I am aware of what hyperfocal distance is and the general principles behind it. However, most of the tutorials I have seen and read regarding it make use of lenses with focus distance indicators. Unfortunately, neither of my lenses (Nikkor 18-55mm & 35mm f1.8) have indicators.

I have read that you can 'cheat' and simply focus a third of the way into the shot (which I have done previously simply by spot-focusing on the lowest focus point in my VF). I also assume you could pace out the distance and note an object to focus on when you get back to the camera (though that might be easier said than done).

Does anyone have any suggestions on how to achieve maximum sharpness from front to back without focus distance markers. A new lens is not an option; global economic crisis and all that!

5 Answers 5


Take a look at The Ins and Outs of Focus by Harold Merklinger (it's a free download). There's danger in believing everything you read, of course, but give his suggestions a try.

To summarize: when a lens is focused at infinity, the size of the smallest details that can be recorded at the plane of focus is determined entirely by the size of the aperture of the lens -- distance matters not a whit. If you are using, say, a 35mm lens at f/11, then anything 3mm (approximately) or larger will be recorded throughout the entire image depth. Obviously, for things that are very close to the camera, you would expect things much smaller than 3mm to be recorded before you would call it a clear image. But at 20 feet? A 35mm lens at f/11 is better than 20/20 vision at 20 feet and beyond, and at least as good as using the CoC at the inboard end of the distance supposed to be acceptable using the hyperfocal distance.


As you already mentioned, it is pretty hard without focus distance indicators.
The only thing that comes to mind is using the stop down button on your camera while adjusting the focus manually. You might get better results with the live view on and zooming in. I use this technique to focus when I tilt my TS-E lens.


You can't simply focus one third into the image because the hyperfocal distance depends on your aperture and focal length. If you have a chart or calculator, learn to use it.

The best way would be learning to estimate distances and relative sizes with your eye. One easy way is to walk around with a lens that does have a distance marker, guess what distance an object is, and focus on it. Then see how far it is, according to the lens with the distance markings.


Your best bet is to find some kind of a chart that shows the maximum DOF. There is a chart from DOF Masters which shows this quite well. Another good one can be found at nikonians.org. In order to best determine it, you need to know your camera's Circle of Confusion, but most such sites will help you to find out what your camera's Circle of Confusion value is.

  • 1
    Having a chart doesn't really help in the absence of a distance scale on the lens. Auto hyperfocal focussing would be easy to implement in the body but noone does this...
    – Matt Grum
    Feb 24, 2011 at 23:03
  • @Matt - BTW, It is called Pan focus and is available on some Casio and Pentax fixed-lens cameras.
    – Itai
    Feb 24, 2011 at 23:53
  • @Itai — no, that's different. At least, the pan-focus lens for the Pentax Auto110 is just always locked at a pre-set hyperfocal distance. And likewise I think the Casio cameras lock the aperture at f/5.6 and the zoom at the widest angle. An auto-hyperfocal focus mode would work with any autofocus lens, and would automatically set the focus distance based on the focal length, aperture, and a user-set acceptable circle of confusion.
    – mattdm
    Feb 25, 2011 at 2:52
  • @mattdm - I'll have to check but I do not recall the zoom being locked on the Casio (FC-100 or Z2000). That is also not the Pentax I was thinking about, they are the Optio H90, I10, E90, WS80, P90 (and a few others). You can set the zoom and set the focus mode to 'Pan'. It will set the focus according the the hyperfocal at a fixed aperture which depends on the focal-length.
    – Itai
    Feb 25, 2011 at 15:36
  • @Itai — cool. But stil, the aperture needn't be fixed either in a true auto-hyperfocal mode.
    – mattdm
    Feb 25, 2011 at 16:24

There is an app for IOS called PhotoPills. Input shooting parameters, then using your phone's camera it uses augmented reality to project the point of hyperfocal distance.

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