Depth of Field Preview - Digital Photography School

Depth of Field Preview

Depth-Of-Field

One feature that I find may DSLR owners (and some point and shoot owners) have on their cameras that they fail to know about (and/or utilize) is Depth of Field Preview.

I know it’s under utilized – because I constantly forget that it’s in my toolbox of camera features myself.

On many DLSRs the depth of field button is located on the front of your camera, right where your left hand will rest when holding your camera, next to the lens.

Pressing this button will tell the camera to set the aperture at the selected level, allowing you to see what the shot will look like in the view finder – particularly the depth of field. This enables you to see how much of your image is in focus sharply.

I’ve ‘rediscovered’ this function in the last few weeks (I always knew it was there but got out of the habit of using it) and have found it quite helpful – particularly when shooting in Aperture Priority mode (when I’m constantly changing apertures).

Of course in digital photography it doesn’t take a lot to access DOF by actually taking the shot and assessing it in review mode on the camera’s LCD – but sometimes it’s easier to do it before taking the shot.

Depth of Field Preview works best in bright conditions – but in low light situations you’ll find that using it might make the viewfinder too dark for it to be much use.

If your camera has depth of field preview make a conscious effort to use it this week and see if it enhances your photography.

Do you use Depth of Field Preview?

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Darren Rowse is the editor and founder of Digital Photography School and SnapnDeals. He lives in Melbourne Australia and is also the editor of the ProBlogger Blog Tips. Follow him on Instagram, on Twitter at @digitalPS or on Google+.

  • brewe

    My canon 1Dmk2 has it , and it is very useful. thanks for so many great tips.

  • http://www.sprengels.com/ Steve

    The DOF-preview can be hard to use, sometimes, because the image is so dark, but there is a website that can do the calculations about DOF and Hyperfocal Distance and even print charts for various focal-length/aperture combinations:

    http://www.dofmaster.com

    It understands the affect that sensor size and lens-size play in DOF so you need to specify your camera from the drop-down list before doing the calculation.

  • pavan

    Aah!! Finally !! Have been wondering about that button ever since I got my D80.. I am a newbie to Digital Photography..

  • Gerald

    Hi Darren and all the other members! Thank you for the great site and information!
    My wife recently started a photography course at the national photography collage here in South Africa. One of her exercises is to have the front and back of the image blurred while the 2nd subject must be in focus. The setup is 5 cans in a row, slightly in front of each other, and the 2nd can from the front must be in focus while the first can and the rest behind the 2nd can must be out of focus. In the training/course manual it explains how to do it, but it seems like there’s something missing, we just can get this right!!? We have a Canon EOS 400D body and a Sigma 70-300mm lens. Please can you explain EXACTLY what we must do to get this right?
    Kind regards, Gerald.

  • jimk022

    I’ve never used the dof preview. I don’t even know if my Nikon D40 has it, I’ll have to look. I love digital photography. The one thing I miss on my old film lenses was the depth of field guide. When you focused the lens, you could tell what was in focus and what was not by simply looking at the depth of field guide on the lens. I wish there was a handy-dandy depth of field guide I could print out, laminate, and keep in my camera bag, so that I could set the aperture setting and know what my depth of field would be.

  • S.Chandrashekar

    Very usefull information I was not aware of useing this option gone through all the comments very usefull for beginers like us
    Thanks

  • Sarah Wyld

    I used it all the time with my pre-digital camera. Got out of the habit a bit with my canon 450D, but it is invaluable so I will get back into the habit! In response to Paul – Try & ignore the fact that the image in the viewfinder goes dark – You want to look through that – at what is in focus & what isn’t. That is what it’s previewing. It only goes dark with the preview button because it is physically closing down the aperture therefore letting less light in. Normally it just closes down the aperture to your setting when you hit the shutter button.

  • Circu

    I consider DOF preview important enough to be on the list for any DSLR I get. I got the Canon T3i in part because it had the DOF button. (Even the new Nikon 5100 lacks it.)

    And Elena – you’re not correct when you say “And in film it’s not needed because the aperture is changed manually =)”

    The aperture is changed manually but the lens remains wide open until the shot is taken. It is then stopped down, exposes the film, and then re-opens. That is why 35mm film SLRs usually have a DOF preview. All of my 35mm film slrs did (Honeywell, Minolta and Nikon).

  • Mr Chris

    it would be super helpful if you put the aperture numbers on the actual photos, where you typically credit the photographer. That was we can see and associate it in our minds, immediately, without having to go back and read again what the AP was for that certain photo.

