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Hyperfocal distance

05th August 2016
The hyperfocal distance depends on three things:

* the focal length of the lens ​​​​​​
​* the aperture used
* the diameter of the circle of confusion (what is considered to be acceptably sharp.)

I have seen the hyperfocal distance authoritatively described as the distance between a camera lens and the closest object which is in focus when the lens is focused at infinity. This is not helpful and differs from the best interpretation being; it is a distance beyond which all objects can be brought into an "acceptable" focus or to put it another way;

* the hyperfocal distance is the closest distance at which a lens can be focused while keeping objects at infinity acceptably sharp.

The nature of the beast is that the longer the focal length of the lens the less depth of field you will have so hyperfocal distance is useful with wide angle to standard lenses - say 50mm upper limit but for telephoto lenses forget it, concentrate on getting the subject sharp and use the widest aperture you can to get the best quality bokeh. Bokeh? Yes sound like another article may be needed but for now back to hyperfocal distance.

Now one key element in this is the focal length of the lens which in the days of the standard formats of 35mm 6x6 etc. was simple enough but what about the digital era where we see lenses described as X (35mm equivalent Y?) Well it is the native value, the “X” that is needed to do get the correct result NOT the 35mm equivalent and it is her that sensor size comes into play as well.

So now we have it, we know the correct focal length of our lens, we can find a figure for the “Circle of confusion” we can input the aperture and calculate the hyperfocal distance we need to use using the formula H=f2/Nc. Not good at mental arithmetic you say, no problem you can download an app to your smartphone to make calculation in the field easier. WTF I hear you scream, photography is supposed to be spontaneous, I don’t have time for this nonsense.

Then I suggest you go online now to a site like pop in the figures for your favourite lens and remember it, or write it on a bit of card to put in your bag in case, like I have done. A source of confusion and annoyance to many, Hyperfocal distance can still be a very useful tool and is easy enough to master. I use it nearly every day in my landscape photography and it works for me so it can work for you.

Street photography, full frame camera, 35mm lens at f11? Focus on 12 feet and you are good to go from 6 feet to infinity. Just set the camera to manual focus and auto iso and forget! Go take great photos.


Photo comment By Jackie Ramirez: I saw "H=f2/Nc" and thought, 'Oh no! Math!" But this is all good info. I'm a lowly amateur... translated it means I have more camera than I know what to do with. That is a beautiful image. Thanks, Bill. Jackie
Photo comment By Bill: Thank you Jackie.

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