Usability of Zone Focusing

Started Oct 22, 2020 | Questions
Gurusathiy Junior Member • Posts: 25
Usability of Zone Focusing

Hello All,

A newbie here!! I'm an enthusiast landscape photographer and request inputs from members here on my confusion regarding manual focusing vs auto focus conundrum:-( I've read many articles on this but don't find a direct answer to my dilemma and hence posting this:

  1. I use Sony A6000 with a Zeiss auto-focus lens. I want to set focus once for all (either auto-focus lens/Manual focus only lens) and forget about focusing issues. I find auto-focus slow to my liking.
  2. When I shoot a landscape (typically mountains), I want sharp pics whether a subject comes in front of the camera or not without changing the focus ring. I know i need to focus on the subject to get it in focus but my primary necessity is to fix a focus and keep clicking whether there is a near subject or not.
  3. I've read a lot about "Zone/Hyperfocal" techniques and they all talk about "acceptable" sharpness while I want pin sharp photos. how to achieve this?
  4. If I use a high quality manual focus lens with DOF scale printed, set it to 10' to Infinity and leave it there, will it help in achieving sharp photos without any need to recompose and focus again? (please don't route me to point & shoot)
  5. Will the above trick help in snapping up moving subjects within that range as well?

Please help!!

Thanks
Guru raj

ANSWER:
Sony a6000
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Gerry Winterbourne Forum Pro • Posts: 19,063
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing
13

Gurusathiy wrote:

A newbie here!! I'm an enthusiast landscape photographer and request inputs from members here on my confusion regarding manual focusing vs auto focus conundrum:-( I've read many articles on this but don't find a direct answer to my dilemma and hence posting this:

  1. I use Sony A6000 with a Zeiss auto-focus lens. I want to set focus once for all (either auto-focus lens/Manual focus only lens)

That will work as long as the subjects you want sharp are always the same distance from the camera. As soon as the distances change so must focus.

  1. and forget about focusing issues.

I'll talk about this later.

  1. I find auto-focus slow to my liking.

I don't understand this. AF takes at most a second or two - where is your landscape going to go in that time?

  1. When I shoot a landscape (typically mountains), I want sharp pics whether a subject comes in front of the camera or not without changing the focus ring.

This gets to the heart of the subject. A lens can focus at only one distance (I'll call this the focus plane); everything nearer or further is out of focus to some degree. The further from the focus plane the more things go out of focus.

Fortunately our eyes can accommodate a small amount of out-of-focus blur and still see things as sharp. There is a range of distances in front and behind the focus plane where things look sharp enough to be seen clearly. This range is called the depth of field (DOF).

For any given picture the DOF depends on a whole host of factors but the general principles of how it works can be seen in a site like this https://dofsimulator.net/en/. It's possible to calculate what DOF will be assuming certain standard conditions; there are plenty of online DOF calculators such as this one http://www.dofmaster.com/dofjs.html

  1. I know I need to focus on the subject to get it in focus but my primary necessity is to fix a focus and keep clicking whether there is a near subject or not.

What you are saying is that you need your DOF to be deep enough to include the near subjects. To do that you need to understand DOF, how to calculate it and how to set your camera to achieve it.

  1. I've read a lot about "Zone/Hyperfocal" techniques and they all talk about "acceptable" sharpness while I want pin sharp photos. how to achieve this?

When I said above "sharp enough to be seen clearly" that is the definition of "acceptable sharpness". "Pin sharp" is a colloquial term with no real meaning; and as I said above, a lens can focus at only one distance. It simply isn't possible to get the whole range of distances in perfect focus - optics just prevents it - so what you say you want isn't possible.

However, what you mean is that you want a range of distances to look so sharp that you can see things clearly. And that range is the DOF. What you are calling "pin sharp" is actually the range if "acceptable" sharpness.

