Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?

Started Jul 25, 2013 | Discussions
smallLebowski
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Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
Jul 25, 2013

I mean it's very versatile FL, but did they test it initially at the beginning era of photography and came to a conclusion that this FL suits best for starters or there was some other interesting story? Would like to hear that. Thank you.

P.S. I guess different brands had different perspective on best FL maybe?

Ray Maines
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FL = Focal Length?
In reply to smallLebowski, Jul 25, 2013

smallLebowski wrote:

I mean it's very versatile FL, but did they test it initially at the beginning era of photography and came to a conclusion that this FL suits best for starters or there was some other interesting story? Would like to hear that. Thank you.

P.S. I guess different brands had different perspective on best FL maybe?

Are you asking why 35mm focal length lenses became the "best" length?

If so, I think your question is invalid. By the time photography became affordable for the masses, the 35mm film SLR camera seemed to have the best combination of features and price, but most of those cameras came with a 50ish mm lens attached, not 35mm. The 50mm focal length lens resulted in a field of view that closely replicated the way we see things without a SLR camera up to our eye. Thus, the 50mm lenses became "standard."

That same field of view on a camera with an APS/C size sensor (that's the NEX and most DSLR cameras) is had with a 35mm lens, but I don't think there has ever been an interchangeable lens camera that used film the size of an APS/c digital sensor, and even if there were I don't think anybody really equates "standard" with being best. It's just one more tool in the box.

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Keit ll
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Re: FL = Focal Length?
In reply to Ray Maines, Jul 25, 2013

There were several film cameras which had APS-C sized frames , the one which stands out most for me was the Olympus Pen FT which was a jewel of a camera.

APS-C however was very demanding of lenses & film processing in order to achieve high quality images & it never really got the support that it required from the likes of Kodak who were dominant in film at the time. It was much easier to get good quality from Full 35mm Frame for Amateurs & Medium frame for Pros & so it fell by the wayside.

APS-C was revived for Digital because it was easier & more cost effective to produce smaller sized digital sensors & the wider DOF made it easier to achieve reliable focussing when AF was first introduced.

35v mm became popular in FF for landscape photography as it gave a wider FOV & it gave good quality without too many technical difficulties & distortion but around 50mm was the chosen standard for 'normal' photography for the reasons given above.

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Mike Fewster
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to smallLebowski, Jul 25, 2013

If you mean 35 fl as the focal length, I don't think it has ever been the standard. 80mm was the standard for 2 1/4 format film cameras and 50mm was the standard for 35mm cameras. This was because both gave what wa felt to be the same field of view as the human eyen. This interpretation of standard length according to the size of the sensor (or film). ie, 80 mm on a 2 1/4 format gives about the same fov as 50mm on 35mm format.

If you are referring to why is a sensor of approx the same size as a 35mm negative regarded as full size, it's a different story. In the old film days, most cameras used roll film that didn't have sprocket holes along the edge. Leica began using movie film with the sprocket holes that were originally used to move the film through the camera moving mechanism. This film was relatively cheap and easy to obtain and when packed into cassettes was easy to handle. Cameras of this size became popular and most manufacturers made models for this format. It became the most popular formatb it still wasn't known as full frame at this time..

At the arrival of digital, cameras enthusiasts had film system cameras based on 35mm and bags full of expensive interchangeable lenses for these cameras. Sensors of the same size as 35mm fil were just too expensive to make, so manufacturers, keen to get enthusiasts to move to digital, made lcameras with lens mounts that took the 35mm camera lenses, but only used the centre of the images produced that were the smaller sensors available. The sensor size used for these is the APS-C format. Note that different companies have slightly different sized APS-C sizes. Canon for example uses a slightly smaller APS-C than Sony. Somehwat incorrectly, the term APS-C became used for the mount as well and meant a mount that would take a 35mm film format lens on a camera that was only using the middle section of the image the lens formed. In time, lenses were made using the same mount but which only made an image on the smaller sensor (DX lenses). Cameras like the NEX started with a clean slate and used the same APS-C sensor but designed the body and lenses to best work with this sensor size.

As larger sensors became more economic and available, those of about the same size as a 35mm negative, became known as Full Frame because now the full image created by those traditional lenses was able to be used.

