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AaronChicago

"Untraditional" focal lengths with intention

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I had not intended to say what is right or wrong, or FF equivs. I'm just talking in terms of S35 and why certain cinematographers use odd specific non traditionals like 28. Why did they settle on 28 instead of 24 or 35. It's worth experimenting and seeing some results.

Uh...28mm is traditional. Very traditional. It's a classic focal length, from way back in the day to right here in 2015. 

Especially in the near-standard focal lengths, cinema sets tend to offer lots of different options. You can get a PL mount 24mm, 25mm, 28mm, 32mm, 35mm, 40mm, 45mm, and 50mm. Art Adams had an article a while back where he wanted the widest lens he could dolly from a wide shot to a close-up without making the face look unnaturally stretched. They tried the 28, the 32, and the 40, and settled on the 32. It's not weird or esoteric--it's just that once you get into that zone of 24-50 or so, you get a lot more choice because every few millimeters matters.

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Uh...28mm is traditional. Very traditional. It's a classic focal length, from way back in the day to right here in 2015. 
Especially in the near-standard focal lengths, cinema sets tend to offer lots of different options. You can get a PL mount 24mm, 25mm, 28mm, 32mm, 35mm, 40mm, 45mm, and 50mm. Art Adams had an article a while back where he wanted the widest lens he could dolly from a wide shot to a close-up without making the face look unnaturally stretched. They tried the 28, the 32, and the 40, and settled on the 32. It's not weird or esoteric--it's just that once you get into that zone of 24-50 or so, you get a lot more choice because every few millimeters matters.

Well that answers my question. 24-50 every few mm counts. That's why I want to experiment. I've never used great PL glass with 24, 25, 28, 32 so I guess I made a mistake by saying untraditional. I'm going to start testing different incremental mm's to find a unique look to what I've always shot (18,24,35,50).

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Ok. I understand what you are saying now.

My theory, and obviously this is purely my opinion, is that there is a bit of instant gratification with anything roughly 75mm equiv and up. Roughly 35/40 and lower is also 'easy' to yield interesting results (or just the necessity of a wide FOV to capture the limitations of space). But 40-60 is called normal for a reason. We're used to it. No instant gratification. Again, my theory is that this is why a lot of the traditional cinematographers like this range (28-40 on s35). Anyone can slap on a wide or tele and get interesting results. But with the normals you are forced to use everything - good set, lighting, movement, blocking, etc. The camera and lens get out of the way and the story MUST take over. I feel like this is the heart of cinema. 

Not everyone will agree of course. There's more that one way to make films. Just my $.02. 

I definitely felt guilty getting my first 50mm f1.4  for my apsc camera and how easy it was to get people to compliment me..

Interesting to read everyone's thought here. even though I sometimes feel like it's cheating, I do love that focal length and DOF you get - really nice for wide shots even, if you can get em. I've thought about doing a whole project on it alone. Always have thought the subtle wide angle and subtle telephoto to compress or exaggerate distance was one of the most powerful tools in cinematography - though I go back on that sometimes too, whether the audience actually reads into the visual metaphor the way you intended. plus, a normal focal length (or almost any focal length) can have both those effects based on distance from the subject. Usually it's embarrassingly just the fisheyes I notice a difference in on my own :/ Depth of field is a pretty big factor too. In horror movies for the classic deep focus shots, isn't it usually a wider angle as well?

wasn't 50mil on s35 the big thing for a long time? I'd thought that could be a way to convince the audience it was of that style or genre "Hollywood" (maybe to lull them into a false sense of security) - not sure where I got that impression really.

anamorphic and different aspect ratios I think make this topic harder. Can't exactly hear the advice of one of the greats on this, if they were filming 4:3 instead of 16:9

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One thing I've noticed just today by testing 28mm is that it's pretty versatile. You can focus on a subject close up and have good separation from the background. You can also shoot at f4 or 5.6 10 or so feet away from a setting and have it look fairly wide angle.

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I've thought about doing a whole project on it alone.

My wife and I went to Spain a few years back to make a humble, simple, and impressionistic travel film; labor of love sort of thing.  

We were going to shoot it with multiple cameras/lenses... but when we got there and spent a few week on a paid assignment before our personal film making, we began to debate about the visuals --and ultimately decided that the most cohesive look would be to film with one camera and one 50mm lens.  Nothing else.  No audio or tripod even.

