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A Chart to Find the Best Focal Length

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Cover Photo by Hunter Moranville, free to use

There are many things to consider when choosing or buying a lens for your photography. Prime vs zoom lens, brand (Canon, Sigma, Tamron, Nikon,…), price, build-quality, speed (widest possible aperture), sharpness… The primary and most important variable however is the lens’ focal length. The focal length of a lens dictates how wide or narrow the angle of view (aka field of view) will be, or how much of the scene will be visible. And that applies for both fixed (aka prime) lenses and zoom lenses, the difference being that zoom lenses can capture a range of different angles of view.

A short lens focal length (wide angle) will capture a wide angle of view and a long focal length (telephoto) will capture a narrow angle of view, and a focal length that sits right in the middle of that is said to have a normal focal length and captures an angle of view that’s similar to what the human eye captures.

Wide angle lenses can capture scenes that are close to the camera, while telephoto lenses can capture scenes that are further away. Wide angle lenses exaggerate the distance between elements in a photo and can exaggerate/distort elements, and telephoto lenses compress the distance between elements and can compress somebody’s features.

For all of the above-mentioned reasons, the choice of focal length for a particular photography project will be really important. You’ll likely want to use very different focal lengths depending on wether you’re doing landscape photography or portrait photography, for example.

Below is a chart that should make it easy to see what would work best for your style of photography:

Wide Angle Lenses

📏
Focal Length

Great for...
15mm
  • Architecture
  • Landscapes
  • Interiors
  • People, for comical effects (fisheye)
20mm
  • Architecture
  • Landscapes
  • Large groups of people
28mm
  • Architecture
  • Landscapes
  • Large groups of people
35mm
  • Some portraits
  • Street photography
  • Day-to-day shooting

Normal Lens

The normal focal length for a camera with a full-frame sensor is 50mm.

📏
Focal Length

Great for...
50mm
  • Normal portraits
  • Street photography
  • Day-to-day shooting

Telephoto Lenses

📏
Focal Length

Great for...
70mm
  • 👍 Portraits
  • Day-to-day shooting
85mm
  • 👍👍 Portraits
135mm
  • 👍👍 Portraits
  • Sports
  • Close-range wild life
150mm
  • 👍 Some Portraits (fashion)
  • Sports
  • Close-range wild life
200mm
  • Some Portraits (fashion, high amount of feature compression)
  • Sports
  • Wild life
300mm
  • Wild life
  • Birds
  • Long-range photography

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