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DistantView
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to Mike Fewster, Jul 25, 2013

As an old time film user - mainly 35mm - I understood that 35mm focal length was, as someone else has mentioned, the approximate "view" of the human eye looking at a scene & that was certainly my opinion, it always seemed a very natural perspective.

I don't share the view that 50mm was the "natural" view, but others do - who knows, I'm not sure why it became the "standard" lens, maybe the usual compromise between w/angle & telephoto !

But almost all the point & shoot 35mm film cameras that popularised photography in the 70's & 80's used lenses in (or starting from) 35 -38mm FL range

Hope you find an answer in all this !

RT

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GaryW
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to smallLebowski, Jul 25, 2013

First of all, 35mm on APS-C is 50mm in 35mm film cameras.  So, are you speaking of 35mm for APS-C, I assume?

From what I've read, 50mm was popular in film cameras because early SLR cameras benefited from having a focal length long enough to get past the mirror.  Something longer than 50mm was ideal, but 50mm worked.  When you look at fixed-lens rangefinder/non-SLR lenses, some of them were 50mm way back in the 50s, but in the 60s, 45mm seemed to be the standard.  By the 70s, 42mm to 40mm were common, and 35mm seemed to be higher-end.  My guess is that 35mm must be harder to design or manufacture.  At any rate, I was pretty happy with 40mm as a general all-purpose lens, and not all that happy with 50mm.

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Mike Fewster
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to DistantView, Jul 25, 2013

DistantView wrote:

As an old time film user - mainly 35mm - I understood that 35mm focal length was, as someone else has mentioned, the approximate "view" of the human eye looking at a scene & that was certainly my opinion, it always seemed a very natural perspective.

I don't share the view that 50mm was the "natural" view, but others do - who knows, I'm not sure why it became the "standard" lens, maybe the usual compromise between w/angle & telephoto !

But almost all the point & shoot 35mm film cameras that popularised photography in the 70's & 80's used lenses in (or starting from) 35 -38mm FL range

Hope you find an answer in all this !

RT

On lower end cameras, the slightly wider angle tended to favor the sorts of shots the P&S shooters generally liked but more importantly, there was more margin for error with focussing. Street photographers also tend to like a bit wider than 50mm for this reason as well.

"maybe the usual compromise between w/angle & telephoto" Exactly. shorter tends to look a bit wa and longer a bit tele because 45-50 on a 35mm camera is about what we are used to seeing with our eyes. (or 80mm on a 2 1/4 square camera)

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Trollmann
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35 mm film format
In reply to smallLebowski, Jul 25, 2013

35 mm film format

If the question is about the 35 mm film format, chech out the early history of Leica, and Oscar Barnack and the 70 mm cine film format and you will for sure find some interesting information about 35 mm photograhy beginnings.

The 50 mm lens settled as the standard or normal lens for the 35 mm film format (field of view about the same as an ordinary scene perceived by the eye, focal lenght about the same as the film diagonal). This was early days when a 35 mm was regarded a wide lens and a 135 mm lens was the one to choose if Wild tigers were assumed to become a risk...

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smallLebowski
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Re: Thanks everyone!
In reply to smallLebowski, Jul 25, 2013

It was interesting to hear all this. I was meaning both 35mm film format and 35mm FL - but I was a bit confused, I didn't know it was 50mm that was popular. Thank you.

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bill hansen
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to smallLebowski, Jul 25, 2013

As a very old fellow whose (very amateur) photographic experience began about 60 years ago, long before cameras had mirrors, I've also been interested to read this thread. My understanding over the decades was that 50mm (in FF terms) provided images which were close to the human eye's appreciation - for what you might call "intermediate landscapes". Those 50mm would translate into 35mm in an APS-C camera with its 1.5X or 1.6X crop factor.

But those 50mm were just for us rank amateurs who could never afford more than one lens. If we ever saved enough money, we often bought lenses of 80mm for portraits, and some portraits were even done at 105-135mm, and lenses of wide-angler angles than 50mm for landscapes.

My eye still likes the 50mm lens perspective for general use - so, with my APS-C cameras, a 35mm focal length is nice for general use. But I've come to expect much longer and shorter FLs too, so I find myself using 16-20mm for many landscapes and 80mm (and wish I had "more reach") for a photographing dogs. I am not a person who normally takes the time to "zoom with my feet".

