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Author Topic: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...  (Read 9924 times)

Nick Walt

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Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« on: September 14, 2014, 01:40:45 pm »

Hi Everyone,

I'm getting to the point where I'm finding that the 12-40mm f2.8 PRO (24-80mm equivalent) for the E-M1 doesn't have enough reach for many of the compositions I see (landscape or street).

I either crop a lot (non-optimal framing) or simply don't get the shot because it is just too far away. Often I see a particular pattern in the landscape and only want to frame that spot and not include everything around it. Walking closer is not an option as most of the time the composition is lost or is obscured, or getting too close to the person or scene changes things.

For example, this image is a significant crop:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/123872290@N05/15225025241/in/photostream/

When you found a focal length that matched your way of seeing did you experience a revelation? Obviously, this is about shooting for yourself and not for commercial requirements.

Cheers,
Nick
« Last Edit: September 14, 2014, 01:44:05 pm by Nick Walt »
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David S

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #1 on: September 14, 2014, 03:22:03 pm »

Interestingly there was an article in "Modern Photography" (I think it was that magazine) about 30-35 years ago that looked at focal length of the lens needed to duplicate many painted landscape and town scenes. The examples, if I remember correctly, were from the Dutch school of landscape painting. They found that an 85mm to 105 mm lens was needed to duplicate the painted scenes when they were able to duplicate where the artist was when they painted the picture. My memory is that a lot of letters to the editor disagreed but none presented any definite proof that the article was wrong.

But that also could be seen as how they, back in the 1700s or so, viewed the scene and not how we would like the scene viewed today. When I review my shots over the years, I find that I use 70-100 mm more often than other focal lengths except in cities where I favour wide angle views. I just feel better about the short telephoto shots and that's all it is - a feeling.

I will be interested to see what others say.

Dave S
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PeterAit

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #2 on: September 14, 2014, 04:13:14 pm »

Interesting topic, which I can relate to. I would not say "revelation," but over many years I have learned that almost all of the photos I really like were taken with lenses in the short tele range - perhaps 70-150mm FF equiv. Some wider, some longer, but most in that range (I am excluding specialty photos, such as birds or architectural interiors, that demand a longer or wider lens). Thus, I would not spend a lot of money on a really wide or really long lens. ANd, for my FF outfit, my 2 main lenses are a 24-105 and a 70-200, giving me overlap in my favorite range and saving me a lot of lens changes.
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Telecaster

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #3 on: September 14, 2014, 05:02:19 pm »

Over time I've found that my optimal range of coverage goes from 70 down to 15 diagonal, give or take a little either way. This encompasses ~1475mm focal lengths with m43 or ~28135mm with 135. Outside this range I begin to feel like I'm working to make the lens happy rather than vice versa.   :)  With a two-lens setup I like the wider lens to be close in mm to the diagonal measurement of the format and the longer one a bit more than double that. Using a 45/100mm pair on a Contax Aria SLR was just about perfect. With m43 a 20/45mm pair does the job.

-Dave-
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armand

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #4 on: September 14, 2014, 05:17:20 pm »

So I'm not the only one who seems to prefer the telephoto range  :)
I thought this is because my first camera was a Zenith with 58 mm lens.

I like to have an option with me that goes beyond 90 mm: on the Nikon D90 I used the 16-85 at the 85 (135 equiv) a lot.
I use the Fujifilm 18-55 at 55 (83 equiv) and often I'm not happy with the reach so I try to have the 55-200 with me despite the significant weight. Even on the RX100 I use the 100 mm equiv a lot.

As far as advice I have none other than carry a longer lens, or use one of the everything under the kitchen zooms if quality is ok with you.

Glenn NK

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #5 on: September 14, 2014, 08:03:21 pm »

So I'm not the only one who seems to prefer the telephoto range  :)
I thought this is because my first camera was a Zenith with 58 mm lens.

I like to have an option with me that goes beyond 90 mm: on the Nikon D90 I used the 16-85 at the 85 (135 equiv) a lot.
I use the Fujifilm 18-55 at 55 (83 equiv) and often I'm not happy with the reach so I try to have the 55-200 with me despite the significant weight. Even on the RX100 I use the 100 mm equiv a lot.

