Tutorial: Zone Focusing With Super Wide Angle Lenses

One of the biggest strengths of manual focus lenses and the reason why so many photographers love using them has to do with a process called zone focusing–and Zeiss Milvus lenses like the 18mm f2.8 and 15mm f2.8 lens themselves well to this. For years the methods around zone focusing are what has allowed many photographers to outdo the fastest focusing autofocus cameras and lenses. Street photographers, landscape photographers, and many others have used the technique to ensure that they get sharp photos. When film photography was king, lots of photographers did this to ensure they got “the shot.” Digital photography and its inherent nature requires photographers to get even sharper photos.

When you’re shooting landscapes and architecture, you really want the best you can get. With manual focus lenses, sometimes the best thing to do is to use zone focusing.

Editor’s Note: this is a sponsored blog post from Zeiss

Why Zone Focus?

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss Milvus 18mm f2.8 product images (5 of 6)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 2.0

So why would you want to zone focus a lens? Well, there are inherently two methods to working with manual focus lenses like the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f2.8 and the Zeiss Milvus 15mm f2.8. The first and most common method is to look through the viewfinder and use the focus confirmation on the camera. This is a very slow and methodical process that honestly works best for portrait photography. But with super wide angle lenses, it’s much easier and straightforward.

By zone focusing, you can literally tell the lens to focus on a specific zone in the scene. You can set it to close up, four feet away from you, infinity, etc. No matter what, you’re guaranteed to get sharp images without any hassle. Street photographers and landscape photographers have been doing it for many years.

What is Zone Focusing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss Milvus 16mm f2.8 review sample images (26 of 29)ISO 501-250 sec at f - 5.6

Zone focusing is a method that is best done with manual focus lenses because of how they’re designed. You can look down at the focusing distance scale, set up the aperture with it accordingly, and then focus out to a scene. Most Zeiss lenses have it, but it’s much more effective with super wide angle lenses like the Zeiss 18mm f2.8 and Zeiss 15mm f2.8 Milvus. Why? Physics!

Because you’ve got such a wide field of view, you’re getting more of a scene in focus at a given aperture. What does that mean? If you focus a lens out to five feet, you’re guaranteed to get more in focus with an 18mm f2.8 vs a 135mm f2 at the same aperture.

In fact, if you know what your lens and camera are “seeing” you may not even need to look through the viewfinder or the LCD screen.

The Depth of Field Scale

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss Milvus 18mm f2.8 product images (4 of 6)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 2.0

So here’s how zone focusing works, you’ve got three major areas: the aperture ring, the focusing ring numbers,  and the areas itself.

Here’s a tutorial that we did a long time ago:

So what you do:

  • Focus out to a distance.
  • Stop the lens down and look at where the aperture is in the zone scale.
  • The more stopped down your lens is, in the more of the scene will be in focus.

chris-gampat-the-phoblographer-zeiss-15mm-f2-8-milvus-lens-product-images-3-of-8iso-4001-200-sec-at-f-2-0

This can be an effectively much faster way of focusing on a scene when shooting landscapes or architecture. To that end, you also know that you’re always in focus at that one specific zone. Any fine tune focusing adjustments you may need to do can be done with the viewfinder, but generally you won’t need to.

Walking About and Taking Photos

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss Milvus 16mm f2.8 review sample images (14 of 29)ISO 4001-250 sec at f - 11

So here’s everything you have to do when you zone focus:

  • Set the lens to focus out to an area.
  • Set the aperture to get a certain amount of space in focus.
  • Lock your aperture and ISO.
  • Let the shutter speed adjust itself.
  • Keep that specific zone/distance in mind.
  • Photograph anything in the scene that comes within the zone that catches your eye.

If you’re shooting with a super wide angle lens, chances are you’ll be shooting out to infinity or a little bit closer. The very cool thing about shooting with lenses like the Zeiss 18mm f2.8 and Zeiss 15mm f2.8 Milvus are that all you’ll need to generally do is point and shoot after adjusting your exposure a bit. You can trust Zeiss lenses to always give you sharp, contrasty images with great colors as long as you focus out to the scene correctly. In fact, you’ll be quite surprised.

Even better: we tested the lenses with film and were very happy with the results we were able to produce. The lenses offer a lot of contrast and saturation, so the colors punch overall. Using films like Velvia will make the output even more attractive in the landscape photography world.

Have a lot of fun shooting!