Derivation of the DOF equations
Many representations of the depth-of-field equations exist. Some are approximate, valid for either the far field or the near field, and some are exact. The great majority of manifestations encountered in text books have in common that the issue of lens (a)symmetry is completely ignored. This is fine as long as an asymmetrical lens is not used at close focus and as long as the limited validity is mentioned, but the latter is rarely the case. The below derivation of the DOF equations makes due allowance for lens design asymmetry. At the downside, the treatment is slightly more cumbersome than it would be for symmetrical lenses and might deter photographers who are uncomfortable with equations. Unfortunately, matters are not always as simple as we would like to believe.

Pupil magnification
A measure for the lens symmetry is the pupil magnification P, also known as the pupil factor. It is defined as

P =

e x i tp u p i ld i a m e t e r e n t r a n c ep u p i ld i a m e t e r


The entrance pupil is the lens aperture that is seen when you look into a lens from the front, the exit pupil is physically the same opening but observed from the rear. For a perfectly symmetrical lens the pupils have the same size and P=1. Departures from a symmetrical design occur, for instance, with the telephoto lens (P<1) and the retrofocus wideangle lens (reversed telephoto design) with P>1. Apart from the DOF, the pupil magnification affects quantities such as the depth of focus, the effective aperture (in relation to exposure) and the field of view. For faraway subjects the pupil magnification has no significant influence on these quantities; it becomes important for image magnifications greater than, say, 0.1. In the very macro regime the impact of a nonunitary P is substantial.

Geometry of image formation
The DOF equations can be derived with the help of the sketches in Fig. 1 and Fig. 2. Ingredients are the entrance pupil E, the exit pupil X, the front principal plane H, the rear principal plane H', and the film. The object distance v and the image distance b are measured relative to the respective principal planes and obey the Gaussian lens formula

1 = 1 + 1 f v b


where f is the focal length. When the lens is focussed at infinity (v = ∞), we read from Eq. 2 that the image is at a distance b=f behind H'. Fig. 1 depicts the infinity scenario. The diameter of the entrance pupil is D and the diameter of the exit pupil measures PD.

1 illustrates a case with P>1. 1. At infinity focus the light cone emanating from X has an intersection of diameter D with H'. When P is smaller than 1. The object point at v is placed in sharp focus. at infinity focus the apical angle of the light cone that impinges upon the film is the same for all lenses at the same F-number. So far we considered infinity focussing. It follows that the separation of the exit pupil from the film equals Pf and that the distance between X and H' is (P–1)f . (At close focus Eq. When the lens of Fig. Infinity focus for an asymmetrical lens with P >1. 1 is focussed on an object at a finite distance v from H. 3 still holds. (P–1)f is negative and X would be at the right of H'. . the image point is at a distance b>f behind H' (Fig. A closer point v1 comes into focus behind the film and a farther point v2 in front of the film (middle and bottom sketch. 2. N equals the true F-number f/D for the infinity scenario of Fig.Figure 1. the points at v 1 and v 2 lead to unsharp imaging on the film. Figure 2. There is a fundamental expression that relates the half-angle θ of the light cone in image space to the F-number N of a well-corrected lens: N = 1 2 s i n θ (3) On the assumption that the angle θ is sufficiently small to justify sinθ ≈ tanθ (paraxial approximation). Note that Fig. but then N must be considered as the effective F-number. top sketch). Geometry of image formation for an asymmetrical lens.) Indeed. respectively).

For the concept of DOF it is now assumed that points outside the plane of exact focus do not lead to noticeable unsharpness as long as the diameter of the blur spot does not exceed a certain (small) value C. 4 can subsequently be solved for v'. C is known as the acceptable circle of confusion (COC). the rear DOF is infinite. known as the near point and the far point. With the help of Eq. The depth of field in front of the subject is v–v1. the entrance pupil diameter D has been eliminated with the help of D=f/N. Here. The regions in front of v1 and behind v2 are considered out of focus. after some algebraic rearrangement and upon substitution of k=C. It is the area in front of and behind the plane of sharp focus that will appear sharp to the observer of a photograph. Its value is of no importance for the derivation. 2 it is possible to eliminate b and b' from Eq. we will start with an inspection of the geometry in image space and work our way back to the object space. that comes into play only with the application of the DOF equations. the region in between is imaged with a smaller blur and thus considered sharp according to the COC criterion. simply known as the depth of field. v1 and v2 are associated with blur spots on the film of diameter C. the rear DOF S 2 = C ( f – v ) × [ f+P ( v – f ) ] P C ( v – f )–P D f (8) The total DOF S.The equations To derive the DOF equations. is given by S1 + S2: S = 2 f D C ( v – f ) × [ ( P – 1 ) f–P v ] 2 2 2 2 P C ( v – f ) –P D f (9) Hyperfocal distance When the denominator of Eq. From similar triangles in the middle and bottom sketches in Fig. and C. No surprise there are two solutions which. 7 yields S1=H/2. the hyperfocal setting v=H yields the maximum available depth of field. the front DOF S 1 = C ( v – f ) × [ f+P ( v – f ) ] P C ( v – f )+P D f (7) and the depth of field behind the object is v2–v. 2 it follows that the size k of the blur patch on the film is given by k = P D | b ' – b | b ' + ( P – 1 ) f (4) where b' is the image distance of an arbitrary point v' in object space. For given values of f . 4 in favor of their object space conjugates v and v'. is that they mark the boundaries of the region in object space that is considered sharp. Substitution of v=H in Eq. The sharpness criterion C is of critical importance and should be tuned to the demands of the observer and the viewing conditions. . read v 1 = ( P – 1 ) ( v – f ) C f+P D f v P C ( v – f )+P D f (5) and v 2 = ( P – 1 ) ( v – f ) C f–P D f v P C ( v – f )–P D f (6) The significance of these two solutions. This region of apparent sharpness is known as the depth of field S. Eq. 8 is zero. N. This happens for a value of v known as the hyperfocal distance 2 f H = N C + f (10) independent of the pupil magnification P.

