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What Are Focus Charts and Why Do You Need One?

Johnathan Paul

Ever used a focus chart? Learn more about this important filmmaking tool and discover how it can help your next production.

Top image via Hurlbut Visuals

The very first thing you need to do before you ever roll on a single camera is obtain critical focus. By making absolutely sure you have critical focus, you’re ensuring that your final product is of professional quality. Most cameras have a magnify feature option that allows you to crop in closely to a subject and set your focus.

Basic Filmmaker has a great four-part series on how to get the critical focus you need. Here’s the first part.

There are several tools you can use while on location or on set that will help you capture critical focus. One such tool is a focus chart.


What Is a Focus Chart?

Basically, a focus chart acts like a target. It gives you multiple areas to zoom in on in order to get the focus you need. You will usually see a focus chart utilized in a controlled studio environment, but it isn’t always necessary. Focus charts are typically used when working with shallower depths of field. It’s common to see focus charts used on a product or low-light shoot.

Focus charts can also be used for calibrating lenses and testing your camera’s autofocus. Using a focus chart, you can quickly determine if your lens or your camera is causing chromatic distortions.

Focus Chart

Image via Distant Blue


Where Can You Get Your Hands on One?

When you first do a search for focus charts, you’ll find that they aren’t cheap. The less-expensive ones are around $100, while some can get as high as $1500 or more. If you’re on a budget, you can download Distant Blue’s Focus Chart App. It’s free and essentially turns your smart phone or tablet into a focus chart.

If you would rather have a printed version of the focus chart, but don’t have the money to purchase one, then you can make one in Illustrator. Join Adobe evangelist Colin Smith in this great video tutorial as he breaks down the process.

Video via VideoRevealed

Do you use a focus chart for your productions? How do you capture critical focus? Share your techniques in the comments below.