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Zone Focus Technique


jimleicam3
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There has been much complaining about this forum being too much equipment and not enough about taking photos. I have no feelings one way or the other. However, I would love to have some of the more expeirenced RF users to give me a primer on the technique behind zone focus. As I have gotten older, it does take longer to get a dead on focus when wider open f stops. I have tried the zone focus, but again it is hit or miss at times. Thanks for any advice, I really enjoy the feed back from this group. Thanks again, jim

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What is there to say really?

 

Provided you can reasonably accurately estimate the distance to your subject, and you have sufficient depth of field to allow for a margin of error, all you have to do is set the lens accordingly.

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The secret is thinking ahead. What sort of action can I expect? At what distance? Closest? Farthest?

 

It is necessary to stop the lens down enough to create a 'sharp space' within which the action can take place. Consequently, zone focusing is for short focal lengths. With a film M, 35mm and shorter; with a M8, 28mm and shorter. With longer lenses, the depth of field at any reasonable apertures is too shallow.

 

How deep is the sharp space? Where does it start (as seen from my stand) and where does it end? The depth of field scale of the lens can give a hint, as long as we do not take it literally. For real sharpness, read actual depth of field at an aperture that is numerically half that set on the lens. So, if you are operating at f:8, read the near and far limits of the 'sharp space' at f:4, and so forth.

 

The change from very sharp to tolerably sharp to recognisable to total fuzz is of course a gradual one. But the calculation above will tell you where your 'sharp space' has its hard core. Accept that you cannot predict the outcome fully. You will have to operate intuitively, but with a basis of hard factual knowledge. It is more like instinctive shotgunning and less like deliberate sniping.

 

Admittedly, I do not use zone focusing much, only in situations, such as demonstrations and other street events, where the subject has a considerable extension in space. Normally, I point-focus. Proficiency comes with practice. The ability to find the right point to focus on does also come with practice. With a digital M, practice is fortunately easy, cheap and affords immediate feedback and confirmation.

 

The old man from the Age Before the SLR

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What is there to say really?

 

Provided you can reasonably accurately estimate the distance to your subject <snip>

 

That's the main thing. While you're carrying your Leica round -

  • Stop
  • Look at something. Estimate the distance.
  • Then use the rangefinder to find out how far it really is.

And repeat repeat repeat with different targets and different distances. Compare the distances with familiar objects whose dimensions you know: your mattress, your dining table, the length of your hallway. Soon you'll be estimating distances more accurately than you need for zone focusing ... it's cool not to need the rangefinder, you can snap away with a Rollei 35 or rangefinder-less Leica and everyone else will assume you have autofocus:cool:

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For closer distances I'd recommend checking this post I made a week ago. There's way too much "back focused" pictures in this forum :)

 

http://www.l-camera-forum.com/leica-forum/customer-forum/88260-focus-techniques-2.html#post942951

 

And Giordano's advice is excellent. Zone focusing takes some time to learn, but after that it's like riding a bicycle (you never forget). Cheers!

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As I have gotten older, it does take longer to get a dead on focus when wider open f stops.jim

 

Jim, I can equate to your situation very well! Last year I realised for the first time that MF was taking me far too long, especially when people or animals were the subjects! So called zone focusing didn't work for me either, probably as I like to shoot fairly wide open. So before rigor mortis finally sets in with a vengeance I decided, albeit reluctantly, to go AF and I haven't looked back since:D

 

I still use MF for landscape and macro work which with modern very bright DSLR viewfinders are even easier to use than my R9 viewfinder. So don't despair even though it is probably not the answer you were looking for!

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Zone focusing is for either 24mm or wider or if you have a 35mm stopped down to assure a zone of acceptable sharpness.

Figure out the f stop and set the infinifty marking opposite the f stop in use, you can then read the min distance for which you will get an acceptable image, so anything from that distance to infinity is OK.

I don't use zone focusing on 50mm or longer as the depth of field is not that great. For my 21mm f2.8 ASPH its mostly zone focused outside. Inside its focused unless using a flash where again I pick an f stop and set the lens. The flash does the rest.-Dick

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