Less is more: what does a camera really need?

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I’ve long been threatening to post a photograph of a toilet as an example of a minimalist everyday object made interesting – its basic form has been decomposed down to the bare minimums; ornamentation isn’t necessary, nor does it sell more toilets: less is more. Appropriately, this was also shot with a minimalist camera: an iPhone.

Here’s an interesting question: how many of you have given some thought to the bare minimum of what a photographic device needs to be used as an effective camera? The problem today is we’ve become far to accustomed to camera makers stuffing in additional software features in order to sell devices; none of which are useful, most of which don’t even work properly. Think back to when you last used one of the headline ‘new features’ of your last purchase – pano stitching, for instance; or 10fps tracking; or the ‘supergreen national park-like foliage mode’. Probably only once – shortly after unboxing it – and then never again. I’m willing to bet you can’t even remember which combination of button presses is required to activate it. But judging from current product offerings and advertising, the concept of selling a camera with less features in it is one that simply makes no sense…or does it?

Within this site’s reader pool at least, I’ve noticed an increasing appreciation for shooting film – part of that is undoubtedly due to the tonal map and overall image aesthetics; however, I suspect there’s also a part which is due to the refreshing simplicity of most film cameras that predates 1001 scene modes. The upshot is that as a photographer, you can concentrate on the scene and the resultant image, rather than being worried about what mode your camera happens to be in, and whether a certain setting is engaged or what happens when you press button X, A and the down arrow twice.

I digress. To know what we need, we first need to have an idea of the end goal; here I’m going to revisit the “four things” I keep going on about. We need good light, which means some way of controlling our exposure – shutter and sensitivity of the recording medium. I’ll leave aperture to the second thing, which is subject isolation. In fact, aperture is the sole physical photographic control that we have to control subject isolation. The only physical parameter built into the camera that affects composition is the focal length of the lens, which translates into angle of view and perspective; none of the technical controls affect the idea at all. That’s all down to the photographer.

Exposure control can actually be simplified greatly: you could make the camera aperture priority by default, then have a spot meter with AE lock and AUTO-ISO at say 1/1-1.5x the focal length – this gives you the ability to set exposure very precisely, and removes the need for an exposure compensation dial. Of course, you could go one step further and design your shutter speed dial with an A position, which would default to spot meter-exposure-lock-on-half-pressed-shutter behaviour, or set it entirely manually – this is the one overlooked stroke of genius in the controls of the Leica and Fuji X cameras, for instance. You can set manual, shutter priority or aperture priority all according to which combination of the dials are in A mode, and which are overridden with manual values. Hell, if the iPhone had a spot meter and exposure lock on one volume button, and AF/shutter on the other, we’d be pretty much there.

That’s actually not a lot of things, if you think about it. For a digital body, we have shutter speed and ISO on the body, aperture on the lens, and perhaps three focal lengths – one wide, one normal and one tele. A viewfinder is a must; preferably something that shows the actual view through the lens, be it an SLR, LCD or EVF. The more accurate its representation of reality – in terms of both color fidelity and detail reproduction – the better. Notice I haven’t said anything about autofocus at this point; I honestly don’t consider it to be all that important. For critical applications, you’re going to be using manual focus most of the time anyway; I prefer to be in control of what I’m focusing on, especially when I might want to bias my distance forwards a little to take into account the depth of field required for a given composition. Add some basic playback features, responsive operation, and decent ergonomics, and I think you’d have a winner on your hands: something simple enough that people who want to learn photography would be able to experiment and see the impact of changes without feeling intimidated, and yet controllable enough and light enough that it serves the needs of serious photographers, too.

The trouble is, for most companies such a dual-market product isn’t seen as a good thing: there should be the ability to sell two versions at different price points even if only the badge and some of the cosmetics are different. I disagree: the halo product used by the pros is the only product you make, and the same one that everybody buys. The only excuse for mediocrity is the user. It’s democratising in the same way shooting with an iPhone or GoPro is.

The worst thing from a commercial standpoint is that you can’t suddenly start charging more for a product that has fewer features (no ‘pet smile beauty retouch mode’, for instance) – especially not to a market that has been force fed feature overload for as long as they can remember. It’s why niche cameras with large sensors and fixed focal lengths haven’t been very popular outside enthusiast circles; people get confused when you tell them one year you need a 30x optical zoom, and then turn around and say 35mm can be used for everything. Both are true for different reasons, but consumer education has never been high on manufacturers’ priorities – in the long term, this is a very stupid move as it will take an educated buying market to be able to both differentiate between increasingly niche products, as well as to appreciate the value of those niches in the first place.

In theory, this minimalism was long the preserve of the Leica M cameras – even the digital ones – but I can’t help but feel that with the introduction of the M 240, Leica has lost its way somewhat – there’s now a scary amount of feature creep entering the bodies, rendering it neither fully fish nor fowl and entirely a compromise. Take for instance the EVF and the strange new focus on video: sure, live view is a good thing, especially through an eye level finder; however, why put the microphone next to the place where you’d be breathing out, and even worse, not include a MIC IN port to take the signal from an external one? Or the inability to reassign the video button to another shortcut for people who don’t use their M cameras for video? And making an adaptor – essentially a tube with two mounts at a very high price – together with the EVF, as a ‘solution’ for use of legacy SLR (R) lenses – without taking into consideration the poor ergonomics and weight of the whole thing is sheer lunacy. I’ve talked about this before: you can put legacy glass on your newer cameras, but just be prepared for compromises everywhere – in ergonomics, image quality and functionality.

From a purely engineering point of view, I’d rather have less: the simpler something is, the fewer things there are to go wrong, break, or require servicing to be kept in tolerance over time; our toilet from above is a great example of this. If you don’t have a 20-element zoom with four helicoids, there’s less chance of one of those elements drifting out of alignment and affecting your image quality later; if your shutter runs at 2fps instead of 12fps, you can simplify the engineering considerably. I like to think of this as the mechanical equivalent to Mark Twain’s policy on brevity: it takes longer, but the end impact is greater. From a design standpoint, there is an elegant simplicity to the form of those objects which have been distilled down to their bare minima. If you can’t price a product premium on the promise of good design and robustness of engineering, then I think something is very wrong. (Of course, this assumes that the promises are duly made good.) I don’t know about you, but if Nikon shoehorned the D800′s sensor into an F2, I’d pay a considerable premium for one.

In the end, I still come back to the most fundamental reason for us photographers to be looking at simple shutter-aperture-ISO-focus cameras – they remove the distractions from our photography, enabling us to make better images. And if you can make better images, subconsciously you’re going to be predisposed towards buying one, or another one, or convincing your friend to buy one: result, sales. In the end, it’s a win-win: but somebody – either the photographer or the manufacturer – has to break the endless cycle of feature creep and start voting with their wallets. MT


Enter the 2013 Maybank Photo Awards here – there’s US$35,000 worth of prizes up for grabs, it’s open to all ASEAN residents, and I’m the head judge! Entries close 31 October 2013.


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  1. Reblogged this on saturn1ascends.

  2. I am glad you mention the “F2 with sensor” idea. I would be the first to buy that camera. And I really can’t believe what should be so hard about building it.
    If all the enthusiasts on the web start writing about this idea maybe sooner or later Nikon feels that they really have to do this.

  3. It’s me or you know something about the probably new digital F-shaped Nikon? ;)

  4. So, my 1963 Leica M3 is basically the eternal, essential & perfect camera already. :) As Ken Rockwell put it in his review of the M3: it etches perfection on film.

    Just something I really want to correct that’s just plain wrong and I’m always utterly disappointed when professional photographers get it wrong: the focal length of a lens DOES NOT translate into perspective. The only variable that influences perspective is the point of view or put in other words, the position of the viewer in relation to the subject in three dimensional space. An image taken with the camera fixed on a tripod with a 28mm lens has the same perspective than an image taken with the same camera and a 300mm lens.

    Try yourself. Put your camera on a tripod, for convenience, mount any zoom lens you have and take images at various focal lengths, without changing the position and alignment of the camera. Let’s assume you took a 28mm, 50mm and 80mm image. You can now scale down both the 50mm and 80mm images at their respective scale (zoom) factors each to layer these images on top of the 28mm image and they’ll be 100% congruent with the common field of view of the superimposed layers. By definition, this wouldn’t be true if the perspective changed with the focal length.

    If you want to manipulate the perspective, you need to change the position and alignment of the camera relative to the subject. It has nothing to do with focal length. This is something EVERY elementary text book on photography, painting, drawing and other art subject teaches.

    • Pretty much, yes. I feel the same way about my Hasselblad Vs and F2 Titan.

      As for perspective: we don’t get it wrong, we make an assumption on one critical bit: to maintain the same subject magnification different focal lengths change perspective because in order to do so, you have to physically move – which is of course the same as what you said. I can’t think why you’d stand still and change focal lengths but expect your subject to have the same visual prominence…

      • I’m afraid you don’t understand perspective. Perspective is not changed by scale, magnification or a different crop by changing your focal length. Perspective can only be changed by moving the camera to a different position in relation to what you are photographing. That is elementary photography knowledge and has been covered in the most well known photography text books. You teach photography classes, you should really know basic stuff like that. If you still don’t believe me, do yourself a favour and read up on the subject matter. I suggest Ansel Adams “The Camera”, where he explains on page 106 (Basic Image Management, Subjective Properties of Lenses, 16th paperback printing): “True perspective depends only upon the camera-to-subject distance.” Get it here:

        Andreas Feininger’s text book on photography contains the same explanation which is also a good read. Both books state clearly that focal length (or any lens property for that matter) have an influence on the perspective with easy to follow explanations.

        • Of course I meant “have no influence” instead of “an influence”.

        • I did not disagree with you. Read again, carefully: to maintain magnification with different focal lengths you have to change your physical position relative to the subject, which changes perspective.

          Lastly, understanding it is one thing, practical application of it is quite another…

          • That last statement in your comment is correct. But it’s still wrong to write in the blog post “The only physical parameter built into the camera that affects composition is the focal length of the lens, which translates into angle of view and perspective” as the focal length does not determine perspective. Perspective is a function of only distance of camera to subject. The sentence is not only misleading, it’s wrong as it implies that the focal length influences perspective and a change of focal length changes perspective. I’d change it.

            Also, in your comment above, you still got it wrong, as you wrote “…different focal lengths change perspective…”. That’s just wrong any way you look at this and even if you meant the right thing, the sentence is misleading at best. This is better: Change the distance of the camera to the subject and you will change the perspective. If you changed the perspective and you want to maintain the same scale of the old perspective, you have to change the focal length. However, the focal length has no influence on your perspective. This is probably what you meant.

            Another Ansel Adams quote, as he put it much better than I have:

            “The perspective of an image is controlled by the distance of the lens from the subject; changing the focal-length of the lens changes the size of the image, but does not alter the perspective. Many photographers overlook this fact, or are unaware if its significance.”

            This quote is taken from Ansel Adams, Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs:

            • We are arguing semantics. The physical position of the camera is NOT built into the camera. The lens is.

              • Nothing that is built into the camera alters perspective. That’s the whole point. However, you write that the focal length translates into perspective. That’s wrong.

                Perspective isn’t even associated with the camera at all. It’s a term to describe the spatial relationship of two objects in three dimensional space. Take a camera and put it at coordinates (a1, b1, c1), your subject is at (a2, b2, c2). The vector defined by these two points in space is the perspective. NOTHING ELSE. Now remove the camera and put ANY object, for example a stone at (a1, b1, c1) and that object – even if it doesn’t have a lens attached – has the same perspective as the camera had. That’s ALL there is to it.

                You clearly wrote:

                “The only physical parameter built into the camera that affects composition is the focal length of the lens, which translates into angle of view and perspective;”

                That is WRONG. NOTHING that is built into the camera translates into perspective. It’s just wrong and if you want to be taken seriously as a photographer instructor, you should correct that statement.

                Also, in the comments, you wrote:

                “As for perspective: we don’t get it wrong, we make an assumption on one critical bit: to maintain the same subject magnification different focal lengths change perspective because in order to do so, you have to physically move – which is of course the same as what you said.”

                Different focal lengths DO NOT change perspective. What you wrote there is wrong. You are mixing in scale and magnification which by themselves have NOTHING to do with the perspective.

                We are not arguing over semantics here. We are arguing over the basic understanding of what perspective means. And unfortunately, I don’t think you get it, given those above quoted statements in your post and the comments.

                • Jorge Balarin. says:

                  Tobias, I’m sure that a lot of extraordinary photographers and photography teachers occasionally were not able to enunciate what perspective is using precise dictionary terms. And that minor fact didn’t affect at all the quality of their photographs or their teachings. Ming is an extraordinary photographer and teacher (buy some of his video instructionals), and your comments are a bit petty. Sorry.

                  • I’m not bashing Ming and his work. He is an excellent photographer based on the work he produces.

                    But he is plainly wrong with the facts here (not just by using the wrong words, he is 100% off by saying that ‘focal length translates into perspective’) and refuses to correct his post(s). If his misconceptions were just another ignorant forum post in some forgotten and irrelevant forum, I wouldn’t bother discussing this. But his blog actually has a big audience and he teaches photography (for crying out loud). So to prevent a lot of people from picking up an obviously wrong understanding of perspective and how it is altered (Correct: ONLY by camera to subject distance/position!!), I pointed out that he made a mistake. Instead of correcting the mistake, he bends his misunderstanding to make it sound like it’s what I meant and sticks to his misunderstanding instead of correcting it. Am I honestly the only person who cares about facts displayed correctly and proper facts being passed on to fellow photographers? I refuse to believe that.

                    In fact, follow the link to the blog post he marked with ‘perspective’, that’s titled ‘Pet peeve: Proper perspective practice’ and is not about perspective at all but about choice of focal length (again illustrating how he confuses focal lengths and their misunderstood and non-existing effect on perspective). Read the comments. Another person pointed out that perspective has nothing to do with focal length (correct), just follow the rest of that discussion to see how common that misconception of perspective is and based on that blog post too and how Ming responded to the comments, I am very sure, he does not understand that perspective is defined by the spatial relationship of the viewer and the subject in a three dimensional space based on position and distance only – nothing else.

                    And it’s all in the books and by books I mean the books every photographer should have read before he calls himself a photographer teacher or instructor – no matter how good his pictures are! I’m not the one making up things. Read Ansel Adams or Andreas Feininger text books (and basically any other book on photography worth buying) and it’s right there.

                    Seriously, someone who teaches photography and focuses on architecture photography and product photography a lot too where perspective is especially important, should be able to get the definition and facts right. How hard is it to correct the blog post?

                    If I didn’t like Ming’s work, I wouldn’t read his blog. I’m not here to bash him. But by now, he’s past the point where I am willing to believe he made an honest mistake in writing.

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      Tobias, you ask: “Am I honestly the only person who cares about facts displayed correctly and proper facts being passed on to fellow photographers? I refuse to believe that.”
                      I don’t think you are the only one. I think you’re absolutely right.

                      But, by now this argument is not a question of being right but of being put in the right. A sentence of yours like: “You teach photography classes, you should really know basic stuff like that. If you still don’t believe me, do yourself a favour and read up on the subject matter.” doesn’t help you to drive your argument home. It is not just a petty text or argumentative position, it is downright condescending. Maybe it’s a language thing, but it made the hairs in the back of my neck stand up. And I’m not even the writer of this blog. Imagine how Ming would feel.

