A Stupid-simple Visual Explanation of Focal Length

by . December 12th, 2015

Focal length is one of those ideas that have to be seen in action before it is understood.

Newbie photographers who might not have money to spend on lenses or are stuck with a point and shoot or some other limited technology may find it difficult to really understand the implications of focal length.

The usual explanation of focal length being “the distance in millimeters from the optical center of a lens to the imaging sensor when the lens is focused at infinity.” is pretty abstract, and not very useful for photographers who aren’t quite comfortable with getting into technical details. To make it worse, some infographics actually confuse things.

Sarah Ainsworth‘s review of a set of Canon lenses however, actually give a great visual explanation of what the ball park look for certain fixed focal length lenses will give you.

Check out this visual explanation of focal length below.

FocalLengthsBlog (1)


Amateur photographers who only use point and shoots usually can’t quite the look they’re aiming for even when they’re doing all the composition basics right. This is mostly because their control over focal length among many other things, is quite limited. Control over these parameters is the usual reason working pro photographers need SLRs.

Control over focal length is extremely important for obtaining a “conventionally professional” look. Whether you plan on buying new gear or just want to understand how photographers you admire get their shots, it’s great to be able to understand how they are able to achieve certain looks only obtainable by manipulating focal length.

 Add to the discussion! Comment below!