  1. If I use a high quality manual focus lens with DOF scale printed, set it to 10' to Infinity

You can't set it to "10' to Infinity". You can set it to only one distance; you could pick 10' or infinity or any other distance but you can't put the focus index in two places sat once.

The quality of the lens is irrelevant; the rules apply to any and every lens that has a focus scale.

  1. and leave it there, will it help in achieving sharp photos without any need to recompose and focus again?

To repeat - this depends on the required DOF. Unless you know the distances and camera settings there is no one answer to this question.

  1. (please don't route me to point & shoot)

I don't understand this and I don't think you do either.

  1. Will the above trick help in snapping up moving subjects within that range as well?

There is no trick. What there is is understanding. If something is within the DOF it will be acceptably sharp whether it is moving or static (as long it doesn't suffer motion blur). Study DOF and the answers will become clear.

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Gerry
________________________________________________________________________
I'm happy for anyone to edit any of my photos and display the results
_________________________________________________________________________
First camera 1953, first Pentax 1985, first DSLR 2006
http://www.pbase.com/gerrywinterbourne
gerry.winterbourne@ntlworld.com

OP Gurusathiy Junior Member • Posts: 25
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Dear Gerry,

Thanks for taking time and answering my query patiently, much helpful!! Guess I should explore more on DOF!! will do!

Thanks
Guru raj

Gerry Winterbourne Forum Pro • Posts: 19,063
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Gurusathiy wrote:

Dear Gerry,

Thanks for taking time and answering my query patiently, much helpful!!

You're welcome.

Guess I should explore more on DOF!! will do!

The site Cambridge in Colour has a poor reputation here on DPR because it contains some errors. However, a lot of it gives useful guidance; this page on DOF is quite helpful https://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/depth-of-field.htm

-- hide signature --

Gerry
________________________________________________________________________
I'm happy for anyone to edit any of my photos and display the results
_________________________________________________________________________
First camera 1953, first Pentax 1985, first DSLR 2006
http://www.pbase.com/gerrywinterbourne
gerry.winterbourne@ntlworld.com

DeathArrow Veteran Member • Posts: 3,388
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Gurusathiy wrote:

Hello All,

A newbie here!! I'm an enthusiast landscape photographer and request inputs from members here on my confusion regarding manual focusing vs auto focus conundrum:-( I've read many articles on this but don't find a direct answer to my dilemma and hence posting this:

  1. I use Sony A6000 with a Zeiss auto-focus lens. I want to set focus once for all (either auto-focus lens/Manual focus only lens) and forget about focusing issues. I find auto-focus slow to my liking

I can't see how auto focus can be slow for static scenes such as landscapes.

  1. When I shoot a landscape (typically mountains), I want sharp pics whether a subject comes in front of the camera or not without changing the focus ring. I know i need to focus on the subject to get it in focus but my primary necessity is to fix a focus and keep clicking whether there is a near subject or not.

You can use autofocus once to focus on the subject and switch to manual focus after. The subject will be in focus as long as the distance doesn't change.

  1. I've read a lot about "Zone/Hyperfocal" techniques and they all talk about "acceptable" sharpness while I want pin sharp photos. how to achieve this?

For each aperture there will be a hyperfocal  distance. Setting the focus to that distance is said to have things appear as "acceptable sharp" if they are in a range called DOF. The only things sharp would be at the focus distance and "acceptably sharp" is subjective.

In practice, I believe the best results are when you focus on the main subject.

Zone focusing is a technique devised for cameras with slow or no AF or for moments people want to shoot without achieving focus.

It mostly means using a small aperture for a larger DoF, focusing at a distance and shooting when the photographer guesses the subject is near that distance. It doesn't give the best results.

