What focal length for the most realistic pictures?

Started 2 months ago | Discussions thread
Mike Fewster Veteran Member • Posts: 7,459
What I think Magnar is actually asking and the answer.

Magnar W wrote:

Color is often described and discussed in terms of “good” and “bad”, or lifelike or not. “True color” might be a reasonable goal for some kind of work, like reproduction of artwork or color of products like clothes, makeup and furniture and other products that are advertised. But for most photography, descriptive as well as expressive, the pictures are independent objects that are viewed and interpreted without a direct connection to the scene than was photographed. In photography, color is mainly used to trigger emotions, more than judged against what was the “real” hue or tint. Just look at how people pump up saturation and add yellow to sunset scenes, or reduce saturation or add blue to pictures that are mainly intended to affect emotions.

With this in mind: What is the best focal length to record the “true” or “real” outer world?

We need you to add a bit more to the definition here. We have to say something like "what focal length is closest to that of human eyes and the way images made by those eyes are perceived by the human brain." Eyes from different species have different focal lengths and brains  do something like post processing to the images that are formed by the eye. So, I think what Magnar is talking about is the image as perceived by the human brain, not the image as formed by the human eye.

The actual focal length may vary from person to person and even from left to right due and probably changes with age.

The answer is complex. The best summary of it that I know is the article "Cameras v the human eye" from Cambridge colour. The actual focal length of the human eye is about 22mm. What we perceive is quite different for a while host of reasons, the main one being that the surface where the image is formed is curved. 42/50mm is about the range as perceived by most human brains. But the brain gets to work on that image with post processing and how it does that is variable.

Then we have to consider what we effectively see and where we want to draw the line in our definition. The Cambridge colour article is very good on explaining this. Actually, computational compiled images such as those used for hdr shots, macro stacked shots and in top range camera phones, are closer to what our brains do pp to the images from the eye.

This is the challenge taken up by the Impressionist painters (and impressionism was a response to the first photographic images) when they tried to paint what the eye actually saw.

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Mike Fewster
Adelaide Australia

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