35 mm vs 50 mm

Discussion in 'Leica and Rangefinders' started by olivier_reichenbach, May 30, 2002.

  1. The more I shoot with my 35 mm Cron or my V/C 25 mm the more I feel the 50 mm is actually
    a short tele, and not at all a so-called «normal» lens. But why didn't I notice it before, when I shot
    almost exclusively with 50 mm's? Is it just before I didn't question it? Or is it because I never
    shot with wider angles? Anybody feels the same?
     
  2. Try shooting with a 12 for awhile and then a 21 will feel like a
    lens for a tight crop.
     
  3. Don't forget that the 35mm is a wide angle lens, complete with every
    characteristic of a wide lens for the 24x36 format negative,
    including unnatural size proportions between objects in the frame.
    It is NOT a normal lens, although it seems to work for most people
    as a normal lens, i.e. cropping, etc. in a pinch. The 50mm is the
    closest length considered normal, which makes it the most difficult
    lens to use in my opinion because it is the most transparent in the
    result, i.e. the viewer doesn't see those stretchy (wide) or
    compressed (tele) artifacts.
     
  4. From my limited knowledge of optics, anything much shorter than 50mm
    on the 35mm format has to be a retrofocus lens design in order to fill
    the frame, which makes things appear farther away than they normally
    appear to the eye. Even though the 35mm lens may give a more useful
    angle of view, this pushed-away spatial perspective makes it
    seem un-normal. That's the main reason I love the 50mm so much -
    there's no "lens-look" to it. Now maybe if the film plane were
    curved, like the back of your eyeball...
     
  5. Olivier: All the scientific analysis aside, I agree wholeheartedly
    with your assesment: With the Leica M, 35 is normal, 28 is a wide,
    and 50 is a short tele... In actual use it just works out that way.

    <p>

    Cheers,
     
  6. It's not the lens, it's the !@#$%$#@ Frame lines. They're so grossly
    undersized that the 35mm lines seem more like normal FOV than the
    50. If one prints his own negatives, he'll soon realize how much
    extraneous material should have been cropped in the camera.
     
  7. I think Tod used the best word when he mentioned "perspective". Both
    the 40mm and 90mm, the two closest focal lengths I have that bracket
    my 50s, show some departure in the images from that which my eye
    considers "normal".

    <p>

    However, I suppose if one rarely used a 50 over a WA lens, a 35mm
    would gradually become "normal" to them. Probably the reverse might
    be true for Tele users also.

    <p>

    Kind of reinforces that six decades of being around have taught me
    that "normal" is a subjective word.

    <p>

    Best,

    <p>

    Jerry
     
  8. I'll go along with Bill. Shoot with an SLR or even a Contax G2 and
    there's no way you'll ever mistake a 35 for a "normal" lens or a 50
    for a short tele.
     
  9. Okay, let's analyze. Anormal lens is one whose focal length matches
    the diagonal measurement of the film format. For the 135 format,
    this is 43mm. So, a 43mm lens would be 'normal' making a 50 long-
    focus lens, albeit only slightly.

    <p>

    But wait, there's more. Do you use the full Leica frame, or crop to
    an 8x10 proportion? If the latter, then you are using a 24x30mm
    segment of the negative. The diagonal would then be 38mm. That
    would make the normal lens 38mm, too. The 35mm lens would then be
    the closest available match. Comparatively, the 50mm is almost a
    tele!

    <p>

    I think this helps explain why a 35mm can be the best "normal" lens
    for some photographers.
     
  10. Olivier, I've experienced the same sort of impression after using
    the 35mm lens exclusively for a period of time. It seems also
    likely to me, that the rangefinder adjusts the "psychology of
    seeing" differently than the "optical conduit" of the SLR - I've
    never felt the 50 to be a short tele when using reflexes. I think
    that certain individuals may be particularly aware of the character
    of different perspectives, or perhaps different individuals have a
    different sense of what "normal" perspective means to them. I
    certainly don't believe in the rules - I've seen too many wonderful
    examples of really fine work that didn't follow the recommended path.
     
