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The Forgotten Lens: 50mm

When my fifteenth birthday came around, I wanted just one thing: a real camera. My father gave me his treasured Minolta 201 camera body, a handful of filters, and three lenses. The lenses were a 35mm wide-angle, a 50mm "standard" lens, and a 135mm telephoto. "But you're only going to need the 50mm," Dad said. Why? "Because it mimics the human eye. It makes your photos look natural." Of course, I immediately grabbed the 35mm wide-angle, ignoring him. I liked the wide-angle because I could take photos of people without having to back up, or bother composing the frame (walking around to set up a photo? Total bummer!). I shot a lot of expired Agfachrome (on mega-discount at the local camera shop) with that combination, and even picked up a 28mm wider-angle lens, which suffered from chromatic aberration around the edges.

About a year into my teenage camera adventure, I decided to try out the 50mm that had come so highly recommended. And guess what? Dad was right -- that lens made things look "real" in a way that I hadn't expected. It was far better for taking pictures of people, making their faces look natural. Also, the 50mm happened to be a faster lens, which finally allowed me to explore and begin to understand depth of field -- something I hadn't done with my wide-angle, which I kept locked at f/3.5 (the best it could do). I was shocked to look back at my older photos and see how my wide-angle lens (and the f/3.5 aperture) affected the look of the photos -- it was a distinctive look, but I was no longer sure it was a good one.

Photographer Gary Voth has posted a lovely article on the 50mm lens: The Forgotten Lens. Here's a sample:

The 50mm lens is called a "normal" or "standard" lens because the way it renders perspective closely matches that of the human eye. Consequently, images made with a 50mm lens have a natural and uncontrived look. This is the lens that likely would have come with your camera had you bought it 10-15 years ago. Before falling to its current level of disfavor, the 50mm lens had a long and distinguished pedigree. For many years the defining documentary instrument of the 20th century was the small format rangefinder camera (Leica, Contax, