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Photo Tips > Focal Lengths Guide

What's Focal Length?

If you understand focal length, jump ahead.

The focal length of a lens is the distance from the front of the lens to the sensor.

Normal Focal Lengths

The white row in the chart below shows what's called the normal focal lengths.

When your lens is set to its normal focal length:

• The scene is not made smaller (wide-angle).

• The scene is not made bigger (telephoto).

What you see through the viewfinder as what you see directly with your eyes.

The normal focal lengths are neither wide-angle or telephoto.

For example, let's say you're photographing a giraffe.

The giraffe looks the same, when using the normal focal length, whether you're looking at it:

• Directly with your eyes.

• Through the viewfinder.

Wide-angel & Telephoto Focal Lengths

If a focal length is smaller than the normal focal length, the lens is wide angle.

The giraffe will look smaller in the viewfinder than it does directly with your eyes.

If a focal length is larger than the normal focal length, the lens is telephoto.

The giraffe will look larger in the viewfinder than it does directly with your eyes.

MMs

Focal length is usually measured in millimeters (mm).

Best Focal Length for Portraits

The three rows below with white text, labeled as Short Telephoto, are the best focal lengths when doing a headshot.

If you use wide-angle focal lengths, the person's face will be bulbous.

If you use more telephoto focal lengths, the person's face will be flattened.

Compare

Look for your camera type in the chart columns according to the descriptions below.

All focal lengths are in millimeters (mm).

DSLR means digital single-lens-reflex.

Column 1 - Expensive DSLR Cameras

FX is used to denote a full-frame camera.

Full-frame cameras have sensors that are the same size as 35mm film.

Column 2 - Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

The Canon EOS 1D Mark IV camera uses an APC-H sensor.

The sensor is smaller than the sensor in the above FX cameras.

It's bigger than the sensors in the DX DSLR cameras below

Column 3 - Nikon & Many Other DSLR Cameras

DX is used to denote a camera using an APS-C sensor.

The sensor is smaller than the size of 35mm film.

Most DSLR cameras are DX cameras.

Column 4 - Canon DSLR Cameras

DX is used to denote a camera using an APS-C sensor.

The sensor is smaller than the size of 35mm film.

Most DSLR cameras are DX cameras.

Column 5 - Sigma DSLR Cameras

MMany Sigma cameras use the Fovean sensor.

The focal lengths for such cameras are in this column.

Column 6 - 4/3-format Cameras

The focal lengths for 4/3-format cameras are in this column.

Column 7 - Compact Cameras

The sensors in compact cameras vary in size.

Therefore, focal lengths are given in ranges in this column.

     

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

     

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Cameras

Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

Nikon

&

Other

DX

DSLR

Canon

DX

DSLR

Sigma

4/3-

format

Compact

Cameras

Lens

Type

Angle of

View

 

Full-

frame

APS-H

1.3X

APS-C

1.5X

APS-C

11.6X

Fovean

1.7X

4/3

2X

Various

Sizes

Ultra-wide

114°

 

14

None

None

None

None

7

None

Ultra-wide

108°

 

16

None

10.5

10

None

8

None

Ultra-wide

100°

 

18

14

12

10.6

None

9

None

Ultra-wide

99°

 

20

16

14

12.5

11.6

10

None

Wide

84°

 

24

18.5

16

15

14.1

12

4.4

Wide

74°

 

28

21.5

18

17

16.4

14

4.7-7.1

Wide

62°

 

35

24.5

23.5

22

20.6

17.5

5.7-8

Normal

46°

 

50

38

35

31.3

30

25

7-8

Short Tele.

28.5°

 

85

65.5

55

53

50

42.5

12.8-16.5

Short Tele.

20°

 

100

77

66

63

59

50

17-21.6

Short Tele.

18°

 

135

105

90

84.3

80

67.5

20-24

Medium Tele.

13.7°

 

180

138.5

120

112.5

106

90

32

Medium Tele.

12.3°

 

200

154

134

125

118

100

34-45

Medium Tele.

8.2°

 

300

230

200

188

176

150

55 -60

Long Tele.

 

400

308

267

250

235

200

68-75

Long Tele.

 

500

385

333

312

294

250

75-95

Long Tele.

4.2°

 

600

461.5

400

400

353

300

90-100+

Long Tele.

3.1°

 

800

612

533

533

470

400

None

Long Tele.

2.5°

 

1200

923

800

750

700

600

None

Long Tele.

1.5°

 

None

None

None

None

None

800

None

This chart was adapted from one from B&H Photo.