As far as advice I have none other than carry a longer lens, or use one of the everything under the kitchen zooms if quality is ok with you.

I'd say you are not alone.

I recently bought a 70-200 Mark II and was considering returning it, then looked carefully at my favourite images taken along the Oregon coast three years ago - the very best was at 105 mm, and many were at 65 mm or longer.  I kept the 70-200.   Interestingly for that trip, I had just picked up a TSE24 II and found it was usually too wide.

Now that I've read the OP and some replies, I realize that the 70-200 is going to be a good choice (and I now know why).  Incidentally, I'm at Cannon Beach right now on a second trip along the Oregon Coast - this evening I'm taking the 70-200 down to the sea.

Glenn
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melchiorpavone

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #6 on: September 14, 2014, 08:49:49 pm »

Interestingly there was an article in "Modern Photography" (I think it was that magazine) about 30-35 years ago that looked at focal length of the lens needed to duplicate many painted landscape and town scenes. The examples, if I remember correctly, were from the Dutch school of landscape painting. They found that an 85mm to 105 mm lens was needed to duplicate the painted scenes when they were able to duplicate where the artist was when they painted the picture. My memory is that a lot of letters to the editor disagreed but none presented any definite proof that the article was wrong.

But that also could be seen as how they, back in the 1700s or so, viewed the scene and not how we would like the scene viewed today. When I review my shots over the years, I find that I use 70-100 mm more often than other focal lengths except in cities where I favour wide angle views. I just feel better about the short telephoto shots and that's all it is - a feeling.

I will be interested to see what others say.

Dave S


I agree, though I have found myself using longer and longer lenses. For a first lens, I suggest an 80 or 90mm lens.
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Some Guy

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #7 on: September 15, 2014, 01:04:16 am »

There's some freeware program someone turned me onto called "Exposure Plot."  You can load a folder full of files into it and it will tell you the focal lengths of all the shots and tabulate them to tell which focal length you use the most as percentages and a bar graph.

I was surprised to see I used 35mm more (on a FX body) than I thought, as well as around a 80mm focal length.  I use the Nikon "Holy Trinity Series" of three zooms so it tallied them all and gave me the figures I work with the most from those zooms.  From that I can pick a fixed lens.

SG
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Paulo Bizarro

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #8 on: September 15, 2014, 04:11:07 am »

You just need to wait until Oly releases the 40-150 f2.8 PRO zoom.

Nick Walt

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #9 on: September 15, 2014, 05:18:08 am »

@David S:  I agree, it is just a feeling. But, I guess a lot of how we engage the world through our senses is likely experienced as a feeling. Most people are biased towards either left or right handedness and some are happy using both. That feeling to which we are biased could be understood as a greater sense of connectedness. I definitely experience a pattern, seen as a composition within the bounds of a frame, as a feeling.

@PeterAit:  I like the idea of overlapping focals covering your most preferred length.

@Telecaster:  A very interesting articulation of your preferred focal lengths. What caused you to consider focal lengths as a ratio of your camera's sensor size? What is the significance of that understanding?

@armand:  When I was looking at the Fuji X-T1 I was also interested in the 55-200. Although, at the time, I had no idea of what my preferred focal length would be or what type of photography I would be most biased towards (if anything).

@GlennNK:  I take it that you are using FF, is that correct? The 70-200 does seem to be a sweet spot for many.

@melchiorpavone:  I think that this is where my bias is. I've seen that a few people prefer the Olympus 75mm f1.8 (150mm equivalent - a truly transparent lens by all accounts) and I've been thinking that this will fit with how I see and engage. But, I'm not sure if this is a valid way to approach lens choice hence this thread.

@Some Guy:  Thanks for the recommendation. A great way to understand preference.

@Paulo Bizzaro:  Yes, I've been thinking about the Olympus 40-150 f2.8 PRO and the 75mm f1.8. If I could I would get both as they have quite different use cases.

A friend recently said I should learn to shoot better with the 12-40mm that I have. However, I keep coming up against the framing limits of its 40mm (80mm equivalent) and so I am asking this question. Is it a valid approach to be seeking out my preferred focal length in a lens, or should I make it work within my current lens' limitation?

