Distance Between Primes

I have been trying to round out my primes for my DF and D810 and spending quite a bit of time researching lenses.


When thinking in terms of both these cameras and the vast difference in sensor resolution, it can complicate ones strategy for choosing primes.  Why?  Well, from my vantage point I like the idea of the DF being a very light and smaller more portable  kit with older primes.   It so happened when my father passed on he left me some lenses and one that I kept was an old Nikkor 18mm F/3.5 Prime.  Having used it on my DF I found it to be really fun to work with.

In typical fashion into the rabbit hole I went and began a journey that has led to this post.  The story is not quite finished though, however, I have arrived at a point where I thought it useful to discuss.

The challenge in owning two different cameras like this is you might ideally like the lens selection to suite both cameras.  In the end, some of my primes will, like the Samyang 14mm which scores really high per DXOMark on sharpness and some will not like the 28MM AIs which isn’t likely to score high on a high resolution sensor like the one in the D810.

Below is a very simple set of photos which the purpose of is to show the number of steps between Primes and the changes in perspective in shooting a general landscape.  I am a visual person and even after having made photographs for over 30 years still needed to see the difference to truly understand it.

This was a simple test using some printed signs, some tripods and my Nikon DF with a 14mm Samyang, 28mm AIs Nikon, 24-70 Tamron, and a 50mm Nikon.

The idea was to start with the 14mm and take a series of pictures at 14, 28, 35, and 50 and visualize the differences and number of steps between these primes.  The idea being tested is one could get by on the wider end with 3 primes and zoom with their feet.  I had read somewhere on the internet that once could get by this way with there being only a few steps between some of the primes.   This was true in some regards (closer subjects requiring even less), however, its not just a few steps and the perspective changes greatly between lenses when shooting landscapes.

14MM_NDF_1287 28mm_NDF_1288 35mm_NDF_1290 50MM_NDF_1291


As you can see, all but the last take the approach of framing the two trees, left and right in similar fashion.  This is not exact, I only spent 15 minutes setting this up and performing the test, so the results are proportionate to the effort here.  That said they very much visualizes the difference from a landscape photography perspective.

The last shot shows the 50MM vantage point and where it was taken from in relation to the other photos as well as showing the tripods for the others.

If you want some text to help, notice that in the first we are beyond the walking path and in the last we are far behind it and both a road and the walking path lie between where we took the first and the last.

If your of the mind you can just crop the difference on a camera like the D810, take a look at this crop that tries to get the trees aligned the same using the last picture.  Note, its a DF picture so we are not looking at the quality of the crop, just perspective.



CROP from Last


Original 14MM

In summary, prospectively is vastly different and the number of steps for landscapes  is much greater than my reading elsewhere led me to believe.

While this is from a landscape vantage point,  it would different for closer objects, here are the numbers.

23 Steps from 50mm to 35mm

8 Steps from 35mm to 28mm

16 steps from 28mm to 14mm

The test I did was very unscientific, and the steps referenced are just average steps, not long not short.  I did not have my 12-24 with me to test 20 but believe it would be about 7-8 steps from 28mm to 20mm.

One could not just crop down to makeup for the difference in perspective between these primes.

The distance to the subject changes everything, but it also changes perspective somewhat as well.  I imagine we are talking cm and inches at some distances verses feet and steps, or more at others.

The fact is a person may not know what they are missing until they see what they are missing.  That’s really the point here was to try it for ones self with a common scenario, hence me choosing landscape.

Its true after a while that one visualizes the image they want to make and then sets about the process of positioning themselves in the correct vantage-point and framing and dialing in the desired result.

The difference here is gaining some awareness as to the different perspectives that different length primes can offer.  You really don’t know what you don’t know unless you find out!  Seeing is definitely believing.

I have known about Shift Tilts for years but only recently got serious about getting one and really learning what differences it can make.  The realization that I might not even care about another lens for a while after I get one is both powerful and also daunting.

The decision on my next prime though is still distorted, devil on left shoulder urging me to get an Art 35 for its color and sharpness and devil on the right pushing me to something small, lightweight, also fast and manual.    I suspect the Art will win when its all said and done because I don’t have a piece of glass like that, but I have time and there is no hurry there.

All this leaves me wanting 20mm and a 35mm lenses for my DF bag.  The decision I will have to make is to spend good money on retro and lighter weight glass, or superb quality glass that work for both cameras.  I plan to stew on it for a while since I have zooms that cover the missing focal lengths.  

 I hope this visual reference is helpful and truly supports the fact that pictures are worth thousands of words and that visual aides are a powerful tool for understanding differences!

This entry was posted in Talking Photography.