot Bikeriders

Ricoh GR-D IV zone focus. 1/710th sec F/2.2 @ ISO 160. Cropped image

It’s not easy shooting moving action with a small point and shoot camera, or any camera that doesn’t have a sophisticated autofocusing system. I’m too lazy to carry around my DSLR because of the burden of weight and space, so what can I do? Easy, I just zone or scale focus. It’s scary at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s actually faster than autofocusing. Some of the greatest photographers who used old school Leica rangefinder cameras to shoot action depended on zone-scale focusing. This is how its done…

Ricoh GR-D IV zone focus. 1/1410th sec F/1.9 @ ISO 160. Cropped image

The first thing you do is figure out the distance you want to shoot from your subject. I find 2.5-5 meters is the best range with a fixed focal length wideangle lens, 28-35mm equiv angle of view. The wider the angle of view, the more background depth of field you will have. This is why its easier to zone focus with a wideangle lens versus a telephoto lens.

Next, you pick the aperture you want with the correct amount of depth of field. This is where a smaller sensor is advantageous, as you get greater depth of field even when shooting wide open at F/2 or brighter; versus shooting with an APS-C or full-frame lens stopped down to F/5.6 or greater! I shoot with the Ricoh GR-D IV at F/1.9 and I still get decent depth of field, especially when the subject is 2.5 to 3 M away from me. So the general rule: the wider the angle of view and the smaller the sensor, the greater depth of field you will get. This is why if you shoot with a Pentax Q with the fisheye toy lens, there’s no need to focus, since everything is in focus!! 

Many newer cameras have a focus distance and depth of field scale built into the display to make it easier to see the relationship between focal length, focus distance and aperture, and how that effects what is in focus. The Fuji X series cameras have the best display to show this relationship that I’ve had the opportunity to test so far, but the Ricoh is good enough. Once you go into manual focus mode, the distance scale and DOF scale show up on display immediately, which is nice.

Ricoh GR-D IV zone focus. 1/1870th sec F/1.9 @ ISO 160th. Cropped image

Choosing your aperture is easy enough, and if you stop down enough, you will see that often you have a 2-3 meter range that is in focus around the actual focus distance you choose. The problem is, your shutter speed starts to get slower, as you’re letting less light hit the sensor. I would recommend not shooting slower than 1/500th of a second, but over 1/1000th is ideal. Because of this, you have to choose a higher ISO to compensate for this, usually 1600-3200 for an APS-C sized sensor camera, and much less on a smaller sensored camera. Most of my Ricoh GR-D IV action images were shot at ISO 200 or less during the day, while the Leica X-VARIO was shot at ISO 1600, even though both were set at similar focal lengths, focal distance and equivalent depth of field. Another advantage to smaller sensored cameras!

Another advantage shooting with the Ricoh GR-D IV, if you shoot in manual focus mode, the actual speed of the shutter release is blazingly fast. It’s as fast or faster than most DSLR’s. It’s so immediate. When you press, it shoots. Once you get use to this shooting speed, and you go back to autofocus, the camera will feel sluggish and useless for action. So give it a try. Once you get use to shooting at a specific distance based on the angle of view and the subject you’re trying to capture, you will prefer shooting by scale. Have fun shooting. If you have any questions, email me or comment below!