Stone Jetty

Understanding Hyperfocal Distance (Podcast 437)

I was thinking about hyperfocal distance recently, and wondered how long ago it was that I did my original podcast on this subject. I checked this morning, it was almost eight years ago now, so I decided to cover this subject again today. Much of what I said back then...

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Martin Bailey
Martin Bailey is a nature and wildlife photographer and educator based in Tokyo. He's a pioneering Podcaster and blogger, and an X-Rite Coloratti member.
  • Anna
    Posted at 04:16h, 03 September Reply

    Congrats on 9 years of podcasts, Martin! I’m a new listener and certainly appreciate all that you share. You’re very inspiring!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 08:38h, 03 September Reply

      Thanks for listening Anna, and for the kind words. I hope you continue to enjoy the Podcast!

  • tOM Trottier
    Posted at 06:57h, 04 September Reply

    In the past with my 35mm cameras, 2 marks on the lens opposite the distance scale indicated the focus range for each (or some) f/stop. Choosing the hyperfocal distance just meant putting the infinity sign on the f/stop you were using. I usually used the mark for a wider f/stop since I anticipated big enlargements. How times change 🙁

    You do seem to assume all listeners are locked into SLRs of 35mm or slightly smaller sensors with always parallel lenses. Not so! Some listeners use view cameras (or tilt lenses) and almost all use cellphones or P&S as well.

    The f/64 group of photographers used 4×5″ or bigger formats. P&S & cellphone users use tiny sensors. Diffraction does not depend on the f/stop ratio. It depends on the size of the aperture and the degree of enlargement.
    So with big format cameras, you can stop down to f/32,or f/64 and still get a sharp image because the hole is bigger and the image is bigger.

    With small sensors, better to keep to the widest apertures for the sharpest image. My Galaxy S3 phone is made to stay at f/2.6 for its 3.7mm lens, and I keep my P&S Canon 710IS 5.8-> 34.8mm at maximum aperture for greatest sharpness.

    And with tilting lenses, you can change the plane of sharpness so it matches the plane you want in focus, e.g. the ground. See This allows you to use wider aperture, avoiding diffraction, and still have wide depth of focus.

    I also find that pix usually look better – and sharper – if there is fuzzy stuff to compare with in the photo – even many landscapes. Viva soft corners!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 09:33h, 04 September Reply

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for the comment!

      Yes, I miss those scales on lenses. They’re getting less and less common.

      I do concentrate on SLR users, because my Podcasts are created from personal experience, and I don’t use any other cameras except an iPhone, but as you can’t change the aperture, that’s kind of irrelevant. The DOFMaster calculator does contain mirrorless and some medium format cameras though, and most of what I cover here is relevant to all formats.

      The f/stop ratio controls the size of the aperture, and as I said, when diffraction kicks in depends on the lens. It’s up to each person to figure out the exact aperture at which diffraction starts to kick in depending on the lens in use. I also mention that this calculation is based on an 8 x 10″ print, but that as a general guideline it’s fine.

      In this respect though, I agree that f/16 is the SLR guideline, but it’s still up to the user to figure out their ceiling aperture to avoid diffraction.

      People that use tilt/shift lenses already understand what can be done with them. I sold mine, but understand the principles, and chose not to include this.

      I don’t use pan focus in all of my images either, but this is something I get asked about a lot, and hence the podcast.


    • tom
      Posted at 03:20h, 05 September Reply

      I usually try to get the maximum sharpness rather than the maximum area of almost sharp. There is a nice discussion of resolution at – but it does all depend on the lens and the subject matter.
      I would guess that aberrations will be better corrected in software than diffraction will be – and might easily be applied to photos from the far past….

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 10:12h, 05 September Reply

      That’s exactly what I do Tom, and what much of my advice here is talking about.

      Chromatic aberration is fixable with Lightroom alone, which is good. I don’t like Canon’s Digital Photo Professional so try not to rely on it as much as possible. I too would prefer to just shoot with a wider aperture for a sharper image when possible.

  • Martin Tosh
    Posted at 02:48h, 05 September Reply

    Hi Martin, I too am a recent subscriber having only owned a dslr for about a year. I heard your original episode on the subject as I’ve been working through the back episodes but appreciate the recap nevertheless, it all helps my learning process. You didn’t mention macro photography in this episode, do the same issues apply in this field?
    Great podcasts, love ’em. Well done on nine years!

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 10:10h, 05 September Reply

      Thanks for listening and for the comment Martin!

      Diffraction does affect macro photography too, which is why people often tend to use focus stacking to get very deep depth of field in macro photography. You basically shoot a series of images moving the focus a little with each frame, and then stack them in Photoshop. I covered this in my Sharp Shooter eBook, but I could probably do an episode here too if that would help.

    • Martin Tosh
      Posted at 01:22h, 06 September Reply

      I have got your Sharp Shooter eBook which is great and having a go at focus stacking is on my photographic learning to do list, once I get photoshop or some other software that can do the job, hopefully very soon. I would love to see one of your excellent video podcasts dedicated to the subject

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 10:01h, 06 September Reply

      Hi Martin,

      Thanks for picking up Sharp Shooter. OK, I’ll definitely try to cover this as a video, or at the very least, an illustrated Podcast. I’ve just made a note to do it as a video as first preference. 🙂


  • Oosman Muhammad
    Posted at 02:53h, 18 May Reply

    Hyperfocus cheat: If you don’t know your hyperfocal distance, just focus on infinity, and bring the focus back a little bit. Because if you focus anywhere behind the HF distance, it’s always from the HF distance to infinity that’s gonna be in focus.

    On my 18mm kit lens for example, I get 3.1m from the camera as hyperfocal, at f5.6 aperture.

    But that doesn’t mean a bit is blurred from my image! When I raise my camera on a tripod, the blurred bit close to me gets cut out anyway :p xD

    • Martin Bailey
      Posted at 15:18h, 21 May Reply

      Hee hee, that will work with wide angle lenses Oosman, but for longer focal lengths you really need to be a bit more careful.

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