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uhligfd
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to bill hansen, Jul 25, 2013

There have been two flavors of attempts to answer :

one flavor goes on about the 35 mm film of the good old film days which produced 36 by 24 mm images on film and has survived as FF in the digital age. Note that the image was 36 by 24mm on a film that was and still is called 35mm or 135 format on the box. Odd fit.

Then of course there are all sorts of 35 mm lenses, giving different angles of view depending on the size of the sensor and/or the film in the camera. Calling a 35 mm lens a natural view lens hinges very much on the sensor/film size. A natural human eye angle of view is somewhere in the 50 (?) degree range or nearby (?). It would be much better if we all switched this focal length silliness and talked about angle of view instead and how the angle of view equates to a certain focal length for a certain format ... , but that is usually judged too conscientious a way to think about it.  But when realized this way, we would actually understand. Then we would also have to specify which angle of view we meant:  diagonal, horizontal or vertical angle, depending on our camera and on its aspect ratio of  square or 4:3 or  5:4 or 6 by 7 (Mamiya) or 3 by 2  and so forth.

So we just talk about normal lenses at 35 mm for APC-C format and of normal lenses at 80mm focal length for Rolleis etc as they give us each an angle of view of around 50 degrees.

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Craig Gillette
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to smallLebowski, Jul 26, 2013

While about 50mm was common as an slr lens, the 35mm or so focal length was extremely common on many fixed lens cameras.  50mm is often a tad too long for interior shooting, common family events like holiday gatherings, birthdays, etc., interior groups.  35mm comes closer to covering those sorts of common subjects.  It's also wider than "normal" so it covers outside travel shooting well, without being so wide as to really results in a lot of perspective distortion if one moves in for a "portrait, doesn't radically keystone reasonable architecture type shots, etc.  From a practical use standpoint when one can't swap it out, it's even more useful than the 50mm on the trad. 35.. film frame.

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blue_skies
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to smallLebowski, Jul 26, 2013

smallLebowski wrote:

I mean it's very versatile FL, but did they test it initially at the beginning era of photography and came to a conclusion that this FL suits best for starters or there was some other interesting story? Would like to hear that. Thank you.

P.S. I guess different brands had different perspective on best FL maybe?

Many film formats have been attempted in the past, the 110, 120 and 135 became popular, as a trade-off of quality and cost, both in film and equipment. The 110 (half-format) lacked IQ, but the 135mm format became very popular by professionals and enthusiasts. The 120 (and 220) formats was mainly for professionals (and professional equipment).

As some have mentioned, on 135 (or 35mm_ film-based cameras, the 50mm became the 'standard', or 'normal' prime lens.

Technically, it is a tad narrow to be 'standard' or 'normal', but 50 sounds better than 44, especially in Asian languages.

Manufacturers released early cameras with different 'standard' lenses, ranging from 42mm to 58mm on the 35mm format. On 35mm format, anything wider than 35 was considered wide angle, and longer than 80mm was considered tele lens.

For those that have both the Sigma 30 and the Sony 3 on their Nex camera, you can see the difference between the 45mm FF equivalent FOV (Sigma 30) and the 50mm FF equivalent view (SEL35). It does not seem like much, but many will find the Sigma view easier to work with, until you want people shots. Then it feels too wide.

Generally, the industry pretty much standardized on 50mm (nifty fifty) which became the normal reference view on 135 (or 35mm) film.

Given the standard '2x' zoom ratio of preferred lenses, the typical lenses one would add would be 25mm and 100mm, which have migrated to 28mm and 85mm, mostly due to certain successes of early lens designs (cost/size/IQ/quality tradeoff).

My initial prime lenses were just that: 28/2.8, 50/1.4 and 100/2.8. (OM).

The 35mm lens, for 135 (or 35mm) film, was not a popular FL in the beginning. But for fixed-lens cameras, neither the 50mm, nor the 28mm, FL was a fitting one: the 50mm was 'common' but not 'practical', as the FOV is often too narrow, and the 28mm was too wide for many shots (headshots, people shots, etc.). The 35mm angle slid in between these two and can be found on early fixed-lens cameras.

Today you see a repeat with the 24mm on APS-C digital cameras - essentially the same view as the 35mm FL on 135 film cameras (X100, RX1, etc.). Many Nex owners love their 24mm Zeiss lens, which was given special attention for the FL, for the same reasons. If you have to live with only one lens, the 24mm (35mm on 135 film) is the most practical one.