  11. The best lens combo to use: 35mm Summicron and a 50mm Summicron.
     
  12. I find the same thing most of the time but for a specific reason.
    When I shoot people on the street (full body), I find that if I use
    a 50mm, the facial features of a person on an 8x10 blow up are just
    barely recognizable and distiguishable. Not that they aren't sharp,
    but they don't seem to have the defining detail that shows character.

    <p>

    But using a 35mm lens, I can capture them much closer, still get a
    full body shot plus a little and get good detail in the face to
    capture expression, heavy wrinkles, direction of the eyes, etc. For
    me, that's "normal". Until I recognize that amount of detail in a
    person's face, I don't really "process" them or notice them.

    <p>

    For shots other than people, all bets are off, but I shoot mostly
    people, so I guess that's why I consider a 35mm more "normal".
     
  13. Todd: some corrections:

    <p>

    "anything much shorter than 50mm on the 35mm format has to be a
    retrofocus lens design in order to fill the frame"

    <p>

    Only true of SLR lenses, NOT most rangefinder lenses. SLR wideangles
    need to be 'retro' to clear the 45mm of mirror behind them - RF wides
    do not.

    <p>

    "which makes things appear farther away than they normally appear to
    the eye"

    <p>

    Actually, retrofocus lenses don't make things look any farther away
    than a 'non'-retrofocus lens of the same focal length - shoot a picture
    with a Leica 35mm summicron-R (retrofocus design) and a 35mm Summicron-
    M (non-retrofocus design) and they will look just the same in the final
    print - except the random variations that any two different designs
    might show. You certainly will not be able to say "Hah, this must have
    been shot with the R lens - everything looks farther away!" Ah
    garawntee.

    <p>

    Not to dump on Todd: most up what turns up in these "what's the
    'normal' lens" threads is religious in nature - closely held personal
    beliefs with little factual or scientific support in reality.

    <p>

    And as the psalmodist sang - "it ain't necessarily so"

    <p>

    The overall human field of vision is closer to a fisheye than anything
    else. I can see my fingertip moving at about 80 degrees out to each
    side of my head (160 degrees total).

    <p>

    If you take the part where I can see things sharply, it's about like a
    400mm (or longer). (Stare at the word 'can' in the line above without
    moving your eyes and you can not READ any words beyond 'where' and
    'things' - you can SEE them, but not read them)

    <p>

    The notions that any arbitrarily chosen 'field' between those extremes
    (15mm-400mm) is THE NORMAL HUMAN FIELD OF VIEW as handed down by holy
    writ or anu other source is just plain silly.

    <p>

    The vast majority of fixed-focal-length P&Ss have 38mm lenses. Barnack
    chose the 50. The first SLRs often had 55s, and some people claim their
    60mm macros are 'normals'. That's a 160% varation.

    <p>

    Any engineers out there? - Tell us, how reliable do YOU consider a
    process that allows a 160% variation in output to 'count' as 'normal'
    (i.e. 'within specs')?

    <p>

    Shoot what you want, believe what you want - just don't come on like
    Moses with the Tablets - 'cause NO focal length has ever been engraved
    in stone as 'normal'.
     
  14. Olivier, <br>
    Could your experience relate to DOF rather than perspective?<br>
    Before I got my Leica w. a 50mm I almost never used a 50mm on my SLR.
    <br>
    A 35mm was my preferred lens, and while its perspective is wider than
    my perception of normal, the depth of field of the 35mm appeared
    closer to the way I see things normally.<br>
    If you, like many Leica users do, tend to shoot close to wide open,
    the 50mm will have a very selective focus, and the photographs will
    look 'tele-like'.<br>
    Necessity (the 50mm being my only Leica lens) has made me rediscover
    the unique qualities of this focal length. By careful aperture
    control I feel I get 2 lenses in one.
     
  15. Bob - "A normal lens is one whose focal length matches the diagonal
    measurement of the film format."

    <p>

    I respect your opinions AND your pictures - but again this is
    'conventional wisdom' that has no support. "Sez who?"

    <p>

    The only 'explanations' I've ever seen to justify the 'film diagonal'
    theory end up being circular.

    <p>

    Start

    <p>

    "What's the normal lens for a 4x5"

    <p>

    "A 150mm"

    <p>

    "Why"

    <p>

    "Because it equals the length of the format diagonal."

    <p>

    "And who decided that a lens the length of the film diagonal is the
    correct focal length for a 'normal' lens?"

