28mm, 35mm or 50mm…my most used focal lengths

I recently went through a phase of evaluating the number of lenses and cameras I own. There is always this conflict between having lots of options and keeping myself limited to a few select choices. The first one is curiosity and the fun in buying and trying new things, the second one is my minimalism, my wish to preserve focus and to keep away distractions. So I figured I go trough my photos to see which focal lengths I mostly shoot with. Everything is in 35mm equivalents because I used cameras with different sensor sizes. Come to think of it, these three focal lengths may be my most used ones because they represent three different modes of vision.

Note: Click any image for an uncropped full screen view. Also some photos are cropped and don’t technically have the appropriate field of view. But I shot and framed them with a particular lens and mode of vision in mind and that is what counts.

Taking a wider view – 28mm

Wide angles are something I came to appreciate in the last two or three years. Before that I felt that 28mm was simply too wide. There was just too much stuff in the picture, no focus on anything particular. But starting with the Fujifilm X70 and now the Ricoh GRIII 28mm became almost my focal length of choice for cityscape, street and even family photos. I understood that I either had to get very close or capture whole scenes. I enjoy the challenge of framing with this moderately wide angle of view. These photo can take the whole scene in, give an overview and allow the viewer to discover different details with closer attention. It is all about context.

Normal vision – 35mm(ish)

I think this has been consistently my most used focal length although technically it includes the Olympus 17mm lens (34mm eq.) as well as the Fujifilm XF 27mm and Panasonic 20mm lens (each 40mm eq.). For over two years I shot this focal length exclusively when I only owned the X100T and X100F. There are countless online debates I could not care less about defining which lens represents human vision most accurately and 35mm is often cited as the one. I think human vision is way too variable to slave it to one focal length but for me 35mm feels like the way I look at my surroundings when I am not looking with any purpose. Neither observing a scene nor attending to a particular thing or person. It is “general purpose” vision glancing around ready to widen the view or close in on something. Because it is a mode that is not actively and consciously observing the world I think that photos shot with a 35mm lens can be quite surprising despite or maybe even because of the apparent ordinariness.

A closer look – 50mm

This is a field of view I always used from time to time but never very often. This changed quite a lot in the last year. The Olympus 25mm (50mm eq.) was my first dedicated lens of this type. I only added the Nikkor 35mm (52mm eq.) and Sigma 30mm (45mm eq.) recently. I always felt like not getting enough into the frame, so the opposite problem to the 28mm lens. I feel though that I better learned to isolate parts of my vision and to take smaller scenes or objects out of their surrounding context. It is a process I enjoy quite a lot. It is limiting but also sharpening my attention. In contrast to the 28mm lens it is about removing context while still (mostly) keeping a “scene”.