Choosing The Right Camera Focal Length

Choosing the Right Camera Focal Length

Changing lenses is like looking at the landscape through different windows.

  • A standard lens, usually refer to fixed lens with 50mm in focal length - gives a view of the scene that approximates to human vision and is consequently often referred to as a normal lens.

  • The wide-angle lens is the landscape photographer's picture window, recording on film a broad swathe of the scene.

  • Telephoto lenses are like cottage windows - distant details easily fill the frame.

Choosing the right lens isn't just about fitting everything into the picture, though, because focal length affects the image in other ways. One of these is depth of field.

Depth of field

Long focal length lenses reduce depth of field, so that less of the landscape is in focus on film; wide-angle lenses keep more of the image sharp. So if you want to isolate just a portion of the scene, and throw other subject planes out of focus, use a telephoto lens, or a "tele" setting on a zoom lens. For maximum sharpness, select the smallest aperture.


Different lenses give you a wider choice of viewpoints, and this in turn affects the appearance of the picture. If you use a telephoto lens, you'll need to back away from the subject to fit everything in, and the distant viewpoint tends to flatten perspective. With a wide-angle lens, you can picture the same subject from a close viewpoint. Things near to the camera seem proportionately bigger, and the background seems to recede.

Angle of view and focal length

In theory, focal length is the distance between two points in the lens, but in practice, it is a quick way to specify angle of view.

  • Most wide-angle lenses have focal lengths ranging from 13mm to 35mm, and fields of view from 118 degree to 62 degree.

  • 50mm standard lenses take in 46 degree across the diagonal of the frame.

  • Telephoto lenses, ranging from 85mm to 200mm, have fields of view from 16 degree to 1 degree.

More about camera lens features

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