Unless you’re brand new to photography (and if so, welcome), you know that most photographers hail the “nifty fifty” as the standard, bread and butter, desert island prime lens of choice. This preference is largely because, on a full-frame camera, a 50mm lens is said to offer the same field of view (46°) as the human eye. Others, however, will opt for a 35mm lens (62°) for the same reason, saying the resulting images look more like our natural vision than those from a 50mm lens. So who’s right?
As it turns out, you have roughly a 180° field of view, but only the central 55° tends to reach your conscious awareness. That middle 55° is your perceived FOV, which is exactly the same as a 43mm lens. When you think about it, it actually makes sense that a 43mm lens would replicate a human eye’s vision. This focal length is what’s considered “perfectly normal” on a full-frame camera, meaning it doesn’t shrink or expand the image before it reaches the sensor. Perfect lenses therefore have some obvious advantages that allow for a simple, compact optical design. It only makes sense that evolution would shape the human eye to also have an ultra-simple, perfect lens to allow for maximum image quality with minimal complexity. So any perfect camera lens will end up looking, well… perfect.
So why can’t I get a 43mm lens? How has no one made a 43mm lens? Sure, you can find the odd 40mm pancake lens from Canon, or simply use the middle section of a 24-70mm zoom, but that’s not going to offer quite the same quality as a true 43mm prime and just isn’t a satisfying solution.
What’s even more frustrating is the fact that there are so many other primes available in so many other focal lengths that are so close to each other. Take, for example, Nikon’s wide-angle prime FX lineup. They have a 14mm, a 16mm, three 20mm’s, five 24mm’s, and three 28mm. That’s an average of 3.5mm separating each focal length option. Then, once you get to their normal prime selection of lenses that are meant to look as natural as possible and are arguably the most important in any photographer’s bag, all you get are four 35mm’s, one 45mm, seven 50mm, one 55mm, and one 58mm. Oh, and that 45mm is a tilt-shift lens, so it won’t really work as an everyday shooter.
The most important prime lens segment completely straddles what is actually normal vision.
You may say this isn’t a big deal, and that photography isn’t about replicating what we see, it’s about reimagining what we see. And that’s all true, but it still strikes me as a massive oversight in the industry, especially when so much attention is payed to having a broad and varied lens selection in general. If you don’t think having an option between 35 and 50mm is necessary, then it’s also probably not necessary to have an option between 24 and 35mm, yet 28mm lenses are plentiful.
So, what’s a photographer to do? Well, you’ll be best off with an APS-C camera with a 28mm full-frame lens attached. 28mm on a crop sensor functions as a 44.8mm equivalent (42mm on Canon), which is as close as you’re going to get. And the only reason the lens should be full-frame is because there are essentially no 28mm APS-C lenses out there. Fujifilm makes a 27mm f/2.8 pancake lens that’s technically perfect on their sensors, but it’s a budget prime with no physical aperture ring (one of the best features of most Fuji lenses). If you really can’t live with an APS-C camera, your only real option is the new (and amazing) Pentax K-1 with the retro 43mm f/1.9 lens (above), which is supposedly great but uses old lens technology from the days of film.
Perhaps it is the simplicity of perfect lenses that keeps manufacturers away. It seems like simplicity would allow for a better, cheaper lens, but I am by no means an optics expert so I can’t be certain. So what do you think is going on with this gap in every lens lineup? Let us know in the comments below.
[featured image by Michele M.F.]