The distance scale used to be far more common on lenses when manual lenses were made at a wide range. However, today you only see distance scale on high-end lenses. The distance scale helps you focus the lens manually, and it is useful for helping find the hyperfocal distance so that you can photograph landscapes with clear details. It helps you take better pictures that are sharper and clearer.
What Is the Distance Scale on a Lens?
The distance scale is a part of the lens that helps you measure the focusing distance. If you are using a manually operated lens, it is difficult to focus at a distance without this feature. You need to know the focusing distance to capture crisp, clear shots, and the distance scale allows this to happen. It will measure the distance in either feet or meters.
This feature helps you set the focusing distance. When you have a lens with autofocus, you can point at anything, and the lens will focus. This isn’t the case when you are using a lens with manual focus. When you use this kind of lens, you can set it to the distance where you want to capture images. If you are looking at something a foot away, you can set it to one foot. You can also set it to infinity if the subject is off in the distance. This allows you to capture excellent photos while you are using a manual lens.
Photographers who shoot landscapes often speak of the hyperfocal distance. This is the location where you can place the subject while you blur the foreground and the background. You can find this distance using the distance scale.
How to Use the Distance Scale
Although different lenses may have slightly different processes for setting the distance scale, you can follow these steps, particularly for a prime lens.
1. Set the Aperture
The first thing you do is set the aperture. You can set it wherever you want. If you plan to photograph landscape scenes, you will want to set it at the highest number you can.
2. Set the Distance Scale
Next, you will set the distance scale. You will notice that there are numbers on your lens, and there is a number in the middle with numbers going away from it on both sides. For example, if you set your aperture to 16, you might notice that there are two of the number 16: one on the left and one on the right. Your distance for focusing will fall between these two numbers. You will want to adjust the middle ring and the focusing distance until you get the setting you are looking for.
3. Determine the Hyperfocal Distance
It is not difficult to determine the hyperfocal distance by using the distance scale on your lens. Look at the point in the center. This is the hyperfocal distance. Find an object at that distance, and focus on it. This will allow you to create that blue in the foreground and the background.
If you are using a telephoto lens, you will be able to find the distance scale. You can set the aperture at a higher value so that you can shoot a landscape. Then, set the distance scale by adjusting the middle field. You will see a number over the aperture setting, and this is your focusing distance.
4. Capturing Photos with the Distance Scale
The best way to take crisp, clear pictures with your camera is by knowing the hyperfocal distance. The distance scale helps you determine what that is. When you take landscape photos, you will likely want to have the foreground and background sharp rather than blurred.
You can accomplish this by focusing on an object that is right at the hyperfocal distance. In this case, you will find that your photo comes out much sharper than it would if you were focusing on the foreground or the background. It works well because you simply find an object that is located at the hyperfocal distance, such as a tree, and then, your entire image will be sharper and clearer.
Why Don’t You Need the Distance Scale on an Autofocus Lens?
When you look at a modern autofocus lens, you will find that the distance scale is only on mid-range to high-end lenses. However, it is different from how it is on manual lenses. When you look at the distance scale on a manual lens, you can learn a lot of information about the focusing ability and the depth of field. You can see the distance where the lens is focused, and you can estimate the field of depth at any full stop aperture.
When you look at the distance scale on an autofocus lens, it doesn’t have the same information. You really can’t tell more than how far away the lens will be focused. This is a limitation for serious photographers because it forces them to rely on the autofocus. Most users don’t have the same need for these details because autofocus lenses are quite advanced, but some professional landscape photographers wish it was still there.
When Does Hyperfocal Distance Matter?
The most common type of photography that uses the hyperfocal distance is landscape photography. This allows everything to be sharp and in focus from the front to the back of the photo. However, you need a camera lens that allows you to switch to manual focusing.
You need a lens that has four sets of markings. The top is the distance scale. Underneath it, you will find the f-stops, which is the depth of field scale. There will be two marks that are equidistant from each f-stop, and one is on the right and one on the left. The last markings show which f-stop you have chosen. When you change your aperture, it will change this setting for you.
If you want to find out which part of your scene will be in focus, you can read your distance scale. Look at your f-stop. If you have it set at f/2.8, you can look at the two marks for 2.8. This will tell you that your scene is in focus at somewhere between 3 and 3.5 feet. You can try different settings to see where your lens will focus. You can also set it to infinity, which is over the center mark. Then you can choose the distance to the left of the central scale, and everything from that place to infinity will be in focus.
To understand hyperfocal focusing, you need to know that the depth of field usually goes forward one-third from the subject and behind it two-thirds. However, if you focus on infinity, everything from the focal point going back to infinity will be in focus. The hyperfocal distance is the distance where your scene is first clear and in focus, and everything behind it will be as well. When you change the hyperfocal distance, you can accommodate different subjects.
The distance scale is useful for anyone who is using a manual lens and wants to choose where the camera is focused. You can use these settings to change the hyperfocal point, and you can capture landscape scenes that are sharp and clear.