Is focusing by a distance scale OK?

Discussion in '35mm Cameras and Accessories' started by darinwc, Apr 1, 2009.

  1. darinwc

    darinwc Subscriber

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    There are quite a few cameras out there that use a distance scale for focussing. What are your opinions about using a distance scale over more precise methods like rangefinder, slr, and autofocus?

    Is it accurate enough?
     
  2. Shangheye

    Shangheye Member

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    I think it is fine provided you are using a suitable lens and know you will be operating at higher f-stops to guarantee the depth of field to get the sharpness. Using a distance scale with a 200mm lens at f2.8 is asking for trouble..;-)
     
  3. bwakel

    bwakel Subscriber

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    I've been using a Kershaw 6x6 with an 80mm lens and have found it OK with the following provisos:

    You need enough light/fast enough film/a tripod to enable you to use a smaller aperture. I have generally been shooting at f/11-f/16 to guarantee depth of field.
    If you're shooting mainly at or near infinity it's less of a problem and guessing shortish distances is pretty easy but guessing middle distances can be hard so depth of field is key.
    A longer lens would be a no-no.
    Because you're forced to use smaller apertures and it's difficult to guess middle distances you aren't going to be able to throw backgrounds out of focus very easily.

    The nice thing about the Kershaw and other similar folders is that they're incredibly compact and lightweight - no electronics, no batteries, no anything much. You get the benefit of a medium format negative with a reasonably sharp lens and a carry anywhere camera. This makes it very attractive for long hikes, etc.

    Barry
     
  4. Jeff Kubach

    Jeff Kubach Member

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    You can get by on a shorter lens with a small aperture.

    Jeff
     
  5. Christopher Walrath

    Christopher Walrath Member

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    If you are happy with the sharpness of your photographs using that method then of course it's OK. I sometime do that with my rb67 in low light.
     
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  6. Mark Layne

    Mark Layne Member

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    Just remember-if you set a lens to other than infinity focus infinity will not be at maximum sharpness. You may not be able to detect it but tis so
    Mark
     
  7. Akki14

    Akki14 Member

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    I've gotten very good at judging distances. That's probably a bigger issue than the actual act of using zone focusing. Quite a lot of my 35mm shots are done on an old finetta 88 camera which has zone markings and no rangefinder and I've never had a problem unless I've misjudged the distance.
    But I don't enlarge larger than 8x10 so maximum sharpness isn't a big issue with me.
     
  8. keithwms

    keithwms Member

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    Darin, my primary use for scale focusing is to get the focus in the ballpark as quickly as possible, so that my time looking through the viewfinder or groundglass is minimized. Time spent focusing through the VF or GG is time not spent looking directly at the subject and appreciating its full context.

    Scale focusing is quite commonly used by street photographers to set themselves up, discretely, for impromptu shots. This is true not only for smaller 35mm and 645 gear... it is also a quite reliable way to operate the press cameras (Crown Graphic etc.).

    Something that I recommend to any student, as an exercise to try to get away from the idea of the gear dominating your photography and regain the raw enjoyment of 'capturing' a scene: shoot a few rolls or sheets by scale focusing alone... not looking through the VF at all. Depending on your system, your distance judging skills etc., the results can be excellent for subjects at distances from ~3 meters out to infinity. Closer shots are harder, of course, but generally students are amazed at how well this works at ~f/4 or even wider.

    I would suggest learning hyperfocal technique along with scale focusing, i.e., develop the ability to recognize three critical distances: the distance to the primary subject, and the distances to the near and far focus points. Of course, the biggest way to screw up scale focusing is not to recognize how much DOF you have at a particular subject distance and to account for your own error in estimating that distance.
     
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  9. Pinholemaster

    Pinholemaster Member

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    Sure, as long as the scale is accurate and you are accurate at estimating distance.
     
  10. DWThomas

    DWThomas Subscriber

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    I use scale focus all the time on my Perkeo folder and have no complaints. I have considered the neat little shoe-mount rangefinder that Voigtländer makes, but the success I'm having without it, coupled with its rather sobering cost, keeps me doing guestimate and set. (I'm even doing it in meters!)