                      Ming concurs with you; he wrote “I did not disagree with you.” He also wrote: “to maintain the same subject magnification different focal lengths change perspective because in order to do so, you have to physically move”. Now, this may not be to your liking, because it is not exactly following the scientific definition, but it is the way most photographers approach perspective. Most knowledgeable photographers pick a telelens out of their bag with the intention of photographing with a compressed perspective. Not because they want to run around with this lens on the camera after the fact only to fill the subject in the frame. By the way, I find it a bit pathetic to take the 5 middle words out of that last sentence of Ming, take them out of context, and then start bashing about a theoretical definition.

                      So, I’m left with only one question: what is your point to ensue this for so many replies? Don’t you think Ming got your point after your first reply? You want the blog changed? Well, it’s his blog, so he can choose whatever to do with it. Don’t like that? Only one thing to do: go write your own blog.

                      I’m sorry, but I feel everything became just a little bit too hard-headed.

                    • Hi Peter,

                      I pointed out his ill written sentences early on in a mild mannered way, check the conversation.

                      If he agreed with me, he’d change the sentences that are just wrong. Focus length does not translate into perspective. Period. Still, that sentence is in his blog post as I am writing this. Does he agree with me? Obviously not or he had changed that mistake already.

                      Ming is very good at self promotion and marketing as a photographer and instructor through his blog, an iPad app, video tutorials and even an email learning arrangement as well as workshops. If someone puts themselves out there that prominently, they need to get their facts right or face the heat. Like others pointed out above, he could have reverted from his ill written statements much earlier in the discussion and corrected them. Instead he tried to dodge around the inevitable and said he agrees with me but still, he sticks to phrases like “focal length changes perspective”. I don’t agree with that because it’s wrong. And it’s right to demand that someone who teaches photography gets the basics like perspective right.

                      Of course it’s unfortunate at this point to revert from his position (or should I say ‘perspective’?!) without losing face, but that’s not my problem, I gave him enough solid arguments that his sentences are wrong and misleading, even in writing by quoting Ansel Adams himself.

                      By the way, I did write a blog post putting perspective, how it’s defined mathematically and what that means for photography in a blog post. Just hit the link on my name.

                    • I teach my method of image making, no more, no less. You have expressed your disagreement, I’ve already agreed with you. I don’t have time to rewrite the post because I’m on assignment at the moment. I will correct it when I have time. There is no need to continue to personally attack me and my business on my site.

                      I have not deleted any of your posts, which I could have easily done if I chose to. Even the ones that link to your own site and appear to be somewhat self-promoting. I will assume for now that this is because english is not your native language. Remember you are a guest here. Be careful not to turn into an unwelcome one who will be banned if you continue to be obnoxious.

                      Peter, Jorge, I appreciate your comments and support. I have already agreed that Tobias is technically correct, however his method of expressing it leaves a lot to be desired – I will assume that is because English is not his native language and leave it at that.

                    • Jorge Balarin says:

                      Tobias, Show me your architecture and product photos to compare. I’m not interested in mathematical definitions, because only seeing photos that show an excelent understanding of perspective I’m able to realize it’s value.

                      It seems that you are trying to tell us that Ming is not a good teacher, and that aseveration is absolutely wrong. Anybody that have had the privilege of having Ming as a teacher know that, but also the ones like you, that are learning seeing his blog for free on a weekly basis. I don’t want to believe that you are trying to promote your blog, or that you are somehow jelous or frutrated, but unfortunately your insistence on trying to find a microscopic spot on a brilliant large surface is suspicious.

                    • Jorge Balarin says:

                      Tobias, could you show me some of your architecture and product photos to compare ? I don’t need mathematical formulas to understand what perspective is, and to apply that notion in my photography work. For that purpose it is enough to see photos that show a perfect understanding of perspective in photography, like the ones of Ming.

                      Are you trying to tell us that Ming is not a good photography teacher, or that he doesn’t qualify for the job ? You will have a hard time with any of the lucky student’s of Ming, and also with the ones like you, that for free are learning from Ming posts on a weekly Basis.

