March 17, 2015

Learn Depth of Field with this Powerful (& Free) Online DOF Simulator

Depth of Field Simulator
Depth of field is an incredibly powerful tool, but the mathematics and mechanics of calculating and pre-visualizing it can be overwhelming.

A Polish software engineer (and amateur photographer) named Michael Bemowski recently put together one of the most helpful depth of field tools out there, and the best part is that it's completely free. The tool, which you can find here, allows you to manipulate every camera and lens setting that affects depth of field, from sensor size to focal length, from aperture to the distance between the subject and the camera. Plus it gives you a handy visual approximation of what each specific set of parameters would look like in a real world setting.

[Update: In the latest version of the app, the models themselves are no longer treated as flat objects. This means that you can see how focal length and depth of field can elongate or compress the human face. You can see a visual approximation of this here. There are a host of other new features in the update, most notably an Android app. You can read about the rest of the changes here.]

Depth of Field Simulator

At the bottom of the app is another helpful tool, which gives you visual approximations of the distance between the camera, subject, and background, as well as the exact depth of field measurements for the settings defined above.

Depth of Field Simulator

In order to make this tool as accessible as possible, you can download a version of it that runs offline on any operating system, and there is a dedicated mobile version as well, so you can access it anywhere at any time.       

Your Comment


Thanks to Michael Bemowski !

In 35mm film-making, are there reckoned to be standard DOF "norms" for close-up, wide-shots, etc, or is my question flawed ?

March 17, 2015 at 3:19PM

Saied M.

Super35 is the standard film-making format today, which is slightly bigger than APS-C format, and about half the size of the 35mm Full Frame still photo format.

As far as DOF "norms" go, you usually want a vaguely recognizable background for your shots.

The big mistake I've seen made over and over is people using a 35mm Full Frame camera at very wide apertures ( f/1.4 - f/2.0 ) to shoot medium and close-up shots, and the overall feeling to the shot is that suddenly your eyesight has become myopic, where almost nothing is in focus, which is extremely annoying to the audience watching the film.

The Micro 4/3 format can handle f/1.4 or f/2.0 because of the extra DOF this format has at these apertures, but if you are shooting with a 35mm Full Frame format you should be aiming for f/2.8 or smaller to obtain usable DOF for these shots.

March 17, 2015 at 6:03PM

Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer

I don't agree. Of course there are a lot of people overusing that super DOF look of Full Frame. And of course its much harder to focus. But I don't think you should take that as a reference.

I would say there is no common rule: you should think about how your style of filming - the formal aspects - goes along with the story. It depends on what feel you want to deliver, this should be crucial for wether you shoot at f 1.4 or f 5.6

March 18, 2015 at 11:58AM, Edited March 18, 11:58AM

Randy J

Thanks Guy, you're always gracious with your time.

March 19, 2015 at 4:49AM

Saied M.

As a point of reference on full frame I start with this setting:
24-35mm f4
50-90mm f5,6-f8
to me they intercut nicely and I have a good chance not loosing focus, while still having nice out of focus area.

One warning though. If you are shooting for BIG screen ( theater ), your out of focus area become much more pronounced on that big screen. What looked good on 50" monitor didn't translate that well to big screen. From now on I'm not going past f4 ( as a general rule ).

May 1, 2015 at 8:28AM


Everyone gets carried away with this bokeh stuff. It is only appropriate in certain situations. Sit down, relax and watch a quality feature movie.......see how many times a shallow DOF shot is used. You will probably be surprised.

March 18, 2015 at 7:12AM

Jerry Roe
Indie filmmaker

Did anyone see the review of "Schindler's List" on Amazon where the guy complained that it was in black and white and he had spent a fortune on a high def TV. What I am wondering is whether the aesthetic tastes of the public will change in an era of 4K TV and IMAX resolution cinema. They have paid for high definition and will not want "blurred" backgrounds, no matter how artistic the film maker thinks it is.

In the TV series Flashpoint, I saw very shallow DOF used several times when characters were in closeup intensing discussing an issue with their background sort of removed from what was happening. I had wondered if you could do this as a way of allowing a character to verbalise internal processes, a modern day soliloquy, I guess, talking whilst disconnected from the surroundings.

March 19, 2015 at 7:21PM

Julian Richards
Film Warlord

How do I get the mobile version?
What do I look for in the app store?
does it have a name?

March 20, 2015 at 2:03AM, Edited March 20, 2:03AM

Joseph Lippencott
Instrument Designer/Fabricator

Very useful... if you don't have a camera.

March 23, 2015 at 9:13PM

Raph Dae
Screenwriter & attempted director

hey guys can someone tell em how to get the app onto my iphone ? Ive gone on the app store, but not available .

Also I've tried to download it, but wont work that way ?

June 7, 2015 at 10:52AM

Robert Bell

Frankly, my first thought was "Why would you want to learn from this if you have a camera?" but I actually just used it to solve a problem I've been curious about.
I framed up and compared the same portrait using a full frame sensor with an 80mm lens and a crop sensor with a 50mm (with the aperture also adjusted by the crop factor to give similar bokeh). As it turns out, there are in fact differences between the two images. This means that the common idea that you can just put a 50mm on a crop sensor and get the same image you would've had with an 80 or 85mm on a full frame isn't exactly true.
However, these differences are extremely negligible, and in the end a 50mm on a APS-C camera is without a doubt more appropriate for close portraiture than a 50mm on full frame would be. So it seems to me the debate is settled: No, your 50mm does not magically become an 85mm when used on a crop sensor camera, but the images it yields will still be appropriate for portraiture.

June 8, 2015 at 1:57AM, Edited June 8, 2:04AM

Brett Allbritton