THE FLAWED STATE OF
ARE YOU REALLY SAVING THOSE MAGICAL MOMENTS?
©1984 The Anstendig Institute
Expensive cameras of extraordinary complexity but without any provision for focusing have plunged the photographic world back to the "prehistoric" state of the art of the early 1900's when no portable camera could focus. Today, when accuracy should be readily achievable, the public has been purposefully led to believe that precision in focusing is of little importance to their photographic needs, adds nothing important to the actual effect of a picture, and would make little difference in most photographs.
The truth is that absolutely precise focusing makes an enormous difference in a photograph, a difference that profoundly affects what most photographers want to preserve: the expression.
The expressive quality is what makes an occasion memorable. The foremost concern of most camera owners is the preservation and communication of emotions: the ingenuous smile of a baby, the pride of the graduate's parents, the intense concentration of the tennis-player, the extreme effort on the runner's face, a loving look, or the placid, peaceful calm of meditation. Fun, bitter-sweetness, joyousness, laughter, seriousness--such expressions are only faithfully and accurately preserved when the absolutely precise plane of focus (the focal-plane) is exactly on the most important point of the subject.
Because detail and the tonal-gradations are only exact at the focal-point, that part of the picture where the precise plane of focus lies has a completely different character than the rest of the picture.
When the most important subject-point is precisely focused, a phenomenon occurs that makes the photograph come alive in a manner that accurately reflects the subject's expression and transports the viewer right back to that valued moment. The photograph becomes a true record of life. In most pictures that include people or animals, the most important point is the pupil of the nearest eye of the most prominently placed person or animal. The Anstendig Institute has photographs demonstrating that only a slight shift in the focus will change and falsify the expressive content of a subject's face. In one example, a small shift of the focus from the pupil to a point slightly in front of the eyelashes changes the subject's expression from calm to aggressive. Camera users should be aware that all cameras on the market have a tolerance range within which no further focusing is possible. That range can be a few inches or yards, depending on the lens' focal-length, aperture, and distance from the subject. No camera focuses beyond 6-10 yards.
For a given subject-point there is only one sharpest point behind the lens where the subject-point is depicted as a point. With even a slight focusing error, that point is depicted as a circle, “circles of confusion”. The image becomes diffused, the color tones are lighter (irradiated), and the tonal gradations are changed. In fact, in any photograph, all detail that is not located precisely at the focal-plane is diffused and lighter in tone than it really is. Points are depicted as circles, and all detail is made up of circles of confusion which are larger in diameter the farther they are from plane of focus. The concept of depth-of-field is an attempt to define the allowable size of these “circles of confusion”.
Depth-of-field has nothing to do with sharpness. Depth-of-field has to do with unsharpness. It is only an attempt to describe subjectively how far in front and in back of a focused point the degree of unsharpness will remain tolerable. Besides the fact that no camera can focus precisely on the reference point, this effect of depth-of-field varies with each individual's acuity of perception, with the viewing distance, with the size of the enlarged photograph, with the medium (projected images or paper enlargements), and with the location of the subject in the picture if the subject were able to be precisely in focus.
Unfortunately, photography is now universally based on depth-of-field as sharpness. This wrong concept was perpetrated during the 1930's in relation to the Leica and the Contax. Besides not having the slightest focusing accuracy, these early range-finder cameras had tiny viewfinder openings that were difficult to look through. One saw a dull, dark image. Since no possibility of achieving true precision existed, the effects of true precision were unknown. The depth-of-field concept was able to be perpetrated as a means of obtaining “sharpness” because no one knew of the extraordinary phenomena that occur at the focal-point. Today, those phenomena are still unknown. But a means of easily achieving focal-point-exact precision does exist and it is time that the truth about exact focus were known.1
When the focused point is the most important subject-point, the image at the focal-point conveys the impression of three-dimensionality (plasticity) to the whole picture. The expression of the picture comes alive, the impression of graininess is substantially reduced, and the viewer's gaze is drawn to that subject-point. The impression of depth-of-field is increased substantially, even when the most important subject point is not located 1/3 from the front and 2/3 from the back of the picture which depth-of-field tables say would give the greatest depth-of-field. This last fact is very important because it disproves everything that is generally understood about depth-of-field. Even when a small lens-opening is used for greater depth-of-field, the focused point will still stand out from the rest of the picture if it is on the most important point in the picture. It must be emphasized that these effects are only apparent when the exact plane of focus lies on an important point in the picture.
Today's photography is universally based on the use of the smallest-possible lens aperture in an attempt to achieve a decent photographic image through depth-of-field. But, because of its different, more ~plastic" character and the influence it exercises on the total effect of the picture, the focal-plane still needs to be precisely placed in the picture and the photographer has no way of doing so. Thus photography is a flawed medium with no control over its most singular and most important element of expression.
The need to stop down eliminates another important possibility of controlling the artistic-expressive effect: the possibility of using any lens opening, large or small, to highlight the subject and to control the effect of the background and foreground by purposefully making them more or less sharp. The artistic control of the plane of exact-focus and the amount of unsharpness in the remaining parts of the picture is the basis of photography as art. The ability to control the placement and effect of the exact plane of focus should be the most important element in all picture taking. But the photographic industry has not seen fit to make any means of doing so available to the public, even though such a possibility exists.
A focusing device called Messraster achieves absolute focal-point-exact focusing. It allows simple, easy, no-fuss focusing that is based on the principle of direct-comparison, which is the only precise capacity of any of our senses. In fact, with the Messraster, the point of exact focus is so clear and easily recognizable that the photographer is free to concentrate on the other aspects of picture-taking. The photo-optical industry has at least nine patents for auto-focusing based on the principle of the Messraster. But they have not brought out the Messraster even though it remains the most versatile and precise. It is the only device that can focus anywhere on the whole viewing screen with all types of subjects.
Messraster was introduced in 1939 by a German, Joseph Dahl, who died in 1970
after having little more than misery from his patent. A second patent allowing
exact positioning of the Messraster followed in the 1960's. This invention,
judged "the basis of exact photography" by the leading optical
It should now be perfectly clear that the trend to non-focusing and zone-focusing cameras is a marketing ploy rather than any advancement in photographic technology. Worse, it misleads the public into thinking they are buying precision along with convenience. The photographic industry should finally acknowledge the importance of being able to achieve true focusing precision and take on the responsibility of providing the public with the means of achieving it.
1 The Anstendig Institute possesses the only photographic materials that expressly demonstrate the effects of focal-point-exact focusing precision in photography and would be happy to arrange to show them to anyone who is interested.
The Anstendig Institute's papers "Why No Camera Can Focus" and Focusing Tests" provide the technical reasons why no available cameras can focus in the true sense of the word. These papers are available free of charge from the institute.
The Anstendig Institute is a non-profit, tax-exempt, research institute that was founded to investigate vibrational influences in our lives and to pursue research in the fields of sight and sound; to provide material designed to help the public become aware of and understand stressful vibrational influences; to instruct the public in how to improve the quality of those influences in their lives; and to provide the research and explanations that are necessary for an understanding of how we see and hear.