Don`t be so shallow – Deep DOF – A new trend?

I feel a disturbance in the force lately. It was super shallow DOF up the ass everywhere, since 35mm adapters and VDSLRs. Now there seems to be a move towards a more cinematic DOF. Is this just an other “XXX is dead ” thing, or is there a new trend?#

It stroke me the first time when I saw “Wolfman”. With the exception of close-ups this movie is very deep. Then there was “The Wrestler” where they used 16mm in almost every shot to achieve a deep DOF. Next thing is Black Swan where the longest lens was a 35mm, but mostly 16mm and 28mm. Also TV series like Gilmore Girls. Though it was shot on film, almost no shallow DOF.

But not only in recent movies, I see this on the boards and forums more often.
Comments like:

“Shallow DOF is good to have but is overrated, over used, over crazed, and used to the extreme. Simple, basic, and a blend of shallow DOF here and there to convey the point is best… in my opinion.”

“Shallow DOF is a fad. It really annoys me to see all these videos and films where 7/8s of the frame is out of focus. Like come on. You don’t NEED that damn 50mm 1.2 L lens from Canon for video. It’s ridiculous.”

“After having a dslr for almost a year i have learned to really appreciate a good deep depth of field.”

“Sure I love the soft shot of the lights as much as the next vimeo user here but come on. This in my humble opinion has turned in a massive pissing contest about who can make the ears disappear.”

So what does that all mean?

Just because you’ve got that large sensor to play with, it doesn’t mean you have to be fully open all the time. Shallow depth of field (and where the focus lies in this) is used as an effect, to make you concentrate on a very specific bit of the image. Think about what you’re shooting and whether you actually need to shoot at 1.4 when f8 would actually look nicer.

Don’t confuse shallow depth of field with “the film look”.

Most films are pretty deep. If something is out of focus, it´s only slightly blurred, but not that total mashed potatoes with highlights we see on every DSLR production.
Before the days of 35mm adapters and the HDSLR revolution everybody was happy to shoot at 4 or 5.6 or 8. Why, probably because it worked!

Don’t be shallow

Tony Reale said in an article

Does this mean the HDSLR look is bad? No. Like I said before, it has its own look and can be used for very artistic work. But to replicate the “film look” you’ll need to take it down a notch. Don’t be so spoiled by shallow DOF that it’s the only look you shoot with. I’ve seen many videos shot with a lot of bokeh and no story.

And I totally agree. If you want to be cinematic, start with a smaller sensor like the AF100, 7D, GH1 any 1/2″, 2/3″ or 4/3ish sensor.

Than shoot at least f4 – better f5.6 upwards (depending on sensor size) and you are golden.
Not only that the lenses will perform better at those stops, your focus puller will perform better too. Pulling focus on a 5D at wide open is a pure nightmare.

Get a DOF calculator

Depth of field scales are elegant tools for quickly and easily calculating depth of field and hyperfocal distance. Unfortunately, lens manufacturers don’t engrave scales on lenses anymore. An old fashioned DOF calculator is also a great help to get consistent pictures.

Here you can download one for free.

Frank Glencairn

2 thoughts on “Don`t be so shallow – Deep DOF – A new trend?

  1. Hi Frak,

    My name is Euan. I have recently launched a DSLR blogging website called http://dslrinspired.com with a business partner. We are looking to cover DSLR news, reviews, tutorials as well as setting up a community within our part of the world.

    We love you work and wondered whether you would consider doing a link exchange for our website. We would add a link to the ‘Our Friends’ section on our website as well a promoting both your website and your work.

    Please let us know if you would be interested.

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