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I was looking at some pictures by TSO Photography, and I was struck by how everything in the image seems to be sharp and in focus.

I do realize that to achieve huge depth of field, you set the aperture to the lowest possible value — but doing so causes diffraction, which reduces the sharpness of the picture. Are their any other methods to get such high depth of field (other than focus stacking)?

The camera used in this case was a Canon 5D Mark II — a full-frame camera, so it's not because the sensor is small.

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up vote 12 down vote accepted

Unfortunately, Facebook strips the EXIF data from images, a terrible practice, so I can't get his actual settings. However, a wide angle lens with a reasonable aperture that is focussed to the hyperfocal can put a huge portion of the scene in focus. For example: a 16mm lens at f/8 focussed 3.55 feet away effectively puts from just under two feet away to infinity in focus and f/8 isn't going to wipe your sharpness out.

You can understand the concept, and play with some numbers, using the online depth of field calculator to see what I mean. They make a mobile version for various devices too and that can be handy out in the field.

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Thank you for the explanation and link to the online depth of field calculator. – Vivek Sep 2 '11 at 3:33
@Vivek - You're welcome! – John Cavan Sep 2 '11 at 3:50
Just adding that most online DOF calculators assume you're printing 8x10. If you're printing larger, the image might not appear as sharp. But I think that the calculator is a good starting point. For a larger print, just shoot a couple images stopped down a bit more. – moorej Jul 12 '15 at 16:45

One thing worth remembering is that while smaller aperture translates into the area of image that's sharpest covering wider distance, too small aperture subjects you to diffraction. This means with very high aperture numbers the image will be equally sharp all round, but equally blurred, too. So it's about getting a right kind of compromise.

In this what matters is the absolute area of one pixel; 5DmkII is one of the better choices on that respect, since it has full-frame sensor. However, if the 5Dmk2 can't deliver enough sharpness, there are tricks you can try: you can do focus stacking, where you take shots with identical settings and vary the focusing, and then combine the resulting images with software, taking the sharpest parts of each image into the resulting image.

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Actually shooting a panorama doesn't help at all with depth of field, as you're effectively simulating a larger format (which gives shallower DOF for the same angle of view), if you stop down to the f/stop you'd need to maintain DOF with that larger format, you'll get diffraction in each image which negates any increase in effective sharpness due to the extra pixels. – Matt Grum Sep 2 '11 at 10:56
Removed that part. If you could keep the focal length identical, then you would not lose DoF (, but it would change the image, because you'd need to be closer to compensate. – Zds Sep 2 '11 at 19:12

You can use a camera or lens that offers tilt capability. The zone of sharp focus doesn't get any wider, but it tilts.

Example: the bottom of the frame is focused a foot away, the top of the frame is focused slightly past infinity. If that matches the way your scene is laid out it can appear you have insanely deep DoF even though the DoF at any given point in the image isn't any greater than normal.

Focus stacking is another option—composite multiple photos taken with different focus settings.

Stacking is more complicated than it sounds due to focus "breathing" (Most lenses change angle-of-view when focusing. Designing this out optically is part of what makes cinema lenses so crazy expensive—you can't make a focus pull-during-take look decent with a lens that breathes.)

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Ansel Adams and the f/64 group are famous for insanely deep depth of fields. I know this is not technically correct, but basically, a smaller aperture translates to more things in focus. Try cranking your camera down to the maximum aperture and see what happens. You'll need lots of light or a tripod (for long exposure) or both.

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f/64 means something completely different on a large-format field camera (like those used by Ansel) than on a DSLR. A more recent comparison would be Bryan Peterson, who advocates using near-maximum aperture (or in his words, "story-telling aperture") despite passing the diffraction limits for most APS-C cameras. – Tzarium Sep 2 '11 at 8:22
f/64 on a large format 4x5 camera is equivalent in terms of diffraction with f/17 on a full frame DSLR – Matt Grum Sep 2 '11 at 9:31
Lewis Baltz's early work would be a good addition to the information mentioned by @Tzarium: 35mm, stopped down, shot with microfilm (processed for pictorial photography), and printed relatively small. Many of the f64 group were also using view cameras, which allowed them to change the plane of focus (tilts and swings). – moorej Jul 12 '15 at 17:45

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