The Secret to Capturing Sharp Images Instantly using Zone Focusing
Image credit - Matt Hardy

The Secret to Capturing Sharp Images Instantly using Zone Focusing

Have you ever found yourself struggling to get the perfect shot because your autofocus just won't cooperate? Whether you're new to photography or a seasoned pro, by taking control of your focus with zone focusing, you can capture the moments as you see them. All it takes is a little bit of knowledge and a small amount of practice and you can ditch the sluggish autofocus and capture clear, sharp images that truly stand out.

What are the numbers?

Manual focus lenses have several sets of numbers printed along the side of the lens body that assist with zone focusing. At first glance these can be confusing, but understanding what these mean is the key to mastering this useful technique.

Each lens manufacturer may present them in their own way, but the principle remains the same. The aperture control ring, depth of field scale, and distance scale can be used to control the area, or zone, that will be in focus when a photo is taken. 

An illustrated image of a manual focus lens, outlining where to find the three main features of the lens.

The aperture control ring allows you to adjust the aperture of the lens. In digital cameras this is often done on the camera itself, but with vintage manual lenses it’s much more common to appear on the lens itself.

The depth of field scale shows you a vertical line indicating which aperture value is selected and shows markings for some common apertures. The higher the aperture value, the larger the depth of field and the greater the distance between the corresponding values on the depth of field scale. 

Finally, the distance scale shows the distance from the film plane in both feet and meters. At the very end of the distance scale is the infinity symbol (∞) which can be very useful when photographing outside.

How does it work?

Now that we understand what those values mean, how do we set up the lens to make use of this? Lets work through a few example situations so we can cover each setup. If you have a manual focus lens to hand, we recommend following along at home.

First, imagine we’re walking the streets of a busy city during a sunny day, photographing people as they pass by. We want the buildings and surroundings to be in focus and need to figure out how close our subjects can be before they fall outside the depth of field and appear blurry. 

To do this we set the aperture on the aperture ring to 8, then move the focus ring until the infinity symbol on the distance scale aligns with the 8 on the right side of the depth of field scale. 

A manual focus lens highlighting the depth of field scale, the distance scale and the aperture selection ring.

On our example lens this shows that everything between 5m/15ft to infinity will be in focus. This will be different for each focal length - our example is a 50mm lens.

This means we can walk the streets and take photos of subjects at least 5m/15ft away from us without changing the focus at all. Our images will remain sharp everything will be in focus. This allows us to spend more time considering our framing and avoids any delays when pressing the shutter button.

Next maybe you want to take some portraits indoors where the light is a little dimmer and the subjects are a bit closer. We set the aperture to 4, then move the focus ring until 3m/10ft on the distance scale aligns with the 4 on the left side of the depth of field scale.

A manual focus lens highlighting the depth of field scale, the distance scale and the aperture selection ring.

On our example lens this shows that everything between 3m/10ft and 5m/15ft will be in focus.

Now our subjects can relax and move around a little as they pose and we don’t need to refocus before every photo is taken, allowing us to capture more natural and comfortable poses.

In conclusion, using zone focusing with manual focus lenses can be a game-changer for your photography. By understanding the key features of these lenses, and how to make the most of the information they provide, you can take control of your focus and create images that are sharp and well-composed. With practice, you'll find that using zone focusing becomes second nature, and you'll be able to capture the moments that matter with ease. So, grab your manual focus lens, head out into the world, and start experimenting with zone focusing!

  • The Secret to Capturing Sharp Images Instantly using Zone Focusing

    The Secret to Capturing Sharp Images Instantly ...

    Have you ever found yourself struggling to get the perfect shot because your autofocus just won't cooperate? Whether you're new to photography or a seasoned pro, by taking control of...

    The Secret to Capturing Sharp Images Instantly ...

    Have you ever found yourself struggling to get the perfect shot because your autofocus just won't cooperate? Whether you're new to photography or a seasoned pro, by taking control of...

  • An Introduction to Manual Focusing

    An Introduction to Manual Focusing

    In a world where autofocus technology is rapidly advancing, it's easy to overlook the benefits of manual focusing in photography. Despite these advances, manual focusing can still offer greater accuracy,...

    An Introduction to Manual Focusing

    In a world where autofocus technology is rapidly advancing, it's easy to overlook the benefits of manual focusing in photography. Despite these advances, manual focusing can still offer greater accuracy,...

  • A Guide to the Different Brands of Film Currently in Production

    A Guide to the Different Brands of Film Current...

    Film photography is an ever-evolving medium, and with so many brands of film currently in production, it can be difficult to know where to start. Each brand of film has...

    A Guide to the Different Brands of Film Current...

    Film photography is an ever-evolving medium, and with so many brands of film currently in production, it can be difficult to know where to start. Each brand of film has...

1 of 3