EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE FOCAL DISTANCE OF YOUR TARGET

One of the things that most take away the dream of every photographer who begins to take his first steps in the world of reflex photography are, neither more nor less, than the objectives.

Soon after acquiring your first SLR camera, it is very likely that you will begin to feel the need to acquire whatever objective you cross in front of you in order to make your photographs more impactful, even without really knowing clearly which ones differentiate from one of these. Don’t worry, it has all happened to us!

If you are taking your first steps in the world of reflex photography, it is very likely that given the anxiety generated by the search for the perfect photo, you start to buy lenses without really having the utility to give them and how to maximize their potential.

In today’s article I will explain what is the focal length and viewing angle, the differences between the different types of objectives according to their focal length and in which situations it is convenient to use each other so that you can get the most out of them . You can not lose this!

WHAT IS THE FOCAL LENGTH OF A TARGET?

Of all the possibilities offered by a certain objective, in today’s article I will concentrate on explaining in detail one of the fundamentals: its focal length. If you are not familiar with this concept, here is a simple explanation so you can make the most of this article:

The focal length of a lens is the distance that exists, expressed in millimeters, between the sensor (focal plane) and the optical center of the lens. What is the optical center? To avoid getting into many technicalities, the focal length is not measured from the sensor to the front lens of the lens, but is the point where the rays of light intersect within it and are directed towards the sensor. This point is very close to where the diaphragm is.

Keep in mind that, depending on the size of the sensor your camera has, the focal length that your lens brings factory printed may vary. Don’t worry, I’ll explain later how to calculate the actual or effective Focal length.

So that you can understand perfectly what the focal length is, it is not enough for you to know that they are each of the symbols that they bring , but that you need to understand what they are used for and what use you can give them when making your Photographs.

EFFECTIVE FOCAL LENGTH

The focal length of a lens, whatever the brand or model of the lens, uses as a reference the sensor size of a Full Frame camera (35mm). Why is this important? Because according to the size of your camera’s sensor (Full Frame, APS-C, 4/3, etc.), the effective focal length of the lens will vary.

If you have a camera with an APS-C sensor that is smaller than the full or Full Frame format, such as a Canon 700D or a Nikon D3100 , a 50mm lens on those cameras, it will equal 75mm if you use Nikon or 80mm if You use Canon.

Why? The focal length of a lens depends on the size of the camera sensor in which it is placed and as the APS-C sensor is smaller than the Full Frame standard, to know the effective focal length, you must multiply the original distance of this by a multiplication factor. This factor is 1.5 for Nikon, 1.6 for Canon, for example.

How is this multiplication factor calculated? It is very simple, just simply perform the following operation:

Sensor width Full Frame (35 mm)
Sensor width of your camera

If you don’t know what the width of your camera’s sensor is, you can check it on the manufacturer’s page. It is usually expressed as follows: 23.1 × 15.4mm. The first part (23.1 mm) being the width of the sensor.

How does this affect your photographs?

Imagine that you acquire a lens with a focal length of 16mm because you intend to go on a trip and portray incredible landscapes, but your camera has an APS-C sensor: the effective distance of it will not be 16mm but 24mm (Factor of 1.5).

Result: The objective is not as angular as you might have imagined and the angle of view of it (now I will explain what this means) will allow you to capture a smaller portion of the scene than yes, the effective focal length, was the same as The manufacturer printed on this factory.

FIXED OR VARIABLE FOCAL OBJECTIVES?

The objectives of fixed focus are those that, as the name implies, do not allow to vary the focal length for which they were designed, instead, the objectives of variable focus allow to cover a greater path when displacing the position of the lenses and varying the focal distance. But which one should be used?

Each type of objective, whether fixed or not, has advantages and disadvantages so choosing the ideal will depend on your tastes and needs as a photographer. Here is a small list so you can evaluate what type of objective you prefer:

Fixed focal lens

Its advantages:

  1. Higher optical quality which translates into greater clarity in your photographs.
  2. Being built with fewer moving parts, they are more resistant and robust.
  3. Being optimized for their focal length, they produce fewer aberrations.
  4. Higher brightness that will allow you better shots in low light conditions and less depth of field when working with more open diaphragms (f / 1.4, f / 1.8, f / 2.8).
  5. Many of them are cheaper than the variable versions.

