Architecture. Los Angeles, 2019

In Praise of 21mm for Photography

21mm is one of the focal lengths which have been over-looked by photographers [for a very long time].

I will make the case that perhaps there is still a lot of unpaved photographic/composition grounds for 21mm [as a focal length].

The experience of 21mm

Los Angeles, 2019 #cindyproject #21mm
Los Angeles, 2019 #cindyproject #21mm

Shooting 21mm [RICOH GR III] is fascinating.

First of all, the benefit of the LCD screen on RICOH GR III:

You can see the entire frame [21mm] while you are shooting.

The downsides of shooting with a 21mm on a rangefinder/Leica:

You need to use an external viewfinder to frame. And still, the framing is inaccurate.

I also think that with DSLRs, there is not a popular 21mm. I know for Canon, there is the popular 16-35mm lens, or the popular 17-40mm lens. But not a good prime 21mm lens.

Who are photographer who used 21mm in the past?

Architecture. USC, 2019 #21mm #ricohgriii
Architecture. USC, 2019 #21mm #ricohgriii

The only photographers I know who have actually shot [a lot] with 21mm include:

  • Bruce Gilden [although I think most of his work is 28mm]
  • Harvey Stein [his Coney Island photos with 21mm]
  • Mark Cohen [his uber wide-angle lens photos with 21mm. Although most of his shots he did not use the viewfinder, instead “shot from the hip”].

What are the “legitimate” focal lengths in photography?

USC, 2019 #cindyproject
USC, 2019 #cindyproject #21mm

It seems the bias in photography originated with Henri Cartier-Bresson, who said that a 50mm was the only legitimate focal length [although HCB also shot with a 35mm, for his India photos].

I think it was Lisette Model who first shot with a wide-angle lens in photography [in the 24mm-28mm range]. Lisette Model inspired Bruce Gilden to shoot his wide-angle photos.

William Klein was another great photographer who used wide angle lenses, and got super-close to his subjects. Klein inspired Daido Moriyama.

Josef Koudelka used 24mm [on a film SLR] for his Gypsies project, then later switched it up for a Leica and 35mm/50mm lens for his EXILES photo project, then later switched to shooting panoramics [CHAOS] series.

Modern focal lengths

Orange County, 2019 #cindyproject
Orange County, 2019 #cindyproject #21mm

In today’s modern photography world, 21mm doesn’t really exist.

For example on the Fujifilm X100 cameras, it is 35mm. For RICOH GR II (and now GR III), the default is 28mm.

For photographers who shoot with a Leica M camera, it is typically a 35mm [more common] or a 28mm [less common] in the street photography world. And if you shoot with a Leica Q, that is a 28mm lens.

There is really no practical 21mm focal length. The closest thing we got is the RICOH GR III with the 21mm adapter. I deem it the best setup for 21mm [in terms of size, price, image quality, usability, weight, etc].

Why 21mm?

I’ve mastered the 35mm, 28mm, tickled my interest with 24mm, and I’m looking for a great photographic challenge. That challenge seems to be 21mm.

Since shooting with 21mm on the Ricoh gr3, I’ve been having so much fun!

Furthermore, the interesting thing about 21mm is this:

  1. It is so wide, you’re not quite sure what is going to be in the frame.
  2. Because the lens is so wide, it is more challenging to simplify your photographic compositions.
  3. You can make more interesting/dynamic photographic compositions. You can create more compositions with your subject on the extreme left or the right of the frame, which is super duper fun to do!

More difficult is more fun

Ricoh GR III selfie.
Ricoh GR III selfie.

A simple way to think about photography:

If you want to have more fun in your photography, make it more difficult!



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