Focal Length 101: How to Choose Your First Camera Lens or Two

Focal Length 101: How to Choose Your First Camera Lens or Two

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Focal Length 101: How to Choose Your First Camera Lens or Two

105mm (Film: Kodak Vision 3 250D)
105mm (Film: Fujifilm Superia Premium 400)

Focal Length Demystified: How to Choose Your First Lens or Two

Welcome photographers! If you’re just starting out on your photography journey, understanding the concept of focal length is crucial. It’s a fundamental aspect of photography that influences how your images will look and feel. In this post, we’ll break down the basics of focal length and provide you with some practical tips for choosing your first lens or two. Let’s get started!

Focal Length 101

In the simplest terms, the focal length of a lens is the distance (measured in millimeters) between the lens and the image sensor when your subject is in focus. This distance determines how ‘zoomed in’ your photos appear and how much of the scene your lens can capture.

Focal lengths can be broadly categorized into three types:

Wide-angle lenses (less than 35mm): These lenses have a broad field of view and are great for capturing landscapes, architecture, or interiors. They can make subjects appear further away than they actually are.

28mm (Film: Reflx Lab 400D)
28mm (Film: Reflx Lab 400D)

Standard or normal lenses (around 50mm): These lenses give a perspective similar to the human eye, making them versatile for a wide range of photography, from portraits to street photography.

Taken with Leica M9
Kodak Vision 3 250D

Telephoto lenses (more than 70mm): These lenses can magnify distant subjects, making them excellent for wildlife, sports, or portrait photography where you want to isolate the subject from the background.

135mm (Film: Agfa Vista 200)
135mm (Film: Agfa Vista 200)

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Reflx Lab 800
Reflx Lab 400D
Reflx Lab 500T (35mm Film)
Reflx Lab 500T (120)

Choosing Your First Lens

If you’re just starting out, a good place to begin is with a standard lens, often a 50mm. This is sometimes referred to as a “nifty fifty.” Here’s why:

Versatility: A 50mm lens is great for a wide range of photography styles. It’s perfect for portraits, but also versatile enough for street photography or everyday snapshots.

Cost-effective: 50mm lenses are generally affordable, making them a great starter lens for those on a budget.

Low Light Capability: Most 50mm lenses have a large maximum aperture (like f/1.8 or f/1.4), allowing more light into the camera. This makes them great for shooting in low light conditions.

Focal Length 101: How to Choose Your First Camera Lens or Two
Focal length 101

Considering a Second Lens

Once you’ve gotten comfortable with your first lens and want to broaden your creative possibilities, you might consider adding a second lens to your kit.

For Landscape or Architecture: Consider a wide-angle lens. A lens in the range of 10-24mm will allow you to capture sweeping landscapes or fit large architectural structures into your frame.

Leica Summilux 24mm f1.4 asph, Reflx Lab 800, Taipei Taiwan
Leica Summilux 24mm f1.4 asph, Reflx Lab 800, Taipei Taiwan

For Portraits: Consider a medium telephoto lens. A lens in the range of 85-135mm is often used for portraits because it can create a flattering perspective and beautiful background blur.

135mm (Film: Agfa Vista 200)
135mm (Film: Agfa Vista 200)

For Wildlife or Sports: Consider a telephoto lens. A lens with a focal length of 200mm or more will allow you to capture distant subjects up close.

Remember, the best lens for you depends on what you like to photograph, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. It’s also worth noting that there’s a learning curve with each new lens you try, so don’t be discouraged if your first few shots don’t turn out as expected. With practice and patience, you’ll learn how to harness the power of different focal lengths to create stunning images. Happy shooting!

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