  1. If I use a high quality manual focus lens with DOF scale printed, set it to 10' to Infinity and leave it there, will it help in achieving sharp photos without any need to recompose and focus again? (please don't route me to point & shoot)

You can set the focus to a range of distances. You have to set it to one distance. Only things at the focus distance will be sharp. Other things might as well appear as sharp if: aperture is small in relation with sensor size, focus distance is far enough, those things are close enough to focus distance

  1. Will the above trick help in snapping up moving subjects within that range as well?

Moving things will appear sharp if they are at or near the focus point, and your aperture is small enough. Your shutter speed also has to be high enough no prevent motion blur.

Do the reading Gerry suggested, play with the simulator he linked and go out and shoot as much as you can. Since the mountains won't run away, you have plenty of time to use different apertures, focus at different distances, change the distance between the camera and subjects. Come home, open the files and see how all that is affecting what is sharp and what is not.

 DeathArrow's gear list:DeathArrow's gear list
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Mark S Abeln
Mark S Abeln Forum Pro • Posts: 18,985
Actual problems?
4

Do you see actual focus problems with your landscape photos?

I think it is important that someone doesn’t let their theoretical understanding outpace their practical experience by too much.

Please post a few photos where you think you have a focus problem.

 Mark S Abeln's gear list:Mark S Abeln's gear list
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Bob
Bob Veteran Member • Posts: 4,094
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing
5
  1. I've read a lot about "Zone/Hyperfocal" techniques and they all talk about "acceptable" sharpness while I want pin sharp photos. how to achieve this?

'depth of field' is all about acceptable sharpness. You can only have 'pin' sharp images at the focal plane. So the thing you're asking about does not exist.

KCook
KCook Forum Pro • Posts: 19,811
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Gerry Winterbourne wrote:

Gurusathiy wrote:

Dear Gerry,

Thanks for taking time and answering my query patiently, much helpful!!

You're welcome.

Guess I should explore more on DOF!! will do!

The site Cambridge in Colour has a poor reputation here on DPR because it contains some errors. However, a lot of it gives useful guidance; this page on DOF is quite helpful https://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/depth-of-field.htm

+ 1

If you prefer books, I have a survey on my blog -

https://photographyintro.com/basic-books/

Kelly Cook

 KCook's gear list:KCook's gear list
Canon EOS 50D Olympus PEN E-P5 Panasonic G85
Autonerd Senior Member • Posts: 3,053
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Gurusathiy wrote:

A newbie here!!

Welcome!

I zone-focus on my film cameras, particularly with wide-angle lenses when walking around. I'll set a small-ish aperture, prefocus the camera with the DOF scale, and when I see something I just frame and shoot, making sure my subject is in that DOF range. It may not be in focus in the viewfinder but it will be in focus on the negative.

And yes, the focus is pretty much uniform when you use the DOF scale -- can't say pin-sharp for sure since it's 35mm film which is scanned, but definitely uniform.

  1. If I use a high quality manual focus lens with DOF scale printed, set it to 10' to Infinity and leave it there, will it help in achieving sharp photos without any need to recompose and focus again? (please don't route me to point & shoot)
  2. Will the above trick help in snapping up moving subjects within that range as well?

Yes and yes. Here's a 28mm lens zone-focused for f/11:

Here, with the lens set at f/11, everything from just under 5 feet (let's call it 4.5) to infinity will be in focus. If, say, a caribou walked into the shot 20' from the camera, it'd be in focus.

Pin-sharp? Can't say, as I'm shooting traditional-grain film, and besides, nothing in this life is perfect. With my Sony, I've found that objects within the DOF range are plenty sharp.

Obviously the Sony doesn't have a DOF scale but the EVF works quite nicely for that. I shoot primarily in A mode and can see right away if my DOF is too shallow. Also, I rely exclusively on autofocus with my a6000 -- I'm amazed at how well it works.

I agree with whoever said that it'd be a good idea to get a good understanding of DOF. The book I suggest for everyone is a (cheap) used copy of Photography by Barbara London and John Upton . The section on DOF is great. I have a couple of (film-centric) editions and after 30 years of "serious camera" photography still use it as a reference.

