Term: Zone Focusing
Description: Zone focusing, often termed "depth of field scale focusing," is a photographic technique utilized by photographers to pre-focus a camera lens on a specific distance range. This approach leverages the depth of field (the range in which objects appear acceptably sharp) of a lens at a given aperture setting. By setting the lens to a predetermined distance, photographers can quickly capture images without the need for auto or manual focusing at the moment of taking the shot. This technique is especially beneficial in street photography, where rapid, spontaneous captures are crucial. By understanding the relationship between aperture, focal length, and distance, photographers can ensure that subjects within the desired range are in focus, thus maximizing the chances of capturing a clear and sharp image.
What is Zone Focusing and How Do You Use It?
Zone focusing, or ‘scale focusing’, is the systematic pre-focusing of a lens at specific distance and aperture to achieve a sharp image. Arguably one of the most effective methods of focusing your camera, zone focusing has been used by street photographers for decades allowing them to capture that fleeting decisive moment. This has been the go-to for rangefinder shooters since the beginning of the type.
Even with modern autofocus systems in the latest cameras, it still takes a brief moment for the camera to ‘lock on’. Not relying on automation, zone focusing utilizes a deep depth-of-field to ensure your camera will be in focus before it even reaches your eye. Factors that affect depth-of-field included aperture, focal length, and sensor size.
A smaller aperture, shorter focal length, and smaller sensor size will increase depth-of-field. In zone focusing, especially with street photography, a high f-stop number (between f/8 and f/16) and a wider lens (usually 28mm and 35mm on full frame) are frequently used.
Photographer David Coleman produced a brief video explaining exactly what zone focusing is, and different method to achieve it.
In one method, setting your “zone of focus” is as simple as lining up the aperture with a selected distance marking on your lens (if it has them) to determine the scale of what will be in focus. Some mirrorless systems are focus-by-wire, where the focus is controlled electronically, and a scale is not printed on the lens. Apps like Hyperfocal Pro for Android or Simple DoF Calculator for iOS come in handy to help calculate the zone of focus for smaller sensor cameras.
Zone focusing allows you to completely concentrate on the scene and photo you are about to make. It allows you to become apart of your surrounding. With practice, you know the area that will be in focus and as long as the action takes place in the predetermined range, the scene will be in focus.
Zone Focusing with Vintage Manual Lenses
If you are like me, and like using old vintage manual focus lenses, either on your SLR or mirrorless camera, zone focusing is a technique that can help you nail focus quickly, and fairly accurately without relying on the LCD to try and tell if you are in focus or not. Specifically with mirrorless cameras, since there is no optical viewfinder, you must rely on an LCD to try and tell what is in focus when using old vintage lenses. Some cameras have handy 100% zoom features in live view that can help, but even with those, it can be difficult to nail focus quickly. That is where zone focusing comes in.
Using the markings on the lens, with the approximate distance to your subject in mind, you can quickly and accurately nail sharp focus in no time. This has helped me a great deal since moving to using almost exclusively vintage manual focus lenses on my mirrorless EOS-M camera bodies. Using this system, in conjunction with zooming to 100% in live view, has really helped improve the speed with which I can nail focus on these tiny mirrorless bodies.
I highly recommend practicing it and giving it a try if you are into using old vintage lenses.
Related Articles to Zone Focusing Definition
15 Tips For When You’re Having Trouble Focusing Your Camera
Having trouble focusing your camera? We’re often too “in the zone” or in a hurry to figure out how to…