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Hyperfocal Distance

Introduction:
Hyperfocal distance comes into play generally when dealing with landscape photography. It is a way to maximize the Depth of Field (DOF) in your image ensuring that your final image is sharp throughout. The hyperfocal distance is a function of aperture, focal length, and the Circle of Confusion (COC). The COC is the largest on-film (sensor) circle that you can see as a well defined point on an 8 x 10 print from a distance of 1foot. Anything larger than this point is seen as a circle and is said to be out of focus.

There are several ways to create a larger DOF in an image. You can use a larger F-number (smaller aperture). The problem with this method is that at an aperture of F16 or greater you will lose sharpness in your image due to diffraction. The second method is to use a lens with a shorter focal length. Wide angle lenses have a naturally larger depth of field if we ignore the subject size. (If you use any lens and the subject fills the frame the same way then the DOF will be the same regardless of the lens used. Read here for more info.) The third method is to employ the hyperfocal distance.
 
Definition:
The hyperfocal distance is the focus distance which places the maximum allowable COC at infinity. Everything at half this distance to infinity will be in focus. (this is because one of the law of optics states that the depth of field extends 1/3rd in front and 2/3 beyond the point of focus) Hence focusing at any point in front of the hyperfocal distance would mean that somewhere in infinity range of the image there would be an object out of focus (far mountain peak, tree, cloud etc). What this also means is that if you focus at infinity, the hyperfocal distance will be the beginning of your depth of field. Everything in the scene in front of your hyperfocal distance will be out of focus.

The hyperfocal formula is defined as this:

 Hyperfocal Formula
 
Landscape Focusing:
In virtually all landscape photography, there is always some foreground element which guides the eye to the subject in the image. If you focus at the subject, your run the risk of having this foreground object out of focus. The DOF will not quite reach your foreground element(s).
Focusing on the Subject

If you focus at infinity, this makes this even worse. Not only will your foreground be out of focus, but your subject as well.
Focus at Infinity

Focusing on the foreground element will result in objects at the far reaches of the scene to be out of focus such as faraway mountains etc.
Focusing on the Foreground

The only way to achieve correct focus is to employ the hyperfocal distance. Focusing using the hyperfocal distance will enable you to have your foreground, subject and the most distant features of your landscape image in focus.
Focusing on the Hyperfocal Distance

 
Hyperfocal Usage: 
In the field, it is generally best to carry a table of hyperfocal distance calculations for a particular lens. These tables can then be used to figure out the hyperfocal distance for a particular focal length and aperture. Below are the tables of most common focal lengths for Nikon Digital SLR's, Canon digital SLR's, and 35mm film cameras, as well a calculator at the bottom for computing custom focal lengths. Feel free to print out the tables and use them.

Cheers
 
 
Nikon Digital SLR's Canon 1D/Mark Series Canon 1Ds/5D Series 35mm Format Cameras


Hyperfocal Distance Calculator
 Select Style of Camera

 

You can change the Focal Length numbers below as to any focal length you require.

Lens Focal Length mm
Æ’/2.8
Æ’/4.0
Æ’/5.6
Æ’/8.0
Æ’/11
Æ’/16
Æ’/22
Æ’/32


 

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