Jump to content

Why HCB uses a 50mm lens


kivis

Recommended Posts

7 hours ago, Robert Blanko said:

That matches my (subjective) perception that the normal two-eyed view is very much wider than 50mm equivalent.

My perception: One eye = 50 mm equivalent, two eyes = 28 mm equivalent (more or less) is a reasonable approach in practice and this is why I like both focal lengths very much.

+1.

My two favorite focal lengths are 28mm and 50mm.  I have come to think of the 50mm almost as a short telephoto compared to the 28mm. 

The 35mm has its place in the scheme of things, too.  It is a good "all-around do a lot of things very well" lens. 

The 28mm is also effective as a one lens setup - the Q2 and Q2M have a 28mm for a reason.  The rendering of the 28mm focal length appears more three dimensional to my eye than the 35mm.  In my experience, the 28mm lens requires more work than the 35mm - you have to think about framing and perspective more, and a lot of times the 28mm requires you to get closer to your subject.  It requires more thought IMO.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It’s always interesting that one man’s explanation of his choice of lens to suit how he sees the world suddenly becomes an admonition that everyone must use a 50mm lens. 
Choose the lens (or lenses) that suits you best. 
Incidentally, there were 35mm lenses available from Leitz in the 1930s, when HCB bought his first Leica. He could have chosen to use 35mm, had he wished. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

If you look at HCB's work, as wonderful as it is, he was actually a fairly conservative photographer, at least by today's standards. He wasn't one to wade into the 'scrum,' so to speak, so a fifty suited him well - long enough to stand back, but wide enough to still feel part of the scene and yet show some of the surrounding environment. Robert Frank also used a 50 (Nikkor on a Leica body) though he tended to be looser and more 'experimental' than HCB with it. 

FTR, I currently have three fifties - a 50mm pre-asph Summilux last version, a recent (6 bit even) 50mm collapsible Elmarit, and a VC 50 APO. My favorite is probably the Elmarit - great classic Leica look, and easy to throw in the bag or pocket. The VC is being sold. I use M lenses from 18 to 135 - all have their time and place. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

10 minutes ago, charlesphoto99 said:

a recent (6 bit even) 50mm collapsible Elmarit

Elmar you mean i guess. Great lens indeed :).

Welcome, dear visitor! As registered member you'd see an image here…

Simply register for free here – We are always happy to welcome new members!

Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Advertisement (gone after registration)

Quote
 

If you look at HCB's work, as wonderful as it is, he was actually a fairly conservative photographer, at least by today's standards. He wasn't one to wade into the 'scrum,' so to speak, so a fifty suited him well...

I have tried to use a 50mm for street photography and I just can't.  Every time I try, the 50mm lens puts me just far enough away from my subject that other people aimlessly wander in between me and my subject like lobotomized house cats. 

For street and event photography, it's always a 35mm or a 28mm for me.  Getting close to my subject keeps the stray cats at bay.

Edited by Herr Barnack
Link to post
Share on other sites

1 hour ago, Herr Barnack said:

I have tried to use a 50mm for street photography and I just can't.  Every time I try, the 50mm lens puts me just far enough away from my subject that other people aimlessly wander in between me and my subject like lobotomized house cats. 

For street and event photography, it's always a 35mm or a 28mm for me.  Getting close to my subject keeps the stray cats at bay.

Amen, Brother Barnack!  Preach that wide-angle gospel!  

Link to post
Share on other sites

2 hours ago, lct said:

Elmar you mean i guess. Great lens indeed :).

Correct. Always confuses me as it's a 2.8 lens which should make it an Elmarit by Leica's naming convention. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

32 minutes ago, charlesphoto99 said:

Correct. Always confuses me as it's a 2.8 lens which should make it an Elmarit by Leica's naming convention. 

Reference books state that it was called an Elmar for historical reasons, being a new version of the f2.8 Elmar from the 50’s, itself a wider development of the classic f3.5 Elmar from the 30’s.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Doesn't it depend somewhat on the camera body? Digital or film? If digital, the number of mps?

I mean, don't other people ever crop?

My favorite lens currently is the Mamiya 7 65mm, which comes out to the low 30s equivalent. It's astonishingly sharp and I have no fears about cropping aggressively a 6x7 image in post. But if I'm shooting (say) an M 135mm on my Leica M4-P, I know there's effectively no room for compositional error. 

Link to post
Share on other sites

I quess I am a split personality: when I have a 50, I want a 35. And the other way around.