  • john

    I have had Canon SLRs since the EOS 5, right up to the 5D3. All have DOF buttons. I only have 2.8 or better lenses. I try the DOF button now and again, and always have the same issue: the view gets darker, but I cant see anything different. e.g. if I stop to f11 or even f22, then hit DOF, I cant see whats in focus or not, I just see the same thing as before but somewhat darker. I just dont get it. I have 125% vision (according to vision express anyway), but I cant tell whats in focus or not by the screen – it seems useless to me. If it worked, it would be great. I have now assigned the DOF button to switch to AI-Servo.

Some older comments

  • john

    July 15, 2013 09:27 pm

    I have had Canon SLRs since the EOS 5, right up to the 5D3. All have DOF buttons. I only have 2.8 or better lenses. I try the DOF button now and again, and always have the same issue: the view gets darker, but I cant see anything different. e.g. if I stop to f11 or even f22, then hit DOF, I cant see whats in focus or not, I just see the same thing as before but somewhat darker. I just dont get it. I have 125% vision (according to vision express anyway), but I cant tell whats in focus or not by the screen - it seems useless to me. If it worked, it would be great. I have now assigned the DOF button to switch to AI-Servo.

  • Mr Chris

    January 18, 2012 02:58 am

    it would be super helpful if you put the aperture numbers on the actual photos, where you typically credit the photographer. That was we can see and associate it in our minds, immediately, without having to go back and read again what the AP was for that certain photo.

  • Circu

    April 21, 2011 06:03 am

    I consider DOF preview important enough to be on the list for any DSLR I get. I got the Canon T3i in part because it had the DOF button. (Even the new Nikon 5100 lacks it.)

    And Elena - you're not correct when you say "And in film it’s not needed because the aperture is changed manually =)"

    The aperture is changed manually but the lens remains wide open until the shot is taken. It is then stopped down, exposes the film, and then re-opens. That is why 35mm film SLRs usually have a DOF preview. All of my 35mm film slrs did (Honeywell, Minolta and Nikon).

  • Sarah Wyld

    April 12, 2011 06:17 pm

    I used it all the time with my pre-digital camera. Got out of the habit a bit with my canon 450D, but it is invaluable so I will get back into the habit! In response to Paul - Try & ignore the fact that the image in the viewfinder goes dark - You want to look through that - at what is in focus & what isn't. That is what it's previewing. It only goes dark with the preview button because it is physically closing down the aperture therefore letting less light in. Normally it just closes down the aperture to your setting when you hit the shutter button.

  • S.Chandrashekar

    October 9, 2009 07:22 pm

    Very usefull information I was not aware of useing this option gone through all the comments very usefull for beginers like us
    Thanks

  • jimk022

    October 2, 2009 05:16 am

    I've never used the dof preview. I don't even know if my Nikon D40 has it, I'll have to look. I love digital photography. The one thing I miss on my old film lenses was the depth of field guide. When you focused the lens, you could tell what was in focus and what was not by simply looking at the depth of field guide on the lens. I wish there was a handy-dandy depth of field guide I could print out, laminate, and keep in my camera bag, so that I could set the aperture setting and know what my depth of field would be.

  • Gerald

    January 7, 2009 05:01 pm

    Hi Darren and all the other members! Thank you for the great site and information!
    My wife recently started a photography course at the national photography collage here in South Africa. One of her exercises is to have the front and back of the image blurred while the 2nd subject must be in focus. The setup is 5 cans in a row, slightly in front of each other, and the 2nd can from the front must be in focus while the first can and the rest behind the 2nd can must be out of focus. In the training/course manual it explains how to do it, but it seems like there's something missing, we just can get this right!!? We have a Canon EOS 400D body and a Sigma 70-300mm lens. Please can you explain EXACTLY what we must do to get this right?
    Kind regards, Gerald.

  • pavan

    January 26, 2008 07:12 am

    Aah!! Finally !! Have been wondering about that button ever since I got my D80.. I am a newbie to Digital Photography..

  • Steve

    December 30, 2007 08:39 am

    The DOF-preview can be hard to use, sometimes, because the image is so dark, but there is a website that can do the calculations about DOF and Hyperfocal Distance and even print charts for various focal-length/aperture combinations:

    www.dofmaster.com

    It understands the affect that sensor size and lens-size play in DOF so you need to specify your camera from the drop-down list before doing the calculation.

  • brewe

    July 25, 2007 02:15 am

    My canon 1Dmk2 has it , and it is very useful. thanks for so many great tips.

  • Britta

    July 20, 2007 09:27 am

    This article may give you more reasons to use that loved/hated button:
    http://www.apogeephoto.com/jan2005/jaltengarten1_2005.shtml

    It also has some good information on DOF that I didn't know.

