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What Is a Focus Limiter And What Does It Do? (A Helpful Guide for Photographers)
My Full Guide on Using a Focus Limiter Switch! (With Video)
I think you’ll agree with me that there are a LOT of questions that arise on one’s photography journey.
One of the common yet not fully covered questions on the Internet are related to focusing distance range selector switch.
- What is a focus limiter on a lens?
- What does a focus limiter do?
- Why does it matter and how to use it?
And believe me, it is not as complicated as it sounds.
Without further ado, let’s get started.
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What Is a Focus Limiter On A Lens?
If you have a focus limiter on your lens, it will restrict the range of distances the camera will focus at.
If, for example, you’re using a macro lens that has a range limiter switch and you want to focus on something that’s 16 meters away instead of closer objects, you’ll set it to the desired distance and it will limit the focus of the camera to objects which are further away.
(Below I’ll explain it further using images.)
And guess what?
Controlling a focus limiter helps improve both the speed of focus and accuracy, especially if you’re aiming at objects far away from you.
What Is the Purpose of the Focus Limiter Switch?
By telling the lens to ignore the close end of the zoom range, it has less area it needs to search through to find focus.
And by setting your focus limiter, you’ll get a faster focus speed.
This also suggests that the action will be predictable.
Like I mentioned earlier, you’ll often find the focus limiter switch on macro lenses, as well as on most of the more expensive lenses.
(One example is Canon 600mm f/4 telephoto lens.)
Below is an example of a focus limiter switch location on the latest Canon 600mm lens.
This switch helps you control the distance you are aiming at – which comes in handy, especially when doing nature photography.
If you want to take a picture of a bird that is quite far away, you use the focus limiter switch.
The switch will allow you to limit the lens’ focus capability to a range of distances, which depend on the type of lens you have.
These days, most macro photography lenses come with a focus limiter switch that will help you focus on a specific distance, especially for long-range photography.
How to Use a Focus Limiter?
How to use a focus limiter? What settings to use?
You saw where to find the said switch earlier but I’ll also attach another screenshot below (based on a Sony 600mm f/4 lens).
Many experienced photographers will recommend that you leave your switch on FULL.
But what do other 2 settings mean?
- Position 15m-4.5m:
If you were to choose 15m-4.5m setting, the one in the middle, then it means that it’ll keep the lens from focusing father away than 15 metres.
(Most useful when doing portrait photography.)
- Position ∞-15m:
And if you were to choose, the ∞-15m, the farther right setting, then it means that it’ll keep the lens from focusing closer than 15 metres.
Ken Rockwell recommends using the latter only if your lens is acting up and for some reason tries to focus on close things that are irrelevant, or if it’s “hunting” from near to far looking for distant subjects.
Set the focus limiter if the action is predictable.
Controlling a Focus Limiter
Once you are aware of what you’re doing with a focus limiter, it’s easy to understand how to control it in your camera.
To be specific, not on camera, but on an actual lens itself.
(As you saw in the screenshots above.)
First, you need to figure out how to use the distance range selector switch and understand if you need to set it to full or limit, which will depend on the distance you’re trying to include in your photograph.
It takes a little bit of time to get used to, but once you get used to it, you’ll see that it turns into an instinctive reaction when using your lens.
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Does a Focus Limiter Allow for Faster Focusing?
Next question you may have is on focus limiter for faster focusing.
When you use this switch, the actual focusing speed is not changed per se.
What happens is the lens will not run through its entire focus range looking for the correct focus or focus in objects which are not the ones you’re trying to take a photo of.
In case you didn’t know:
The way the camera lens will run through the entire focus range is called “hunting”.
Since the lens will not need to “hunt” for the right focus (as the limiter switch will have its settings control the focus range), you’ll get faster focusing on the object you’re trying to photograph.
This makes it easier to catch a specific moment because your camera will not be looking to focus on the object you want to photograph.
It also allows for more control over the focused objects while you’re shooting, which, as mentioned above, is quite suitable for nature photography like, per example, when you’re trying to get a shot of a bird flying by or a wild animal that is quite far away.
It shouldn’t be used in landscapes, though.
A focus limiter is meant to help you photograph a specific object and if you try to use it on a broader view most of the photo will become blurred.
Choosing a Lens with a Focus Limiter Switch
Make no mistake:
A focus limiter works in a way that has nothing to do with zoom distance.
While zoom distance will only allow you to get a better sense of things that are far away, the focus limiter is designed to control the set distances which you are trying to photograph, making it easier to focus on a specific item.
When you use a focus limiter, you are aiming for a specific object at a certain distance. That’s what the focus limiter is for, and that’s when having a macro lens with a focus limiter comes in handy.
That’s why, when purchasing a new lens, you should always make sure it has a focus limiter.
Although most expensive lens models come with it, there are still a few which only allow for manual focusing and don’t have a focus limiter switch, so you should be aware of that if you do a lot of nature photography.
(Some photographers use it for live events or when shooting sports.)
This feature has been implemented in a few cheaper lens as well, but as you probably already know, going for cheap stuff in photography technology is usually a wrong choice.
In my opinion:
It’s always better to wait and get a better lens with all the bells and whistles.
You don’t know when you’re going to need them, but as your photography evolves, so do your needs, and it’s essential to invest in photography technology that will last quite a while in your hands before you need to upgrade.
You see my point?
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Range Limiter Switches on a Lens
Earlier you learned how to focus with a distance range selector switch.
But let’s review this again.
The way your focus limiter switch works is usually between two different settings:
- full, or,
When turned to FULL, you get the full focusing range, from close-in to infinity.
When switched to limit, you have other two options:
You can limit the focus range to a set range of distances according to the lens you’re using, or you can use the infinity setting which allows for a much more extensive focus range.
The way you control your focus limiter will have a lot to do with the specific lens you are using, but most focus limiters on lenses work similarly.
Once you have one figured out, you’ll know how to use any of them.
My Final Thoughts
Now that you’ve learned how to use a focus limiter on a lens, you’ll see that it is a fantastic skill for your long-range photography.
This is quite a useful trick, and you should pay attention to it when buying your next telephoto lens.
I’ll repeat myself:
I think when it comes to photo gear it’s better to wait and get a better, more expensive lens that will last you for years than go for a cheap one and have to upgrade quite soon after you bought it.
Let me know in the comments below if you have any further questions on what a focus limiter is and how this switch works.
READ NEXT: How to become a better photographer in 31 days.
Excellent tips and information on the limiter button… thanks.