Hyperfocal Distance

You may have looked at the title of this post and thought, what on earth is that?

Allow me to explain;  hyperfocal distance is defined as the distance between the lens and the nearest point of acceptable sharp focus when the lens is focused for infinity.

Taking advantage of hyperfocal distance is better exploited with manual focus lenses purely because they usually have a depth of field scale marked on them.

Depth of field scale on a typical 35mm f2 lens

What is depth of field?  Depth of field is the area of acceptable sharpness either side of the point being focused on, this in turn increases as the lens is stopped down. Depth of field is 1/3rd toward the lens and 2/3rds toward infinity from the point being focused on.

Technical stuff over with! How can hyperfocal distance and depth of field be used to good effect?

Focusing at infinity wastes quite a lot of depth of field with 2/3rd of sharpness beyond infinity being a waste, hence focusing back toward the camera will give a larger area of acceptable sharpness. In addition shorter focal length lenses, smaller apertures and subjects at a greater distance produce a larger depth of field.

How to use hyperfocal distance

The first step, frame your subject. Next focus to infinity and set your exposure. Then having decided what aperture you are going to use, look at your lens and turn the focus ring so that infinity lines up with the appropriate aperture mark on the depth of field scale.

Hyperfocal distance set for f22

On the above example look how wide the area of acceptable sharpness is compared with just focusing at infinity when using an aperture of f22

Infinity focus on 50mm lens at f1.4 – no depth of field

Infinity focus using aperture of f8 – section of railing nearest to camera unsharp

Hyperfocal distance set using aperture of f8 – railing nearest to camera sharper

Hyperfocal distance set using aperture of f22 – sharp from infinity to nearest point in frame.

Below is an example of hyperfocal distance used to good effect. (You might recognise the photograph!)

Try experimenting with hyperfocal distance for yourself, it can produce some fabulous results.


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