  • Max

    July 18, 2007 05:45 am

    I'm astounded that so many people don't know what DOF preview is, especially so many semi-pro and pro photographers (neither of which I am, that's for sure!)
    Ever since I took my first macro photos with a Canon AE-1 film camera, I have used the DOF preview. I can't imagine shooting close-up macro shots without it.

    When I first starting taking macro photos, that was my first question. "Can't I SEE what the focus will look like when the lens is actually stopped down?" After all, if I can't, then an SLR isn't much of a "what you see is what you get" camera, now is it?

    OH! Look here in the manual, why yes I CAN!

    Anyway, interesting thread. I think DOF preview is probably the most useful darn thing on a camera, second only to aperture and shutter speed.

  • Anabanana

    July 17, 2007 04:03 pm

    Does anyone know if Canon S3 IS have this feature?

  • skykid

    July 13, 2007 07:49 am

    I own Canon S3 IS - but do not know if I have this feature .

  • Debbie

    July 11, 2007 04:53 am

    I have never used it but will try it now. I usually shoot in TV don't know why, av seems so complicated

  • Graeme Smith

    July 10, 2007 03:22 am

    It's is too bad Nikon left out the DOF preview on the D40 series of cameras. That and only having 3 AF points are the only bad things about these cameras.

  • Jasvipul

    July 9, 2007 09:18 pm

    I used it once while clicking from behind a window when it was raining. I was trying to focus the drops on the window glass as well as the landscape behind.
    Rest of the times I've used it only to demonstrate what diaphragm/aperture is :)

  • sam

    July 9, 2007 06:45 pm

    I never use it. I don't think it is important. I mostly understand how different apertures are going to effect my compositions. And if I think something needs to be more in focus or less I know how to adjust for it.

  • David Whiting

    July 9, 2007 10:04 am

    One thing I love about the dof preview button is it shows you how dark your composition will be. I notice sometimes I want a large dof so I turn up my aperature. I get it around 10 or 15.... I take the picture. I have to check to see that it is way too dark. If I just push the dof preview button, I will be able to see right quick if my shot will be to dark and adjust my exposure and iso to compensate.

  • Augphoto

    July 9, 2007 02:00 am

    DOF button makes everything so dark that I've always found it unuseable.

  • Veerasundar

    July 8, 2007 10:00 pm

    My camera (Canon AS430) doesn't have this feature. :(

  • Emre Otlu

    July 8, 2007 04:40 pm

    I use canon 350d now with 50mm f:1.8 for portrait photography. When it comes to family or group photos it sucks sometimes because i'm using aperture priority mod as you do and without using the DOF preview button. Maybe it is the worst feature of my dSLR because the button is somwhere on most ridiculuous part of the body. Thank you for this post, from now on i gonna try it and make a habit.

  • Ryan

    July 7, 2007 06:48 am

    I use the DOF preview button quite a bit when I'm out taking landscapes and shooting for fun. What kills me is that on my Canons when a flash is attached the DOF button also triggers the flash to fire a 5 second modeling light. Outdoors with portraits I usually have a flash on set to fill and can't really use the DOF preview because of that modeling light.

  • shroticg

    July 7, 2007 05:29 am

    it is useful in portraits, close-up photography, centre of interest where you want to make stand out the picture/or to make background out of focus for purpose of creativity. however, the most serious or sincere of the photographer will put the finger on its button otherwise rest of the genre will forget if there is any button to control the DOF as they are more busy in composition, angle selection and so many other points to make picture more creative. otherwise the photographer knowing about DOF will consciously use it in the subjects mentioned above. but it is good to have a button to guide for DOF when necessary.

  • Tim Solley

    July 7, 2007 01:59 am

    I use the DOF preview quite a lot when there's enough light. As a portrait photographer though, I use flash a lot and it's easier to just take the shot and see the results.

  • adent1066

    July 7, 2007 12:13 am

    ArtDisciple,

    The Canon 400D has DOF, but the Nikon D40(x) does not have it

  • macdane

    July 7, 2007 12:12 am

    While I love the idea of the DOF preview, in real life I find it next to useless 90% of the time. It may just that my eyes suck, but even on the relatively large, bright viewfinder of the D200 it seems like a bad joke to try and use this button for anything more than darkening the view.

  • Gregory

    July 6, 2007 11:48 pm

    The DoF button on my D70s and D200 is quite useful - particularly when using macro tubes or closeup lenses. The D200 will fire the shutter from DOF preview mode too which helps when making fine adjustments during a macro shoot.

