Take Control of Your Digital Life with Mylio Photos: Try It; Its FREE

Differential Focus


Thank you for looking at my portfolio. I hope you find some images you like.
I read all your comments and look through the gallery, but I may only vote rather than comment.
...Read More

Differential Focus

5 Oct 2021 9:34PM   Views : 609 Unique : 447

The effect is used to isolate a sharply focused subject against an out of focus background (or foreground).It's a good reason to buy a wide aperture lens.

Following on from my experiments with depth of field, the natural extension to that is differential focus. What is it, why is it useful why it's harder to achieve with smaller format sensors and phones than larger formats such as full frame and medium format, and easier with wide aperture lenses than kit lenses.


So you may think you don't need a wide aperture lens what with the good to excellent high ISO performance of sensors these days. That's a fair point, and with a lot of photography done using mid to smaller apertures the point of using f/2.8 or wider may be questionable. The size and price may be off-putting factors too as wide aperture lenses tend not to be a bank balance's best friend.

Smaller maximum aperture lenses (such as kit zooms that are f/5.6 wide open at the long end) are also less of an issue with mirrorless cameras where the viewfinder compensates for the less amount flight entering the camera. Conventional systems in DSLRs do go darker not massively so but some may find difficulty. If shutter speeds become slow, then where you have image stabilisation in the lens and/or camera body you may feel safe. There is a caveat ad it's in the name of the feature it's just the image that's stabilised, not the subject. There are creative opportunities there of course, but it's sometimes hard to explain to a novice that although they've got a perfectly hand-holdable set-up at 1/15 s their subject is blurred beyond reasonable recognition. Wider apertures will let you go on shooting as conditions get more challenging.


That's it from a practical point of view. As a creative tool though, if wide apertures give the effect you want then you need to get one of these lenses. Software manipulation doesn't come close, I'm afraid. You do need to be accurate with your focus, as there's little or no room for error. An image that isn't focussed strongly on the main subject just fails.

Forget the maths, experience shows it boils down to the size (diameter) of the glass, so I you don't have an 85 f/1.2 then a 200 mm lens at f/2.8 would do (the diameter is similar). But for an even stronger effect try a 300 mm f/2.8 for portraits (the diameter is half as big again). Unconventional but give it a go.


Differential focus is used for creative effect in TV and cinema. Indeed, some sequences have been shot on cameras like the Canon 5D Mk III purely to make use of the effect. That's why it's useful to use full frame cameras for video.


There are many more exciting fast aperture lenses being produced for mirrorless systems, which is good to see. It's true they can be expensive though some of the manual focus options are more wallet friendly. There is some good news hoverer, and that's because of the plethora of adaptors available that many older lenses can be used. Get in there now for a bargain before everyone susses this one.

All text and images Keith Rowley 2021

Recent blogs by dark_lord

Unedited Images Rediscovered

While browsing for some image files recently I came across a folder containing a couple of dozen picures. I was sure I'd taken more than that. We all have our preferred workflow. On the whole I like to go through the results of a shoot fairly soon ...

Posted: 27 Nov 2022 5:49PM

Analogue Magic

One of the fascinations of analogue, or film, photography was watching an image appear in front of your eyes on the paper in a developing tray. Apologies first for not posting anything for a while as I've had some health issues to contend with for w...

Posted: 4 Nov 2022 4:40PM

Tripods A Personal History

Tripods are very useful accessories and in some cases indispensable for some types of photography. Some models are more suitable than others and Ive had a few over the years. Your working style and/or genre may mean you don't have an immediate need ...

Posted: 23 Aug 2022 3:01PM

Bird Photography (On a Budget)

Not everyone can afford extreme telephoto lenses for bird photography. Lower cost gear is perfectly effective and getting the best out of it will improve you as a photographer. We've all looked at fantastic bird images and thought that if we too had...

Posted: 12 Aug 2022 3:07PM

Black and White, We Can Learn From the Old Days

It's simple to produce a monochrome image these days. Creating a good one and realising your vision is another matter. Black and white images can be intensely powerful, muh more so than colour. Just think of some of the iconic images from the 20th C...

Posted: 13 Jul 2022 10:11AM


pink Avatar
pink Plus
20 7.4k 11 England
6 Oct 2021 12:24PM
Interesting as always, I do some wildlife and often shoot with a 500mm f4 lens, whilst I like to defocus the background at f4 it often falls short of getting the whole subject in focus, the depth of field with long fast lenses is very small, just because you have f4 it is not practical to use it all of the time, I often find I am at f5.6 to get the subject totally in focus.
Obviously the longer and faster the lens is, the greater the opportunity is to defocus the background and foreground, wide fast lenses are more difficult as inherently they achieve greater depth of focus ( or what is perceived to be in focus) I usually avoid buying fast wide angles for this reason, although they can be very handy for astrophotography.
Note to myself-try to use the fast part of the lens now and again
Inspiring as always Keith
dark_lord Avatar
dark_lord Plus
19 3.0k 836 England
6 Oct 2021 2:32PM
Thanks Ian.

You must be a member to leave a comment.

ePHOTOzine, the web's friendliest photography community.

Join for free

Upload photos, chat with photographers, win prizes and much more.