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Photography/Hyperfocal Distance Charts


Am I correct in assuming that I can use a standard hyperfocal distance chart regardless of the camera sensor size i.e., the focal length of a lens always remains the same although the view of the sensor may change, e.g., a 35mm lens on my DSLR offers a view of a 52mm lens but I would use 35mm as the focal length and the selected aperture when using a table to determine the hyperfocal distance.

Thank-you for clarifying this point for me.

Hi Glen,

Sorry I couldn't answer 'till now. I've had a ton of trouble getting into my email the past few days.

That's both an interesting and a difficult question! You would think that hyperfocal distances would be the same regardless of the sensor size. After all, a lens will still focus to the same distance behind itself regardless of the size of the sensor. And in a mathematically perfect world, the hyperfocal distance might remain unchanged with different sensor sizes.

But the real world is messy. Part of this messiness relates to the very definition of hyperfocal distance. This is the lens focus setting that should deliver the greatest "depth-of-field." But the definition of the latter depends on a lot of messy physical parameters outside of the camera's control.

Depth-of-field is the theoretical distance range in "object space" where all things being photographed will appear to be reasonably sharply focused in a final print. Note the words "appear" and "reasonably." Depth-of-field is actually a subjective thing that might differ markedly for individual viewers. Based on my eyesight, the print size, and how much the image had to be enlarged to reach that size, I might think a print reflects a very bad depth-of-field choice... while the same print viewed from the same distance might look completely sharp to you.

And I believe that another factor comes into play that is rarely mentioned. A sensor's "magnification factor" comes from the fact that it crops out portions of the image that a lens could deliver if the sensor was larger. So a non-full-frame sensor would capture a smaller area in the center of a bigger image delivered by an attached 35mm SLR lens. And a higher percentage of this image would be coming from the central portion of the lens... which usually delivers better image quality than the perimeter. So a given lens might actually deliver slightly better image quality in cameras with smaller sensor sizes... and perhaps greater depth-of-field at a different focus point.

But this difference may be hard to see unless you make huge prints.

For these and other reasons, many of the more precise hyperfocal calculators on the web actually do try to factor in sensor size by asking for it (or the LMF lens magnification factor). And changes to that value can produce different hyperfocal estimates.

So my best advice would be to find a good calculator that asks for this input (such as the one at ), and examine the quality of prints shot at the distances recommended for your specific camera configuration!

Again, this is a gray area of photography that generates a lot of controversy. Some people simply do not believe in hyperfocal distance tables and calculators, but I've found their guidance to be extremely useful for shoot-from-the-hip street photography.

I hope I've helped more than confused... and feel free to ask any followup questions that occur to you, Glen!




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Dave Powell


My specialty is highly atmospheric digital-infrared photography, and I'd love to answer questions about digital-IR equipment and procedures. I can also help people understand classic "old-photog" techniques (like "Sunny 16 Exposure" and "Hyperfocal Focusing")... which are still useful today. I can answer questions about processing, improving, manipulating, and printing digital photos with programs like Photoshop. I'm an inveterate tinkerer, and may be able to answer questions about making one's own photo equipment (such as DIY special-effect filters, close-up adapters, and pin-hole cameras); about doing super-closeup macro photography (film or digital); and about using older lenses on cameras made by different manufacturers (such as Nikon lenses on Canon bodies and Pentax lenses on Olympus bodies. I can answer general purchasing questions, such as "Can any of the digital SLRs use my old Minolta film lenses?" But as others have noted, nobody can identify the "best" camera for another person. That calls for extensive web research plus hands-on time in a good camera store. (But I can point to great web resources for doing this research!)


Over the past 40 years, I've used a huge variety of film cameras (SLR, rangefinder, point-and-shoot, high-end, fantastique-plastique, fully manual, highly automated, 35mm, 110, medium format, Polaroid, folding, even homemade pinhole). I've used digital cameras since the late 1990s (began when I was writing user manuals for Polaroidís digital cameras). I've also won juried photo competitions in the Boston area, and have exhibited and sold original prints. (Amazingly, my best-selling print was taken with a lowly 0.8-megapixel camera, and very carefully processed to print at 12x18 inches!) Iíve taught local adult-ed classes about digital cameras, Photoshop image processing, and better photography through self-understanding. Iíve contributed to Popular Photographyís tips and tricks column, and am currently writing a book about taking better photos through self-understanding.

Popular Photography (tips and tricks column), plus dozens of magazines and blog sites that have carried my bylined articles about computers, networking, information security, and eLearning.

Masters in Science Communications, Boston University, 1980. Bachelors in Mathematics, Denison University, 1970.

Awards and Honors
I've won several juried photo competitions in the Boston area, and have exhibited and sold original prints... especially digital-infrared landscapes, architectural abstracts, and cityscapes. I've also won multiple international awards in the technical-writing field... including a business press equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize. And I've even written for Sesame Street!

Past/Present Clients
Winchester Recreation Department (taught photography classes) Jenks Senior Center (taught photography and Photoshop classes) Polaroid (wrote their digital-camera user manuals until they entered Chapter 11)

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