                      I don’t want to believe that you are somehow frustrated, jelous, or just that you are trying to promote your blog; but unfortunately your insistence over a point that could be subjective is supicious. The focal lenght is not changing the perspective physically, but is changing our PERCEPTION of perspective; and from a photographic point of view that is all that matters.

                    • Jorge, first of all, there’s no need to get personal, so back off.

                      Then I have to respectfully disagree with you on a few things.

                      I believe a photographer teacher needs to get his facts right. Ming’s facts about focal length and perspective are not right.

                      Perspective is an elementary concept in all art forms that work with a two-dimensional canvas. Even if Ming manages to produce excellent work without either the correct understanding of perspective or the ability to explain/teach it, that takes away from his ability to teach and educate properly. Uneducated photographers reading his posts are misled to believe that they can influence the perspective with their focal length.

                      I’m going to repeat myself with that Ansel Adams quote here:

                      “The perspective of an image is controlled by the distance of the lens from the subject; changing the focal-length of the lens changes the size of the image, but does not alter the perspective. Many photographers overlook this fact, or are unaware if its significance.” Ansel Adams, Examples – The Making of 40 Photographs

                      If Ming chooses to be and remain one of those photographers that overlooks this fact, too bad for him. But spreading wrong facts is going to attract opposition if you’re advertising yourself as a subject matter expert – no matter how good your pictures are.

                      Please don’t waste your time trolling me with getting personal, invest that time in understanding perspective.

                    • Jorge Balarin says:

                      Tobias, I don’t know what is “trolling”, but I know what is to be unkind, unpolite and impertinent. You said that you use to see Ming photos and read his posts, so I guess that you are getting something visiting his blog, and I expect you to be at least a little bit respectful. If you really wanted to be nice with Ming, you would have insisted in your point sending him a private mail, and you would not have behaved the way you did.
                      About my understanding of perspective I will say that is a good one. At least I don’t lose “the perspective” on the way you did it. If you don’t understand it, I advice you to invest some time trying to realize what is to be polite, and a good man.

                    • @Jorge / Ming / Peter (and possibly others)

                      You should really take a step back and look on your own claims in comparison to those of Tobias. Now, I am not saying that he has been a perfect diplomat. However, neither are his opponents and they really should not try to claim the moral high ground. Ming’s threat of a ban seems arbitrary and more a matter of protecting his own image (in the non-literal sense) or a wish to have the last word—not reasons that are legitimate grounds for censorship.

                      (Note: Since I see the comments as irregularly arriving email notifications, I would need to re-read the thread in order to see which exact opponent has said what. This is the reason why I speak in general rather than, more fairly, discussing individual contributions.)

                      Tobias main fault: Not knowing when he is wasting his time on an unresponsive counter-part or even does his own cause harm through lack of adaption to the counter-part. (A fault that I am very prone to myself.)

                      Concerning the wish to disregard math and look at pictures: Here it appears to me that (at least) two different areas need to be distinguished, namely understanding what perspective is and implies (the point Tobias is pushing) and the ability to shoot images that are accomplished in the general area of perspective (what Jorge pushes). The one is strictly speaking something entirely different from the former (i.e. here we do have an issue of semantics), although a theoretical understanding can be very helpful in practical accomplishment. To take a similar example: It is possible to write excellent prose and still confuse the meanings of “noun” and “verb”. If an excellent author does give a faulty explanation of “noun” in a blog post, his ability to write great texts does not alter the degree of faultiness of his explanation. Conversely, the faultiness of his explanation does not lower the quality of his texts (obviously excluding the one containing the explanation). In contrast, an author who fails to understand the underlying _concepts_ (as opposed to the words used) on at least an intuitive level is highly unlikely to produce anything worth reading.

                    • Thanks Michael. Now that Ming is going to correct his blog post (thanks Ming, I appreciate that), there is nothing else to say.

                    • Peter Boender says:

                      First of all, this discussion is getting a bit silly and tedious, so this is the last time I’m going to share my thoughts on it.

