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What a “Normal” Lens is and Why You Should Have One

Once in a while, the term “normal lens” comes up in conversations about photography. If you’re like many novice shutterbugs, you may wonder what that means. Even some people familiar with the term still wonder why it’s important, when there are so many other lenses available for DSLR and mirrorless cameras. In this article, we’ll explain the concept of a normal focal length and how using one can improve your skills.

What’s normal?

In the philosophical sense, that’s a very hard question to answer. Fortunately, we’re not philosophers, but photographers, so we can spare you a lengthy, really boring discussion that probably isn’t going to provide a definitive answer. You’re welcome!

In the photographic world, the term “normal”, applied to a lens, has a definite meaning. It’s a reference to a focal length that provides a field of view similar to that of human vision. In other words, a photograph taken with a normal lens will approximate the same scene you’ll observe by standing in the same spot and looking directly where the camera was pointed.

For full-frame cameras, the accepted “normal” focal length has been 50mm since the days of 35mm film photography. The accuracy of that is somewhat debatable.

All cameras (and lenses) are not created equal

Thanks to digital technology, we now have many options for sensor sizes and many lenses can be interchanged between camera models. As most readers will already know, a lens designed for use with a full-frame camera will produce an image with a narrower field of view when mounted on a crop-sensor camera, which creates a longer effective focal length.

Because of the crop factor, a full frame lens would need to be manufactured with a 35mm focal length to provide a relatively “normal” field of view on an APS-C camera. That’s been the accepted “normal” focal length for crop-sensor cameras for some time.

Lens manufacturers routinely engineer their high-end lenses for full-frame cameras rather than those with smaller sensors. This increases the versatility of a lens, because in most cases a full-frame lens can be used on an APS-C camera, while mounting a crop-sensor lens on a full-frame camera will cause vignetting and, in some cases, damage to both the camera and lens.

Our “Normal” Solution

Obviously, there’s no simple solution for bridging the gap between sensor sizes and carrying a normal lens for both just adds weight to your kit. Irix has developed a lens that comes a little bit closer, however, with incredible optics and build quality.

The Irix 45mm f/1.4 Dragonfly lens is a full-frame lens that’s compatible with APS-C cameras and closes that gap a bit. You can use it on your full-frame AND your crop sensor cameras to cover those shots that fall in between wide-angle and telephoto. What’s more, you’ll enjoy the tactile quality of our Dragonfly housing and the speed of the f/1.4 aperture, as well as crisp detail and clarity.

Irix 45mm mount

Why use a normal lens?

So, what makes a normal lens so special? (Hint: We just gave you a few answers above.)

Sharpness and speed: A prime lens in the normal range tends to be sharp and fast. Not only will it perform well in low light, you can open it up and get the shallow depth of field to isolate your subjects and blur distracting backgrounds. On the other end of the scale, our 45mm has a minimum aperture of f/22, so you can really extend the DoF for those beautiful landscapes, seascapes, etc.

Interchangeability: It’s also a good lens to swap between your full-frame and crop-sensor cameras, while still maintaining a mid-range focal length. This is one of the chief benefits for photographers that shoot with both.

Versatility: A lens in this focal length range covers a lot of photographic possibilities. From close-ups of nature, to landscapes, to portraits, a normal lens does more than most specialty lenses.

Portraits

Involvement: This is an often-overlooked benefit. Shooting with a normal lens, particularly a prime lens, means moving around to compose your shots. You’ll need to work a little harder to get things “just right”. You’ll need to stalk wildlife subjects if you want to get close. The surprising effect of these “disadvantages” is finding yourself more deeply involved in the creative process. You’ll also appreciate your successes more.

Natural Field of view: We’ve come full circle. Remember that a lens with a focal length in the normal range gives your viewers a perspective similar to what you see with your own eyes. When used effectively, this can help you give your viewers the impression of “being there”.

Summary

We hope you’ll agree that a normal lens is an important part of your photographic “arsenal”. We also hope you’ll check out the Irix 45mm f/1.4 to see how well it fills the gap between wide-angle and telephoto. It’s also available in a cinema version!

Drop by Irix USA today and check out the 45mm as well as the rest of our line of top-quality lenses and accessories.

Related Reading

Check out these blog articles for more creative ideas with your normal lens:
Lightning Photography: Pros, Cons and Basic Techniques
Shooting Light Trails for some Long Exposure Fun
15 Photo Projects You Can do at Home During the COVID-19 Crisis
8 Tips for Photographing Waterfalls

Written by Dana Crandell

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