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35mm equivalent lens

By Jakob Jelling

While purchasing a cool new digital camera most people face a strange problem of deciding upon what features to look for. And with such a spectral variety of terms, technical as well as non-technical, it becomes really confusing to stabilize upon one particular that is the perfect one for the pricey purchase. Such a term is "35mm equivalent lens"! A very common question haunting the minds of the new digital camera purchaser is "What in the world does 35mm equivalent lens mean?" And this haunting question remains haunting the minds of these people until they are utterly confused to the last extent. This discussion is thus focused towards revealing the mere facts regarding the concept of the 35mm equivalent lens so as the purchasers or users of the digital cameras can get out of their confusions and enjoy the light of knowledge.

In getting into a good analysis the process requires to be started from the grass root level. Thus looking from the absolute basics it must be made clear that many of measurements on a digital camera are performed in millimeters. For 35mm cameras, there are two measurements that are sometimes confused with the focal length. Firstly, the 35 in "35mm camera" do not refer to the focal length or even to the size of the image on the film. It is the width of the film including the sprockets. 35mm film is more properly called 135-format film. Secondly the next measurement that is sometimes befuddled with the focal length is the diameter of the filter ring. This is the threaded ring on the front of the lens barrel that accepts filter rings that come in an assortment of sizes like 49mm, 52mm, and 58mm. This size is governed by the diameter of the lens barrel and is autonomous of the lens focal length. Most people are familiar with focal lengths of 35mm camera lenses. Thus as a matter of fact the digital camera manufacturers describe focal lengths in terms of the lens length on a 35mm camera, which would produce a similar area of view. This is what the 35mm equivalent lens mean!

Focal length on one 35 mm camera is the same for all others and this is definitely an advantage and is thus used as a point of measurement and expressing values. Digital cameras, however, have different focal lengths because the size of their image sensors varies from one another yet expressing focal lengths in terms of 35 mm equivalent makes it suitable for users or photographers or mere individuals to understand and they can also compare digital camera lenses of different types. As an example it can be said that the same optical zoom on one digital camera may not give the same magnification as another with a similar zoom. Like the Nikon 5400 has a 4x zoom having a fully zoomed 116mm equivalent focal length. However the Nikon 5200 having a 3x zoom has a 115mm equivalent focal length. Thus the difference is not significantly much! This is the reason behind the importance of the 35 mm equivalent while seeking some kind of a specific focal length.

In fact the digital camera CCD arrays are basically much smaller than the imaging area of 35mm film. Hence the end result is that the focal length that produces a normal field of view is much smaller than 50mm. However it is true that 35mm film is the same regardless of the camera type but the size of the CCD array varies from digital camera to digital camera. But even a good knowledge about the exact size of the CCD array may not have subsequent help, as sometimes the imaging area doesn't even cover the entire array! The reason because many people are familiar with focal lengths of lenses for 35mm cameras, the manufacturers of digital camera prefer to describe the focal length of their cameras by referring to the focal length producing similar field of view as by a 35mm camera. It is just an appeal to the familiarity with 35mm camera equipment of the common users who are not very comfortable with core technical terms.

Hence this discussion has thus covered a lot of ideas behind the concept of the 35mm equivalent camera. It is assumed that this discussion would be able to remove the myth as well as the mist surrounding this simple a term that was making the lives of many happy purchasers miserable. The discussion comes to an end with the kind note that, nobody should remain in the dark corners of oblivion, since this is the age of light of knowledge and especially when it comes to the digital camera!

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