Critical Focus and Depth of Field – Photography Word of the Week 5

While many photographers, both professional and enthusiasts, know the rule of thumb of focusing on someone’s eye for portraits in order to achieve “critical focus”, not everyone understands the difference between critical focus and depth of field, two very related but very different terms. Critical focus is the part of the photo which is optically in focus. It is based on a simple formula which takes only two variables in consideration: the focal length of the lens, and the distance between the back of the lens and the film/sensor. The result is the distance at which critical focus is achieved, and anything on that plane is called critically in focus, while something even 0.0001mm in front or behind that distance might still be extremely sharp, but we wouldn’t be able to call it critically in focus.

In contrast, the depth of field adds a few other important factors: aperture, which affects how much of the image is in focus, and the circle of confusion, which defines what we consider as adequately in focus.

So the depth of field applies to a range of distances, for example with a Canon T5i with a 18mm lens focused at 1m at f/8, the area which is acceptably in focus is everything between 0.696m and 1.774m. In contrast, only something which is exactly at 1m distance would be considered in critical focus.

To find out more about depth of field, try our free online Depth of Field calculator or download our Camera Calculators App for Android app.

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Jean-Pierre La Forest

Photographer / Videographer at Studio JPIC
Jean-Pierre La Forest is a photographer and videographer based out of Florenceville-Bristol, NB, Canada. JP specializes in commercial and tourism photography and videography, where he helps businesses, artists, and towns to market themselves. He also teaches the art of photography on his YouTube channel and blog. You can reach him on

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