That said, most of the times, I am more pleased with the results of the 50.

Lately, the 50 is on the mm, and a 35 on the m10 while a 28 sits on the m8, making it a 35 as well…

Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)

Hmmm - I wonder what focal length Cartier-Bresson used on his cine cameras? ;)

https://www.henricartierbresson.org/en/hcb/filmography/

For his first ~20 years, C-B used Barnack Leicas. Which only had a built-in viewfinder for 50mm. I wonder how that influenced his personal technique and lens preference?

The first major project C-B produced after the intro of the M3 was People of Moscow (1955). And looking through those pictures, it's quite clear that he definitely shot with all of the M3's three framelines and associated lenses. No doubt Leitz provided him with a full original M set of 35/50/90/135 and asked him to give them all a workout. And he did.

See athletes picture here - clearly "long lens-quote-perspective-unquote."

https://tkwc.tumblr.com/post/149352629975/the-velvet-handthe-hawks-eye

Here are some others from the same book:

Welcome, dear visitor! As registered member you'd see an image here…

Simply register for free here – We are always happy to welcome new members!

Welcome, dear visitor! As registered member you'd see an image here…

Simply register for free here – We are always happy to welcome new members!

Welcome, dear visitor! As registered member you'd see an image here…

Simply register for free here – We are always happy to welcome new members!

It is true that Cartier-Bresson often expressed a preference for the 50mm lens. And he did use it a lot.

But he also famously expressed the idea that "sharpness is a bourgeois concept."

If we are going to take his words and photos as gospel, we can't pick and choose. ;)

 

Edited by adan
Link to post
Share on other sites

Posted (edited)
1 hour ago, Pyrogallol said:

Reference books state that it was called an Elmar for historical reasons, being a new version of the f2.8 Elmar from the 50’s, itself a wider development of the classic f3.5 Elmar from the 30’s.

Pretty much right - the f/2.8 (both versions) and the f/3.5 are all 4-element Tessar designs (Elmar/Tessar - get it? ;) ), And except for the 1996 f/2.8 re-issue, all were introduced before Leitz introduced the Elmarit trade name (90mm - 1959).

Edited by adan
Link to post
Share on other sites

On 8/27/2022 at 1:34 AM, Capuccino-Muffin said:

A bit of theory knowledge wouldn’t hurt: a medium’s sweet spot focal length will be its diagonal length. 

For 35mm film, the diagonal is 43mm, thus the 50mm.

For aps-c, it’s 28mm

For medium format it’s 80mm

And so on.

It is a scientific calculation and has nothing to do with feelings or with personal opinions. And that is exactly why you say it’s nor here nor there, because it’s exactly in the middle. The diagonal measurement of the medium.
 

All very interesting, but it only gets you so far - a “standard” lens for each format is determined by the diagonal.  So, anything wider than standard in a given format is “wide angle” and anything longer is a “telephoto”.  Great.  But it doesn’t make any focal length inherently better than another.  It’s just a useful way of comparing focal lengths across formats.

Back in the 70’s, it was common for cameras to be supplied with a standard lens (my Nikon FE came with a 55/2.8 - I never took it out of the box).  They were not very impressive.  Leica’s 50s are a completely different kettle of fish.  The Summilux ASPH, Noctiluxes and APO Summicron are fantastic, which increases the creative opportunities.

Ultimately, the aberrations of different focal lengths affect imagery and composition.  Telephotos give you the option of cropping in camera, but they also result in foreshortening the background and have a shallower depth of field, which is interesting for landscapes and the like where you wish to isolate part of the image.  A landscape taken with a wide angle, and nothing in the foreground, is a difficult concept to achieve.

Conversely, wide angles (and particularly ultra wides) need care to keep any horizon level and to fill the frame.  Unless, of course, you do away with the horizon or use it to creative effect (see Ragnar Axelsson).  The late Lars Berquist used to say about the 21 SEM that you needed to think like a Chinese painter, with multiple subjects across the image in a two dimensional plane.  For myself, wides add drama, particularly if there’s something worthy in the foreground and the rest of the frame provides context.  As soon as an image becomes about the lens (or camera) you have used, you’ve lost the creative battle.  In my view.

The only “screaming” and “shouting” is on this thread.  There is nothing inherently better about one focal length over another - it’s just that wide lenses are harder to make well.  Something Leica is particularly good at.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
×
×
  • Create New...