ranging from H/2 to ∞. After an algebraic exercise we end up with S = 2 N C ( 1 + M / P ) 2 2 2 2 M –C N/ f (12) for M>CN/f . It is related to the object distance v and the image distance b according to M = b v (11) A more manageable expression for the depth of field Eq. The prerequisite v « H is clearly met for the macro regime. 12 simplifies further for situations where CN/f is much smaller than M. 9 is obtained when we get rid of the object distance v with the help of Eq. Eq. 11 and Eq. 13. regardless of the focal length.) Image magnification The image magnification M is defined as the ratio of the image size to the object size. 11 it can be shown that the depth of focus thus defined is given by U = 2 N C ( 1 + M / P ) (14) independent of the focal length. but with the light cone extended beyond the film. and ∞ otherwise. At unit magnification (1:1 or M=1) the depths of field and focus are equal. From similar triangles and. 2. a film that bulges will cause noticeable unsharpness of the object on which the lens is focussed if the bulge exceeds U/2. Hence. 3 shows the same scenario as the top sketch in Fig. it is readily verified that the condition CN/f « M corresponds to v « H. When v>H a negative outcome results from Eq. Figure 3. at close focus the depth of field depends only on the image magnification. For instance. but the condition is violated for faraway objects. but the rear DOF really remains infinite. 2. (Note that the validity of Eq. again. 14 is exact and resembles the approximate expression for the depth of field in Eq. a good approximation for typical head portraits and slightly beyond. Depth of focus Fig. and the pupil magnification. 8. Eq. camera alignment tolerances and film flatness issues. the depth of focus stretches over the orange colored area around the film plane. Geometry to derive the depth of focus U. 2 and Eq. Then and only then the focal length can be completely eliminated from the DOF equation: S ≈ 2 N C ( 1 + M / P ) 2 M (13) Since M = b/v = f/(v–f ). An alternative definition for the depth of focus is the distance between the conjugate . Eq. the F-number. 8 is restricted to v<=H. The depth of focus is important in relation to focussing precision. For k=C. The depth of focus U is defined as the region in front of and behind the focal plane where the diameter of the light cone is smaller than the permissible circle of confusion C.

but this is not entirely correct as the true hyperfocal distance H is given by Eq. Symmetrical lenses Most DOF treatments only consider purely symmetrical lenses. Background blur Depth-of-field discussions often make reference to the degree of background unsharpness. we may simply write k∞ = MD to conclude that the blur patch is proportional to the size D of the entrance pupil. 10. 16 and Eq. At least. Nonetheless h is a very good approximation of H as f/NC » 1 for normal lens usage. Frequently encountered expressions for the near and far points. for which P=1. In Fig. the DOF equations simplify. 4 it is derived that a point v' at infinity is imaged on the film as a disk of diameter k ∞ = M f N (15) It follows that for a given F-number and magnification the blurring is proportional to the focal length. 5 and Eq. With one parameter less to worry about. 17 does not yield the promised DOF up to infinity. Alternatively. The substitution v=H does just that. © Paul van Walree 2003–2013 spherical aberration | astigmatism and field curvature | distortion | chromatic aberrations | vignetting | lens hoods | flare | filter flare | depth of field | dof equations | vwdof | bokeh | spurious resolution | center of perspective | MTF measurements | misconceptions home | about | photos | optics | faq | sitemap . From Eq. 6. in theory. The difference between the two definitions is negligible in cases of practical interest. 2 this definition makes U=b1–b2.image points of the near and far points of the depth of field. 17 are exact (for P=1) but their elegance is somewhat compromised by the observation that substitution of v=h into Eq. are h v v 1 = h+( v–f ) (16) and v 2 = h v h–( v–f ) (17) with 2 f h = N C (18) The quantity h is usually called the hyperfocal distance. Eq. which are just rearrangements of Eq.

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