Focusing in a digital era
The film days were easy. When it came to landscape there was certainly a nuance and significant process’, but stopping down to f/22, focusing at infinity and waiting for the light were the basics that could get you started. Or at least a start with something in focus.
With digital, things get more complicated as focus is that much more precious and, as the resolution race continues, it becomes harder to achieve perfection. The heartbreaking thing about high-resolution photography is when focus is missed, even ever so slightly, it’s significant. Sharp is sharp, not something open to interpretation, and once you start nailing focus sharpness becomes the drug that your horribly addicted to.
To further complicate things, again attributing its notoriety to high-resolution photography is that every lens has a “sweet spot”. That magical place between an in-focus image and “Holy Sh*t, that’s sharp”. When you find it, you want to hold onto it and there’s nothing worse than being given that perfect moment of light only to fall short of nailing the focus.
XF Feature Update – Hyper Focal Calibration tool
Enter the Hyperfocal tool! With the XF system and the introduction of this tool, it’s now possible to be confident that you’ve gotten the image in the absolute best state of sharpness the lens, aperture, and digital back will allow.
Before going out on location, as you never know what the elements will throw at you, I have my lenses “sweet spot” saved for perfect Hyperfocal distance. I do this in a controlled setup for all my lenses, ensuring infinity focus is tack sharp without throwing out any unused depth of field. Once you get to your location, it’s as easy as composing the image, switching to Hyperfocal Focus mode, and pressing the shutter.
Although the tool is designed for you to measure and save the perfect hyperlocal distance, as the name implies, it’s much more versatile. Say you shoot reproduction and need to have consistent focus at a set distance. The Hyperlocal tool can be measured to reach that distance each and every time. Or, as Tim Kemple uses it, it can help to accommodate for shots where infinity focus is exactly what you DON’T want. With Tim’s workflow, a focus point just short of infinity can be saved.
So, when shooting a subject that may technically fall within the lenses infinity focus, and be indistinguishable to Auto Focus, a Hyperlocal point can be saved that will separate the subject slightly from the background. Choosing the Hyperfocal Focus mode for the shot throws infinity just slightly out of focus and helps to emphasis the subject, each and every time.
Tim Kemple on the Hyper Focal Calibration tool
“My favorite trick to really draw the viewers eye into the action is to shoot them at a distance that is just closer than the hyper focal distance of the lens that I’m using. It’s nearly impossible for any camera to nail the autofocus on these types of compositions right away. The subject is just too small and the focus distance too specific… Especially with today’s high resolution sensors. With the new hyper focal calibration on the XF I can nail this focus faster than ever. I just focus on ‘infinity’ then bump it back a whisker. It’s perfect every time.” – Tim Kemple
So when is Hyperlocal Focus mode important?
Just before sunrise and its too dark to rely on Auto Focus? Not a problem, Hyperfocal Focus. If it get’s cloudy and overcast, a low contrast situation that Auto Focus can’t handle? Not a problem, Hyperfocal Focus. Too late in the evening to see contrast on the mountain range so you can verify it’s sharp on the IQ screen? Not a problem, Hyperfocal Focus.
This particular image is a perfect example. Too early in the morning for my subpar eyesight to use manual focus and with the clouds rolling through the valley, Auto Focus didn’t have the contrast to nail it consistently. And even if Auto Focus were perfect, it would still only give me infinity focus and not that “sweet spot”. If I went with Manual focus it would take some trial and error, all the while I would miss the light.
So the Hyperfocal Tool is essential to be confident that I have the scene in perfect sharpness from infinity, to my foreground. Not only that but the tool allows me to keep consistent focus regardless of the changing elements, composition or position. It’s just one small tool of many that helps make the difference between productive mornings of photography and a sunrise that would have been better spent in bed. Nothing is worse than getting back to your room to review images, only to find out you woke up at 4am for unsharp images. I try to avoid disappointment wherever I can and the Hyperfocal Calibration Tool brings me one step closer to ensuring a gratifying image.
Drew is a Product Manager and Marketing Specialist for Phase One as well as a previous member of the Technical Supporter team. He works directly with customers in addition to assisting partners and sales associates alike to better understand the features of all of Phase One’s products. His role in the company extends to the PODAS photographic workshops, training seminars and sales events.