I was reminded of this by Perrone Ford on DVINFO.net. With HD cameras compared to SD cameras the depth of field appears shallower. Why is this and why is it important?
Visually depth of field is the loss of focus as you move away from the object that you have focussed on. If you have two cameras, one HD and one SD and they both have the same lens at the same aperture along with sensors of the same size then the change in focus with distance for both cameras will be exactly the same. However with the HD camera, because the image is sharper to start with, any small changes in focus will be more apparent than with the softer picture from the SD camera. So visually the HD camera will have a shallower depth of field. Now if you take that HD image and convert it to SD then the depth of field appears to increase again. This can be calculated and measured and is defined by the “circle of confusion”
So why is this important? Well lets look at what happens when you shoot an interview or face. The human brain is very good at looking at faces, we “read” faces day in and day out, taking in expressions, skin tone and subtle changes. We use these tiny visual cues to gauge emotion and see how someone is responding to the things that we do. Because of this any imperfection in the look of a face in a video tends to stand out (thats also why you normally expose for faces). With HD it’s quite possible to have a shot of a face where the tip of the persons nose or their ears are in sharp focus while the eyes are slightly soft. With an SD image we would be unlikely to notice this because of the greater depth of field, but HD with it’s visually shallower DoF can show up this small difference in focus and our brain flags it up. Very often you see the HD face and it looks OK, but something in your brain tells you it’s not quite right as the eyes are not quite as sharp as the nose or ears. So this apparently shallower DoF means that you can’t just focus on a face with HD but you must focus on the eyes, as that’s where we normally look when engaged in a conversation with someone.