Its drawbacks:

  1. They are less versatile since their focal length is fixed. Anyway, I see this as an advantage, since they will force you to move around the whole scene in order to achieve the perfect framing.
  2. For certain types of photographs, lack of versatility can really be a problem.

Zoom lenses

Its advantages:

  1. They are very versatile, comfortable and will allow you to adjust the frame without scrolling.
  2. They are essential for certain types of photographs where you require a greater focal variety, such as nature or sports photography.
  3. You gather in a single objective a large number of focal ranges so you will avoid constantly exchanging lens in your camera gaining speed and avoiding bumps and dust on the lenses and sensor of your camera.

Its drawbacks:

  1. They are usually much more expensive than prime lenses, especially those that cover a large focal length such as 18-200 mm.
  2. By having much more moving parts, they are more fragile in the face of any blow or accident.
  3. Its weight and size is considerably greater.
  4. They are less bright, especially in the longer focal points.

VISION ANGLE

Focal length is not the only element that you should keep in mind when evaluating an objective, but also, you must pay attention to their viewing angle. In this way you can understand the different possibilities that will allow you to exploit a certain objective when making your photos with it.

The viewing angle is something like, the “portion of the scene” that the target can capture from this, but measured in degrees. The more angular the objective, the greater the portion of the scene will allow you to capture in the same photograph, and the more zoom or tele this is, the smaller the portion of the image that you will be able to capture in a photo.

For example, a 300mm focal length lens (effective focal length) offers a viewing angle of approximately 8.15 degrees so if you use one, you can fill the entire sensor with a much smaller portion of the scene (sensation of zoom in or out) that if you used, for example, your camera’s kit lens at 18mm (76 degrees of view angle), where the same portion of the scene would occupy a much smaller size in the frame.

While the objectives are classified and marketed according to their focal length, what is really important is the viewing angle of each of these. Anyway, each focal angle corresponds to a focal length, so if you know both factors well, it’s almost like talking about synonyms.

If you want to see how this works in practice but you do not have enough objectives to try it yourself, I recommend that you take a look at the lens simulator that Nikon made available to perform all the tests you want, without spending a penny .

Objective classification according to your viewing angle :

  • Super wide angle: these fisheye lenses can cover a viewing angle 180 degrees or even more.
  • Wide Angle: those objectives that cover a viewing angle of between 110 and 60 degrees, which would represent an effective focal length of approximately 10 to 25 mm.
  • Standard: are all those objectives that cover a viewing angle of 60 to 25 degrees. From 25 to 65 mm approximately.
  • Short tele: are those that cover a viewing angle of 25 to 15 degrees, that is, 65 to 100 mm focal length.
  • Telephoto lenses: cover a viewing angle of 15 to 10 degrees, which corresponds to a focal length of 100 to 160 mm.
  • Super telephoto lenses: those that cover a viewing angle of 10 to 1 degrees, that is, 160 to 600 mm focal length.

Now that you have a clear understanding of the fundamental technical aspects that concern the objectives, it is time for you to see what type of photography each of these is ideal for.

WHAT GOALS DO I NEED?

While you can take almost any type of photography for any purpose, each of these is designed for a particular use. While you can make a portrait using a wide angle, you will get better results if you use a short 85mm telephoto lens that allows, when blurring the background, to give prominence to your model .

If you want to get the most out of your goals or about to acquire a new one, you need to be very clear in which situations you will get the best results.

There are different types of focal distances that may be useful for approach photography or macro photography. At the end of the article I will explain which of them are the ones I consider most convenient.

LANDSCAPES

This type of photography will require that, in a single photograph, among the largest portion of the scene possible, in order to be able to transport the viewer into the photograph, which travels and sits in the place.

