Friday, September 23, 2011


Welcome to another post!

Our topic this time is FOCAL LENGTH, and covers more than just lens sizes.

Let’s start out with the basics; FOCAL LENGTH refers to the length of your lens, usually in millimeters. A 300mm lens is 300 millimeters, but crop factor can change the apparent FOCAL LENGTH of the lens. Crop Factor refers to sensor size on a digital camera. Most of us use cameras with an APS-C sensor, which provides a 1.6x crop factor, or 1.6 times the magnification of the lens’s FOCAL LENGTH. Unless a lens is made for the specific crop factor, for instance Canon’s EF-S lenses, crop factor must be counted to provide the correct focal length. Therefore, a 300mm lens at 1.6x crop factor has an apparent FOCAL LENGTH of 480mm. Since most of us now use the digital lenses that either came with our camera, or we purchased later, I’m not going to make too much of crop factor, that’s for another post.

A large number of folks believe that the perceived change between two FOCAL LENGTHS is caused entirely by magnification. This is actually not entirely true. When you zoom in closer, your lens covers a smaller area of the scene. It doesn’t really magnify it, just shows less in the same amount of space, although there is some magnification from the optics. If you look through a toilet paper tube and take note of what you see, then look through a paper towel tube of about the same diameter, you’ll notice this effect.

Another effect of FOCAL LENGTH, is longer FOCAL LENGTHS, compress the distance between objects in your scene, making them appear closer together. This is great for a portrait with a shallow DOF, as it can blur out and compress the background for a nice effect. It’s something to pay attention to, as the effect can make a great picture look somewhat flat and plain.

For more the rest of this article about FOCAL LENGTH, check out our Intro to Photography page, which contains our full intro series posts so far. And for a great article about the effects of FOCAL LENGTH, check out Photo Tuts+. You can also get into the maths of it at Wikipedia!

I hope this article will be useful on your photographic journey. The knowledge really helped me! Enjoy the weekend folks, and keep your eyes open for more articles, tips, and Hohenfels Volks photo goodness!

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