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Why HCB uses a 50mm lens


kivis

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1 hour ago, IkarusJohn said:

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.

The theory behind the “normal focal length” is not born form a simplistic homer simpson “diagonal length” but rather stems from scientific calculations, theories and practice, circle of confusion and so on. It’s a lengthy read but worth it, wikipedia is a good start.

Wether a normal field of view of ~57.296 degrees is to your taste, that is a completely different question. You could love shooting a 10mm lens and call it “your normal”... but the standard definition of a “normal lens” is not something that one can refute just as he wishes or “just because”.

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9 hours ago, charlesphoto99 said:

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. 

Robert Frank being the photographer whose work I most admire, I’ve always been curious about the lenses he used with his Leica. Do you recall where you learned about the 50mm LTM Nikkor?

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4 hours ago, Capuccino-Muffin said:

The theory behind the “normal focal length” is not born form a simplistic homer simpson “diagonal length” but rather stems from scientific calculations, theories and practice, circle of confusion and so on. It’s a lengthy read but worth it, wikipedia is a good start.

Wether a normal field of view of ~57.296 degrees is to your taste, that is a completely different question. You could love shooting a 10mm lens and call it “your normal”... but the standard definition of a “normal lens” is not something that one can refute just as he wishes or “just because”.

No one is “refuting” it, Homer.  It’s just a question of definition of little or no relevance to the original question …

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On 8/26/2022 at 5:09 PM, Capuccino-Muffin said:

Of course.

But you seem very doubtful... which in turn indicates that you are fairly new to the photography world.

Let me guess, you have a blog, and you are a pro photographer offering advice and courses to other photographers, or you do photo equipment reviews on the net? Or a content creator?  An artist?

Don’t worry, this is the usual curve. The theory always comes last and the “art is about breaking the rules” always comest first.
 

Back in the day, people took classes involving theory. There is theory and science, believe it or not.

 

 

You don't know me and I think that both you, I and this site could do without the ignorant ad-hominem attacks. If you can back something up do so, otherwise have a quiet think before posting.

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Bit academical those normal things anyway. Interesting to see that "standard" has not the same meaning as it used to have though. In my youth (seventies) a standard lens was a 50mm in 35mm format. Now it seems that the paradigm has shifted towards 35mm i don't know why. People living closer to each others pethaps? 

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11 hours ago, genji said:

Robert Frank being the photographer whose work I most admire, I’ve always been curious about the lenses he used with his Leica. Do you recall where you learned about the 50mm LTM Nikkor?

One of his Leicas and a Nikkor 50/1.4 is in a museum:

https://www.cameramuseum.ch/en/discover/permanent-exhibition/the-century-of-the-film/the-leica-of-robert-frank-and-the-americans/

but it's certainly not the only lens he used, e.g.:

https://www.moma.org/collection/works/49767 (see direct link to enlarge).

 

 

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37 minutes ago, Anbaric said:

One of his Leicas and a Nikkor 50/1.4 is in a museum:

https://www.cameramuseum.ch/en/discover/permanent-exhibition/the-century-of-the-film/the-leica-of-robert-frank-and-the-americans/

but it's certainly not the only lens he used, e.g.:

https://www.moma.org/collection/works/49767 (see direct link to enlarge).

 

 

Thank you so much for those links. I wonder if the lenses he’s using to cover the opening night are LTM versions of Zeiss optics? I did read somewhere today that he used a Biogon 35/2.8 adapted for Leica screw mount.

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1 hour ago, genji said:

Thank you so much for those links. I wonder if the lenses he’s using to cover the opening night are LTM versions of Zeiss optics? I did read somewhere today that he used a Biogon 35/2.8 adapted for Leica screw mount.

The longer lens at his waist on the camera with the accessory viewfinder looks more to me like another Nikon, the Nikkor 85mm, than the equivalent Zeiss Sonnar. Some of his shots in The Americans seem like they were taken with something wider than a 50mm, but I don't know whether that would have been a Nikkor or a Biogon or something else.

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2 hours ago, lct said:

Bit academical those normal things anyway. Interesting to see that "standard" has not the same meaning as it used to have though. In my youth (seventies) a standard lens was a 50mm in 35mm format. Now it seems that the paradigm has shifted towards 35mm i don't know why. People living closer to each others pethaps? 