    <p>

    "No one - it just IS!"

    <p>

    "How do you know?

    <p>

    "Because every one knows the normal focal-length lens folr 4x5 IS a
    150, and it matches the film diagonal."

    <p>

    (Go back to 'Start' and repeat ad infinitum)
     
  16. Actually, though - just to contradict myself (I am allowed to
    contradict myself? No?)....

    <p>

    Anyone ever read THE PHANTOM TOLLBOOTH?

    <p>

    The child-hero, Milo, comes upon a little house in the woods and stops
    to ask for directions.

    <p>

    On the door is a sign - "THE GIANT". He knocks, and a very normal-sized
    young man opens the door. "Are you the giant?" asks Milo. "You don't
    LOOK like a giant!".

    <p>

    "I am the world's smallest giant." responds the young man.

    <p>

    "Oh" says Milo, and asks for directions.

    <p>

    "I don't know the answer," says the Giant. "You'd better go around back
    and ask the Midget."

    <p>

    So Milo goes around to the back of the house, where there is a door
    marked "THE MIDGET". And knocks. And (you guessed it) a very normal
    young man, who looks VERY MUCH like the GIANT, opens the door.

    <p>

    "Are you the midget?" asks Milo. "You don't look like a midget."

    <p>

    "I am the world's TALLEST midget." responds the young man. "Now what
    was your question?"

    <p>

    In this sense I can accept the 50 as the 'most normal' lens. Because,
    depending on the f/stop you choose, it can indeed be both "The world's
    longest wide-angle" and "the world's shortest telephoto" - i.e. normal.

    <p>

    In my 50 Elmar days my IIIC gave half frames at speeds above 1/250th -
    so I did a lot of shooting at 1/250 and f/22 (Tri-x). Those shots, with
    depth-of-field from 4 feet to quasi-infinity (actually about 25 feet)
    looked very much like they'd been shot with a 35.

    <p>

    Later on, in my Canon SLR days, I lacked a short tele, but shot many
    'tele'-like portraits with a 50 f/1.4 wide open. Nice soft backgrounds
    just like a 75 or 85.

    <p>

    So what Olivier is seeing - just like Milo - is one side of the 50mm
    normal lens - the telephoto side. Go around to the back of the house
    (at f/22) and you'll find a wide-angle.
     
  17. Getting back to yesterday's survey results, where I said that I often
    thought 35 and 50 are favoured equally my many of us, that proof there
    (cronwise 12 to 12) is of course a total of us participants taken
    together.

    <p>

    Now, to make a long story short -- maybe for a new survey? -- the real
    question would be "how many of you use a 35 just as often as a 50?".
     
  18. Yes, you guessed it, it's all personal taste how you see the world.

    <p>

    I like the 50. It is totally underrated. For years, other focal
    lengths were harder to make (even a 35 was a struggle), so when
    wide-angles did finally arrive en masse everyone dismissed the poor
    old 50 as boring, which isn't fair at all. I agree that many shots
    could be improved by cropping out extraneous detail. Hence I prefer a
    longer focal length lens. Sometimes a wider one will help.

    <p>

    So why not a zoom? Useful sometimes, as in my old Olympus, but
    concentrating on one at a time concentrates the mind. Hopefully, and
    on a good day.
     
  19. Ahhh...who cares, gimme the 35 any day cause it's more useful to me
    in more situations. I don't look at slides and say, "this looks
    funny!" Looks "normal" to me : )
     
  20. From the archives... my 35mm and 50mm observations.
    Click
     
  21. There is something about what Andy says, but I do think that 35-40-50
    give a perspective that is near to what most people's brain would
    suggest is "normal". The point about vision is that it has both
    panoramic and telephoto aspects so is impossible to reproduce exactly
    with a single shot. I can say, however, that I certainly do not see
    like a 21mm lens - although I do take pictures with one.
     
  22. I just spent a week in NYC with my 35 and 90 (left the 50 at home).
    I used the 35 for the most part while in NYC. I was frustrated
    though, the 35 took in too much "environment" and the 90 was too
    tight. Many times I wish I had just taken the 50 and left the 35 and
    90 at home. I've been home for a week and the 50 is now living on my
    camera. Aaah...
     
