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Are today's Auto Focus systems cheating?


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I was out shooting some bird photography the other day and another photographer asked to see my camera so he could try the lens I was using. We were both shooting a Sony a1. As he held it up to his eye, and started tracking some birds he immediately complained about the AF points jumping around following the bird. He talked about how he doesn't like that, and thinks it's cheating. 

I asked what he did instead. He said he used to shoot Skeet quite a bit, so he just uses a fixed center point to follow the bird. He said he really feels like the AF system I was using, was dumbing down photography and not challenging. 

So I'm curious... how does everyone here feel about today's AF systems (not just Sony's, because all cameras have systems to follow and track subjects). Is it cheating? Is it dumbing down photography? 

Oh... and in case you're curious, my answer to him was this...

"So you mean to tell me, you bought a $6500 camera, which is known to have the best AF system on the planet, only to dumb it down and not use that AF system at all and track a bird like we used to 20-30 years ago?". I got a grunt, and a small smile back 😉

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Why add a challenge to your livelihood or travels? I would understand if a challenge is used to strengthen a weak skill set, otherwise it's like sprinting in an actual race with weights on.

I believe the AF takes away some of the work I used to do and think about it. It is an AI that was made to reduce the workload efficiently, and sometimes preforming better than the user, which is the product of engineering advancement.

I totally agree with what you told that photographer in the end. Why pay a lot of money for a lack of technology that is available for cheaper price? The new technology is being developed to "ease" the workflow and reduce the steps taken to increase productivity and efficiency.

I would compare their argument to using a computer to write a paper, print it, then use a corrector to erase the mistakes, load the paper back and print only that corrected word/sentence. Just like the old days of typewriters.

I know many that would agree that old technology have their aesthetics. But I'm in front of a fleeting scene, I want efficiency and final result not wasting time and going "well, next time I'll get it".

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I think the point of progress is the progress. 😂 If I wanted to match up circles in the center of my viewfinder, I would shoot film on my 1970s camera. I'm not trying to be snarky and it certainly isn't directed at anyone in particular, but I feel like every time tech advances photographers feel a little slighted that they had to work so hard in the past and that newbies have a better advantage. I used to have to get letters when I was dating my husband too. I could argue that all that patience made our relationship better and I could argue that using film made me a better photographer. I guess time will tell how much struggle feeds into the results in our images. 

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I shot sports for Sports Illustrated back when it was all manual focus - you could either do it or not. AF allowed more photographers into the field but the image quality got better. I say embrace the technology and advance with it. Wanting to go backwards or saying it is cheating is to not acknowledge that all technology continually advances. All boats rise in a similar tide. I'm currently in Patagonia and photographed three pumas today at Torres del Paine - all with the Sony a1 and loving the fact that the AF was assuring that I was getting tack sharp images of the pumas. I wouldn't say I cheated - I could have manually focused but why chance it when the technology is so advanced. Make great images and move on...

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You could make the same argument about anything in our modern society.  And with regards to photography, metering, autofocus, 600mm+ zoom, auto iso and more. And let’s not even get started on post processing. Having said that, a friend recently reminded me that the vast majority of Astro photography has significant post processing when I bemoaned my first real attempt at Astro. A good reminder that these are tools that allow your inner artist to shine through. 


Completely get it if the goal was to shoot the best you could with a brownie camera or 30+ year old technology. But, as you said, technology enables us. We bought it, why not use it? 

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It's all about getting the best image possible, and AF has certainly made shooting birds, sports and other subjects in motion a lot better. Why would you want to revert to an older system that won't provide you with the advantage of getting the image?

I recentlly had a canceris tumor removed from my kidney with a needle that was electricaly heated which allowed them to burn it out. In the past they would have to operate to remove it. Do you think that this was cheating?

If you really are concerned about cheating than put down the camera and pick up a paint brush.

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