Aaron

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(unknown member) Veteran Member • Posts: 5,193
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Gurusathiy wrote:

  1. I've read a lot about "Zone/Hyperfocal" techniques and they all talk about "acceptable" sharpness while I want pin sharp photos. how to achieve this

This is not really correct that dof is about what is "acceptably" sharp. You can set the sharpness you want in fact with the circle of confusion.
So you can set it to be "pin" sharp if you want. For instance you can set the focus to be sharp at pixel level.

But this is not magic !! It is not necessarily recommended because it causes difraction (which also reduces shsrpness..). So usually dof is used to get it acceptably sharp to find a good compromise.

From my experience, it is a good thing to reduce a bit the circle of confusion compared to the normal one suggested, but I would not go further than reducing it by half. Especially with high resolution sensors. Just consider to reduce it a bit, not much.

OP Gurusathiy Junior Member • Posts: 25
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

DeathArrow wrote:

I can't see how auto focus can be slow for static scenes such as landscapes.

My problem is when my friend enters the scene, auto-focus takes time to lock focus on my friend while my other friend snaps up easily in his mobile. That is the reason i told "slow".

  1. When I shoot a landscape (typically mountains), I want sharp pics whether a subject comes in front of the camera or not without changing the focus ring. I know i need to focus on the subject to get it in focus but my primary necessity is to fix a focus and keep clicking whether there is a near subject or not.

You can use autofocus once to focus on the subject and switch to manual focus after. The subject will be in focus as long as the distance doesn't change.

  1. I've read a lot about "Zone/Hyperfocal" techniques and they all talk about "acceptable" sharpness while I want pin sharp photos. how to achieve this?

For each aperture there will be a hyperfocal distance. Setting the focus to that distance is said to have things appear as "acceptable sharp" if they are in a range called DOF. The only things sharp would be at the focus distance and "acceptably sharp" is subjective.

In practice, I believe the best results are when you focus on the main subject.

Zone focusing is a technique devised for cameras with slow or no AF or for moments people want to shoot without achieving focus.

It mostly means using a small aperture for a larger DoF, focusing at a distance and shooting when the photographer guesses the subject is near that distance. It doesn't give the best results.

This is exactly my issue, I want best results and hence the query to understand from experienced people on how they do it.

  1. Will the above trick help in snapping up moving subjects within that range as well?

Moving things will appear sharp if they are at or near the focus point, and your aperture is small enough. Your shutter speed also has to be high enough no prevent motion blur.

Do the reading Gerry suggested, play with the simulator he linked and go out and shoot as much as you can. Since the mountains won't run away, you have plenty of time to use different apertures, focus at different distances, change the distance between the camera and subjects. Come home, open the files and see how all that is affecting what is sharp and what is not.

Sure!! My plans as well!!

Thanks
Guru raj

OP Gurusathiy Junior Member • Posts: 25
Re: Actual problems?

Hi Mark,

Thanks for the post, my problem is not with out of focus photos but focusing each time when there is a new variable added to the scene. As posted earlier, while friends keep snapping up with their mobile, my A6000 takes that bit 1 sec extra to lock and then snap which delays the process and I'm not enjoying the experience.

Mark Scott Abeln wrote:

Do you see actual focus problems with your landscape photos?

Thanks
Guru raj

OP Gurusathiy Junior Member • Posts: 25
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Gerry Winterbourne wrote:

Gurusathiy wrote:

Dear Gerry,

Thanks for taking time and answering my query patiently, much helpful!!

You're welcome.

Guess I should explore more on DOF!! will do!

The site Cambridge in Colour has a poor reputation here on DPR because it contains some errors. However, a lot of it gives useful guidance; this page on DOF is quite helpful https://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/depth-of-field.htm

Thanks again!!

Thanks
Guru raj

OP Gurusathiy Junior Member • Posts: 25
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing
1

KCook wrote

+ 1

If you prefer books, I have a survey on my blog -

https://photographyintro.com/basic-books/

Kelly Cook

Thanks Cook, will take a look!!