But if you can have two lenses, than you'll find two prevalent groups: 28 & 50 versus 24 & 35. In APS-C terms these are 20 & 35 and 16 & 24 respectively. It mostly reflects the photographer's style. If you like to get close, you'd prefer the wider FOV, otherwise the standard FOV. This remains a personal preference.

Of course, on APS-C, you can now get 12, 16, 20, 24, 30, 35, 50 (on Nex), add in legacy/SLR lenses at 28, 85, 100, so any FL can be mastered.

The 35mm/135 (or 24mm/APS-C) is a tricky FL, as geometric distortion is already present: e.g. you'll find it hard to 'tile' your photographs unless you create a large overlap area. With 50mm/135 (or 35mm/APS-C), you can align your pictures at the edge and have no distortion present.

Another, perhaps silly, point: in early days, day-light was needed for most successful photographs, which means outdoor shooting, and usually longer distances to subjects, i.e. favoring a longer FL for more 'perfect' photographs.

Today, with the high-ISO camera ratings, indoor photography has become popular as well. Indoors, a 50mm/135 is just too narrow, and the 35mm/135 (24/APS-C) is a lot more practical to use, if a fast lens. This also has shifted the bias towards wider angle lenses.

But wider angle lenses make everything smaller, or add distortion if you get up closer. That was true then, and is still true now. For some therefore, 28mm/APS-C is the cut-off, and not 24/APS-C.

On APS-C, I find the 50mm FL: SEL35 (or the Sigma 30) to be the most 'forgiving' FL. The SEL50 is a nice FL if you have the distance, and the SEL24 is great for indoors, groups, and 'wider' view, such as architecture or landscape, but is not as dramatics as e.g. a 20mm or wider lens would be.

There is a reason the kit lenses span from 18 (or 16) to 50mm on APS-C, [28 (or 24) to 75 on 135 film], it is just the range you'll take most pictures at...

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Bob Austin
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to Craig Gillette, Jul 26, 2013

35 mm film is derived from the motion picture film which was 35 mm wide (including perforations on both sides).  The 35 mm negative was 36 x 24 mm--with the 24 mm being the amount of usable film between the sprocket perforations on each side.  Movies had the film running vertically thru the camera and projector so that the film part of a 35 mm movie image was about 24mm wide x 18 mm high.  The 35 mm camera runs the film horizontally with the perforations at the top and bottom with the 24 x 36 mm film size. (there were also square --24 x 24 mm and half frame 18 x 24 in smaller cameras.    35 mm movie film was cheap and easy to obtain.  The cassettes were easy to handle--where as most other film sizes had the film backed with paper to keep light off the film.  The cassettes were also much easier to change and store than 120 film etc.

As for the first mirrors used in cameras--sorry but no one is alive when that was started in the 1826/27 era in the Camera Obscura where artists traced off the ground glass.    1860's the first photographic single lense mirror reflex was patented.  The first production 35mm mirror camera was the Exakta in 1936.  Penta prisims etc came a bit later.

As for what the human eye sees--the normal field of vision for both eyes is about 200 degrees.  Each eye going from about 60 degrees (nasally) inward to 90 to 100 degrees (temporally) outward. The area of sharpest vision is only about 15 degrees where there is the greatest concentration of cones (Macula or Fovea Centralis)   The 50 or 35 mm equivalent lens are more what our perception of clear vision is in front of us, rather than scientifically measured visual fields.

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wcdennis
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Get the facts
In reply to blue_skies, Jul 26, 2013

It always amazes me that threads like this get started, and then so many folks are willing to expound at length about things that they are not real clear on. There is so much interesting (and factual) information on the web about the history of photography, just a Google search away. Come on, breathe the air outside this forum occasionally.

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Mike Fewster
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What are you talking about?
In reply to wcdennis, Jul 26, 2013

wcdennis wrote:

It always amazes me that threads like this get started, and then so many folks are willing to expound at length about things that they are not real clear on. There is so much interesting (and factual) information on the web about the history of photography, just a Google search away. Come on, breathe the air outside this forum occasionally.

He got the facts. The question was a little unclear as to whether or not the OP was referring to 35 film format and the use of the term FF or whether he was referring to 50mm focal length. This was claified by those who responded. There was general agreement from all who responded re the historical background of these terms (both interpretations of the question were covered.)

