The Dance of Focal Lengths: Exploring Wide Angles and Telephotos

The Dance of Focal Lengths: Exploring Wide Angles and Telephotos


As a Nikon film SLR lover, I have always gravitated towards telephoto prime lenses like the 85mm, 105mm and 135mm. The optical viewfinder and focusing system of the Nikons allow me to compose and focus with precision at these longer focal lengths. The rangefinder focusing mechanism of my Leica MP, on the other hand, proves more challenging for telephotos and often requires an additional magnifier (i.e 1.25X or 1.4X) to ensure accurate focusing, especially with lenses like the 75mm Voigtlander that has an aperture of f/1.5.

Recently, I have become enchanted by the idea of exploring ultra-wide angles in my Leica kit. The Super Elmar-M 18mm f/3.8 ASPH seemed an intriguing place to start to see if wides might be for me. To compare how different focal lengths render a scene, I headed out with my Leica M10-P and three prime lenses—the Leica Super Elmar-M (SEM) 18mm f/3.8 ASPH, a Leica Summilux 50mm f/1.4 ASPH and the Voigtlander Nokton 75mm f/1.5 ASPH VM. I captured the same location before an incoming storm, using the dramatic clouds as a focal point.

Leica M10-P, Super Elmar-M (SEM) 18mm f/3.8 asph, Hong Kong
Leica M10-P, Summilux 50mm f/1.4 asph, Hong Kong
Leica M10-P, Voigtlander Nokton 75mm f/1.5 asph VM, Hong Kong

When reviewing the images, I find each focal length provides a distinct interpretation of the space. The 18mm Super Elmar-M captures a vast swath of the sky, emphasising the scale and power of the looming storm. The 50mm Summilux is a more neutral and natural-looking composition. The 75mm Voigtlander, on the other hand, compresses the space, and the storm clouds appear more ominous and menacing.

What I found most interesting in this exercise is how three focal lengths can inspire three utterly different creative visions when photographing the same scene. I have come to realise I do not need to limit myself to either wide angles or telephotos but rather embrace the artistic potential of all the lenses at my disposal. The dance between different focal lengths is a key part of the creative process of making images. I look forward to continuing to explore the artistic possibilities of wide angles and telephotos with my Leica rangefinder kit.

Which focal length do you prefer? Comment below and let me know!

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  1. That’s the whole point: I have really no “preference” among focal length, it is just a matter of what focal lens fits my “mood” and consequently, what kind of images I intend to shoot. Everything is linked: the focal, the mood/mindset, the kind of creativity and style of resulting pictures

    Concretely when I seek an immersive experience I will take my 24mm, resulting images have some lovely distortion, the subject is dominant in a larger context (etc). When I take my 90mm Thambar, I look for distance “features” and create more “abstract” pictures. 35/50mm is more neutral taking a snapshot of reality “as is”, with less intentions for “photographic creativity” compared to extreme focals but consequently, more attention to the message that the picture conveys.

    That’s why I am also quite happy to explore each focal while at the same time only picking one lens before I leave home, depending on what fits my mood and photographic intentions.

      • Great! I always thought 18mm to be the next interesting “jump” from 24mm (like 18-24-35/50-90). 135mm, I admit, could be a bit too much from my longest 90mm but why not, worth “investigating”. Hopefully we see the results of your challenge, Anson!

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