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How to Use Distance Scale on Lens? (The Ultimate Guide)

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Distance scale comes in handy when you need to shoot moving objects because you have to preset the focus distance. For autofocus lens, it is almost impossible. Distance scale helps to overcome issues that autofocus lens can’t solve.

Here I will discuss everything about distance scale like its job, why you need this, how to use distance scale on the lens, and finally tips for shooting high-quality images using this. After reading this article, you will have a proper idea about distance scale. So, let’s begin.

What is the Lens’s Distance Scale Exactly?

Sometimes you may wonder when you see a magnificent picture and think what makes it possible. One thing is common behind all great shots, which is focus distance. It determines the minimum and maximum focus distance for a particular shot.

Here lens’s distance scale comes into play. It isn’t easy to focus on a manual lens. That’s why distance scale on a manual lens is so important. It allows setting the right focus distance for a particular shot. If you want to get sharp and detailed images, you have to set focus distance correctly.

You can see different number markings on this scale. Its value show in meters and feet. You can rotate the distance scale’s ring to increase or decrease focus distance.

These days distance scale is rare on lenses because cameras come with autofocus. However, some expensive cameras come with manual focusing. Still, some photographer considers manual focusing over autofocus.

What is the Job of the Distance Scale?

Lens’s distance scale is an excellent aid for photography. It provides a great deal of information on fields’ depth and focus distance.

As you can predict from its name, the lens’s distance scale used to set focus distance for a particular shot. Its job is to determine focus distance. Setting up focus distance on autofocus lenses is easy. However, for the manual lens, you have to set up focus distance manually.

If you want to take a picture from a close distance, you can set the focus distance one foot or less. On the other hand, if you want to take images from a long distance, you can set the focus distance to infinity.

Besides determining focus distance, distance scale also comes in handy if you want to verify the focus of an object. Moreover, it helps to convert feet into meters if you forget to carry a pocket calculator. Photographers need the pocket calculator for figuring out hyperfocal distance.

So, what is the hyperfocal distance?

Hyperfocal distance is a well-known word for landscape photographers. Let’s say you want to take pictures of a tree from a long distance and the tree’s background has a hill; you want to take pictures of both.

But the problem is when you focus on the tree, the background’s hill becomes blurry. Similarly, when you focus on the hill, the tree becomes blurry. That’s why you need a focus point where both objects are sharp. This point of focus is called hyperfocal distance.

The distance scale helps to find the hyperfocal distance. You can find out hyperfocal distance through distance scale easily. To calculate hyperfocal distance, you need to focus between fields. It will give you considerable sharpness and blur foreground and background.

Why do You Use the Distance Scale?

Sometimes distance scale works better than autofocus. Even manual focusing provides better image quality than autofocus. Let’s know some instances where you should use manual focus instead of autofocus.

In low light

If you need to shoot in low light conditions, then the manual focus is the right option. In low light, manual focusing works better than autofocus.

Selective focusing

When it comes to selective focusing, autofocus can’t deal with it properly. That’s why manual focusing is a must for this method. In selective focusing, you focus on the small depth of field.

In low contrast

Do you shoot in high or low contrast?

It’s an essential fact for photography. If you shot in high contrast, autofocus is a good option for you. Autofocus can capture high-quality images in high contrast.

However, autofocus can’t capture high-quality images in low contrast. Here the manual focus is the best option. You can use a distance scale to capture high-quality images in low contrast.

Focus shifting

Besides considerable advantages, autofocus has drawbacks. One of the main drawbacks of autofocus is focus shifting. If you are working on projects where focusing is crucial, then distance scale can help you out.

Fast-moving object

As far as the fast-moving object is concerned, you can’t shoot them properly with autofocus. Here manual focusing is a must. In this case, you need to preset focus distance to shoot fast-moving objects in need. You can use distance scale to preset focus distance for shooting fast-moving objects.

Things You Should Know for Using the Distance Scale

When you look at the distance scale, you can see different numbers on it. If you are using it for the first time, it is tough to understand its values. To understand it correctly, you have to know a few things first. Let’s know about them.