In what way were the responses "responding at length about things that they are not real clear on"

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blue_skies
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Re: What are you talking about?
In reply to Mike Fewster, Jul 26, 2013

Mike Fewster wrote:

wcdennis wrote:

It always amazes me that threads like this get started, and then so many folks are willing to expound at length about things that they are not real clear on. There is so much interesting (and factual) information on the web about the history of photography, just a Google search away. Come on, breathe the air outside this forum occasionally.

He got the facts. The question was a little unclear as to whether or not the OP was referring to 35 film format and the use of the term FF or whether he was referring to 50mm focal length. This was claified by those who responded. There was general agreement from all who responded re the historical background of these terms (both interpretations of the question were covered.)

In what way were the responses "responding at length about things that they are not real clear on"

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Mike Fewster
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Thanks Mike,

just adding, my first compact 35mm film cameras was a Voigtlander VITO-II - with, you guessed it, a fixed 50mm lens. My last compact 35mm film camera was an Olympus Inifinity Stylus - with, you also guessed it, a fixed 35mm lens...

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ProfHankD
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Normal focal length
In reply to smallLebowski, Jul 26, 2013

smallLebowski wrote:

I mean it's very versatile FL, but did they test it initially at the beginning era of photography and came to a conclusion that this FL suits best for starters or there was some other interesting story? Would like to hear that. Thank you.

P.S. I guess different brands had different perspective on best FL maybe?

As folks have said, 35mm is not the "chosen one" for anything.

There has been a little debate on this in this forum before, but "normal" focal length for 135-format (the real name of FF 35mm film) is the diagonal of the frame, which is sqrt(24^2+36^2), or about 43mm. However, it is easier to build fast lenses of a slightly longer focal length, especially for SLRs that have a mirror forcing the lens center to be farther than 43mm from the film plane. Recall that the focal length of a simple lens is the distance from the center of the lens to the focal plane at infinity. Thus, FF normals run anywhere from 45mm to 58mm.

The APS-C format is about 23.6x15.6, giving a 28mm diagonal. Of course, the roughly 1.5X crop would mean a 50mm equivalent would be 33mm -- pretty close to the 35mm focal length that was common for FF wide angles.

The perspective/view angle given by a normal lens is also considered to be a good match for how humans see the world, although that claim is harder to justify. It is true that viewfinder magnification is commonly set so that the view through the finder using a normal lens makes objects appear the same size as the view without the finder, which has the side effect of making it easier for photographers to work with both eyes open.

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Mike Fewster
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Re: Normal focal length
In reply to ProfHankD, Jul 26, 2013

ProfHankD wrote:

smallLebowski wrote:

I mean it's very versatile FL, but did they test it initially at the beginning era of photography and came to a conclusion that this FL suits best for starters or there was some other interesting story? Would like to hear that. Thank you.

P.S. I guess different brands had different perspective on best FL maybe?

As folks have said, 35mm is not the "chosen one" for anything.

There has been a little debate on this in this forum before, but "normal" focal length for 135-format (the real name of FF 35mm film) is the diagonal of the frame, which is sqrt(24^2+36^2), or about 43mm. However, it is easier to build fast lenses of a slightly longer focal length, especially for SLRs that have a mirror forcing the lens center to be farther than 43mm from the film plane. Recall that the focal length of a simple lens is the distance from the center of the lens to the focal plane at infinity. Thus, FF normals run anywhere from 45mm to 58mm.

The APS-C format is about 23.6x15.6, giving a 28mm diagonal. Of course, the roughly 1.5X crop would mean a 50mm equivalent would be 33mm -- pretty close to the 35mm focal length that was common for FF wide angles.

The perspective/view angle given by a normal lens is also considered to be a good match for how humans see the world, although that claim is harder to justify. It is true that viewfinder magnification is commonly set so that the view through the finder using a normal lens makes objects appear the same size as the view without the finder, which has the side effect of making it easier for photographers to work with both eyes open.

Yes. And the same calculation holds true for 2 1/4 film/camera where the normal focal length was regarded as 80mm. And it gave very much the same fov as around 50mm on 35mm cameras. (allowing for the square shape of the fov)

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bill hansen
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Re: Can someone share a history or origin of why 35mm FL was the "chosen one" in the first place?
In reply to uhligfd, Jul 26, 2013

Good post.

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