So we put all the other gear in storage and went into our shoot with a 5D and an old piece of Nikon glass. 

Also, we'd film it, for better or worse, with the max aperture., f1.4.  Our reasoning was that since the subject was supposed to be a reverent and sometimes mystical experience, the aesthetic of shallow DOF would heighten that sense.

In the end I believe it worked well enough, but I've never shot a project like that before or since.  Doubt I will again.  It just happened to fit the vibe.

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It would be great if everybody used degrees for FOV instead of focal lengths. 

50mm on FF ~ 40 degrees horizontally. 

Then as the cheapest possible director's viewfinder, I have measured the angles between my fingers and I place my eye on the imaginary crossing line of the two fingers that are closer to the FOV that I want to achieve. 

 

I love this idea Don. Can you teach me more about this? Or point me in the direction of a chart or something that references focal lengths to degrees? This would be super helpful. I hate the whole s35 or FF thing because it's so dang confusing. Throw in anamorphic and I'm totally lost. If I can get a reference for the degrees, I for one will start using degrees instead of focal, or at least use them together.

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Yeah, a 28mm FF lens on an APS-C is what... About 42mm FOV. It's a nice focal length, because most of the distortion is gone at that wide of an angle lens, so it becomes a subtle normal range lens. I have always preferred a 24mm, or a fast 35mm. A great lens for an odd focal length is the Konica 40mm f1.8. On APS-C it's about a 60mm, relatively fast with just a cool look to it. If I was forced to have only one lens, that Konica would be in the running. Of course it would be competing against 10 other lenses. 

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My wife and I went to Spain a few years back to make a humble, simple, and impressionistic travel film; labor of love sort of thing.  

We were going to shoot it with multiple cameras/lenses... but when we got there and spent a few week on a paid assignment before our personal film making, we began to debate about the visuals --and ultimately decided that the most cohesive look would be to film with one camera and one 50mm lens.  Nothing else.  No audio or tripod even.

So we put all the other gear in storage and went into our shoot with a 5D and an old piece of Nikon glass. 

Also, we'd film it, for better or worse, with the max aperture., f1.4.  Our reasoning was that since the subject was supposed to be a reverent and sometimes mystical experience, the aesthetic of shallow DOF would heighten that sense.

In the end I believe it worked well enough, but I've never shot a project like that before or since.  Doubt I will again.  It just happened to fit the vibe.

interesting. (by the way, for me the 50 I was talking about is an 80mm equivalent). I have actually done a few short things on just that lens, since not switching lenses is always easier than switching lenses. And I've gotten great close, medium, and wide shots with it, which was a little surprising, since it's technically pretty telephoto (though it's pretty horrible for walking with it handheld). Hell I love using my 500mm equivalent for telephoto sometimes, which people often say is overkill (come to think of it, I once used my 300mm on a 1.6x crop sensor with 10x digital zoom for a great shot at a wedding). don't remember my point. focal lengths

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They go for 500€ or more (you can probably find them cheaper but they are not cheap). Anyway, there are no magic bullets ;), but it does have that pop...

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Well that answers my question. 24-50 every few mm counts. That's why I want to experiment. I've never used great PL glass with 24, 25, 28, 32 so I guess I made a mistake by saying untraditional. I'm going to start testing different incremental mm's to find a unique look to what I've always shot (18,24,35,50).

The other half of it is popularity. The vast majority of shots take place with focal lengths between 28 and 50, so there are tons of different options. It's like how there's lots of slightly different four-door sedans, but less different kinds of trucks. 

Looks great. Gonna look out on ebay for one.

It's this one. Nice lens, if a little overpriced and big.

http://blog.mingthein.com/2012/07/19/zf28distagon/

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I love this idea Don. Can you teach me more about this? Or point me in the direction of a chart or something that references focal lengths to degrees? This would be super helpful. I hate the whole s35 or FF thing because it's so dang confusing. Throw in anamorphic and I'm totally lost. If I can get a reference for the degrees, I for one will start using degrees instead of focal, or at least use them together.

I am glad you like it. 

There is a simple formula: horizontal FOV = 2 * atan(0.5 * sensor width / focal length)

But there are plenty of online calculators like this one: http://www.tawbaware.com/maxlyons/calc.htm

Here are some on FF:

20mm --> 84deg

28mm --> 65deg

35mm --> 54deg

50mm --> 40deg

85mm --> 24deg

 

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