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What Is Focus Breathing?

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Related course: Photography for Beginners

Focus breathing affects filmmakers and can frustrate some still photographers too. It concerns focusing between the two extremes of your lens; the minimal focusing distance (MFD) and infinity.

To find out what focus breathing is, what it does and how to help it, read on.

blurry street photo of a group of people walking through a subway station - focus breathing

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What Is Focus Breathing?

When I first heard this photography term, I thought it had to do with control breathing. For example, focusing your breathing when you shoot using a telephoto lens to avoid camera shake.

Focus breathing (or lens breathing) is what happens, or seems to happen when you change the lens focus from one focus distance extreme to another.

This is especially true when going from the minimum focusing distance (MFD) to infinity. It also works oppositely.

Focus breathing is only possible when you change the focus distance while looking through the viewfinder. What you will notice is that the focal length looks like it is zooming in or out very slightly.

Is Focus Breathing an Important Issue?

This might be the first time you’ve ever heard of focus breathing. It is definitely something that I have never seen in a lens manual or guide from lens manufacturers. It has never cropped up as a question on a photography forum I have seen.

For photographers, focus breathing isn’t really an issue. Macro photographers might find it frustrating when trying to focus at the lens’ minimum focusing distance (MFD).

Photographers will see no difference in the way their camera slightly changes. This is due to a still photographer not having to worry about recording the focus change.

By that definition, focus breathing is an issue for videographers or those who use their DSLR cameras to film. It can be with prime lenses or zoom lenses alike.

When someone behind the camera changes their focus distance while filming with cine lenses, the movement is captured. That ‘focus breathing’ is captured in the scene they are filming.

Obviously, focus breathing is a distraction and a problem that needs to be considered, planned for and then solved. One of the reasons in specialty video cameras is they do not create this focus breathing problem.

They are very expensive in comparison. But the production value you receive in return is unparalleled.

cool portrait of a man jumping from a wooden pier - focus breathing tips

What Can Be Done About Focus Breathing?

It might bother you, it might not. You might have never realized it even existed. Like the rest of us, you have no idea what it is. But you put it out of your mind and reframe your scene.

You can, of course, use a few tricks to stop this from being a problem. With focusing, different lenses give you varying qualities when used at the same focal length. This needs an example.

Let’s say you have the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L prime lens and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L. Both lenses let you reach the 85mm focal length. But, 85mm prime lenses will give you better magnification.

We won’t go into it too much. There are factors that make prime lenses stronger in some cases when compared to zoom lenses. If you are interested, read our Prime vs Zoom Lenses article.

What I will say is this. Whether you use prime lenses or zoom lenses, there isn’t any constant degree on which to measure focus breathing. Neither is more affected than the other.

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