First thing first, and it is aperture. You need to set an aperture value for setting up focus distance. Aperture is marked by f. Its minimum value is f1.4 and the maximum value is f22. Now the question is which aperture would be best? It entirely depends on your photography needs.

If you set a lower aperture value, the lens’s angle will be wider. Therefore, the focus distance will be minimum. On the other hand, if you increase the aperture value, the lens’s angle will be narrower. Hence, the focus distance will be longer.

Focus distance length

Small focus distance means lens’s wider angle. And longer focus distance means lens’s narrower angle. Apart from this, the digital camera’s sensor size also determines focus distance.

How to Use Distance Scale on Prime Lenses?

When it comes to lenses, there are different types of lenses out there. These days you can find distance scales on prime and telephoto lenses. However, it is also rare. If you have a prime lens, let’s see how you can use distance scale on it.

Step one: set aperture value

It is the first step for using a distance scale. As I already told you, aperture vale marked by f.

If you want to take pictures of a close object, set a lower aperture value. For example, you can set the aperture value to f2. On the other hand, if you want to take pictures of an object from a long distance, set a higher aperture value. In this case, you can set the aperture value to f22.

For landscape photography, you will need to set a higher aperture value.

Step two: set distance scale value

After setting the aperture value, you need to set the value for the distance scale. Combines with aperture value, the distance scale’s value will determine hyperfocal distance. On this scale, there are two sets of numbers. Numbers that start from left to right are for focus distance.

You can set the value for the distance scale from 0 to infinity. Pictures will be sharp in this range, and foreground and background will be blurred. To change the value of the scale, you need to rotate the middle ring of the distance scale.

Step three: Calculating hyperfocal distance

It’s easy to calculate hyperfocal distance through a distance scale. The Center point is the hyperfocal distance where you will get acceptable sharp images with blurry foreground and background.

Moreover, you can use focus distance charts and mobile apps to calculate hyperfocal distance.

If you are using a telephoto lens, follow the next section.

How to Use Distance Scale on Telephoto Lenses?

Uses of distance scale on the telephoto lens are different from prime lenses. So, let’s see how to use distance scale on a telephoto lens.

Step one: Set up aperture value

Unlike prime lens, the telephoto lens’s aperture is not located behind the lens. You have to set up the aperture value for the telephoto lens from the camera setting. So, get into your camera setting and set the aperture value.

Step two: Set distance scale’s value

The process of setting the distance scale’s value on the telephoto lens is similar to the prime lens. To set its value, rotate the distance scale’s middle ring. Focus distance value will show over the aperture value.

Isn’t it so simple?

Want to take sharp images using a distance scale? Follow tips from the next section.

Tips for Taking Sharp Photos

Anyone can take images, but people who can take extraordinary images are rare. Here in this section, I will share some tips for taking magnificent photos using distance scale.

So, without wasting any more time, let’s dive into them.

1. For landscape photographs, avoid focusing on subject distance

Subject distance and focus distance are different things. When you are taking a landscape photo, avoid thinking about subject distance. Just take care of focus distance. Most of the newbie landscape photographer gives the subject distance too much importance.

2. Be careful about focus distance

It doesn’t matter what kind of photos you will take; you should set focus distance carefully. If you are not careful while setting focus distance, your images won’t be sharp.

So, be conservative while setting up focus distance.

3. Take weather and light into consideration along with focus distance

For taking sharp images, the focus distance is crucial, but weather and light are also essential. Light and weather condition disrupts the photo’s sharpness.

Fog, rain, and snow obscure small details of the photo, therefore, decreasing the photo’s sharpness. Moreover, motion makes images blurry. That’s why you should take light and weather seriously, along with focus distance.

Final Words

The distance scale is not just for figuring out focus distance. It is more than that. Sometimes distance scale works better than autofocus.

In this article, I have discussed distance scale, its job, necessity, use of distance scale on prime and telephoto lens, etc. So by now, you’ve got a clear idea about distance scale and hopefully, you will be able to utilize the knowledge properly. If you have any questions regarding this topic put them in the comment box below.

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