Why the 28mm Lens Has Become a Favorite

Why the 28mm Lens Has Become a Favorite

Most Important Though: Use What You’re Comfortable With

Readers, my journey through photographic gear started many, many years ago. Gear can be the absolute kryptonite of creativity so what I’m offering here is a simple observation from my point of view. Take what you can from it but understand that it’s not gear that makes the photographer, its the photographer and the hustle.

Traverse City, Mich.
Camera: Leica M6

Disclaimer written, I’ve been using a 28mm lens for the last few years, on occasion, and loving it. My first lens was a 50mm lens. This is a standard lens and if I could only have one lens, this would be it. It interprets a scene honestly and never in all my photography exploits and adventures have I been left wanting a wider, or more zoom, of a lens after using a 50mm lens. It’s perfect.

Journey to the 28mm

But, two encounters in life created a yearning and desire for a 28mm lens, and I’m glad I went for it. First, I saw collection of photos by Trent Parke and was immediately mesmerized. This man is a living legend of photography and photographic vision. Look up his work and be inspired.

There are of course, many other legendary photographers who’ve mastered the 28mm lens: photography icons Garry Winogrand, Sam Abell and Henry Wessel, come to mind.

Second, I went to school for photojournalism. “How does the 28mm lens relate to this”, you say? A large part of photojournalism is getting close to the subject, creating visual interest and putting the reader/observer into the story. The field of view on a 28mm lens is perfect for this; It’s wide but not too wide.

Manton, Mich.
Camera: Leica M6

The 28mm Lens in Use

Everyone’s approach to photography is different so you may have different ideas about this lens and what you prefer. I’m going to share with you my observations and you can take them with however much salt you like.

Traverse City, Mich.
Camera: Leica M6

Since the 28mm lens is a wide-angle lens, it’s usually of importance to get close to your subject(s). If you’re too far back, the subject(s) of your picture will be too small. If that’s what you’re going for, you’re all set.

However, once you figure out how to get close to your subject(s), this lens nails it. Filling the frame with 28mm of visual interest creates a cinematic feel that often allows the viewer to feel like they’re a part of the image.

To achieve the best understanding of using this lens, it comes down to practice. You’ll have ugly images and you’ll kick yourself for not stepping close enough and that’s all okay. You’ll go back again and you’ll get closer and eventually it’ll begin to make sense.

The 28mm Lens is Perfect for Street Photography

The beauty of using a 28mm lens for street photography is that you don’t have to be pointing your lens directly at someone to include them in your frame. If you’re quick with your lens and it doesn’t matter what focal length you use, then you’re all set. But, there are instances when you just want to include a person, or people, in your frame and you don’t want to risk them seeing you pointing a lens directly at them. This lens helps with that.

Frankfort, Mich.
Camera: Leica M6

That’s about all that comes to mind with the fantastic 28mm lens. It’s a fun lens to use but like anything in life, it takes practice to achieve desired results. I’ve read all kinds of reviews on different 28mm lenses and I’m going to say something right here: don’t feel like you’re limited with the 28mm focal length.

You can photograph just about anything with this. Portraits, landscapes, wildlife, sports…it’s all possible and beautiful and this lens is wonderful at it. If you’re all set with the lens(es) you use, that’s great. But, if you’ve never used a 28mm lens, it’s a fun one to try and you might find that it’s the perfect one for you.

4 thoughts on “Why the 28mm Lens Has Become a Favorite”

  • I have a 28-85 zoom which is probably my favorite lens. Mostly I am shooting at 28mm with it. I don’t do much street photography, but I agree it is very useful when photographing people, landscapes and architecture!

  • While it’s far from my favorite focal length there is something to be said about the 28. It’s a versatile focal length that is a nice compromise between 24mm and 35mm. If I had to decide between a 24 and 28 prime, that’s where things would get interesting. In my opinion if you want to go wide 24 is the better option, but if you need to go wide and do anything else, 28mm suddenly feels like a much friendlier lens. You can get close with a 28 where with a 24 you might hesitate. The distortion is there with a 28 but its no so glaring that it stop you from taking a portrait.

    Great post Keith. Keep them coming!

    • Hi Tobias, excellent points you make. A number of years ago I was at a photo conference where Allison V. Smith was speaking. Her work encompasses photojournalism and art in a variety of ways. She used/uses a Hasselblad for her art work but for a lot of her assignment work—which included a lot of portraits—she used a 24mm prime. Ever since that presentation, I’ve found the 24mm focal length to be a mighty powerful and versatile perspective.
      Thanks for your comment, as always, I’m very appreciative of your thoughtful insights!

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