The more space you want to show in your photographs, the greater the viewing angle and therefore, the smaller the focal length should have the objective you are going to use, so that a wide-angle lens (focal lengths less than 25mm in APS-C) It becomes the most recommended option.

SOCIAL

The type of focal point that you are going to use if you plan to venture into the world of social photography will depend on the type of plans you have in mind to make and the situations where you plan to make them.

It is not the same to cover a wedding, where you will need a lens with variable focal length that allows you greater versatility, than to take portraits in a studio where you can take the time to change the lens according to the need of the moment.

Anyway, if what you have in mind is to make close-ups, the ideal is to work with long focal lengths, that is, to have a telephoto lens, while to take full-length photos you will need shorter focal lengths and larger viewing angles, So with a standard objective you will be able to work wonders. (Focal distances according to an APS-C sensor).

In this type of photographs it is not easy to choose between one or another focal point, since each one has its advantages and disadvantages. What you should be clear about is what kind of photographs you expect to take and decide what angle of view (or focal length) you will need to take them.

ACTION

In this type of photographs it is not necessary to take a large panorama that shows the whole environment (although this may be what you are looking for and require a wide angle) but rather the opposite: focus the attention of the viewer in a moment dice.

Always depending on how much you can approach the place where the action is taking place, the ideal choice for this type of photographs is to have a short TV or a telephoto lens that allows you to be close to the action, but keeping the distance.

Although the fixed focal points offer a superior quality to those lenses with variable focal length, the latter will give you much greater versatility, since you can shoot using one or the other distance according to the situation you want to portray. A 70-200 mm or a 70-300 mm can be ideal allies. Be careful with the objectives of extreme versatility such as 18-200 since, although they avoid having to change lenses at any time, your photos will be less clear, and therefore you will sacrifice a lot of quality, for comfort.

ADVENTURES

In adventure photography it is where you will require the objectives with longer focal points. I already know to portray a bird in flight, a football player scoring a goal, a racing car bending in a curve or a lion stalking its prey among the grasslands, the distance you can get to place yourself in your subjects is very considerable

The recommended focal point for this type of photographs starts from 100 mm and can reach 600 m provided that your budget allows you to access such expensive lenses. However, if your camera is APS-C (sensor size) do not forget that, at 200mm you must multiply it by its factor (1.5 in Nikon and 1.6 in Canon, Pentax, etc.) to obtain its effective focal length, which It will be larger as the sensor size becomes smaller than the Full Frame.

The further you are from the subjects or objects you want to portray, you must have objectives of greater focal length if what you want is to achieve amazing close-ups. I recommend you as much as possible, to have a variable travel lens such as a 70-300 mm that allows you greater versatility. In the middle of a forest you will not be able to control the distance at which one can come to bump into you, so it is better to have a little focal margin so as to achieve as many clear shots as possible.

Keep in mind that, at a greater focal length, you have greater risks of having your photos moved due to trepidations, so having a stabilized objective will allow you to shoot at lower speeds and work in less light situations than one that does not East.

MACRO PHOTOGRAPHY

As in adventure photography, the distance with the subjects is fundamental, but in this case you must be close enough to fill the frame with an insect and far enough away from it so as not to scare it away. That is why, personally, I recommend that you use macro lenses of the greatest possible focal length, so as to magnify the scene without interfering much with it.

In the market, endless macro lenses with different focal lengths and all of them can be useful depending on the type of subject or object you plan to photograph. To photograph products, for example, you can use a macro with a focal length of 40 mm since a clock is unlikely to fly off the scene. On the other hand, if you want to photograph a bee while collecting pollen from a daisy, it will be almost impossible for you with a short focal length since you will drive it away.

The focal length to be used in macro photography will depend on the type of subjects or objects to be photographed and the distance at which you can place them.

While you can take pictures with almost any lens, since the camera is only a medium and the magic happens in your eyes, having a good lens designed to stop a particular purpose can make your job much easier.

You do not have to spend all your savings on the most expensive goal of the most recognized brands, there are endless “alternatives” that can even give you better results.


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