Classic focal lengths

24 and 25mm

24 and 25mm are the classic focal lengths of wide-angle lenses for 35mm full-frame SLR and rangefinder cameras (respectively), great for landscapes, interiors and architecture. Modern models are in no way inferior in speed to standard 50mm lenses.

The 24mm has only about a 10 degrees smaller angle of view than the 20mm. It provides about twice the image of a 35mm lens and about three times that of the 50mm lens. This is the widest of the wide-angles and though just a small step away from the super wide-angle lenses, it's a lot easier to use. There's a strong rendition of perspective that can be controlled quite easily.

Along with the other wide-angle lenses, the 24 or 25mm have the perspective, wide angle of view and depth of field for creating highly subjective interpretations of an object. Although using the viewfinder ensures finding the most satisfying composition, you can also rely on the lens' adequate depth of field for fast shooting. It is also possible to establish a visual relationship between complementary elements in a photograph - such as people and their environment. Here, depth of field again becomes an important tool in bringing together the components of the image.

28mm

28mm is the classic focal length of wide-angle lenses for 35mm full-frame cameras. The 28mm may be the most useful of all wide-angle lenses on a day-to-day basis. It has relatively strong rendition of perspective, but hardly as exaggerated as a 24mm or 20mm lens, for example. Camera angle for distortion-free straight lines is not as critical as with the shorter focal length lenses.

If you are undecided about which wide-angle is best for your type of photography, it might be a good idea to take a look through a viewfinder with a 28mm lens. The image you'll see will have more pronounced perspective than a 50mm lens but not to a great extent. The main advantage of the 28mm lens is its ability to capture a fairly large subject area without creating undue concern over its perspective rendition.

In general, this is a fairly compromise focal length: lenses with focal lengths of 24-25mm are better suited for shooting architecture, and ultra-high speed is quite rare in this class of lenses. On the other hand, due to the moderate focal length, aberrations are corrected better than in lenses with focal lengths of 24-25mm.

35mm

35mm is the classic focal length of moderate wide-angle lenses for 35mm full-frame cameras. Lenses with this focal length are often used as standard lenses, since they allow to shoot almost the same wide range of subjects as lenses with focal lengths of 50-55mm, while providing a wider field of view. This is facilitated by the high speed, which is often not inferior to 50-55mm lenses, as well as, as a rule, compact size and low weight (at least for lenses intended for amateur photographers). In addition, lenses of this class have recently been equipped with optical image stabilization, making them a good choice for casual and travel photography. For comparison: almost all lenses with focal lengths of 50-55mm currently do not have an image stabilizer, although due to the need to use faster shutter speeds at these focal lengths, its presence in lenses of this class would be more justified than in the class of moderate wide-angle lenses.

The background blur provided by moderate wide-angle lenses is not as smooth and pleasing to the eye as with 50-55mm lenses, therefore, in the genre of portrait photography, they are usually used only for group portraits.

50 and 55mm

50 and 55mm are the classic focal lengths of standard lenses for 35mm full-frame cameras, and one of the most popular.

Because these focal lengths provide a field of view on a 35mm full-frame camera that roughly matches the field of view of the human eyes, standard lenses are suitable for shooting a wide range of subjects: from landscapes, interiors and architecture to portraits, as well as casual and travel photography. This is also facilitated by the high speed of most standard lenses, as well as, as a rule, compact size and low weight (at least for lenses intended for amateur photographers).

An additional characteristic of standard lenses is the shallow depth of field that can be obtained when the lens is used at maximum aperture. When the aperture is big, the foreground and background become blurred, isolating and emphasizing the main subject.

Depending on how it is used, the 50 or 55mm lens can take pictures like those taken with both wide-angle and telephoto lenses. Such versatility is unique. It is thus the best lens with which to study basic photographic techniques. After the photographer has completely mastered this lens, he or she can safely move on to ultra-wide angle, wide-angle, telephoto, super telephoto and macro lenses, already having a firm grasp on all the basics of good photography.

At the same time, while not being optimized for shooting in certain genres of photography, standard lenses are inferior to lenses specially designed for this purpose. For example, wide-angle and ultra-wide angle lenses are better suited for shooting in confined spaces, while portraits with the smoothest and most pleasing blurring of the background and isolation of the subject from the background are obtained with short telephoto lenses and medium telephoto lenses.