                      @Tobias / Michael (and possibly others):
                      By now (and even before that) everybody understands what perspective is, and that the only thing that will change it, is changing the distance between the camera and the subject. We all agreed we need to move our feet!
                      Ming gave a perfectly good explanation for not having it changed on the blog (yet). Self-promotion or not, I happen to know how busy the guy is. Since when did working hard to earn a living become a thing of loathing?

                      No, this is no longer a discussion on photography theory or definitions. It has become personal. I think Jorge hit the nail on the head when he wrote: “unfortunately your insistence on trying to find a microscopic spot on a brilliant large surface is suspicious”.
                      Tobias, you are heard, we are listening, but please stop this endless barrage, because by now, to me at least, the only thing left that you are trying to prove is that YOU corrected this supposedly well-known, highly regarded and brilliant Ming Thein. Your fifteen minutes of fame, or whatever.

                      Please let it stop!

                  • Since third-parties are getting involved:

                    As a neutral by-stander with an interest in both language and methods of argumentation, I have to say that I find Ming to be the pettier one. Either he should provide an argument why he is correct or he should admit that he was wrong. As is, I have the impression that he is either missing the point or making excuses.

                    Sidebar: In my experience, the claim that a debate is over semantics is usually incorrect. Paradoxically, while very many disputes _are_ a matter of semantics, e.g. two people meaning the same thing but using different phrasings, the very debates where “semantics” is claimed are usually the ones where a deeper issue actually is present.

                  • It was me who originally objected against Ming’s relating perspective to focal length. I think he understands the issue just fine, and in the context of his story, he isn’t wrong. He is simply making the assumption, like many do, that distance to the object is not an issue -we have legs- and so he takes it out of the equation. If the camera has a wide-angle lens, he can shoot the object from up-close and get a lively wide perspective. Or if it has a telephoto lens, he can photograph the object equally large from a distance and get a more formal, compressed perspective. It is in that very practical sense that focal length brings a certain perspective, and it is for that reason that most photographers like to think of lenses as having ‘a certain perspective’, even though perspective is actually only a property of the chosen subject distance (well, and angle).

                    So, it is a popular misconception that lenses have perspective, and it’s good when photographers discover that it isn’t true. I’ve had this discussion before, elsewhere, and another photographer commented:

                    “It’s almost liberating, once you realize that wherever you are, the perspective you see is the perspective the camera will see… the lens’ focal length only controls how much will be captured. There’s no mystical ‘distortions’.
                    Stand in one place, zoom all you like, the perspective remains the same. Or select a focal length that will let you achieve a particular artistic vision, and move around to get the perspective you want”.

                    So, I think Tobias is right to suggest that Ming, being a teacher, might rephrase that line, so as not to contribute to the misconception.

                    • For those interested. I compiled the math about perspective and how that relates to photography and focal length into a blog post.


                    • Jorge Balarin says:

                      So, we could say correctly that focal lenght CHANGE OUR PERCEPTION OF PERSPECTIVE, at least on our photos.

                    • Jorge, focal length has no influence on perspective. If you think perspective is subject to perception, you still need to understand what perspective actually means and you probably confuse field of view with perspective. It’s really easy actually: perspective depends only on the viewpoint and describes the spatial relationship of two objects in three a dimensional space for a projection on a two-dimensional image plane. Focal length only defines magnification and field of view. From the same viewpoint, all focal lengths deliver an identical perspective. As perspective by definition creates our sense of proportion, size and dimensions of a two-dimensional image, all images from the same viewpoint regardless of their focal length create the same perception of proportion, size and dimension. I put together a blog post that should explain it well enough, just follow the link on my name.


  1. […] die Idee hat mich der Fotograf Ming Thei mit seinem Artikel über Kameras […]

  2. […] on from yesterday’s less is more article, I wanted to spend a bit more time about the implications of cutting your dependence on electronic […]

  3. […] associated lenses) alter perspective. More specifically, the common myth on the Internet is that a change in focal length changes perspective or less directly, focal length is somehow associated with perspective. Both assumptions are […]

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