  • billy ali

    July 6, 2007 11:45 pm

    i have a nikon D70s and the button on its front does not seem to show me the aperture preview, instead i see a black out in the viewfinder. can any one suggest what i can do ? i reallly like taking deeper pictures but have been unable to
    thank you

  • Matthew Miller

    July 6, 2007 08:40 pm

    Remember, modern cameras default to showing you the scene with the lens wide open, which gives you the most light and the *minimum* depth of field. This button stops the camera down to the selected aperture, which shows you how much *more* DoF you'll get in your actual shot. (And correspondingly makes the scene darker.) If you're shooting wide open to get more light or to intentionally reduce depth of field, the button doesn't get you anything more.

    I had my Pentax K100D in this mode for a while, but I eventually decided the other option ("digital preview") was more useful, because it gives a histogram and shows what the white balance will be like.

  • Zibri

    July 6, 2007 02:43 pm

    To David: throw away your reflex, you don't need it.

    To others: I agree.. that button is very useful but the preview isn't always like to actual photo.

    To a few others: is reading the manual so difficult ?? Why do a lot of people don't know their camera features ? C'mon.. read the manual!

  • Phil

    July 6, 2007 02:38 pm

    I have a Pentax *ist DS and I do use it, but it is not as useful in some situations as I would like.

    When I am doing landscape photography and I want to maximise the DOF, to have very close foreground objects all the way to the horizon in focus, you want to really stop down the aperture, thus allowing you to bring the focus closer. But the image is then so dark in the viewfinder that DOF preview is useless.

    That's when I find the 'aperture focus scale' (I don't know what the technical name for it is) marked on many fixed focal length lenses and some zooms very useful.

  • portrait painting artist

    July 6, 2007 02:26 pm

    You’re right in saying that DOF is the most overlooked button in a camera. I admit, I’m guilty of this too because I used to think that the DOF button just makes everything darker, it’s useless. Just recently, I realized that the first part of my belief is true while the ‘useless’ thing is definitely false. Beyond making “everything darker”, the DOF preview button has several practical uses and these are:

    1. Detecting hotspots.
    2. Detecting dark spots.
    3. Detecting unwanted elements (or “Intruder alert”).
    4. Finding the best background.
    5. Placing a graduated neutral density filter.
    6. Optimize the range of focus for your main subject.
    7. Visualize underexposure.
    8. Detecting lens flare problems.
    9. Detecting vignetting from stacking filters and lens hoods.
    10. Use the DOF preview button as a compositional aid.

  • ArtDisciple

    July 6, 2007 01:57 pm

    I'm on a toss bet. Nikon D40X and Canon 400D..

    Does the Nikon D40X camera have this DOF feature as well? :)

  • Richard

    July 6, 2007 12:58 pm

    I don't use it. I played with it for a while under low light conditions, and couldn't understand what it was trying to show me, it just made everything look dark. I will have to try it under brighter conditions, and not with a wide open ap, and see if it makes more sense.

  • Rick

    July 6, 2007 12:07 pm

    I have this feature on my Sony a-100, I use it a lot, but still check the playback. I also will shot the image using different aperture settings to make sure I get the blur I want... with a 4gb card there is no reason to be stingy.

  • joshua longbrake

    July 6, 2007 11:38 am

    absolutely. i use it on all of my SLRs and DSLRs. if i had one on my holga i'd use it there as well.

  • ambar

    July 6, 2007 11:15 am

    I do yes. But not always. I use it when I need technical photos rather than just snapping. It really useful anyway.

  • Brandon

    July 6, 2007 09:38 am

    I have one on my Digital Rebel but all it does is make what I'm seeing darker. Maybe I'm doing something wrong.

  • George Fragos

    July 6, 2007 08:51 am

    I would think that the stop down button on many digital SLRs does just that perhaps darkening the image and showing what the lens sees at the moment of exposure. The media's ability to record the image isn't a factor. Manual mode to me seams a little different on my S3 IS. It's as if it is showing me that image that will be recorded as seen by the electronics. If you will, we get to see the image as exposed on the digital media and not just the image presented by the lens.

  • Paul

    July 6, 2007 07:52 am

    I have DOF preview on my Canon Digital Rebel, but I'm unsure how it works. Depending on my aperture setting, the preview appears dark and other time not.

    Is it the dark view that tells me I have a small DOF or is it just the opposite?

  • Jelvis

    July 6, 2007 06:59 am

    The DOF preview button also is particularly useful if you are using a graduated (a.k.a. split) neutral density filter. When you hold the button down and look through the viewfinder, you can actually see where the transition is, and it is an invaluable tool for properly positioning the horizon correctly.

  • David

    July 6, 2007 06:35 am

    DOF preview is very useful, but not a specific feature on many cameras. Atually a relic of film days. I'd argue that you really don't need it on a digital camera.

