an ode to the normals

Ah, the humble normal lens… in a day and age where all the glory goes to the 70-200/2.8s and the ultrawides, it is easy to overlook the humble elegance of the unassuming normal.  Traditionally the 50mm in 35mm terms, but may vary depending on format.

The normal is small, light, fast, sharp and versatile.

It does portraits, it does landscapes, it does street, event, low light…

Need to get in closer? take a step forward.  Need to get  wider? take a step back.   Unlike many other focal lengths the normal is almost chameleon-like in it’s ability to adapt itself to different situations, rendering tightly framed shots as well as “wider” with equal aplomb.  (yes I know the actual focal length and field of view don’t change, I refer only to it’s apparent versatility in framing).

In fact, I would estimate probably 75% of my shots overall are taken with a normal lens (50mm on my Nikon, 20mm on my gf1, 75mm on my Mamiya).

The normal lens has a long and influential life in the history of photography.  Many of the seminal images of the 20th century were made with the 50mm.

There is a kind of “Zen Like” simplicity to shooting with a normal as well – maybe it has something to do with the fact that it approximates the normal human field of view, but previsualizing the shot becomes almost unconscious.  As if one of the barriers between concept and image just falls away…

And then there’s the beautiful, beautiful depth of field.  Opening up to f/1.4 (or more!) just creates a whole new world of depth of field effects.

Of course the normal is not a *replacement* for your zoom – especially a telephoto or ultrawide, but if you’re a zoom shooter primarily, give it a shot – spend a couple of weeks with just a normal on your camera.  You might just find it addictive…

4 thoughts on “an ode to the normals”

  1. Great post!

    After having built up a small armoury zooms, I recently got a 50mm 1.4 and it’s now living on my camera – I have become addicted. I love it – small, compact and with a super shallow DOF and great sharp images too.

    Now all I want is another body to keep my 12-24mm handy! And more time to shoot.

    While zooms are flexible, for some strange reason, they’re not as much fun as primes – well I think so, and it looks as if you do too.

    All the best from Italy.

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