What is the focal length of a lens and which lens do you need to achieve the result you want? In this blog post we will compare the focal lengths of different camera lenses.
So what is the FOCAL LENGTH and what does the MM mean on a lens? This might be hard to understand because you usually get the answer; that’s the number printed on your lens, like 50MM. This is partly true, but the right answer is; the distance from your camera sensor to your lens. If the question was, how much is the FOCAL LENGTH, then the right answer is the number in mm on your lens. You can use the number on your lens as a reference to compare the focal lengths.
When you’re going to purchase a lens, or already purchased, you want to compare the focal lengths of different camera lenses. For example, what is the best focal length for portraits? Also, you need to know why it’s important to buy different camera lenses, when to use which lens and what the result is of the different focal lengths. This blog post and focal length comparison will learn you the basic creative rules for using different camera lenses.
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What does the mm mean on a lens?
The lower the focal length number the wider angle view you will have with that lens. The effect of a wide angle lens is that it makes the subject further away than they really are. The higher the mm number on your lens the more narrow the view will be and the closer it will make your subject appear in the image. Most wide angle lenses don’t need in-lens Image Stabilization, but most of the zoom lenses and especially a tele lens has in-lens Image Stabilization to help you to take away minor movements. Read more about Image Stabilization here.
Focal Length Illustration
Comparing focal lengths
In the next series of shots we will compare the focal lengths. You will see an image of Ilse taken with different focal lengths. The camera used for this is the Panasonic GH5 with a micro 4/3 sensor. To compare the focal lengths with a full frame camera sensor, you have to convert the number by 2. So a 25mm lens on a micro 4/3 sensor will result in the same image as a 50mm lens on a full frame sensor. Between the bracket, the focal length is given based on a full frame sensor camera. You will see the different effect of each focal length! (In our eBook we will explain the different camera sensors, which you can order here!)
8 (16) mm: This shot is taken really close for making Ilse her face filling up the whole frame. This because of the wide angle. The features on her face are distorted, her nose is pulled forward and her head is stretched out. Also see how the background is really far away.
25mm (50mm): This focal length is said to be identical to the human eye. This image is what you see with your eyes, in terms of distance. When shooting a close up from a face, this is the minimum focal length you want to use. Ilse her face is far less distorted and the background is already closer compared to 8 (16mm).
Best focal length for portraits
42.5 (85mm): Focal lengths between 70-100mm are the best for shooting portraits and close-ups of human faces. It gives the most flattering look and you can see Ilse her face is really in proportion. The compressed background is again closer compared to previous images.
100 (200) mm: With this focal length the compressed effect is a little bit too much. The distortion of Ilse her face is the opposite of the wide angle. The features of her face are more flattened and makes it wider. And see how close and big the background now is!
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Where wide lenses like the 16mm are expanding spaces, the telephoto lens on 200mm is compressing space. So now you know the different visual features various focal lengths are causing. It’s important to understand when to use the focal lengths in which situation!
Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4.0
We like to use our wide angle lens, the Panasonic 8-18mm F2.8-4.0 at 8mm when shooting landscapes. This to expand the space around us allowing our viewers to see more of the surroundings. You want to give your audience the best perspective you can, to tell your story. This lens, together with the wide angle lens of our drone which is 24mm, we like to use for an opening shot of our travel videos so you can see everything in that location to understand where we are. When making shots of buildings and architecture this focal length will make the subject looks bigger. Also good to know is to use this focal length inside. If we shoot a promo film for a hotel, this is our favorite lens to use to make the room more spacious than in real life.
Panasonic 25mm F1.4
The Panasonic Leica 25mm F1.4 is the lens we like to use when shooting a scene where we want to make the audience feel as if they are there. For example, shooting a ceremony or a performance we want to make our viewer feel as if they were there watching it by themselves. We also like the narrow-angle of a field it creates. Also, this lens does a pretty good job in capturing grass or insects for example when you can get really close.
Panasonic 42.5mm F1.2
Our favorite lens is the Panasonic 42.5mm F1.2. For us the perfect lens to use when we shoot close-ups of peoples faces, as it gives the most flattering look. We already mentioned this is the best focal length for portraits. This focal length will help you to capture peoples emotions very detailed. When using it at a low aperture, the compressed blurry background will help the viewer to focus only at the person in your image. Also, it’s a great lens to take extreme close-ups of eyes or other elements you want to expose really close.
Panasonic 100-400mm F4.0-6.3
The big boy, our Panasonic 100-400mm F4.0-6.3 telephoto lens, we only use in the situation we can’t get any closer to our subject. It’s perfect to capture birds or wildlife where you can’t or don’t want to get closer to. Sometimes we zoom in to 400 (800)mm to fill up our frame with the whole subject. Also, we love this focal length because it makes everything much bigger and closer, so it’s perfect to shoot sunrise or sunset or even the moon!
When you don’t want to distract people (or want to feel like the paparazzi) this lens is the one to choose! The best way to capture people’s natural reaction and emotion is when they don’t notice you’re filming or photographing them. It will result in a natural look without any posing or their awareness of the camera. Make sure people don’t feel as if you’re spying on them. We always try to tell the people afterward we made a shot of them and ask politely if we can use it in our videos. When they see themselves in a beautiful shot, 100% of the time they say yes!
Do you want to learn more?
I hope you learned a lot about the focal length of a lens. If you still have any questions don’t hesitate to ask me in the comments section!
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