Lars offered a good explanation, linked above, for 35 vs 50.

Jeff

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58 minutes ago, trickness said:

Funny how so many can quote HCB as though his words came from a burning bush, but they seem to have gleaned absolutely nothing by viewing his images.

We need Leica coffee mugs, beer steins, baseball caps, tee shirts, sweat shirts and challenge coins bearing that tidbit of truth.  😎

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11 minutes ago, lct said:

Yes i remember thank you but he did not explain why the standard paradigm shifted from 50 to 35, if any, or did he?

Well, like me, he considered them both standard-ish (and based on math), regardless of trends, so there was never a shift required for us.  

More recently, 28mm seems to be gaining popularity, ever widening the notion of ‘standard’ or ‘typical.’  Phone cameras have played a big part, although I’m not sure about chicken vs egg. I suspect that digital flexibility (including crop ability), and easier production capability of quality wider focal lengths, might have helped with any collective shift.  Individually, though, I know of many who have moved to longer, not wider, focal lengths, as their ‘standard’ (albeit not as defined mathematically). Ralph Gibson comes to mind, going from 50 to 75mm.  

Jeff
 

 

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7 hours ago, lct said:

Bit academical those normal things anyway. Interesting to see that "standard" has not the same meaning as it used to have though. In my youth (seventies) a standard lens was a 50mm in 35mm format. Now it seems that the paradigm has shifted towards 35mm i don't know why. People living closer to each others pethaps? 

Several points:

- In the 1970s, SLRs were king of the hill. And SLRs had the problem of needing lenses that could clear a moving mirror. The 50mm was the shortest focal length that could do that without resorting to "heroic" optical measures (complex retrofocus designs). And in fact many SLRs came with 55mm (Pentax, Nikkor f/1.2) or even 58mm lenses (first Nikon f/1.4 for the F), to make clearing the mirror even easier.

https://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/58mm-f14.htm

- If one only thought of SLRs, the "normal" was indeed the 50mm or a bit longer. Or Leicas, which had hard-wired themselves into a corner with framelines for only 50mm, but eventually 35mm)

But if one looked at what the majority of families were buying, those were fixed-lens snapshot rangefinders, like the Canonet, and others from Minolta, Konica, Olympus. Those usually had 38mm-45mm lenses. Leica and Minolta, of course, jumped on that bandwagon with the original CL, and its 40mm Summicron-C.

My first "wannabee-Leica" as a starving college student was a used Petri 35 Color-Corrected Super 2.8. 45mm f/2.8 lens - and dating back to 1954.

http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Petri_Color_Corrected_Super

- But much earlier than the 1970s (1960-ish), there was the transition of newspaper photographers from their 4x5 press cameras to 35mm cameras (once the editors were persuaded the quality of the "toy cameras" was high enough ;) ).

Now, those Crown and Speed Graphics usually used a 135mm lens as "normal" - and that equates to about a 36mm lens on 35mm film. And they needed that shorter focal length for its extra DoF and looser framing, since they were often shooting "grab shots" through a peep-sight finder with only scale-focusing - and a powerful flash to use f/16 ("f/16 and be there!"). Not that much different than street-shooters using 28s and 35s and "hyperfocal" focusing today.

https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/weegee?all/all/all/all/0

They wanted a similar lens for their new 35mm news-cameras - there is a reason the "wide-angle Leica" M2 with 35mm framelines came into existence at the same time.

See, for example:

Eddy Adams, Vietnam, 1968 - https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/world/asia/vietnam-execution-photo.html

Nick Ut, Vietnam, 1972 - https://www.apimages.com/Collection/Landing/Photographer-Nick-Ut-The-Napalm-Girl-/ebfc0a860aa946ba9e77eb786d46207e

- 35mm actually began replacing 50mm among younger, up-and-coming Leica shooters by the mid-1960s: a used M2 and 35 Summaron was "cheap entrée" into the world of Leica. The 35 was better for relating subject and environment, and/or added a little surreal edginess. The era was, after all, called "the counterculture," as in "not our parents photography!" Also promoted by curator John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art as "the snapshot aesthetic."

Danny Lyon, 1967 - all with a 35: https://www.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/articles/2015/july/02/danny-lyons-conversations-with-the-dead/

Also Friedlander, Freedman, Winograd, Mark, and others.

