The science behind hyperfocal distance – how to find it and use it in your shots

Jul 10, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

The science behind hyperfocal distance – how to find it and use it in your shots

Jul 10, 2017

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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Although not all of us like math and numbers, we need to know some technical stuff in order to be as efficient as possible when taking photos and videos. One of such technical concepts is hyperfocal distance, and it makes a lot of people scratch their heads. John P. Hess of Filmmaker IQ talks about it in his latest video.

He doesn’t only explain what hyperfocal distance is, but teaches you how to calculate it, how to set it on different lenses and cameras, and how to use it to improve your photography or videos. And don’t worry, you won’t need to calculate the hyperfocal distance manually – John also recommends some apps you can use to do it for you.

YouTube video

Simply put, hyperfocal distance is the focusing point that gives your photos the deepest possible depth of field. From that point, all the objects in the image will be acceptably sharp. Now, what about just setting the aperture to the highest f-number? It’s not the best solution because the lens will suffer from diffraction and get blurry. So, you need to keep the aperture at the “sweet spot,” and achieve the focus along the entire scene relying on hyperfocal distance.

While it’s not so difficult to understand what hyperfocal distance is, the math behind it can get a little complicated. The distance varies depending on the sensor size, the aperture, and the lens. So, it won’t be the same with all your cameras and lenses. I would rather not go into all the math details myself, because John tells it much better than I would, so check out the video.

But, for some general rules, you don’t need algebra and formulas. Here are a few points to remember:

  • smaller focal length = closer hyperfocal distance
  • higher f-stop = closer hyperfocal distance
  • larger sensor = closer hyperfocal distance

One more thing to have in mind is the crop factor. When you’re using a lens designed for a full-frame camera on a crop body, you need to account for the crop factor. And even if you use a lens with an equivalent field of view on different cameras, the hyperfocal distance will vary. Take a look at the example:

Now, as I mentioned, you don’t need to calculate the hyperfocal distance manually. There are some apps that will do it for you. John recommends the HyperFocal Pro, and you can also check out DoF Master or DoF Calculator.

Even though most of us are pretty attached to our smartphones, there will be times when it won’t be around or the battery will day. So it’s good to know a few tricks that will help you determine the hyperfocal distance even without the app (or calculator).

On vintage manual lenses, there are the hashmarks around the focus indicator. To get the hyperfocal distance, you need to turn the focusing ring so that the far hashmark just touches the infinity symbol on your given aperture. Keep in mind these lenses were made for the 35mm stills film, so you may not get perfect results on crop sensors.

Most modern lenses don’t have these markings. But, you can determine the ideal distance to get everything in focus like this: pick a point far off in the distance. Set your focus to infinity, and then pull the focus closer until that far away point just begins to blur. Then just walk it back a little bit, and that should do it. You can use a screen magnification feature on your camera screen to find this distance.

And finally, here’s an example of a shot focused on hyperfocal distance. You’ll see that the details near the camera are just as sharp as those far from it.

While it can be a little difficult to grasp, I believe it’s important to understand this concept. When you want to shoot without creamy bokeh and get everything in focus, knowing what hyperfocal distance is and how to find it will get you there. And I hope the information from this video and article will help you nail the shot every time.

[The Science of Deep Focus and the Hyperfocal Distance| Filmmaker IQ]

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Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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6 responses to “The science behind hyperfocal distance – how to find it and use it in your shots”

  1. TByte Avatar
    TByte

    Why would crop factor have anything to to with HFD? You’re literally only selecting a smaller proportion of the image in an identical focal plane. Does HFD vary across a full-frame image? No? Then it does not vary between full-frame sensors and crop sensors.

    1. John P. Hess Avatar
      John P. Hess

      One of the factors of in determining the Circle of Confusion is the degree of magnification. To create the same size print from a crop sensor as a full frame, the crop image must be magnified. When you magnify an image the tolerances on what is in focus and what is out of focus become tighter (hence pixel peeping). Since the Circle of Confusion is changing between FF and crop sensors, the HFD will change as well. This also applies if you just crop the FF image.

      If you doubt this check out a DoF calculator and compare

      1. TByte Avatar
        TByte

        Then the problem stems for the magnifaction, not the sensor size. You would get the same “loss of DOF” by printing the final shot onto a larger canvas or screen.
        The image that hits the sensor plane has the same quality, regardless of the size of the plane.

        1. John P. Hess Avatar
          John P. Hess

          You are right that the image hits the sensor plane has the same quality regardless of the size of the plane – but nowhere is the Depth of Field encoded in that image. There is no such thing as Depth of Field until we have a recording medium. There is only distance that is “in focus” – EVERYTHING that is not EXACTLY that distance is a degree of being out of focus. Depth of Field is merely how much “out of focus” we can tolerate – or how much is “close enough”. Magnification changes that tolerance.

          Now when we compare images from different sensors – we don’t keep magnification the same. You don’t comparing 8×10 FF camera to a 4×5″ print from an MFT camera – if you did, you would get exactly the same depth of field and hyperfocal distance. But you wouldn’t normally do that – you’d compare 8×10 prints from each camera – and in that case, the depth of field and hyperfocal distance will necessarily change because you have just magnified the MFT camera’s image by a factor of 2.

          Sensor size is intrinsically tied to Magnification – there is no way of getting around that.

  2. pandacongolais Avatar
    pandacongolais

    And what about the sensor definition ?
    Is it : the higher the definition, the smaller the DOF, the farther the HFD ?
    (sorry if I missed it in the video, watched it 75%, huh, focused …)

  3. Dave Avatar
    Dave

    The suggestion to use a digital camera’s magnify feature to check DOF is the first intelligent thing I’ve read about HFD.