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Understanding minimum focus distance

From: Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

Video: Understanding minimum focus distance

So, let's say you are out in the world, and you see the cool, small thing, or the fascinating detail, and you get in close with your lens, and you frame up the perfect shot, but when you have pressed the shutter button to focus, the camera just hunts around, and it never locks on. This is going to be the first big problem that you are going to encounter with close-up shooting. Sometimes, you simply won't be able to get your lens to focus when you're in close. This happens because every lens has a minimum focus distance; inside that distance, your lens won't be capable of focusing.

Understanding minimum focus distance

So, let's say you are out in the world, and you see the cool, small thing, or the fascinating detail, and you get in close with your lens, and you frame up the perfect shot, but when you have pressed the shutter button to focus, the camera just hunts around, and it never locks on. This is going to be the first big problem that you are going to encounter with close-up shooting. Sometimes, you simply won't be able to get your lens to focus when you're in close. This happens because every lens has a minimum focus distance; inside that distance, your lens won't be capable of focusing.

For example, if your lens has a minimum focus distance of 8 inches, then you'll have to be at least 8 inches from your subject for the camera to focus. Now, if you are using a zoom lens, that minimum focus distance is the same, no matter what focal length you have the lens set to. This means that I may not be able to solve my focus problem by changing camera position and focal length. Here's what I mean. Let's say I want to take a picture of this flower. So, I am going to come in here, and frame up my shot the way that I want. And, I really want my shot to fill the whole frame, and I can't get it in focus.

No matter where I turn the focus ring, it's still just a little bit soft. If I pull my camera back . . . Oh, okay, now I can get in focus, but I can't really fill the frame the way that I want to. So, you might think, "Well, I will go wider and then come in. "Well, no. Now, I am inside the minimum focusing distance. I cannot get this lens to focus if it's any closer than here. It does not matter what focal length I am at. Now, you can look up the minimum focus distance in your camera's manual or your lens's manual.

The focus distance markings on your lens might tell you what the minimum focus distance is, but you can't always count on this. For example, on this lens, the closest focus distance that is shown is 0.7 meters, or 2.3 feet. But it also has this area here, which says Macro. Now, this is actually all kind of annoying, because this macro range that it's indicating does not turn the lens into a macro lens; it's simply indicating that when you're down here in this zone, you're in the closest focusing range.

So, macro on here doesn't mean that I have a true macro lens. But it also doesn't tell me what the minimum focusing distance is, because this lens can focus closer than 0.7 meters. If I look in the manual, I learn what the minimum focusing distance is 1.48 feet or 0.45 meters. Now, you might think, "Why should I care what the exact minimum focusing distance is? I will just see how close I can get." And, you're right. You can figure out your lens's minimum focus distance simply by seeing how close you can get to a subject, and still achieve focus.

But if you have multiple lenses, it's worth knowing their minimum focusing distances, especially if their focal length ranges overlap. For example, I have this Canon 24-105mm, which has a minimum focusing distance of 1.48 feet or 0.45 m, but I also have this Canon 16-35. Now, focal length-wise, I've got some overlap. Both lenses have a range of 24 to 35 mm, but the minimum focusing distance on the 16-35 is only 0.92 feet, as compared to the 24-105's 1 1/2 feet.

So, as long as I don't need those longer focal lengths, I can actually get closer with this lens than with this lens. In other words, if I investigate my minimum focus distance, I learn that I can get closer with my wide-angle lens than with my longer lens, which might seem counterintuitive simply because we think of long lenses as the way to get close-ups. This brings us to our next question. When working close-up, is it better to shoot with a shorter or longer focal length? We are going to look at that question in the next movie.

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This video is part of

Image for Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up
Foundations of Photography: Macro and Close-Up

47 video lessons · 15178 viewers

Ben Long
Author

 
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  1. 3m 54s
    1. Welcome
      2m 17s
    2. What you need to know for this course
      1m 37s
  2. 20m 33s
    1. What is close up?
      2m 21s
    2. Understanding minimum focus distance
      3m 55s
    3. Comparing wide lens and telephoto
      1m 55s
    4. Understanding depth of field and focus
      2m 11s
    5. Working with extension tubes
      4m 30s
    6. Working with close-up lenses
      5m 41s
  3. 28m 7s
    1. What is a macro photo?
      4m 15s
    2. Understanding how to shoot macro with a reversed lens
      5m 37s
    3. Using a point-and-shoot camera for macro
      1m 55s
    4. Working with backdrops for macro
      3m 45s
    5. Practicing macro by shooting in the kitchen
      12m 35s
  4. 58m 38s
    1. Choosing a macro lens
      2m 4s
    2. Exploring macro lens features: Focal length
      3m 16s
    3. Understanding macro lens shutter speed
      7m 6s
    4. Shooting basics with a macro lens
      8m 24s
    5. Getting closer with macro lenses and extension tubes
      11m 13s
    6. Working with depth of field and macro
      5m 1s
    7. Understanding depth and composition in macro
      6m 43s
    8. Working with subject holders and support
      6m 36s
    9. Shooting with the Canon 65 mm
      8m 15s
  5. 13m 12s
    1. Working with macro stabilizing options
      5m 45s
    2. Working with sliders for macro
      2m 44s
    3. Working with a bellows
      1m 55s
    4. Working with viewfinders in macro
      2m 48s
  6. 52m 59s
    1. Working with direct light
      6m 13s
    2. Macro and the angle of light
      2m 24s
    3. Augmenting direct light with reflectors
      6m 42s
    4. Continuous lighting to add fill to a macro shot
      5m 55s
    5. Lighting your macro scene with continuous light
      4m 50s
    6. Lighting the macro scene with strobes
      4m 59s
    7. Setting up a macro-specific flash unit
      3m 21s
    8. Shooting with the Canon Macro Twin Lite
      7m 56s
    9. Shooting macro in a light tent
      3m 31s
    10. Shooting macro on a light table
      7m 8s
  7. 19m 44s
    1. Field shooting for macro, starting at home
      7m 5s
    2. Managing backgrounds in the field
      7m 39s
    3. Shooting macro water droplets
      5m 0s
  8. 56m 19s
    1. Creating a simple manual focus stack
      4m 40s
    2. Creating a focus stacked image with manual merge
      6m 17s
    3. Creating a focus stacked image using Helicon Remote
      11m 6s
    4. Working with a StackShot rail for focus stacking
      11m 46s
    5. Merging a focus stack with Photoshop
      11m 12s
    6. Merging photo stacks with Helicon
      6m 53s
    7. Understanding the aesthetics of depth of field
      4m 25s
  9. 1m 5s
    1. Next steps
      1m 5s

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