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Lenses and Handedness: Podcast Short

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The handedness of a lens is not something I ever really thought about. That’s not to say I didn’t understand the concept of handedness, it’s just not something I ever put together with lenses.

If you’re not familiar with handedness, in any system that converts a rotational movement into a linear movement along that things axis, there are only two ways to relate those things. We’ve given these two “rules” names, after our hands, the right-hand rule, and the left-hand rule.

The focus and zoom controls on a lens follow these rules too. This means we can apply a handedness rule to a lens if we forget which way to turn it to make the focus or zoom move we want.

As a point of reference, I’ve put together this non-exhaustive list of camera/lens maker and the handedness of their lenses.

Left Hand RuleRight Hand Rule
Hasselblad (H-system) [1]XX
Panasonic [3]??X
Phase One [4]XX
Cine Lenses [5]XX

  1. Hasselblad’s X system lenses don’t have distance scales or focus markings, so I’m unsure which rule the follow.  ↩
  2. The Zoom control on the Tri-Elmar-M 16–18–21 mm f/4 APSH and the Super-Vario-Elmar-TL 11–23 mm f/3.5–4.5 ASPH use the right hand rule, other TL lenses use the left hand rule.  ↩
  3. Panasonic’s micro–4/3rds lenses don’t have focus windows or markings, so I’m unsure which rule they use.  ↩
  4. Phase One is one of the few companies that use both rules. All of their lenses (leaf and focal plane) focus using the left hand rule. However, their zooms all use the right hand rule fro the zoom action.  ↩
  5. Regardless of manufacturer Cine lenses conform to a de facto standard of the left hand rule, whether they’re $80,000 Arri Alura Zooms or $2500 Xeen Primes (actually this applies all the way down to the $300 cine-light Rokinon primes).  ↩

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Patrick Cooney

This seems a neat suggestion for remembering which way to turn zoom and focus rings on a particular lens. Unfortunately, ambiguities in the language we use (at least in English) to describe zooming and focusing can still lead to confusion.

For example, we usually say “zoom in” to mean a tighter field of view and “zoom out” for a wider field of view. So, does “bigger” refer to the focal length or to the field of view in this use of the Right-Hand Rule (RHR) for zooming?

In the case of focusing, the ambiguity is even more serious, as it come from the underlying physics. To focus on something closer to you, you must move the lens farther from the sensor. In this case, one distance increases while the other decreases. Which distance does the RHR (or LHR) apply to when focusing?

I fear we are just stuck with remembering how our lenses work.

    Jason Franke | admin

    Hi Patrick,

    To be clear, the conventions being talked about here are as follows:

    For zooming, the lens zooms in (aov narrows) when your thumb is pointed away from the camera and towards the subject, and zooms out when your thumb is pointed towards the camera.

    E.g., for a left-handed rule lens, when turning the zoom ring clockwise as you would see it from behind the camera looking towards the subject, the lens zooms out (the angle of view gets wider/the focal length decreases).

    For focusing, the plane of focus moves in the direction your thumb is pointed.

    E.g., for a left-handed rule lens, when turning the zoom ring clockwise as you would see it from behind the camera looking towards the subject, the plane of focus moves towards the camera in the direction your thumb is pointing.

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