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E-mail: info@visionarywild.com    •    Tel: 1-202-558-9596 (9am to 5pm, EST).

Justin Black – Managing Director: 1-202-302-9030 • Email: justin@visionarywild.com

Sara Robb – Operations Assistant: sara@visionarywild.com

We look forward to hearing from you!

 

The Normal Lens

What is your “normal” lens? Have you ever determined if there is a single lens focal length that you naturally use more than others? It can be an enlightening exercise.

A 50mm lens on the 35mm film format is often referred to as “normal” because it renders a magnification and angle of view (about 40 degrees horizontally) that approximates the field that we can comfortably observe in some detail at a glance. It obviously isn’t meant to represent the breadth of our entire visual field (our binocular vision covers a field of about 114 degrees horizontally and our peripheral vision is much wider), nor does it represent the very narrow central area in which we see truly sharp focus at any given moment. You could think of it as a the “snapshot” field of view of human vision. It is also close to the 43mm theoretical ideal “normal” focal length for the 35mm format (also called “full-frame” in digital cameras), exhibiting neither telephoto compression of subject matter, nor does it expand the scene and visually push things away like a wide angle.

Many photographers find their own “normal” lens, whether it be Gary Winogrand’s 28mm wide-angle, Henri Cartier-Bresson’s 50mm, Sebastiao Salgado’s 60mm, or Tom Mangelsen’s 600mm.

Personally, I find that when I review the metadata of images I’ve made with my 24-70 zoom on Nikon FX format cameras, it seems the focal length I’m most comfortable with is 44mm. For whatever reason, I make far more images at 44mm than at any other focal length in the zoom range. This happens to be a single millimeter away from the true optically normal focal length for the 35mm format: 43mm.

This preferred field of view even extends to stitched compositions that I can’t even view through the viewfinder all at once. For a long time, I have used Nikon PC-E tilt-shift lenses to shoot three overlapping frames that are stitched together in processing, creating a higher resolution image about twice the resolution of the camera’s sensor. In the process, the field of view of my 24mm wide-angle PC-E becomes like a 16mm super-wide; the 45mm normal PC-E become more like a 30mm wide-angle; the short-telephoto 85mm PC-E becomes closer to a 50mm “normal” field of view. So, which PC-E lens do I use most for stitched compositions? Perhaps not surprisingly, I use the 85mm twice as much as the other two lenses combined.

It would seem that my preferred normal lens is really a normal lens, in the range of 44mm to 50mm, though yours may well be different.

–Justin Black

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