    Of course, if one starts hanging closeup lenses on and going in for semi-macro work, one will definitely want to measure.

    DaveT
     
  11. Ole

    Ole Moderator Staff Member Moderator

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    With practice, scale focussing can be very accurate.

    I have one of those little old Voigtländer shoe-mount rangefinders but have found that I focus just as accurately and much faster without it. I just need to remember whether the camera I use that day is in feet or meters...
     
  12. Galah

    Galah Member

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    Distance focussing: some options

    To answer the second question first: Yes, definitely.

    Regarding the first question:

    there are at least two types of distance scale focusing:

    Some cameras, like my Olympus Trip 35, require you to set the subject distance (guess or measured) before you press the shutter. These cameras don't give you any information about the aperture, setting the distance is all you have. In my experience the results can be superb (unless you've forgotten to set the distance before taking the shot:tongue:).

    The second kind of camera (those with manual focus primes and rangefinders) allows one to set the distance, as per the distance scale on the lens, but -in addition- has a depth of field scale as well.

    Regarding scenics/street photography/architecture, using these two scales you can set the lens to "hyperfocal distance" by placing the infinity symbol against the corresponding f/ number, thus giving you the maximum available depth of field. This works best for higher f/ values (e.g. f/11 and above) and shorter focal length lenses (e.g. 28mm and below). You can then set and forget as everything from about 1.5m to infinity will be in reasonable focus. I use this a lot with my prime slr lenses and rangefinders and, lately, with manual focus "normal" zooms (use hyperfocal distance tables). I find the results excellent!:smile:

    Again, regarding scenics and the like and using either slr or rangefinder, "focusing" on the subject (split prisms, Fresnel sceens and such) not only wastes time and effort, but also produces inferior results IMO.:smile:

    However, when taking pics of your favourite girl, she being the main subject, by all means use standard focusing techniques and make sure she (her eyes:smile:) is sharply focused, the rest of the scene can look after itself.
     
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  13. MattKing

    MattKing Subscriber

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    This may be one of those situations where being older helps :smile:.

    When I was young, my first new 35mm camera (a Retina S1) was a scale focusing camera with a guide. Some of the other cameras I had and used had no guide or focussing assist of any type. I became quite good at estimating distance.

    Now that I'm older than 50, I cannot see the focussing guides as well as I used to be able to, so being able to estimate distances is even more important :smile: :smile:.

    Matt
     
  14. Wade D

    Wade D Member

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    I use scale focusing with my Speed Graphic and it is quite accurate. For me it's faster than using the rangefinder which is very dim. Also I have an old Kodak 35 which is scale focus only and it too works well.
     
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  15. 2F/2F

    2F/2F Member

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    I think that it is a fine method for many situations...especially when the camera has a D of F scale as well. I consider lack of a fine distance/DOF scale to be a big drawback of many bellows cameras. I can't stand the distance scale on RB/RZ, for one, and I miss D of F scales tremendously when shooting the Speed hand held. At least Sinars have a doohickey that lets you rig a fairly fine distance scale if you feel like spending the time to do so. Some press cameras with cam-driven rangefinders have rather nice distance scales as well.
     
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  16. archphoto

    archphoto Member

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    It is the way many of the "older" generation started out, I did.
    Back in 1960 you had no Auto Focus, Auto everything.
    OK, there was the Kodak Instamatic: just drop in the film and shoot, nothing to adjust, the same with the Agfa Clicks and Clacks.
    I started with a Regula 35mm manual everything and got tack-sharp pic's

    So: yes scale focussing works.

    Peter
     
  17. Q.G.

    Q.G. Inactive

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    There Kodak Instamatics had a thing to adjust (at least the ones i had - still have - did).
    They offered a choice between a "full sun" or "half sun" symbol.
    :wink:
     
  18. alanrockwood

    alanrockwood Member

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  19. Sjixxxy

    Sjixxxy Member

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    Yes. It is ok. Remember, only other photographers seem to care about perfect sharpness & focus.

    When shooting street, that extra half second that may be needed to aling the rangefinder patches may mean a good photo has passed. I rarely work with anything but scale focusing, and my images haven't suffered.