The polarization phase shift (PPS) has emerged as an important analytical tool in optical metrology. The present study utilizes the concept of controlling the polarization phase in applications such as focal shift and automatic focusing. When elliptically polarized light, in general, is incident upon a circularly symmetric polarization mask consisting of circular and annular zones with each zone having a unique linear polarizability, the polarization-phase difference introduced between the polarization-masked zones is also circularly symmetric. With the mask at the lens aperture, the polarization phase introduced is multiplicative with the lens function and is shown to result in a shift of the Gaussian focus plane. Because the polarization phase can be controlled by variation of the polarization parameters, the effective focal length of the imaging system can be varied within a small range. A study of the point-spread functions at the shifted focal planes has shown that the quality of the focal patch in these planes is comparable with that produced by a diffraction-limited imaging system at Gaussian focus. The shift of focus can be achieved by control of the polarization of the input beam. It is anticipated that this technique may find application in areas for which dynamic focusing within a small range is required. © 2003 Optical Society of America.