Depth of Field

Vincent Bockaert, 123di.com

Depth of field (DOF) is a term which refers to the areas of the photograph both in front and behind the main focus point which remain "sharp" (in focus). Depth of field is affected by the aperture, subject distance, focal length, and film or sensor format.

A larger aperture (smaller f-number, e.g. f/2) has a shallow depth of field. Anything behind or in front of the main focus point will appear blurred. A smaller aperture (larger f-number, e.g. f/11) has a greater depth of field. Objects within a certain range behind or in front of the main focus point will also appear sharp.

This setup was used to produce the example below. A picture was taken of three postcards 0.7m apart using a 70mm telephoto lens which was focused on the first card.
Depth Of Field example (click for larger image)
As you can see, at a large aperture of f/2.4 only the first card is in focus, while at f/8 the middle card is sharp and the distant card is almost sharp. Click on the image for a larger version.

Coming closer to the subject (reducing subject distance) will reduce depth of field, while moving away from the subject will increase depth of field.

Lenses with shorter focal lengths produce images with larger DOF. For instance, a 28mm lens at f/5.6 produces images with a greater depth of field than a 70mm lens at the same aperture.

Depth of Field Calculator

This depth of field calculator allows you to have a better understanding of the various factors that affect depth of field. For digital cameras, it is important to use the actual focal length and NOT the 35mm equivalent focal length determined by the focal length multiplier.

Film format or sensor size
Lens actual focal length
Selected aperture
Subject distance (meters)

Hyperfocal distance for this lens/aperture combination

Near limit of acceptable sharpness
Far limit of acceptable sharpness
Total depth of field
This article is written by Vincent Bockaert,
author of The 123 of digital imaging Interactive Learning Suite
Click here to visit 123di.com