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Why HCB uses a 50mm lens


kivis

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I think 50 mm and 35 mm lenses are in the too hard basket for street shooting - much prefer  the 24 or 28 focal lengths - in practical terms it all depends on the subject matter and compositional/shooting style/references of the user. I think a 75 or 90 offers more if one prefers a more distance from subject in street shooting. 50mm is kind of nowhere for me - I use a 50mm Nocti for portraits sometimes.

I enjoy looking through HCB's reportage shots like I enjoy looking at images from a lot of really fine photographers- but their gear choices means not much to me - so much has changed in photography over the last 10 years - let alone the last 80 ...

 

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Fascinating how choice of focal length can provoke such a -- sometimes heated -- discussion.  What is missing perhaps is the concept of intentionality.  Working with fixed-focal-length lenses on any format, over time, the photographer's eye is trained to look at a scene and "see" how it might look through a camera.  What is the intention in making the image, putting a frame around the world?  Chances are, before you even take your camera out of its bag, you have a good idea of the outcome you have in mind.

As to choosing which lens to take on a "one camera, one lens" expedition, you need to know what you are looking for and then you choose the lens that will work for you in the situation.

The great thing about prime- or fixed-focus lenses is the discipline they enable.  My favourite 16mm cine camera was a Standard Arriflex (Arri ST) with a lens turret.  I remember it had a 16mm, a 25mm and a 50mm (probably Zeiss).  It was common to talk about "wide shot", "mid shot", "medium closeup" and "big closeup".  The three lenses on the turret gave the choice, from a fixed camera position.  The huge TV cameras from the 50s and 60s had something similar.

"Zoom" lenses were a different matter, designed for a different purpose (replace the need for a lens turret).  They were very useful for documentary filming but rather broke the fixed-focal-length discipline.  Fast forward 40 or so years and I notice that many cinematographers swear by their choices of prime- or fixed-focus lenses.  As this is a Leica forum, the selection of Leica cine lenses (mostly PL-mount) is notable (alongside Zeiss etc).  There are also certain still-camera lenses (e.g. Distagon f2/28) that can be adapted to cine and are in huge demand.

As photographer, you are the subject (hence the notion of subjectivity); the scene in front of you is the object (objectivity?).  Where do you place yourself in relation to the scene, the object of your gaze?  What point of view are you seeking?  From this follows your choice of camera and lens.  Without knowing your intention, it is hard to say which lens is "best".  Knowing what you are looking for, which choice of lens gives the outcome you are happiest with?

Edited by John Robinson
Clarifying terminology.
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Like most of you, I have learned to acknowledge both strength and weakness of 35 and 50, an ever growing variety of them to be accurate, along the photographic journey I have had. In retrospect though, I came to realize that most of each fov’s strength and weakness were relative to each other, meaning that we only see them because we have both 35 and 50 in our hands and start to compare. Maybe we are all lucky to own and get to enjoy the slight departures from 43mm, because it would be damn boring if we only had 43, not 35 and 50. But if that’s the case, we wouldn’t have to argue over 35 vs 50, either, though.

28 and 90 can be great tools too, but for simplicity I tend to stick to 35 and 50. They are also more limiting than 35 and 50 in terms of photographic opportunity. For even more simplicity, or if I were forced to choose one focal length to be done with, I would probably choose 35 because I tend to take pictures to document more than to create some art. (Not saying you cannot create art with 35 or document with 50) In addition, 35 is in general lighter, and I like light lens. If anyone can suggest 35mm Summicron V4 equivalent of do-it-all Leica 50mm, let me know, though I don’t want this post to digress too much from its intention.

Edited by kyotalk
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17 minutes ago, kyotalk said:

[...] I like light lens. If anyone can suggest 35mm Summicron V4 equivalent of do-it-all Leica 50mm, let me know [...]

Summicron 50/2 v4. 198g vs 156g for the 35/2 v4.

 

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I think it's simple. CB grew up in an era when low print quality magazines and newspapers was the norm, so he knew he'd get his arse kicked by the Picture Editor if he presented photographs that needed cropping, and so much more of a problem with a miniature format negative. So he shot tight because that was where his market was at. 