Guru raj

OP Gurusathiy Junior Member • Posts: 25
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing
1

Autonerd wrote:

Gurusathiy wrote:

A newbie here!!

Welcome!

  1. If I use a high quality manual focus lens with DOF scale printed, set it to 10' to Infinity and leave it there, will it help in achieving sharp photos without any need to recompose and focus again? (please don't route me to point & shoot)
  2. Will the above trick help in snapping up moving subjects within that range as well?

Yes and yes. Here's a 28mm lens zone-focused for f/11:

Here, with the lens set at f/11, everything from just under 5 feet (let's call it 4.5) to infinity will be in focus. If, say, a caribou walked into the shot 20' from the camera, it'd be in focus.

Pin-sharp? Can't say, as I'm shooting traditional-grain film, and besides, nothing in this life is perfect. With my Sony, I've found that objects within the DOF range are plenty sharp.

Aaron

Hi Aaron,

Thanks a lot, this is exactly my query was when using a manual focus lens. I'll see how this works for me and update the thread here but that may take a while:-( as I'm occupied with my day job!!
Guru raj

OP Gurusathiy Junior Member • Posts: 25
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Christof21 wrote:

From my experience, it is a good thing to reduce a bit the circle of confusion compared to the normal one suggested, but I would not go further than reducing it by half. Especially with high resolution sensors. Just consider to reduce it a bit, not much.

Hi Chris,

thanks for the input, will experiment with this too!!

Guru raj

Gerry Winterbourne Forum Pro • Posts: 19,063
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing
1

Christof21 wrote:

Gurusathiy wrote:

  1. I've read a lot about "Zone/Hyperfocal" techniques and they all talk about "acceptable" sharpness while I want pin sharp photos. how to achieve this

This is not really correct that dof is about what is "acceptably" sharp.

On the contrary, the definition of depth of field is the range of distances within which the picture is acceptably sharp.

You can set the sharpness you want in fact with the circle of confusion.

You can calculate whatever you like; but what is actually acceptably sharp depends ion the picture, its size, the viewing distance, the acuity of your vision etc.

So you can set it to be "pin" sharp if you want. For instance you can set the focus to be sharp at pixel level.

This is meaningless. All you can do with focus is set it specific distance. At that distance sharpness will be whatever the particular lens can deliver; it will reduce for objects nearer or further than the focus distance.

But this is not magic !! It is not necessarily recommended because it causes diffraction (which also reduces sharpness..). So usually dof is used to get it acceptably sharp to find a good compromise.

From my experience, it is a good thing to reduce a bit the circle of confusion compared to the normal one suggested, but I would not go further than reducing it by half. Especially with high resolution sensors. Just consider to reduce it a bit, not much.

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Gerry
________________________________________________________________________
I'm happy for anyone to edit any of my photos and display the results
_________________________________________________________________________
First camera 1953, first Pentax 1985, first DSLR 2006
http://www.pbase.com/gerrywinterbourne
gerry.winterbourne@ntlworld.com

Gerry Winterbourne Forum Pro • Posts: 19,063
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Gurusathiy wrote:

DeathArrow wrote:

I can't see how auto focus can be slow for static scenes such as landscapes.

My problem is when my friend enters the scene, auto-focus takes time to lock focus on my friend while my other friend snaps up easily in his mobile. That is the reason i told "slow".

If you have studied DOF you will realise that for the same picture the DOF gets deeper as the sensor gets smaller. Phone sensors are so small that DOF is almost infinite; but small sensors have other limitations - one always has to choose which limitations to accept.

It mostly means using a small aperture for a larger DoF, focusing at a distance and shooting when the photographer guesses the subject is near that distance. It doesn't give the best results.

This is exactly my issue, I want best results and hence the query to understand from experienced people on how they do it.

