Set the Standard - tyneholm
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Set the Standard

Assignment S50

In the pre-digital age, standard lenses were ubiquitous and were used for pretty much everything, from portraits to landscapes to street photography, but today they are often overlooked and under-appreciated. This is a shame, because it’s a great piece of kit to use for street photography, and although this versatile lens has fallen slightly out of favor, it’s still used as the primary teaching tool for photography students. 

By a “standard lens” I mean a prime lens with a focal length roughly equivalent to the diagonal measurement of the sensor or film, which gives it an angle of view that is similar to that of the human eye. On a full-frame/35mm camera, a 50mm lens is widely regarded as standard (and loving referred to as a “nifty fifty”), but if your camera has an APS-C sensor, a 35mm lens is standard, and it is 25mm for Micro Four Thirds cameras. Standard lenses tend to be small, sharp, contrasty, affordable, and have a fast maximum aperture (usually f/1.8, but sometimes f/1 .4). 

The biggest benefit, however, is that they force you to be creative, which is what this assignment is all about. You’re going to be stripping street photography down to a basic level, where you don’t have the luxury of varying focal lengths and have to use your creative skills to compose quickly and accurately on the fly. 

Your challenge is to use nothing but a standard lens for one month. No cheating, no excuses. Use it all the time and for everything and see how it really makes you think. Relish the constraint: you will find the experience paradoxically liberating. 

View the images

Technique

  • Learn to zoom with your feet! Zooming with a lens gets us into lazy habits.
  • Experiment with depth-of-field-most standard lenses have a wide maximum aperture and offer decent sharpness throughout the aperture range.

Field Notes

  • If you don’t possess a standard lens, consider buying one on eBay-it will cost less than you think and you will get many years of service out of it.