Wide angle and hyperfocal distance

November sunset
November sunset

As a quick rule of thumb, if you put the Tokina 11-16’s lens hood on, set the camera mode to M (manual) and turn the focusing to the absolute minimum (left as far as it will go), then set the f-number as far right as you can go (f22), then everything from the end of the hood onward will be in focus.

Have a closer look at the image above. Note that everything is in focus apart from a little yellow leaf in the bottom left corner; this leaf is not in focus as it was actually touching the lens glass.

All the other leaves at the bottom of the image are close to the end of the standard lens hood that comes with the Tokina 11-16, putting them around 4cm away from the front glass, and in sharp focus. Pretty cool, and something you’d expect of a macro (especially when the normal closest focusing distance of the Tokina11-16 is twice this distance), until you notice that everything else beyond the first row of leaves and up until the far trees is also in sharp focus.  The lens has everything in sharp focus from 4cm to infinity!

A macro lens can’t have that massive depth of view. A wide angle lens can’t do this either… unless you know about hyperfocal distance.

Hyperfocal distance is pretty easy to define. It is the focal length and f-stop combination that gives you the maximum depth of field. It is only really useful at the low end (below about 25mm), and is particularly useful for wide angle lenses when used for landscape photography. It is the trick behind the standard ‘small smooth pebbles shot close-up on a beach, but with the sea and sunset behind them in perfect focus’ cheese shot.

Older lenses had what amounts to the hyperfocal distances etched on the focusing ring, but with auto-focusing, the practice has all but died out. The trouble with auto-focusing is that it concentrates more on getting the thing you are pointing at in sharp focus, at the detriment of everything else. This strategy works well for everything except landscape (especially wide angle), where you may have something very close to the lens, but you also want distant scenery to be sharp. The good news is that you can generate the hyperfocal distances yourself.

I won’t bore you with the maths (as I’ve done it for you) or the theory (because you just want to take pictures), but will instead show you the quickest way to get going with hyperfocal distance, assuming you have a Tokina11-16 (For those with a wide angle other than the Tokina 11-16, you can form your own chart via http://www.panohelp.com/hyperfocaldistance.html).

  • The table below is the hyperfocal distance chart for a Tokina11-16, set at 11mm. Normally you would have a different chart for each possible focal length, but nobody uses the Tokina at anything other than 11mm for landscape photography, right? Click this chart to get a full size image in a new browser. Print the image.
tokina11-16 hyperfocal chart
tokina11-16 hyperfocal chart
  • Laminate the chart (or cover the printout with Sellotape on both sides and then cut the chart out). Keep this chart in your camera bag whenever you take the Tokina11-16 out for landscape shots. There are two charts. One is in feet, the other is metres. Take your pick (and sorry about the spelling; it is correct but only in the Queen’s English).
  • If you want to create an image that includes a subject very close to the viewer (such as a flower, etc), but that also needs the background to stay in focus to infinity, you need to find the distance the subject will be away from the centre of the Tokina (or from the front lens of the Tokina if you want to be a bit more conservative)in the h/2 column. Read off the corresponding hyperfocal distance h and f-number, and with the camera in manual focusing mode and aperture priority, set the corresponding f-number at the camera, and enter the hyperfocal distance h as the focusing distance on the Tokina11-16. There, you’re all set up.

As a quick rule of thumb, if you put the Tokina’s lens hood on, set the camera mode to M (manual) and turn the focusing to the absolute minimum (left as far as it will go), then set the f-number as far right as you can go (f22), then everything from the end of the hood onward will be in focus. Although you may be unused to having your camera in manual mode, this is nothing to worry about, because your lens is now set with such a wide depth of focus that everything will be in focus. The downside of course is that you have such a small aperture that you will not be able to catch fast movement (but the lens is set up for landscape shots, so speed doesn’t really matter).

I like to stop up a little more than the minimum; for the image above I used the f18 column on the metre chart.

For those interested in my shot, it is a HDR image (12 exposures, 1EV apart), and is the background layer for another work (the final piece extends further at the bottom of the current image to show a cross section of the earth below, where we see an acorn under the ground). Yeah, I know. Cheese shot.

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8 thoughts on “Wide angle and hyperfocal distance”

  1. You say: “As a quick rule of thumb, if you put the Tokina’s lens hood on, set the camera mode to M (manual) and turn the focusing to the absolute minimum (left as far as it will go), then set the f-number as far right as you can go (f22), then everything from the end of the hood onward will be in focus.” but couldn’t you just as well use aperture priority mode?

    1. Hi Nev. no because the autofocus doesn’t know you are using hyperfocal – it will try to focus wide open and fail (it will hunt). When using hyperfocal, the image actually looks out of focus on the camera until after the shot is taken.

      1. I think you are confusing the “manual” PASM mode with manual focussing. Of course I understand that you mean one must use manual focussing with your method. But you could use the aperture priority PASM mode as well – it wouldn’t affect the manual focussing.

  2. Just to confirm – you DON’T need to use Aperture PASM priority for this. In fact, you can make more precise adjustments in Manual PASM priority (always focussing manually of course).

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