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Forget  Kit Zooms For The ‘Creamy’ Look

You’ve photographed everything with the kit zoom lens that came with your dSLR or mirrorless camera – landscapes, events, people. But lately you’ve been looking at those cool shots with the tack-sharp subject and everything else blurred to creamy indistinctness. You want to make pictures like that.
You know it takes a large lens aperture to get the razor-thin depth of field you’re after. Your kit zoom’s f/3.5 to 5.6 doesn’t cut it at medium distances. You probably want at least f/2, but f/1.4 is better. Single focal length (prime) lenses have the apertures you need.

So which prime lens do you choose – 35mm, 50mm, or something else?

Do You See ‘Normally’…

The 35mm lens gives you a 52.5mm lens’ field of view on APS-C crop-sensor cameras like the Nikon D5100 or Fuji X-E2. This will be about a 44 degree viewing angle. Many psycho-visual studies report this as most closely matching the human eye’s scanning angle.

Bartender, Alley House Grille, Pagosa Springs, CO

Bartender, Alley House Grille, Pagosa Springs, Colorado
35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH at f/2 on Fuji X-E2 camera
8X10 crop at full width (52.5mm angle of view)

…Or In Telephoto?

Mounted to a crop-sensor camera, the 50mm lens views like a 75mm lens. After decades of providing 50mm and 90mm lenses for their full-frame rangefinder cameras, Leica released the 75mm f/1.4 Summilux in 1980. They recognized the need for a wide-aperture lens with the 75mm telephoto’s field of view.

I use Leica’s 50mm f/1.4 Summilux on a Fuji X-E2, for a 75mm field of view, exactly what you’d get with a 50mm on the D5100. When I’m photographing people at an event with good light, this works very well, especially isolating subjects with narrow depth of field at f/1.4.

Buzz at home – more extreme with 50mm f/1 Noctilux at f/1.2 on Leica M8 camera
8X10 crop at full height (66.7mm field of view)

At the Alley House Grille – with a more affordable 50mm f/1.4 Summilux at f/1.4
on Fuji X-E2 camera – Full frame (75mm angle of view)

Josh – with a more affordable 50mm f/1.4 Summilux at f/1.4 on Fuji X-E2 camera
Full frame (75mm angle of view)

For some general-purpose shooting, I’ll use a 35mm f/2 Summicron-M ASPH on the X-E2 or a Leica M8, but I usually reach for the 50mm or a 25mm f/2.8 Zeiss Biogon T* ZM instead. I prefer the mild wide angle coverage of the 25mm to the 35mm’s ‘normal’ view.

Look at Your Pictures – See How You ‘See’

If you already have a zoom covering the 35-50mm range and you’re looking for something to give you narrower depth of field, I would look at your pictures’ metadata to see what focal length you used most. Then purchase the matching prime lens with the wide aperture.

But get a lens made for a full-frame sensor if it’s available. Keep in mind that some mirrorless cameras and their lenses are crop-sensor only.

With a full-frame lens, it won’t matter which camera you use it with down the road.

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