Whether you’re a photographer, a video game designer, a filmmaker, or work with VR, thoroughly understanding field of view or (FOV) is your foundation for success. It’s basic optics, and while you likely can assume what it is, let’s quickly go over it and see its importance in photography and the gaming world. So, what is field of view and why does it matter?
What does FOV mean?
In photography, the question is not just about “what” you’re seeing in the image, “how much” you're seeing also matters. To understand the amount of image your camera can capture, you need to understand field of view.
We’ll get into the specifics of FOV, including some examples and how it’s not the same as depth of field. Let’s start by answering the question, “What does FOV mean?”
Field of View Definition
What is field of view?
Field of view is the extent of the observable world that is seen at a given time either through someone's eyes, on a display screen, or through the viewfinder on a camera. Field of view (FOV) also describes the angle through which one can see that observable world. It refers to the coverage of an entire area, rather than a fixed focal point.
In humans, the average field of view is about 170-180 degrees. This is often hard to accomplish through gaming or optical devices. The wider the field of view, the more one can see of that observable world.
In photography, changing the field of view is possible simply by changing the lens. In order to capture more of a scene for instance, a wide angle lens might be used. While decreasing the field of view can be done by using a zoom lens or simply moving the camera, depending on what you’re trying to achieve. The smaller the focal length of the lens, the wider the angle or the wider the field of view. So when you change out lenses with varying focal lengths, your field of view will either widen or narrow.
What is FOV?
- What is visible through a camera lens
- Measured horizontally, vertically, and diagonally
- FOV is determined by camera lens and sensor size
In photography or filmmaking, your field of view is what you can see through your lens or optical finder.
Focal length is measured in millimeters and it’s the given name of the lens. It’s the distance from the lens to the sensor. So if you’re shooting with an 8 mm lens, that means your sensor is 8 mm away from your lens. A short focal length like this, means a wider field of view. For more on the relationship between focal length and field of view, see below.
Nothing will ever be as immersive as our own eyesight. When we look through a camera, each lens gives us a different angle that is always smaller than our field of vision.
But we can change lenses and get as close to the real thing as possible. Technology has become so advanced, we’re getting closer to the real thing.
In fact, technology like virtual reality uses a ton of camera equipment to give us a full immersive experience. The wider the field of view, the more realistic the experience.
The main issues with VR technology is the balancing act between needing thicker and heavier lenses that demand less focal distance to increase the field of view with lighter headsets and equipment that don’t cause color aberration and distortion quite like the heavier tech does.
As we mentioned above, humans FOV is about 170-180 degrees. Video game consoles’ field of view is typically around 60-70 degrees, which is a third of what you’d see in real life. And a PC sits at about 90 degrees. That makes a huge difference. Games that don’t adjust or allow for an FOV adjustment, really changes the whole game, literally. Many gamers find it very frustrating to play without that option.
Other issues like motion sickness can even come into play, with a really low FOV. Although, I would argue if you’re getting motion sickness from video games, maybe you should get outside a bit.
Anyway, a larger field of view makes gaming more natural. If you can barely see your enemy before they get to you, it doesn’t really make for an enjoyable time.
Whether you’re a photographer, videographer, or gamer, getting comfortable with field of view is essential to capture and experience the world around you.
Focal Length Explained
To go deeper into lens perspective, know the ins and outs of focal length. The next post explores wide-angle lenses, long-focus lenses, standard angle lenses, and creative uses of manipulating focal length. From compressing space to exaggerating movement, keep reading for more.