Some people even took it even wider - Bill Owens used a Pentax 6x7 and a Brooks Veriwide (21mm equivalent on 6x9) for this project, 1969-72:

https://billowens.com/photographs/suburbia-c

And Jean-Loup Sieff, who was working the heck out of his Leica's 21mm SA as early as 1962 (my kinda Leica photographer ;) ).

http://www.artnet.com/artists/jeanloup-sieff/

 

Edited by adan
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21 hours ago, Capuccino-Muffin said:

The theory behind the “normal focal length” is not born form a simplistic homer simpson “diagonal length” but rather stems from scientific calculations, theories and practice, circle of confusion and so on. It’s a lengthy read but worth it, wikipedia is a good start.

 

Please give us a summary in lay terms - you obviously understand it since you are convinced by it.

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4 hours ago, adan said:

Several points:

- In the 1970s, SLRs were king of the hill. And SLRs had the problem of needing lenses that could clear a moving mirror. The 50mm was the shortest focal length that could do that without resorting to "heroic" optical measures (complex retrofocus designs). And in fact many SLRs came with 55mm (Pentax, Nikkor f/1.2) or even 58mm lenses (first Nikon f/1.4 for the F), to make clearing the mirror even easier.

https://www.kenrockwell.com/nikon/58mm-f14.htm

- If one only thought of SLRs, the "normal" was indeed the 50mm or a bit longer. Or Leicas, which had hard-wired themselves into a corner with framelines for only 50mm, but eventually 35mm)

But if one looked at what the majority of families were buying, those were fixed-lens snapshot rangefinders, like the Canonet, and others from Minolta, Konica, Olympus. Those usually had 38mm-45mm lenses. Leica and Minolta, of course, jumped on that bandwagon with the original CL, and its 40mm Summicron-C.

My first "wannabee-Leica" as a starving college student was a used Petri 35 Color-Corrected Super 2.8. 45mm f/2.8 lens - and dating back to 1954.

http://camera-wiki.org/wiki/Petri_Color_Corrected_Super

- But much earlier than the 1970s (1960-ish), there was the transition of newspaper photographers from their 4x5 press cameras to 35mm cameras (once the editors were persuaded the quality of the "toy cameras" was high enough ;) ).

Now, those Crown and Speed Graphics usually used a 135mm lens as "normal" - and that equates to about a 36mm lens on 35mm film. And they needed that shorter focal length for its extra DoF and looser framing, since they were often shooting "grab shots" through a peep-sight finder with only scale-focusing - and a powerful flash to use f/16 ("f/16 and be there!"). Not that much different than street-shooters using 28s and 35s and "hyperfocal" focusing today.

https://www.icp.org/browse/archive/constituents/weegee?all/all/all/all/0

They wanted a similar lens for their new 35mm news-cameras - there is a reason the "wide-angle Leica" M2 with 35mm framelines came into existence at the same time.

See, for example:

Eddy Adams, Vietnam, 1968 - https://www.nytimes.com/2018/02/01/world/asia/vietnam-execution-photo.html

Nick Ut, Vietnam, 1972 - https://www.apimages.com/Collection/Landing/Photographer-Nick-Ut-The-Napalm-Girl-/ebfc0a860aa946ba9e77eb786d46207e

- 35mm actually began replacing 50mm among younger, up-and-coming Leica shooters by the mid-1960s: a used M2 and 35 Summaron was "cheap entrée" into the world of Leica. The 35 was better for relating subject and environment, and/or added a little surreal edginess. The era was, after all, called "the counterculture," as in "not our parents photography!" Also promoted by curator John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art as "the snapshot aesthetic."

Danny Lyon, 1967 - all with a 35: https://www.phaidon.com/agenda/photography/articles/2015/july/02/danny-lyons-conversations-with-the-dead/

Also Friedlander, Freedman, Winograd, Mark, and others.

Some people even took it even wider - Bill Owens used a Pentax 6x7 and a Brooks Veriwide (21mm equivalent on 6x9) for this project, 1969-72:

https://billowens.com/photographs/suburbia-c

And Jean-Loup Sieff, who was working the heck out of his Leica's 21mm SA as early as 1962 (my kinda Leica photographer ;) ).

http://www.artnet.com/artists/jeanloup-sieff/

 

Just want to say thx for mentioning Sieff. A hugely underrated photographer, absolutely brilliant, stunning work.

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