Going Hyperfocal on the Panasonic LX3

Panasonic just released a software update that makes my LX3 camera a whole lot sweeter. The extra settings seem simple- they simply added options to remember your zoom and focus settings when you turn the camera off- but they turn the LX3 into an awesome little camera for street photography.

Let me explain: even we talk about focusing a camera to a specific distance, it’s really focused to a range of distances, which we call its depth of field (the depth of the in-focus area). A few factors affect this depth, namely sensor size, aperture, and focal length (how far zoomed in you are). For example, on a normal film camera with a 28mm lens focused to 10 feet at f/2, everything from 9.5 to 10.6 feet should be in focus.

Usually we think of bigger sensors as being better in photography, but smaller sensors, such as those in compact cameras, have much bigger depths of field. Using the same settings as the camera above on my LX3, everything from 4.2 feet to infinity is in focus! When everything from an arbitrary distance on out is in focus, a camera is hyperfocal, and you can pretty much just point, shoot, and know your pictures will be sharp. Ever wonder why you don’t need to focus disposable cameras? It’s because they’re set to a hyperfocal aperture.

Unless you’ve got a big DSLR with a super-fast autofocus system, using hyperfocal settings on cameras is essential for great action snapshots. If I zoom all the way out and focus about two feet in front of me, I’m in focus from 1 foot all the way to infinity. This lets me point the camera at anything, hit the shutter, and know I’ll get a good shot. People always whine about compact cameras taking a long time to focus, but most of this time is used focusing. If you’re already focused, many cameras have under 1/10th of a second lag between when you push the shutter and when it takes a picture. Combined with a wide lens, you can take pictures in situations where you don’t have time to focus and frame your shot.

Anyway, the LX3 could go hyperfocal before, but because it didn’t save zoom and focus settings, you would have to spend a second or two focusing each time you switched it on. With the new firmware, it’s easy to reach into a pocket, switch the camera on, and pop off a shot right away.

I liked the LX3 pretty well when I got it, but the longer I play with it, the more fun it gets. I made myself a cool little automatic lens cap that solved one of my biggest annoyances with the camera, and I’m working on a flash diffuser for better skin tones indoors. On top of its hyperfocal features, its wide (24mm) lens and ability to take 2+ shots a second make the LX3 is one of the best cameras out there for nailing random, candid action wherever you are. Little cameras like mine may not be able to keep up with SLRs in absolute performance, but the best camera is the one that’s with you, and the LX3 is pretty darn portable.