You should now know how to use a DOF calculator. Enter the details of your camera, lens and settings. Decide the nearest distance you want to be sharp, then adjust the aperture and focus distance until the calculator shows this as the near end of DOF and infinity as the far end. Then set the focus ring on your lens to the focus distance shown.

As long as focus is manual everything in the range calculated will be acceptably sharp, subject to the fact that DOF calculations make a number of assumptions so they are never perfectly accurate. But unless your critical object is exactly at the nearest distance that won't matter.

There are other methods; here's a klong but interesting read http://trenholm.org/hmmerk/download.html

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Gerry
________________________________________________________________________
I'm happy for anyone to edit any of my photos and display the results
_________________________________________________________________________
First camera 1953, first Pentax 1985, first DSLR 2006
http://www.pbase.com/gerrywinterbourne
gerry.winterbourne@ntlworld.com

Gerry Winterbourne Forum Pro • Posts: 19,063
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing
3

Gurusathiy wrote:

You have marked this reply as answering your question but it doesn't really do that satisfactorily.

As I said in another post, DOF depends (among other things) on the size of sensor. The markings on old lenses are calculated for 35mm film - full frame on digital - so unless you are using a FF camera (and you aren't) the scales give wrong answers.

You can work out how to convert the scales, of course, but that's something extra to think about.

Note, too, that while this reply doesn't recommend f/11, that is not a very good aperture to use on your camera. The exact aperture depends on factors including the focal length of the lens but in a lot of cases you'll get betterr esults at f/5.6-8.

Autonerd wrote:

Gurusathiy wrote:

A newbie here!!

Welcome!

  1. If I use a high quality manual focus lens with DOF scale printed, set it to 10' to Infinity and leave it there, will it help in achieving sharp photos without any need to recompose and focus again? (please don't route me to point & shoot)
  2. Will the above trick help in snapping up moving subjects within that range as well?

Yes and yes. Here's a 28mm lens zone-focused for f/11:

Here, with the lens set at f/11, everything from just under 5 feet (let's call it 4.5) to infinity will be in focus. If, say, a caribou walked into the shot 20' from the camera, it'd be in focus.

It wouldn't be in focus (according to the scale focus is at about 10'); it would be slightly out of focus but acceptably sharp. "Focus" and "sharpness" are different things; it doesn't help a beginner to confuse them.

The whole pint about DOF is that things can look sharp (that is, they are "acceptably" sharp) even when they are slightly out of focus. DOF is the range of distances about the distance where things are in focus that things look sharp. To set the desired DOF one needs to know that distance: moving the focus distance moves the DOF.

Pin-sharp? Can't say, as I'm shooting traditional-grain film, and besides, nothing in this life is perfect. With my Sony, I've found that objects within the DOF range are plenty sharp.

Aaron

Hi Aaron,

Thanks a lot, this is exactly my query was when using a manual focus lens. I'll see how this works for me and update the thread here but that may take a while:-( as I'm occupied with my day job!!
Guru raj

-- hide signature --

Gerry
________________________________________________________________________
I'm happy for anyone to edit any of my photos and display the results
_________________________________________________________________________
First camera 1953, first Pentax 1985, first DSLR 2006
http://www.pbase.com/gerrywinterbourne
gerry.winterbourne@ntlworld.com

(unknown member) Veteran Member • Posts: 5,193
Re: Usability of Zone Focusing

Gurusathiy wrote:

Christof21 wrote:

From my experience, it is a good thing to reduce a bit the circle of confusion compared to the normal one suggested, but I would not go further than reducing it by half. Especially with high resolution sensors. Just consider to reduce it a bit, not much.

Hi Chris,

thanks for the input, will experiment with this too!!

Guru raj

Welcome.
An example of this is Fuji cameras, you can display the dof scale in the EVF.
You can choose between pixel basis dof or film based dof, this means you have 2 different circle of confusion.

I regret though to not be able to select your own CoC, I would certainly choose a value in between.

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