35 and 50mm - My Favourite Focal Lengths

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OM System, Prime, Standard, Zuiko, 35mm, Wide Angle

When I began taking photography seriously many years ago, one of the first lenses I used was a humble 50mm f1.8 that came with my OM1n. Being new to the realm of SLR photography I wanted to capture sweeping wide angle vistas. I became immediately dissatisfied with my 50mm as it produced images too ordinary, too boring. Within weeks it was replaced with a 28mm lens that instantly gave my pictures the drama and impact I was looking for, and I was soon pushing for wider and wider effects that lead me first to 24 and secondly 21mm lenses.

Zuiko 50mm

For years I had a ball with the super-wides and saw no requirement (or point) in using semi wide or standard lenses. I collected several telephoto and zoom lenses and found myself switching from wide to telephoto optics with no desire to tread the middle ground.

But then I came across a 50mm f1.2 lens which changed everything. Just before acquiring it, I had become interested in shallow depth of field effects and used telephotos set to their widest aperture to achieve this. The fastest lens available to the OM System is the Zuiko 50mm f1.2, and I really wanted to find out what it was capable of wide open. So began a period of shooting extensively at f1.2 which produced some wonderful (and not so) results. Almost by accident I found that the lens was staying on my camera more and more and somehow it crossed over to be my everyday optic due to its incredible sharpness when stopped down, along with the creativity provided when used wide open. And I guess my tastes must have changed over time as I was finding plenty of subject material that fitted the 47° angle of view. And so it was that I made my peace with a focal length I originally designated as boring.

Then a few years ago I became interested in owning a fast 35mm lens – the Zuiko 35mm f2 to be specific. I had heard mixed things about this lens, many of them negative. But I could not understand why, if this lens was such a poor performer, did it remain in the OM System line up until the system was discontinued, without being reformulated? So I decided to find out for myself and pick one up. After running off the first couple of rolls of slides I was pleasantly surprised as the images were every bit as sharp as those taken with other Zuiko’s. I was also amazed at the 35’s ability to cram so much into a scene without any obvious distortion. And the fast f2 aperture allowed me to create pretty good shallow depth of field effects. I took the 35 away on holiday as a backup lens with every intention of my 21 and 50 taking the brunt of my photography. However I found the 21 was used far less that the 35 as it did not push the background too far back and looked far more natural. I found I could include people in the shots far easier than with a 21. It was at this point I think I finally understood my lens collection and began using super-wides only when absolutely required. The 35 and 50 were more than capable of handling most scenes, but I had simply overlooked them out of ignorance.

Zuiko 35mmEven today when shooting transparencies, my ‘go to’ lenses are the 35 and 50. I keep a super wide and short telephoto in my bag just in case, but they rarely see use. It was with my love of the 35mm lens that I purchased a Leica X1, as this model has a fixed Elmarit 24mm lens (equating to 36mm when used with an APS-C sensor). Naturally this limits the photographer to one focal length, but due to my appreciation of semi-wides, and the style of photography I shoot, it has rarely been a problem for me.

So after many years of expensive lens purchases allowing me to push my photographic boundaries back, it is ironic that the two lenses I now would not be without are those that I shunned when setting out in photography.