Is there something magical about the 85mm focal length?

Discussion in 'Native Lenses' started by DeeJayK, Sep 18, 2012.

  1. DeeJayK

    DeeJayK Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 8, 2011
    Pacific Northwest, USA
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    With Panasonic's recent tease at Photokina of a 42.5mm/f1.2 lens (for release in 2014) I'm wondering why they chose that particular focal length. [note: I asked this same question in another more general thread about this release, but didn't get any feedback, which is why I'm reposting it here.]

    In the presentation they refer to the lens as a 42.5mm but in the image of the lens itself, it's marked as a 43mm." title="Panasonic 42.5mm/f1.2" />

    I understand that 42.5 x 2 = 85mm, which is a "standard" 135 film (i.e. "full frame") focal length, but I would think that the :43: manufacturers would want to [I]avoid or minimize[/I] any "equivalency" discussion and the baggage that comes along with that. It seems to me that introducing this lens as a 42.5mm just[I] invites[/I] that type of thinking about Four Thirds.

    Wouldn't making this a [B]40mm[/B] or [B]45mm[/B] lens make more sense? The FOV difference between 40 or 45mm and a 42.5mm (or even 43mm) lens wouldn't be [I]that[/I] significant.

    I guess one could make a similar argument about the 12-35mm zoom (which mirrors the range of a 24-70mm lens on a "full frame", which is a common lens).

    Is there something "magical" about the 85mm focal length that I am missing? Or is this a sign of an inferiority complex among :43: designers/marketers?
  2. Tincam

    Tincam Mu-43 Regular

    Apr 25, 2012
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    It's likely mainly a marketing move to attract more DSLR users to move to M4/3. 85mm is a very popular focal length in the DSLR world.
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  3. jloden

    jloden Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    May 15, 2012
    Hunterdon County, NJ
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    I don't think the manufacturers are worried about equivalency; in fact I think they trade on it to a certain extent to provide people with familiar focal lengths. The most common/standard focal lengths on 35mm are being translated to APS-C and 4/3 size sensors with specific intent for people to 1) reproduce the focal length they're comfortable with and 2) immediately recognize it's value and allow Panasonic/Olympus to trade on it.

    That's why you see 17.5mm, 42.5mm, 25mm, 12-35mm and so on for 4/3 because someone coming from another system can immediately say "oh, I like 35mm equivalent, that 17mm is the lens for me!" That's a plus for the manufacturers IMO far more so than it is a hindrance by inviting equivalency talk.

    As far as 85mm specifically, it's a long-accepted standard length for optimal portrait use (reducing distortion in physical features, pleasing DOF). That's why there's been dozens of 85mm lenses for 35mm film and FF sensors over the years. Panasonic and Olympus both already have 45mm lenses and they've thus far avoided any direct overlap in focal lengths. Given that, if Panasonic wanted to do something different for a new portrait-oriented lens, the logical choice would be an 85mm equivalent.
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  4. Rob917

    Rob917 Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 18, 2011
    jacksonville, florida usa
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    The magic of a fast 85mm focal length is that it makes a wonderful portrait lens.
    It also allows the shooter to work a little closerto the model when compared to a 105mm.
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  5. DeeJayK

    DeeJayK Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 8, 2011
    Pacific Northwest, USA
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    I understand the appeal of a fast lens in this approximate focal length, I just don't know why an 80mm or a 90mm (or even an 86mm) wouldn't be able to serve the same purpose (while avoiding any obvious equivalency-based comparisons).

    I suspect that Jay pretty well hit this one on the nose: the :43: not only don't mind equivalency discussions, but they may actually invite them.
  6. strang

    strang Mu-43 Veteran

    May 7, 2012
    Perhaps it is cheaper to make a 43/1.2 than a 40 or 45/1.4.
  7. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin .

    Oct 9, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
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    Olympus even print the equivalent focal length on the boxes of their lenses. Smaller format digital cameras have changed the way we take images, but the angle-of-view preferred for different types of images isn't a problem that needs fixing. Being able to link a lens back to a familiar standard is likely an important marketing tool. Even if they don't specifically quote the equivalent focal length, most smaller format lens or fixed lens compact I know of translate neatly to a 135 format focal length (or range of focal lengths).
  8. pxpaulx

    pxpaulx Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 19, 2010
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    They just want to be like Pentax and release quirky focal lengths...I'd rather adapt my 43mm f1.9 anyway :)
  9. DeeJayK

    DeeJayK Mu-43 Hall of Famer

    Feb 8, 2011
    Pacific Northwest, USA
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    I suspect that you are right on with this. However, that leads me to wonder if we (photogs) are so set in our ways that we need to stick to this set of "standard" focal lengths. It's not like these focal lengths (24mm, 28mm, 50mm, 85mm, 105mm, 135mm, etc.) were handed down on tablets on Mount Sinai. Why do you think that the photographic community has settled on this particular group of focal lengths? Is there too much inertia to change it?
  10. zettapixel

    zettapixel Mu-43 Veteran

    Aug 12, 2010
    85mm is magic - it's something everyone is used to, so at least some people will be looking for it. Everybody is used to equivalence discussions, can't avoid them anyway, e.g. 75 is compared to 135...

    FOV difference will be negligible, but more sense? Maybe, maybe not. It's clearly a marketing choice, they probably think having 85mm eq. is more important. Let's not forget, pretty much no lens have precisely the advertised FL, and doesn't FL change with focus distance anyway?
  11. RT_Panther

    RT_Panther Mu-43 Legend

    May 4, 2011
    I love my 85mm ƒ1.8 that I use on my film SLR :smile:
  12. dancogan

    dancogan Mu-43 Rookie

    Aug 31, 2012
    SE Michigan
    85/1.8 or 1.4 also makes a wonderful lens for sports like basketball or gymnastics, which often take place in dimly lit gyms.
  13. goldenlight

    goldenlight Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 30, 2010
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    One point that is often overlooked when discussing equivalent focal lengths down to the last millimetre is that they don't exactly translate in practice because 4/3 and full frame have different aspect ratios.
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  14. xdayv

    xdayv Color Blind

    Aug 26, 2011
    Tacloban City, Philippines
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    85mm - 135mm in full frame is considered the ideal portrait range. 85mm being the more flexible FL and 135mm for tighter head shots.

    In Nikon, the 85mm 1.4 is coveted as one of the best portrait lenses out there with very good bokeh signature.

    I won't be surprised about Panasonic and Olympus patterning these classic focal lengths. They also put reference (example: 45mm = 90mm equivalent) so as to guide the photographers who are used to the focal lengths of the 35mm film standard (full frame).
  15. eno789

    eno789 Mu-43 Regular

    Jul 5, 2010
    Bay Area, California
    Real Name:
    This depends on the m4/3 body. On GH1/2/3, you can have 4:3, 3:2, 16:9 without any cropping.
  16. goldenlight

    goldenlight Mu-43 All-Pro

    Jan 30, 2010
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    But to get a 4:3 ratio on full frame you do have to crop! :smile: