Thursday, June 12, 2008

DOF vs Format Size

To a first approximation, DOF is inversely proportional to format size. More precisely, if photographs with the same final-image size are taken in two different camera formats at the same subject distance with the same field of view and f-number, the DOF is, to a first approximation, inversely proportional to the format size. Strictly speaking, this is true only when the subject distance is large in comparison with the focal length and small in comparison with the hyperfocal distance, for both formats, but it nonetheless is generally useful for comparing results obtained from different formats.

To maintain the same field of view, the lens focal lengths must be in proportion to the format sizes. Assuming, for purposes of comparison, that the 4×5 format is four times the size of 35 mm format, if a 4×5 camera used a 300 mm lens, a 35 mm camera would need a 75 mm lens for the same field of view. For the same f-number, the image made with the 35 mm camera would have four times the DOF of the image made with the 4×5 camera.

In many cases, the DOF is fixed by the requirements of the desired image. For a given DOF and field of view, the required f-number is proportional to the format size. For example, if a 35 mm camera required f/11, a 4×5 camera would require f/45 to give the same DOF. For the same ISO speed, the exposure time on the 4×5 would be sixteen times as long; if the 35 camera required 1/250 second, the 4×5 camera would require 1/15 second. In windy conditions, the exposure time with the larger camera might allow motion blur. Adjusting the f-number to the camera format is equivalent to maintaining the same absolute aperture diameter.

The greater DOF with the smaller format can be either an advantage or a disadvantage, depending on the desired effect. For the same amount of foreground and background blur, a small-format camera requires a smaller f-number and allows a shorter exposure time than a large-format camera; however, many point-and-shoot digital cameras cannot provide a very shallow DOF. For example, a point-and-shoot digital camera with a 1/1.8″ sensor (7.18 mm × 5.32 mm) at a normal focal length and f/2.8 has the same DOF as a 35 mm camera with a normal lens at f/13.

In some cases, camera movements (tilt or swing) can be used to better fit the DOF to the scene, and achieve the required sharpness at a smaller f-number.

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