“… One lens in particular—the 50-mm lens—is often seen as the most objective of objectifs, and it is said to be the lens that best approximates human visual perspective. For example, the precision-lens manufacturer Zeiss states that its Planar 50-mm lens is “equal to the human eye.” Many artists have taken up 50-mm lenses to render ordinary, everyday experience….
… But the concept of “normal vision,” let alone the 50-mm lens’s ability to reproduce it, is hardly a given. The idea that a 50-mm best approximates human sight has more to do with the early history of lens production than any essential optical correspondence between the lens and the eye….
… Perhaps the 50-mm communicates an anxiety about whether an individual can understand someone else’s vision. Under the right circumstances, a 50-mm lens does create a perspectival relationship that, more or less, approximates the ways the majority of people see their everyday world. But it’s still relative….”
The relevance of 50mm focal length in 35mm sensor format being “normal” or “standard” has long been in dispute with opponents often pointing out that the mathematical definition of “perfect normal” in that sensor format makes it closer to 40mm, hence the 40mm “normal” lens supplied with the Leica CL and its successor, the Minolta CLE.
Viewing the world through the narrower 50mm focal length appears to be more a matter of habituation than human biology, as I deduced many times over when teaching art students new to photography.
Human binocular vision is capable of encompassing a view over 180-degrees when staring directly ahead and without moving the eyes, as indicated by the results of my tests with new photographers, and that instantly opened their eyes to seeing the world beyond the single prime object of interest, rapidly progressing into keenly observing the relationships between near and far, left and right, above and below.
While the 50mm focal length and its equivalents of 25mm in Micro Four Thirds and 35mm in APS-C have their uses, especially in video and portraiture, I recommend considering focal lengths often described as “perfect normal” such as 40mm in 35mm format, 27mm in APS-C and 20mm in Micro Four Thirds, for the way they better embed their prime subject within a field of background relationships with objects, people and places.
I also recommend reading the analog film and digital sensor normal lens tables in Wikipedia at Normal lens for focal lengths derived from actual film and sensor sizes.
Some “Nifty Forty” lenses for 35mm format sensors
- diy photography – Why You Need to Own a “Nifty Fifty” Lens
- Jason Lanier – The Nifty Fifty- Why the 50mm lens is one of my favorite lenses! Sony A7iii
- techradar – Best 50mm lens for your camera: 8 ‘Nifty Fifty’ lenses tested and rated – published in 2013 and mostly references so-called ‘cropped sensor’ APS-C DSLR cameras and lenses.
- The Atlantic – How the 50-mm Lens Became ‘Normal’, by Allan Daigle
- What Photography Gear – Top 8 Best Nifty Fifty Lens for Your Camera (Updated for 2018)
- Wikipedia – Normal lens – two very useful and enlightening tables of normal lens focal lengths for a range of analog film and digital sensor sizes, listing 27mm for APS-C and 22mm and 23mm for Micro Four Thirds.
- Wikipedia – Leica Camera
- Wikipedia – Oskar Barnack
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- 40mm prime lenses – B&H
- APS-C Lenses, Focal Length: 35mm – B&H – includes Fujifilm and Sony E-Mount
- Breakthrough Photography UV filters in knurled brass traction frames – B&H – I strongly recommend Breakthrough Photography’s knurled brass-framed UV, ND, and CPL filters as well as the company’s excellent brass step-up rings.
- Chiaro UV filters in knurled brass frames – B&H – I also recommend Chiaro’s brass-framed UV filters, especially when the size you need is available in the company’s 99% light transmission brass top and side knurled range for maximum grip and durability.
- DSLR Lenses, Focal Length: 50mm – B&H
- Heliopan brass step-up rings – B&H – If the step-up ring you need is not available in Breakthrough Photography or Sensei Pro brands, this is my recommended third choice.
- Micro Four Thirds Lenses, Focal Length: 25mm – B&H
- Mirrorless System Lenses, Focal Length: 50mm – B&H
- Rangefinder Lenses, Focal Length: 50mm – B&H
- Sensei Pro brass step-up rings – B&H – If the step-up ring you need is not available in Breakthrough Photography brand, these are my recommended second choice.