As fewer and fewer people use 35mm film or full-frame equivalent digital cameras,* it will be interesting to see how our nomenclature for wide/normal/long lenses changes. I grew up during a period** were 35mm film was the standard. We’re no longer there and one of the most confusing things with new photographers now is understanding how focal length and field of view interact with sensor size.

*The history of photography has seen a gradual amateurization of “professional” equipment and an corresponding decrease in the size of the sensor as lens-making technology has improved.

**I expect the period from 1975–2000 (give or take 5 years on each side) to be somewhat unique in photographic history in that there was a single dominant sensor size for that time. Yes there were other formats but none of them gained that much traction.

That we sell new lenses and systems with 35mm equivalent focal lengths is increasingly silly. Many photographers now will never shoot with that size. So why not move toward a unit-independent method of indicating how wide or long a lens is?

I’m not crazy about this am I?

Author: Nick Vossbrink

Blogging about Photography, Museums, Printing, and Baseball Cards from both Princeton New Jersey and the San Francisco Bay Area. On Twitter as @vossbrink, WordPress at, and the web at

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