From Telephoto to Wide Angle – an Evolution

Telephoto or Wide Angle. Which is Best?

When I first started this whole photography journey back in the 1980s just about every camera came with some version of a 50mm lens. What we now call a “Nifty Fifty” usually F/2 or maybe f/1.8 and sometimes even f/2.8 depending on the brand. Then, a 50mm was considered to be a “standard” lens because it, according to the experts, nearly replicates human vision, at least in terms of perspective and compression, and 50mm somewhat approximates the diagonal measurement of a single frame of 35mm film.

Of course like anything else, especially in photography, some of this is subject to debate. Mainly is the 35mm closer to human vision than the 50mm? And of course Pentax mixing it all up with a 43mm that they claim is the ideal.

Now, of course, the standard is to offer a short zoom. Something in the range of 28-70mm or a 35-80mm (18-55mm or 16-50mm ish for APS-C cameras since we are in the digital era)

All of that said, it remains that most cameras then were sold with a 50mm and though it has been a popular lens over time, I never liked the framing though I did warm to it eventually. My goal with almost every camera I’ve ever owned was to get some sort of a telephoto. Preferably a zoom. I quickly found that a tele would change the field of view and compression, allow me to take photos from a distance, and get in closer to things I couldn’t with a 50mm. I need to confess, in the early days it also made you look more “Pro”.

My first long lens was a third party 135mm f/2.0 prime in K-mount for my venerable Pentax K1000. It did open up a lot of creative possibilities for me, so I was hooked on the idea of teles. Regrettably I didn’t save any images from those days.

Fast forward a few years and I had begun to move into the, then, relatively new Canon EOS system, primarily for the autofocus. My first long lens in that system was, again a third party lens, a Quantaray 70-210mm f/4-5.6. A pretty standard consumer tele zoom in those days. For this unfamiliar with the brand, it was the Ritz Camera house brand made by some other manufacturer (possibly Sigma) and rebranded for Ritz. Easy to come by because there was a Ritz Camera in about every mall ever. Even at the consumer level I remember this lens was a little pricey, least for me. Since the Rebel camera I had at the time came with a 35-80mm kit lens, the addition of 70-210mm gave me quite a range of focal lengths. Eventually I moved up to a better camera and better lenses in the EOS system, where I stayed until just a few years ago when I switched to Sony (as many have). For the most part though, the long zoom was always a staple in my camera bag.

1990 Canon EOS Rebel w/Quantaray 70-210 f/4-5.6

As the years past I became more and more interested in wider angle lenses first going to a 28mm prime then the various wider zooms. Right now my most used lens is a Sony Zeiss 16-35mm f/4 which seems to cover most of my photography. I will confess I still own a long tele zoom – a Sony 70-200mm f/4 – and, yes, I own a “nifty Fifty.

2020 Sony A7II w/Sony-Zeiss 16-35mm f/4

I seem to favor the perspective at the wider end, but you do have to be careful about what is included in the shot as anything wider than 28mm potentially can add a lot of distracting elements to your photos.

All in all, I think that the switch to a wider angel comes from a maturing of my composition process. Zooming in to one or two elements of a composition can be a great technique to be sure. However sometimes it pays huge dividends to take a wider approach and include more in the image, giving more context to the photo.

Leave a comment and let me know your shooting preference. Wide angle or telephoto?

Stay safe and see the world your own way.

Thanks for reading

2 thoughts on “From Telephoto to Wide Angle – an Evolution

  1. A good read….I shot for many years with just the nifty fifty on Yashica then Contax SLRs, before I went digital, firstly with a Kodak Z730 with it’s quite good Schneider Kreuznach 35mm to 132mm (equivalent) zoom lens. Then I had a Canon point and shoot before getting an EOS 1100D with the 18-55 and 75-300 kit lenses which are amazing for the price, but a little disappointing in terms of image quality. A couple of years ago I found the Contax in a box in the wardrobe and found myself shooting film again. The 50 still gets used, and I have collected some additional Zeiss lenses, the 2.8/25, 3.3/28-85, 4/80-210 and a 4/300. The long lenses get the least use, but are wonderful for the reasons you stated – compression of perspective and bringing distant objects closer. And the way Zeiss renders is amazing….used on the Canon with an adapter they have transformed it into a reasonably decent camera. 🙂

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    1. Thanks for the comment! I have always been interested in Contax cameras. They’ve always had an eccentric quality to them, for me anyway. Which makes the appeal even greater lol. I do currently have a Canon 75-300mm, I find the image quality acceptable, but not great, at least on digital. I currently hav an EOS A2 film camera I’m going to try it on at some point. So I suppose we’ll see just how good (or bad) it is.

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