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2 hours ago, 250swb said:

I think it's simple. CB grew up in an era when low print quality magazines and newspapers was the norm, so he knew he'd get his arse kicked by the Picture Editor if he presented photographs that needed cropping, and so much more of a problem with a miniature format negative. So he shot tight because that was where his market was at. 

Come on now.

Then, and now, having to crop was considered sloppy work.

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7 hours ago, Capuccino-Muffin said:

Come on now.

Then, and now, having to crop was considered sloppy work.

So why did so many Press (and wedding) photographers use TLR cameras? Do you imagine it was so square pictures could be printed (not many of those in newspapers and magazines), or perhaps so the Picture Editor could choose either a 'portrait' or 'landscape' crop which was compensated for by the larger negative? I mean this is like the fantasy that CB only shot one frame of everything because he was such a genius, but he shot many frames around his subjects to compensate for bad framing, OOF, or to find the best angle. He did like all photographers, he worked the subject until he got it right both for himself and his client.

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In French, sorry

Famous crop ?

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Il y avait une clôture de planches autour de quelques réparations derrière la gare Saint-Lazare et je regardais à travers l'espace avec mon appareil photo à l'œil. C'est ce que j'ai vu. L'espace entre les planches n'était pas assez large pour mon objectif, c'est pourquoi l'image est coupée à gauche." - HCB

 

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Edited by a.noctilux
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26 minutes ago, a.noctilux said:

Thanks for posting that link, Arnaud, as it was new to me. Previously I'd read the story about how the image came to be captured but hadn't seen this part of the story mentioned anywhere;

"...il est intéressant de faire remarquer que  ce cliché a été pris en 1932, mais que Cartier-Bresson ne l'a découvert sur ses bobines de film développées qu'en 1946, soit quatorze ans plus tard..."

...which translates, roughly, thus;

"...it is interesting to note that this picture was taken in 1932, but that Cartier-Bresson did not discover it on his developed film rolls until 1946, fourteen years later..."

Illustrates how the practice of going back through once-forgotten images sometimes bears fruit.

Philip.

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From the author's mouth (link at 16:20):

Quote

HCB: I shot this photo in between the planks. I slipped the camera through but i couldn't see. That's why it's a bit blurry. The planks were like this, so only the lens went through. I couldn't see a thing through the viewfinder. 
Question: You couldn't see the mean leaping?
HCB: No no.
Question: It was a lucky shot then.
HCB: It's always luck. It's only luck that matters. You have to be receptive, that's all. Like the relationship between things. It's a matter of chance. If you want it you get nothing. Just be receptive and it happens.

(free translation)

Edited by lct
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7 hours ago, 250swb said:

So why did so many Press (and wedding) photographers use TLR cameras? Do you imagine it was so square pictures could be printed (not many of those in newspapers and magazines), or perhaps so the Picture Editor could choose either a 'portrait' or 'landscape' crop which was compensated for by the larger negative? I mean this is like the fantasy that CB only shot one frame of everything because he was such a genius, but he shot many frames around his subjects to compensate for bad framing, OOF, or to find the best angle. He did like all photographers, he worked the subject until he got it right both for himself and his client.

It was fast, sloppy work, what else?

The careful work was done in post.

I’ve been through all that. And  I have seen sooo many imposteurs. Assistants hired on the fly “what, you’re a butcher? No problem. You click and I’ll save your work in post production my amigo, just fire away...”.

The sloppy work was MASSIVE.

 

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6 hours ago, LocalHero1953 said:

You might want to look at the negative of the Behind the Gare St Lazare shot some time - really sloppy.

Oh the sport of contrarianism in this forum is something else!

If you’re into photography, after a while please try to get it right in-camera without cropping.

Make it a deal with yourself. 
 
Do it for you.

See it as a challenge.

Bring your work to the next level.

Work on it.

Me? 100% of my work is incropped and I can tell you with certainty that absolutely 99% of it would not improve after a post-crop. My photos are built right from the shooting stage. 

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25 minutes ago, Capuccino-Muffin said:

 

Me? 100% of my work is incropped and I can tell you with certainty that absolutely 99% of it would not improve after a post-crop. My photos are built right from the shooting stage. 

And maybe one day we will see some of your work.

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