  23. Sorry about the length of the previous rants - too much "Code Red"
    Mountain Dew!

    <p>

    One additional talking point - take the proverbial 'film diagonal'
    definition - which equals 42mm.

    <p>

    35mm x 1.2 = 42mm
    42mm x 1.2 = 50.4mm

    <p>

    So the 35 and 50 are equally distant - proportionally - from 'normal' -
    especially if you factor in the usual variations in true focal length
    (some 50s are 51.6mm, some 35s are 36mm)

    <p>

    No wonder the debate will never end...!
     
  24. I'm STILL trying to get used to the 40mm focal length on my Rollei 35.....not wide enough for general use, but not long enough for some shots! (Good posts, Andy!)
     
  25. Anddy:

    <p>

    Perhaps "retrofocus" wasn't the correct term for what I was
    describing, so let me use your 4x5 example to elaborate. Instead of
    "normal", let's define a lens design which is neither "wide-angle"
    (retrofocus as I meant it) nor telephoto as a "conventional" design.
    Any lens will produce a circular image, the diameter of which will
    vary with the lens design and focal length. I believe (someone will
    correct me if I'm wrong) that a "conventional" lens will produce an
    image with a diameter equal to its focal length, when focused at
    infinity. So in theory, a 150mm lens will produce a 150mm diameter
    image. Since the 4x5 negative has a diagonal length of 150mm, this
    will fill the frame.

    <p>

    Now lets switch to a 90mm lens. A "conventional" design 90mm would
    produce an image 90mm in diameter. Since we're talking about a 4x5,
    there's no mirror, no concerns about a fixed flange to film distance -
    we just mount the lens and compress the bellows until the image is in
    focus. And we're left with a 90mm circular image in the middle of a
    4x5 inch negative. So in order to fill the frame, the lens design has
    to be adjusted from a "conventional" one to one which I referred to as
    "retrofocus", but which I'll now refer to as "wide-angle" design.
    This allows the lens to retain its 90mm-ness and still produce an
    image large enough to fill the 4x5 frame.

    <p>

    As for the 35mm lens on a 35mm camera, this is the same, regardless of
    whether it's on an M rangefinder or an R SLR. A "conventional" design
    35mm lens simply wouldn't fill the frame. To do that requires
    employing this "wide-angle" lens design. Such a design has an effect
    similar to looking through binoculars backwards. It makes things
    appear farther away. So I'm inclined to think of a "normal" lens as
    the "conventional" lens design which will fill just the frame.

    <p>

    As for why the 50 was Barnack's choice, I once read an article by
    Norman Goldberg in either Modern Photography or Popular Photography
    years ago. He interviewed a Leitz engineer on just this subject.
    I've long since lost track of that issue, but one quote I remember was
    the engineer's comment, "Every mm less than 50 represents a compromise
    the designer is forced to make." If true, since the Leica evolved
    long before computer design programs, lens coatings and lots of other
    tools modern lens makers have, it's not surprising the 50 became the
    "standard" since it required the fewest design compromises. Why this
    threshold is 50 and not 43, I don't know, but while the diagonal of a
    24x36mm rectangle is 43mm, the diagonal of a 36x36mm **square** is
    50mm. Maybe coincidence, maybe related.

    <p>

    None of this has anything to do with which focal length is most useful
    to any given photographer for any given purpose. If I were into
    photographing wild grizzly bears, I'd probably consider anything
    shorter than 600mm too short.

    <p>

    Kind regards
     
  26. Good question, Neils.But I'm not sure. Yesterday I was street shooting some teenagers having
    their caricature drawn by a street artist. They were having a ball, and I was standing right there,
    leaning on a wall, about 6 feet from them, just peering over the top on my camera from time to
    time (I can't focus with my right eye, unfortunately), and just quickly focusing and triggering (on
    AE with a M7) with my 35 Cron and some 400 ISO B&W. I had the feeling that I was
    absorbing the whole ever changing scene, the painter, the girl sitting on the stool, the friends
    behind, watching and laughing, just like my naked eyes did. Then I decided to put my 50 mm
    on. All of a sudden, everything went slower and quieter. I was looking for a detail, a hand, an
    eye, a bag, two close faces... Yes, I felt I was isolating things much more, but through tighter
    framing, not DOF. I kept the aperture as small as possible anyway (come to think of it now, I
    wonder why.) Strange as it may sound, the 35 was like a film with the music and dialogue and
    effects, but the 50 had muted the sound. That was a strange shooting experience. Now, let's
    see the resulting negs. Thanks.
     
