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How deep is your DOF

I really need to know

in General Rants , Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Bee Gees must have been prescient when they wrote “cause we’re living in a world of fools”, because they we didn’t have internet photo nerd forums back in the 70s (we had flares - much better). If there is one thing guaranteed to wind me up most in those wastelands of joined-up thinking it is when some dweeb starts whining, posturing or proclaiming that such and such camera and/or lens doesn’t have “enough DOF”. DOF, of course, meaning Depth Of Field, but all the evidence tends to indicate that 90% of the aforementioned dweebs don’t know that. Back in the 70s (well, ok, 90s as far as I’m concerned), “enough DOF” meant being able to get a significant amount of your scene in focus. And it wasn’t easy, with 100 ISO (film, that is) being considered fast!

Canon cap snow

DOF porn Exhibit 1. Almost certainly (a) the first intentional picture of DOF I ever took, and (b) the least interesting and most pointless photo ever made in Antarctica. Canon FTb, 50mm f/1.8

In dweeb-land, however, “DOF” means getting as much of your photo out of focus as possible, preferably rendering everything in a pretty swirly smoothy hazy way so as to make the subject - usually a brick wall, or their back garden - totally unrecognisable. And it gets much, much worse when you run up against a Full Frame Cultist, who will inform you, in no uncertain terms, and with no room for discussion, that His (they’re always male) Way is The One Truth. You absolutely cannot get enough “DOF” (or indeed resolution, sensitivity, you name it), with, horror of horrors, a (micro) four-thirds sensor. Well, I beg to differ.

Drm 2012 11 16 EP31744

DOF porn Exhibit 2. Only a camera geek could love it. Panasonic Lumix 25mm f/1.4

And oh do I wish I find out where to get all that extraneous DOF four-thirds sensors apparently suffer from. Then I’d be able to get the jumbled bunches of rocks I like to photograph all in focus!

All systems, pretty much, allow you to be creative with shallow depth of field. It’s all down to focal length and positioning. Sure, there are certain configurations that are easier, or perhaps only possible, with a given lens on a full frame sensor. But exactly the same can be said for other combinations. Within reason, and excluding extreme edge cases, you can pretty much achieve whatever effect you want with any camera system. It just requires less talk, and more thought.

Of course, in 95% of cases normal people neither like nor see the point of these photos. They’re not photos of anything, just “tests” to show what “great DOF” Lens X can do. Fantastic. There are a few exceptions, but actually using this effect in a truly creative and rewarding way is very, very hard.

Extreme lenses, such as the Leica Noctilux f0.95, were designed for low-light shooting, not “DOF”. I can’t imagine trying to actually focus a Noctilux on a rangefinder! These days, with digital cameras giving good performance at ISO levels beyond film’s wildest dreams, these ultra-fast lenses are even more niche items. Typically, in the Film Age, lenses designed for soft-focus backgrounds were short teles with maximum apertures in the f/2 to f/2.8 range. Which, strangely enough, in terms of “equivalent separation”, is exactly where the Panasonic Summilux f/1.4, which I just bought in a fit of futile retail therapy, sits. And don’t let any forum troll tell you different.

Posted in category "General Rants" on Tuesday, November 20, 2012 at 10:50 PM

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