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In Orthographic view the Start Clip setting has no effect. If I move the End clip it will affect both front and back clipping on the scene.

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Setting the end clip to 1m (as I prefer working in metric scale) will show me a sliver of my scene that is only 1 meter deep, (determined by the clip distance). My question is this: that 1 meter distance seems quite arbitrary: 1 meter from where? X:0, Y:0 Z:0? How is the center of that visible range determined?

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It's defined by the View pivot. The view orbits around a single point which is moved by a variety of actions (e.g. panning with ⇧ ShiftMMB MMB or zooming to an object with numpad .):

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    $\begingroup$ merci beaucoup! $\endgroup$ – cegaton Oct 18 '15 at 0:00
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    $\begingroup$ @cegaton please keep your comment and answers to English on this site :) </joke> PS translation "Thank you very much." $\endgroup$ – David Oct 18 '15 at 0:54

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