With almost every new camera coming with a kit zoom lens and the popular image of newspaper photographers stalking the streets with three DSLRs and the usual wide, standard and telephoto zoom lens trio, prime lenses have taken a back seat and most lens makers seem to have forgotten some of the most useful, most classic prime lenses upon which documentary photographers and moviemakers once depended upon to earn their living.
I am referring to the 28mm and 40mm focal lengths with the former documentary photographer’s go-to wide angle lens and the latter a favourite focal length of many of the great Hollywood feature film cinematographers and directors.
While I remain hopeful that other camera and lens makers will soon release professional-quality 28mm and 40mm lenses for 35mm sensor cameras and their equivalents in other sensor formats, Sigma Corporation has led the way in creating the Sigma 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art and Sigma 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM | Art prime lenses for 35mm sensor cameras.
In the Micro Four Thirds sensor format, their equivalents would be 14mm and 20mm, and in the APS-C sensor format they would be 18mm and 27mm.
While all of those focal lengths are catered for with pancake or near-pancake lenses in APS-C by Fujifilm and in M43 by Panasonic, none are suitable for the rigours of professional-level documentary photography and photojournalism, or feature film and documentary moviemaking.
The 28mm focal length, superb for documenting people in places without optical distortions detracting from the story
Prime lenses in 24mm equivalent focal lengths such as 16mm in APS-C and 12mm in M43 appear to be touted these days as the “replacement” for 28mm and its equivalents, but 24mm super wide angle lenses have inherent optical distortions and volume deformations that must be corrected in software in-camera and on-computer.
I rarely use 24mm, preferring instead 21mm for establishing shots and tiny-figure-in-landscape images as well as architecture, but when I am not carrying the wider lens and only have a zoom lens with 24mm at its widest find I must apply DxO ViewPoint after processing the raw file.
The other big difference between 28mm and 24mm?
Photographs made with the 28mm draw attention to the contents of the image itself whereas photographs made with the 24mm often draw attention to the lens that was applied.
I know which one I prefer for immersive documentary photography that respects the subject and enhances the story.
The most famous 40mm lenses were introduced with the Leica CL and Minolta CLE
The 40mm focal length is often characterized as “perfect normal” as opposed to the “standard normal” of the 50mm focal length that was introduced as standard with the first Leica cameras in the early 20th century.
Stop press: Zeiss announces Zeiss Batis 40mm f/2.0 prime lens for Sony E-Mount cameras
As I was writing this article news arrived of Zeiss’ announcement at photokina 2018 of its new Zeiss Batis 40mm f/2.0 prime lens, characterized as “the versatile lens”.
Some 35mm DSLR camera and lens makers still produce 40mm lenses as low-price options such as Canon while Voigtlaender has several 40mm lenses for DSLR and rangefinder cameras.
The 40mm focal length is also available in some high end cinema prime lens brands.
Leica and Minolta’s 40mm lenses were discontinued at the same time as the cameras for which they were designed, but remain popular purchases on the second-hand market.
Now that Sigma is a member of the L-Mount Alliance, let’s hope that the company comes up with a wide range of L-mount Art prime and zoom lenses including 28mm and 40mm.
- DxO – DxO ViewPoint
- L-Mount Alliance
- Sigma Corporation
- Sigma Global – 28mm F1.4 DG HSM
- Sigma Global – 40mm F1.4 DG HSM
- Sigma Photo – 28mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art
- Sigma Photo – 40mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art
- Sigma USA
- Wikipedia – Normal lens
- Zeiss – The Most Versatile Lens in the ZEISS Batis Family, The ZEISS Batis 2/40 CF bridges the gap in the ZEISS Batis family lineup
- Zeiss – Zeiss Batis 2/40 CF
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- Sigma lenses – B&H