Cheers, everyone.
Nick
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armand

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #10 on: September 15, 2014, 09:13:40 am »

I guess you could get one of the cheaper m43s telephotos until you figure what focal length you prefer before going for the 75 and 50-140 2.8 as they are not cheap or light for that matter.

Alan Klein

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #11 on: September 15, 2014, 10:04:10 am »

Hi Everyone,

I'm getting to the point where I'm finding that the 12-40mm f2.8 PRO (24-80mm equivalent) for the E-M1 doesn't have enough reach for many of the compositions I see (landscape or street).

I either crop a lot (non-optimal framing) or simply don't get the shot because it is just too far away. Often I see a particular pattern in the landscape and only want to frame that spot and not include everything around it. Walking closer is not an option as most of the time the composition is lost or is obscured, or getting too close to the person or scene changes things.

For example, this image is a significant crop:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/123872290@N05/15225025241/in/photostream/

When you found a focal length that matched your way of seeing did you experience a revelation? Obviously, this is about shooting for yourself and not for commercial requirements.

Cheers,
Nick

Your post is describing what you see not the way you see.    

melchiorpavone

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2014, 10:43:21 am »


@melchiorpavone:  I think that this is where my bias is. I've seen that a few people prefer the Olympus 75mm f1.8 (150mm equivalent - a truly transparent lens by all accounts) and I've been thinking that this will fit with how I see and engage. But, I'm not sure if this is a valid way to approach lens choice hence this thread.

Cheers, everyone.
Nick

Most people who are still learning try to pack too much into their photos. A good remedy is to force them to use a slightly longer focal length than normal, and cut out the extraneous matter.
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Glenn NK

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2014, 11:00:23 am »

Most people who are still learning try to pack too much into their photos. A good remedy is to force them to use a slightly longer focal length than normal, and cut out the extraneous matter.

Agree - this is why I'm using longer focal lengths - to isolate the most interesting/meaningful part of the scene.

Stitched panoramas can be interesting, but I usually find there isn't a focal point that grabs my attention.

Glenn
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melchiorpavone

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2014, 11:05:19 am »

Agree - this is why I'm using longer focal lengths - to isolate the most interesting/meaningful part of the scene.

Stitched panoramas can be interesting, but I usually find there isn't a focal point that grabs my attention.

Glenn

It's interesting, I learned very early on to compose tight and with few elements. I was 15 years old or so. I used to read Modern Photography and look at the great photos by the masters, and I learned from them. I own eight lenses from 21mm to 560mm, but have never owned a 35mm lens. For me, this is the most useless focal length of all.
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Alan Klein

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #15 on: September 15, 2014, 11:17:33 am »

It depends on the scene and what you want to include to determine the lens.  Making blanket statements and only using one length isn't a good plan. 

Herbc

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #16 on: September 15, 2014, 11:20:38 am »

For landscape, I think it depends on where you live.  Here in the east, with 40-50 inches of rain/year, we need shorter lenses to be
able to see the whole scene.  Out west, or even in our mountains, longer works better.

I think "the way you see" depends on what the scene says to you, and that would determine what focal length one would use.
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Glenn NK

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #17 on: September 15, 2014, 11:26:32 am »

It depends on the scene and what you want to include to determine the lens.  Making blanket statements and only using one length isn't a good plan. 

Agree - that's why I use a zoom.

I'm getting older and I live near the ocean and don't swim as well as I once did (and the water is very cold), and the terrain is mountainous.  Oh, and I don't like continuously changing lenses for fear of dropping one.

So I leave foot zooming and lens changing for the younger guys. ;D

G

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melchiorpavone

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #18 on: September 15, 2014, 11:31:46 am »

It depends on the scene and what you want to include to determine the lens.  Making blanket statements and only using one length isn't a good plan.  

Yes, it is. It teaches you how to see better. Some of my very best photographs were made with my Leicaflex SL and 90mm Elmarit-R. I learned to seek out scenes that worked with that combination.
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Alan Klein

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Re: Getting the right focal length for the way you see...
« Reply #19 on: September 15, 2014, 11:59:13 am »

Can you post some of your very best work so we can see how it works for you?   
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