58mm

58mm is the classic focal length of (ultra) fast-speed standard lenses of the late 1950s - mid 1960s, developed for SLR cameras. This is the smallest focal length at which an (ultra) fast-speed prime lens based on the double Gauss design did not prevent the flipping mirror from returning to its original position. At the same time, this is rather inconvenient focal length for a standard lens, since it provides a smaller field of view compared to a standard 50mm focal length.

As optical technologies improved, lens manufacturers began to produce fast-speed and even ultra-fast-speed standard lenses with a focal length of 50mm, after which standard lenses with the focal length of 58mm were discontinued.

Currently, 58mm lenses are produced mainly for nostalgic reasons.

85 and 90mm

85 and 90mm are the classic focal lengths of short telephoto lenses for 35mm full-frame SLR and rangefinder cameras (respectively). As a rule, this class of lenses consists of high-speed models, however, there were also slow ones in the era of analog photography.

These focal lengths bridge the gap between standard and medium telephoto lenses. The angle of view is not substantially narrower than the standard lens. The 85 or 90mm provides the magnification to emphasize the main subject area, rather than including extraneous details. The effect of compressed perspective typical of telephoto lenses is at its minimum with the 85mm lens. Distortion of the image isn't a factor even when you use an extreme camera angle. Image magnification and large maximum aperture make focusing quick and accurate.

Short telephoto lenses are optimized for portrait photography with pleasing background blur and impressive isolation of the subject from the background. Because of very slight flattening of perspective, 85 or 90mm lenses tend to reproduce facial features in a natural way. In addition, the slightly greater camera-to-subject distance compared to standard lenses helps the subject to relax. You are close enough to the subject to carry on a conversation, helping him or her to forget the camera and to react with ease. The result is a technically more pleasing portrait that is more likely to reflect the personality of the subject.

Many short telephoto lenses are compact and lightweight enough to be well suited for casual and travel photography. Some models are equipped with optical image stabilization.

100 and 105mm

100 and 105mm are the classic focal lengths of short telephoto lenses for 35mm full-frame cameras. Models of this class occupy an intermediate position between lenses with focal lengths of 85 and 135mm and, as a rule, do not offer a record speed. At the same time, they are able to provide smoother and more pleasing background blur compared to the 85mm models, so don't discount these lenses.

135mm

135mm is the classic focal length of medium telephoto lenses for 35mm full-frame cameras. Lenses of this class are designed for professional portrait photography and provide the most pleasing background blur and impressive isolation of the subject from the background. In addition, they can be used for shooting concerts, carnivals and distant landscapes with perspective compression effect.

One way to understand what telephoto lenses do is to look through the viewfinder of your camera and see the effects of the 85mm, 100mm and, finally, the 135mm telephoto lenses. As you move up the focal length scale you'll see an increase in compression of perspective, a narrowing of the angle of view, increased magnification of the image and a decrease in depth of field. You won't see these changes to any great extent with the 85mm and 100mm lenses. But they become more apparent with the 135mm.

180 and 200mm

180 and 200mm are the classic focal lengths of telephoto lenses for 35mm full-frame cameras. Lenses of this class are designed for professional sports photography, but if necessary, they can also be used in the genre of portrait photography, for shooting concerts, carnivals and distant landscapes with perspective compression effect.

The 180 or 200mm lens is a strong creative tool for taking compelling images with well pronounced compressed perspective. The depth of field is comparatively limited at any aperture. At maximum aperture depth of field is extremely shallow, requiring precise focusing. The range of sharp focus increases as camera-to-subject distance increases and as you select smaller apertures. The perspective often works best when the foreground and background are as sharp as possible. You can utilize the compression effect by using small apertures whenever possible to increase depth of field. And since many subjects will be at long focusing distances, you will be able to shoot with greater zones of sharpness.

On the other hand, it is easy to render out of focus unwanted background and foreground images to emphasize the main subject or to play down distracting elements in the picture. The larger the aperture, the more effective this technique.

300mm

The 300mm is one of the most popular focal lengths with professional and non-professional photographers. It provides tremendous image magnification but is still comparatively small, making it easy to handle. In addition, the 300mm focuses close enough to be an extremely flexible lens.

The effect of compressed perspective and shallow depth of field is greater than with shorter focal length telephoto lenses. The 300mm is a good choice for sports, nature and news photography. Compared with a wide-angle lens that covers a tremendous subject area, the 300mm lens reaches out to magnify the subject and at the same time eliminates distracting elements in the photograph.

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