Normal Lens

The normal lens or the standard lens was the most common kit lens with almost any camera before quality zooms and crop sensor digital cameras came into the scene. So what exactly is a normal lens? Leica came up with this concept and termed the lens that makes everything look like how our eyes see as ‘normal’ and provided 50mm lens for this purpose. Normal lens is a lens that represents the relative distances between the objects in a same manner as we perceive. The perspective is almost similar. The angle of view covered is also almost equal to the area our eyes consciously see (The area of conscious vision is actually much less than the angle of view that our eyes are actually capable of seeing. For a comparison of our eyes and camera – Our Eyes vs Camera). Normal lenses are prime lenses in the region of 40 to 58 mm focal length with the 50mm being the most common, on a 35mm frame size or a ‘full size’ sensor. Some manufacturers also called them standard since these were the commonest lenses once upon a time and were quite frequently the standard kit lens provided with camera bodies.

Normal Lenses

(Some normal lenses)

Normal lenses are also defined as the lenses that have their focal length almost the same as the diagonal measurement of the sensor or the film. These are one of the simplest lenses to manufacture. Age old design, simple optics and high numbers being manufactured make them a really pocket-friendly option. No wonder the normal 50mm lenses are fondly nicknamed ‘nifty fifty’. Some of the world’s best photographs have been made using these lenses. They are sharp and fast. Being light weight, they can be found in almost any serious photographer’s bag.

If these are called normal, are the other lenses abnormal ?  (food for thought)

Using prime lenses brings about a disciple and improves visualization. (Why I use primes – Prime Lens or Zoom Lens?) Standard lens should be the first lens to be bought. In fact if you are planning to buy your first camera and lens, then ditch the kit zoom lens and instead buy a 50mm standard lens. For those of you buying a crop sensor camera, this translates to about 35mm focal length. Though the bokeh may not be that great with 35mm as is with most 50mm lenses, the angle of view comes out to almost the same as that for a normal lens on a full frame camera. Using only a standard lens will make a better photographer out of you.

When I had started using digital SLR, for many years, I had used a Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 D lens. I took pictures of landscapes, objects, abstracts, portraits and anything that caught my fancy. After using the lens for sometime, I started visualizing photographs even when I did not have a camera with me. A fixed angle of view tends to grow on us and we start seeing things within its boundaries. Standard lenses are all-rounders and one of the best guides to help improve photography.

Do yourself a favor. Ditch your zoom lens that does from superrrrrrrr wide to tele and get a standard lens. Use it for a few months and then get back to your zoom. You’ll thank me for this exercise. Nothing improves composition skills and overall photography than developing skills of visualization. Nifty-fifty and all its cousins are champions at that. When you are at that, try the wide open apertures (f/1.8 or whatever widest is available) and enjoy the smooth bokeh too (Bokeh – Making the most of it!).

Normal lenses also hit the sweet spot when it comes to the range of subjects that can be covered with it. Landscape photographers are well known to favor wide-angles but a normal lens can also be a great lens for the genre. The biggest advantage with this middle focal length is that it is not too wide to include a lot of distracting elements. The photograph can be composed in a way that it includes only those elements which are actually adding some value to the overall composition. For portraits, I find normal lenses to be a little too short for those pleasing results. However, I have made some great portraits with 50mm, when used from a little distance.

Did you know that Henri Cartier Bresson, used a normal lens for most of his iconic photographs?

Hill Road

(Hill Road – Nikon D200 with Nikkor 50mm, f/5.6, 1/60, ISO 100. Great for landscapes too!)


Further Reading:
50mm lens for Nikon

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