Ricoh’s GR cameras and Fujifilm’s X-E and X100 series are probably the most popular affordable street photography cameras. Although both are ultra-compact APS-C cameras, there is at least one unique street photography feature that sets Ricoh apart from Fuji: snap focus. This allows the camera to be set to a fixed focusing distance (such as 3 meters/10ft) for ultra-fast snapping. When Snap Focus is enabled, the camera shoots with minimal delay because the autofocus does not hunt.
In addition, Snap Focus minimizes the risk of misfocusing when a photographer has internalized the right distance between camera and subject and set a small aperture for a wider depth of field. Snap Focus is therefore a direct functional equivalent of traditional zone focusing techniques in rangefinder photography but on a digital autofocus camera.
Ricoh’s GR cameras are unique in their ability to quickly switch between different predefined Snap Focus distances. Another unique feature is “Full Press Snap”: when enabled, the camera will only focus at the preset focus distance when the shutter button is pressed all the way down (instead of pressing halfway to activate conventional autofocus).
Although Fuji’s cameras do not have built-in Snap Focus, it can be effectively “hacked” into them as a camera setting on newer models such as the X-E4, X100V, X-S10, X-T3, X-T4, and X-PRO3. The trick is to creatively use the camera’s AF Range Limiter (“AF Range Limiter” in the camera’s “AF/MF Setting” menu) for Snap Focus.
Normally, the AF Range Limiter defines a distance range within which the autofocus is allowed to operate, such as 5 meters to infinity. This prevents the autofocus from temporarily losing track of its target, for example when taking continuous shots or shooting video while an object is moving in the foreground of the frame. For Snap Focus on a Fuji camera, the trick is to configure the AF Range Limiter with identical start and endpoints, such as limiting autofocus from 3m to 3m (=10 ft to 10 ft). Effectively, Ricoh’s Snap Focus too is an autofocus limiter with identical start and endpoints.
This hack is best combined with Fuji’s “AF+MF” feature, which allows bypassing autofocus by manually rotating the focus ring of the lens.
With this Snap Focus ‘hack’, Fuji’s cameras can even do some things that Ricoh’s cameras can’t:
If a preset Snap Focus distance (3m in this example) will produce an out-of-focus image, the focus square on the camera display turns red and shows an “!AF” warning sign. Once the Snap Focus distance and subject distance match, the focus square will be green.
If the Snap Focus distance does not match the subject and manual focus override has been enabled via “AF+MF” (with “MF Assist” set to “Peak” and “Focus Check” turned on), rotating the focus ring of the lens will magnify the viewfinder image…
…and proper focus will be confirmed once the focus ring is rotated to the needed position:
With manual focus override, the Snap Focus mode becomes usable in any photographic situation. However, to make it practical and avoid keeping the camera limited to a preset focus distance, it’s a good idea to save the camera configuration with all Snap Focus tweaks as one of the camera’s “Custom Settings”. This way, Snap Focus will not be lost when the configuration is changed but can be recalled at any time. The “Custom Settings” also allow to quickly switch between Snap Focus mode and other camera configurations during a photoshoot.
First, a disclaimer: This setup was only tried and tested with the Fujifilm X-E4 (because I didn’t have any other current Fuji cameras available).
Open the camera menu and from there go to the third screen of the menu item “AF/MF Settings”. Set “AF Range Limiter” to “custom” and go to the submenu to configure the custom range:
Once you’ve clicked “SET”, you will be thrown into shooting mode and asked to set the beginning point (“POINT A”) of the autofocus range limiter:
To do this, simply turn the focus ring of the lens until the distance scale shows the desired value (such as 3m/10ft). Confirm this by pressing the “OK” button.
This is followed by the question to set the endpoint of the autofocus range limiter:
Adjust the focus ring so that Point B will be identical to Point A. After confirming with “OK” and exiting the configuration screen with the “Back” button, the limiter/Snap Focus distance will be shown in the menu:
At this point, Snap Focus is active. It makes a lot of sense to also activate “AF+MF” for manual focus override:
I also recommend activating “MF ASSIST” and “FOCUS CHECK” for a zoomed-in view with focus peaking when turning the focus ring.
Finally, the current camera configuration should be saved as a “Custom Setting” (on the third page of the “I.Q.” menu), in this example as Custom Setting no. 6 (“C6”):
The name of the Custom Setting can be edited in its configuration submenu:
I recommend assigning “SELECT CUSTOM SETTING” to one of the camera’s function buttons – in the case of the X-E4: the unmarked button on the front right of the camera’s top plate. To do this, go to the camera menu, to the wrench menu -> “BUTTON/DIAL SETTING” -> “FUNCTION (Fn) SETTING” -> “Fn”, and then choose “SELECT CUSTOM SETTING”.
When you press the function button, the following menu will appear:
…and make switching between Snap Focus and other camera configurations quick and easy.
While this camera configuration hack gives Fuji photographers a functional equivalent to Ricoh’s Snap Focus, the following limitations remain and, to my knowledge, cannot be overcome (at least not with the currently available camera models and firmware):
There is, as mentioned earlier, no equivalent to “Full-Press Snap”.
Only one Snap Focus distance setting can be used. For changing it, the AF range limiter will need to be reconfigured in the camera menu, as described at the beginning. Unfortunately, Fuji’s “Custom Settings” do not memorize AF range limiter customizations. The autofocus limiter configuration will always remain what it currently is, regardless of the Custom Setting. In other words, one cannot define different Custom Settings with different Snap Focus distances and switch between them. (Unfortunately, Fuji’s Custom Settings modes are much more limited than other manufacturers’ user-defined camera modes. For example, it would be desirable to save a small aperture preset as part of the “Snap Focus” Custom Setting, but this is not possible either.)
To sum up, Snap Focus can be used on most current Fujifilm cameras, even with additional features like visual feedback for focus accuracy and manual focus ring override with on-camera focus assist. But Snap Focus operation as well as configuration options will still be much more basic on a Fuji camera than on Ricoh’s GR series.
About the Author
Florian Cramer is an arts scholar based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Florian teaches at the Willem de Kooning Academy in Rotterdam and has written and co-authored a number of books on various art and design topics. You can find out more about Florian on his website and browse his many video creations on Vimeo.