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Difference between contrast autofocus, phase autofocus and hybrid autofocus
Reading time: 8 minutes - August 07, 2023 - by Markus Igel

Camera Basics #14 - Difference between contrast autofocus, phase autofocus and hybrid autofocus

Autofocus does a lot of work for us photographers; of course there are purists who like to focus manually. But let's take a look at how the different autofocus models work: Edge contrast autofocus, phase comparison autofocus and the hybrid autofocus.

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Edge contrast autofocus

In contrast-based focusing, the autofocus is tested out by trying different focus planes. This involves moving the lens glass until the brightness gradient of light and dark edges reaches maximum agreement.

The camera must receive the same measurement at least twice before the focus is finally established. This is to ensure that the focus is actually calculated correctly. This method is quite cheap to install, which is why it has been installed and used in video and compact cameras for a long time.

Advantages of contrast autofocus

  • strong low light autofocus performance
  • can detect and track structures and shapes
  • reliable detection and focusing of faces

Disadvantages of contrast autofocus

  • often focuses past the object
  • no good focus performance with moving objects
  • slow focus speed

Phase comparison autofocus

Phase comparison is in itself an older system than contrast-based autofocus is, but it is partly applied to the sensor. In contrast to contrast autofocus, this system is a rather power-saving system. This system detects the direction in which the autofocus needs to focus in the very first step. This is done by creating comparable light intensity patterns, with the line and cross sensors helping. It is important to understand that autofocus performance depends on the amount of exposed sensors: The wider the aperture is closed, the less light the sensors get. In this case, it is advantageous if the camera has more sensors.

Advantages of phase autofocus

  • high accuracy
  • fast focus performance
  • can track movements better
  • faster by calculating the direction and distance information
  • predictive focus - it calculates the required position at the time of shooting

Disadvantages

  • weak low light AF performance
  • Measurements only possible in AF fields

Hybrid autofocus

Hybrid autofocus combines both contrast autofocus and phase comparison autofocus. It is often called phase hybrid autofocus. This system takes advantage of both systems and makes them work together perfectly.

First, the object is determined by the light intensity patterns, followed by fine-tuning via contrast autofocus. Hybrid focus systems are able to partially switch their function, so that a phase autofocus not only remains a phase autofocus alone, but also switches to a contrast autofocus point at the point.

Advantages of hybrid autofocus

  • better low light autofocus performance
  • fast focusing
  • good motion tracking
  • high accuracy

What role does AI play?

Anyone who demonizes AI is losing out on huge potential, especially in autofocus systems. These systems benefit greatly from AI because it helps recognize objects and accurately define their position in three-dimensional space. Sony, for example, creates a skeleton of the object to define exactly how it relates to the camera in the image. In this way, the camera knows whether the eye is turned toward or away from the camera.

What role do lenses play?

Lenses can offer an advantage or disadvantage depending on the focus system. The installed focus motors play an important role for the performance of the autofocus. Linear autofocus is advantageous compared to hybrid autofocus because it does not produce strong focus breathing, which makes the image choppy when shooting video. When focusing, the aperture determines how much light still falls on the sensor, so depending on this, the shadow of the aperture will cover the cross sensors of your camera's focus system.

Tip for backlight shots

If you want to take great backlight shots and have problems with the autofocus, you can hold your hand in front of the sun to make focusing easier. After the camera has focused, all you have to do is quickly pull your hand away from the lens.

Conclusion

Focus systems have now achieved a very good performance. You can almost always trust them without hesitation. Especially with the advent of hybrid autofocus, focusing is now not only fast, but also particularly reliable. However, there is certainly still potential that could be exploited today. Especially in the development of faster motors and the expansion of supporting systems around the hardware.

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A little task for you:

Play with different light situations to get to know your autofocus better. This will help you feel more confident with your camera and help you handle situations when things get stressful.

Show us your pictures on Instagram and/or Facebook and tag us @fotokochde! We look forward to seeing your results!


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