    As Real Women Scrap says - Just use the shutter button! Take a picture and look at the DOF that way - actually saves time because instead of futzing about till you are happy, you just keep taking pictures and adjusting till you nail it.

  • Michael

    July 6, 2007 06:05 am

    Boy, that's the tricky thing about photography... unless you shoot every (and I mean EVERY day), you forget simple things like this.

    Thanks for the reminder.... that I need to shoot EVERY day.

  • Mr B

    July 6, 2007 05:35 am

    I'd never heard of it until reading this article. Guess which camera I have?! yup, D50! sounds like a useful tool to have, considering DOF is important in 50% of photos!

  • WTL

    July 6, 2007 05:34 am

    Ohh! I completely forgot about this feature! I will be sure to try it out again when I am out shooting again.

  • Real Women Scrap

    July 6, 2007 04:35 am

    Looks like I'm in good company. I have the Nikon D50 too and apparently it doesn't have that feature. However, I have been very happy with the control I have for DOF. I set it up, take the shot, then review it on the camera. In fact, I just did a post on my blog with some of my depth of field shots last week.

  • Joe Backward

    July 6, 2007 03:49 am

    Thanks for this! Maybe this will convince me to upgrade to a Canon Xt. I've been using an old Olympus C-2500 DSLR with poor aperture control, and going back to my really old OM-1 chemical camera when needing to do work that involves DOF control. There's a little button on the lens that makes it stop down to the chosen aperture. It's great for composing the shot. And, using camera DOF looks lots better than mucking about in Photoshop to blur out the background.

  • Matt Barker

    July 6, 2007 03:42 am

    I WISH! I have a Nikon D50, which doesn't have that feature. I have considered upgrading to a D80 just for it. I really like shooting in Aperture Priority mode, so really miss that. Wish I had known about it beforehand. Just expected that since my old Canon Rebel SLR had it, a new DSLR would have it as well.

  • Andrew Ferguson

    July 6, 2007 03:25 am

    I use this all the time on my Canon Digital Rebel. Once I discovered it's use after owning my camera for a month or two, I haven't stopped using it.

  • Navneeth

    July 6, 2007 03:03 am

    I think I have seen the background blur (when taking macro shots) when I press the shutter button halfway down.

    I own a S3 IS, btw.

  • Santiago Ojeda

    July 6, 2007 02:58 am

    I knew my canon eos 400D had that button but didn't know certainly what it was for, as I'm new in photography. I have understood it now with the tutorial and when I finish my exams at uni (next mon, aleluya!), I'll start using it!

  • thekevinmonster

    July 6, 2007 02:43 am

    my Pentax K100D not only has depth of field preview, but there are two options. The default is to take an actual picture that won't be saved, which I find irritating when trying to do closeup. (You have to move the camera away from your face to see the LCD, and I often am not using a tripod when I'm out and about.)

    The other option is plain old optical. At first, I thought it didn't work. Then it occurred to me I was shooting indoors under ambient light, and was already wide-open. Doh. :)

    It's so easy to use on the K100D, too. You just pull on the power switch. No fumbling.

  • DAVE

    July 6, 2007 02:40 am

    Heh Good find. I feel like a newb. Was wondering what that button did. RTFM!

  • Michelle Potter

    July 6, 2007 01:18 am

    Cool! I never used that button before, but it only took a second to find on my Rebel XTi.

  • Elena

    July 6, 2007 01:17 am

    "Of course in digital photography it doesn’t take a lot to access DOF by actually taking the shot and assessing it in review mode on the camera’s LCD"

    And in film it's not needed because the aperture is changed manually =)

  • Matt

    July 6, 2007 01:15 am

    It's definitely a great feature if you have it, and largely undocumented. Too bad really, since I personally don't like pressing random buttons on a camera when I have a whole card full of pictures I can't replace.

  • AC

    July 6, 2007 12:57 am

    I don't have it on my S2IS, but manual adjustments can generally take care of it. Don't really miss having a dedicated button to do the job.

  • NaturesPixel

    July 6, 2007 12:51 am

    i do use it sometimes.. though not a great deal i didn't have it on my D50 but do have it on my D80, it is certainly not something that would persuade me to buy a camera. but it comes in handy at times :)

  • Ilya N.

    July 6, 2007 12:38 am

    I wish I could, but I use the Nikon D50, which doesn't have it :(

    It's actually specifically why I went for the 18-70 lens. If I couldn't have a DOF preview [and I sure as heck would rather pay $100 more for the lens than $300 more for the camera], then I'll go for the little focal plane scale on the lens.

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