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I'd like a clear & easy-to-understand (especially for non-physics-types) explanation of what Hyperfocal Distance is, how it affects photographs, and what determines its value.

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7 Answers 7

up vote 29 down vote accepted

The hyperfocal distance is the distance at which everything from 1/2 the distance to infinity is in focus.

For instance, if the hyperfocal distance of a particular lens at a particular aperture is 100ft, then by focusing at 100 ft you can capture anything from 50ft-infinity in clear focus.

A more in depth explanation can be found at www.dofmaster.com

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4  
I would add that it's dependent on the aperture of the lens. –  ex-ms Jul 29 '10 at 0:31
    
Thanks, updated the answer a bit. –  chills42 Jul 30 '10 at 13:16
3  
It's also dependent on the amount of blur you are willing to accept as "in focus". –  mattdm Dec 31 '10 at 19:47
    
It also depends on focal length... –  Miljenko Barbir Apr 5 '11 at 5:15

The hyperfocal distance is used a lot in landscape photography, where the maximum depth of field is achieved , which carries on up to the "infinity" point too - it's generally two thirds of the way between the camera and its infinite distance.

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3  
I like the idea of two-thirds of the way to infinity ;-). –  whuber Dec 31 '10 at 20:35

The hyperfocal distance is the nearest distance on which a lens can be focused on a given aperture, where the depth of field will extend to "infinity".

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It's arguable whether this is "clear and easy to understand", but Thom Hogan has an interesting article on Hyperfocal distance - explaining that it's not quite what people think it is, and also why it's not necessarily a desirable effect.

Here's a few quotes (emphasis mine):

"Hyperfocal focus distance" is basically the focus distance for any given camera, lens, and settings that maximizes the apparent focus distance while including infinity at the far end.
Since a lens can only focus one distance at a time, hyperfocal focus depends upon the blur circle that is created by things in front or behind the focus distance to be small enough that we still detect it as a "point."

...

hyperfocal is really only usable for wide angle lenses. By the time you get to a 50mm lens, hyperfocal at f/11 is pretty much out beyond all the focus markings on the lens. I doubt that you'll be able to focus precisely enough to use even a rough hyperfocal number with that much lens

...

Hyperfocal focus done right looks wrong. It's an artificial construct promulagated by us photo writers who ran out of things to write about and started inventing things that seem useful but really aren't.

Our brains don't do "hyperfocal." Indeed, a critical depth cue our brain uses is that detail = near, lack of detail = far.


The full article is at: http://www.bythom.com/hyperfocal.htm

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6  
+1: Good article, although I think the author kind of misses the point of hyperfocal distance. One doesn't generally use a hyper focal point when shooting anything with measurable depth. Thats why it is only really usable on wide angle lenses when doing far distance shots...i.e landscapes. While I agree there is too much rhetoric about it on the net, hyperfocal distance is really just a simple marker that indicates you've got good focus out to great distance, which is useful for landscape photography. –  jrista Jul 30 '10 at 17:37

Found this answer on dofmaster.com, which in turn references "How to Use Your Camera, New York Institute of Photography, 2000":

... the hyperfocal distance setting ... is simply a fancy term that means the distance setting at any aperture that produces the greatest depth of field.

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+1 That's correct. It would be more revealing if that quotation were to add, "and the greatest DoF occurs when objects at infinity are just barely in focus"--which is a concept already amply covered by previous responses. –  whuber Dec 31 '10 at 20:33

To determine the hyperfocal distance, you can use WolframAlpha's formula, it requires 3 variables:

  1. Circle of Confusion (CoC) in mm
  2. Focal length in mm
  3. Aperture (f-number)

The aforementioned DOFMaster site has a table with the different CoC values for various digital cameras.

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Depth of field refers to the range of distances between which anything is in focus, or at least close enough not to look noticeably out of focus.

On lenses with mechanical focus rings (often older lenses), there are often depth of field markers showing you the near and far depth of field limits for each aperture. It extends each side of your actual focal setting. If you don't have these markers you can still do math or guesstimate to work it out.

For any given aperture, you can turn the focus knob until the far limit of your depth of field sits exactly at infinity. The hyperfocal distance is whatever distance you need to focus to in order to achieve this. It'll be different according to your aperture.

Everything between half your hyperfocal distance and infinity will then be within your depth of field.

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