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Everything You Need to Know About Using a Standard Lens

There are many different types of lenses available for your camera system. A standard lens fits nicely between the wide-angle varieties and the telephoto range.
You will soon notice all the benefits that come with using standard lens focal lengths.
This article will give you all the reasons why a standard lens should be part of your kit.
A statue of the virgin Mary in an alcohol shop window, shot using a standard lens
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What Is a Standard Lens?

A standard lens is what we call an ‘inbetweener’. These type of lenses sit in-between wide angle lenses (< 35 mm) and telephoto lenses (70 mm >).
Some people refer to a standard lens as a ‘normal’ lens, and there is a reason why they do.
Standard lenses offer a similar field of view to the human eye. This is around 58°, about 1/6th of a 360 view. This means the scenes that you capture with a standard lens feels normal to the viewer.
These lenses make great all-purpose lenses. They can be used to photograph anything, from portraits to landscape, street photography and product photography.
‘Nifty Fifty‘ lenses fall into this category. Like other standard lenses, they tend to be fast. Because of the wider apertures, in-door and low light situations are where these shine.

Focal Length

There is a technical definition of what makes a standard lens. If the focal length of a lens roughly matches the diagonal of the film or digital sensor, it is a standard lens.
This is around 43 mm for a full frame 35 mm equivalent camera.
The 50 mm lens is the most common standard lens. Some companies do sell lenses closer to 43 mm, such as the Pentax SMCP-FA 43mm f/1.9.
One thing to take into account is the crop factor of the camera you are using. 
An outdoor model of a male model in a straw hat, shot using a standard lens

Crop Factor

The ideal focal length depends entirely on your camera. A full frame sensor gives you a true focal length of what you see on your lens.
Cameras that are less than full frame will need lenses with shorter focal lengths.
Canon has a crop factor of 1.6x when it comes to their APS-C sensors. this means that if you want a 50 mm focal length you will need a (50 mm / 1.6x) 31.25 mm lens.
For Nikon and other camera manufacturers who use 1.5x, a 33 mm lens is needed.
Because of this crop factor, many camera and lens companies create lenses at those focal lengths. The Canon EF 35mm f/2 is a perfect example.
One thing to take into account here is equivalency, which is covered by our What Is Equivalence in Photography? article. 

Perspective

As we mentioned before, a standard lens offers a similar perspective to the human eye. This gives a natural feel, as we are used to seeing the world with the same field of view.
These lenses, compared to wide-angle lenses, have less distortion. This helps make your images more pleasing.
There’s more focus on the subject you are shooting, as distracting distorted edges are at a minimum.
A humorous shot of a mannequins legs pushed out the window of an old building , shot using a standard lens

Zoom Vs. Prime

Normal lenses, such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, are what we call prime lenses. This means they have a fixed focal length.
If you want a closer frame, you need to physically move closer to your subject. 
This might deter some photographers, as they don’t offer the same versatility as a zoom lens.
Prime lenses often have superior quality and wider aperture. This makes them a perfect choice for a wide range of photographic situations.
There are many zoom lenses that cover the standard lens range, such as the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L. Typically, they fall in the center of the lens’ full focal length range.
Photographers find them useful as it is easier frame looser or tighter around the subject.
This flexibility does come with the cost of reduced sharpness, aperture size and general image quality.

What Do We Use a Standard Lens For?

The standard lens was made famous by Ansel Adams, one of the most world’s famous landscape photographers.
If you aim to capture sweeping hills and scenes of nature, then you can also make it work for landscape photography.
Street photography is a great field to use standard lenses. The 28 mm focal length offers a wider shot of the subject in their environment.
The 50 mm focal length means you can get a closer frame of a subject, without getting ‘too close’.
The most common use of this lens is for portrait photography. Here, the lack of distortion keeps the image realistic. The wider and faster aperture allows you to capture situations in low light conditions.
This allows them to shine at indoor events such as concert photography. With the 28, 35 or 50 mm, you can still capture details in a brilliant way.
Not only do you have the possibility of a shallow depth of field, but you also have the advantage of a relatively small and light lens.
Surely, we don’t need to tell you every benefit of a ‘nifty fifty‘.
A street photography shot of a tram running between buildings on a clear day, shot using a standard lens

Buying Guide

If you are looking for standard lenses, you’ll find they are inexpensive and provide great quality. the wider the aperture, the better.
It will give you a much more impressive range, across low light scenes and ones that demand a shallow DoF.
You will benefit the most if you go for lenses that match your camera body. Saying that I use a Canon DSLR and find that Sigma, Tokina, and Tamron provide lenses that offer comparatively great quality.
If you are a Canon user, you have four options. Canon EF 28mm f/1.8EF-S 35mm f/2.8EF 50mm f/1.4, and EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM are all great options. 
For Nikon users, we have these options.  Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.4E, AF FX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4GAF-S FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G, and AF-S FX NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E

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