  27. Having just a few months ago converted from SLR to Leica M and even medium format, I have to say, am bound to say. that after many years of SLR I almost never found using a 50mm lens the way to go aesthetically. Even using s Canon lens that started below 35 and went beyond 50mm I never stopped the lens at 50, however 'natural' that is supposed to be, it apparently never seemed that way when I framed a shot. Why should that be? Even the 80mm Rollei rense which recreates a 35mmlens at 52mm is boring. Is it me, or something in photography more 'rhythmic' or 'melodious' than 50mm that makes me and many of us use longer and wider lenses?
     
  28. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Even the 80mm Rollei rense which recreates a 35mmlens at 52mm is boring. Is it me, or something in photography more 'rhythmic' or 'melodious' than 50mm that makes me and many of us use longer and wider lenses?
    Some incredibly perceptive photographer said "There are no boring lenses, only boring photographers," or something to that effect.
    [​IMG]
    Anticipation, 50mm lens, Copyright 2002 Jeff Spirer
     
  29. Perhaps I'm being dumb but, to me, it's all a matter of magnification and perspective, not angle of view. I think an easy way to find out, once and for all, what is the "normal" focal length lens (the one that renders a perspective closest to what the eye sees) is to try looking through the viewfinder of an SLR camera that sees 100% of the frame, with a 50mm and then a 35mm lens mounted. Then look with the naked eye at the same scene and from the same position. Does the 35mm view look more like that seen by the unaided eye? Or is it the 50mm?

    I'd try it myself but I don't have an SLR any more! I could always try taking photos, I suppose, like Al Smith did. In Al's two photos of the fence and the tower (accessible by following Al's link above), which most closely represents what the naked eye would have seen if the person had been standing at the camera position in each case?
     
  30. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    Who cares about what the eye sees? It's what you put on film that matters, not what your eye saw. It's never going to be what the eye saw, and it shouldn't be. It's going to be a two-dimensional, contrast limited, angle of view limited, image on a piece of paper (or a screen or something), but it will never, never, be what your eye saw, no matter what. So think about the photograph and you might make something worth looking at.
     
  31. ...amen

    I didn´t read this topic before, but for sure is interesting what´s coment here, for me both focal lengths worth great, with the M I use the 50 as the first aproach lens, mounted on a M6 to make ligth read, and folows up the 35, it usualy stays workng longer, when only one camera can be carried, the 50 goes when not image or concentration clear in my head, and make lots of first impresions, when images are flowing before me the 35 is a more practical length.
     
  32. Jeff is right, I think - or at least, I agree with him. I also think that that's any good snapper's main insight.
     
  33. Of course, Jeff is right. However, his comment doesn't address Olivier's question about what people consider to be a "normal" lens.
     
  34. But Roberto's comment did.
     
  35. Just to stir the pot some more...I think what constitutes a normal perspective depends as
    much on subject and composition as it does on the lens. Subject distance and size are the
    biggest factors - in general, the further away or the smaller the subject, the longer the
    focal length I'd consider normal. This is because it's not just the eye that sees, but also
    the mind - we tend to "zoom in" on subjects which are further away, whereas our attention
    becomes "wider" in group situations in close spaces where we may be paying attention to
    several people simultaneiously. Thus a 90mm might be considered normal for a subject
    at infinity (assuming the subject isn't too large), whereas a 28mm might provide a normal
    perspective for shooting a group of people indoors.
     
  36. Great thread. To add some more:

    I like the 50 because, at around 17 feet on the street when I'm starting to order a scene in my head, the subject(s) fills the frame just the way I like it. By the time I'm closer to fill the frame with a 35, the moment is usually gone. I guess I'm all about filling the frame with just what is needed so as little cropping as possible is to be done later; I'm not one to include environment when it takes away from the subject.
    And, let me be honest, I'm too bashful to get into people's faces to fill the frame with the 35; kudos to those that do!
     

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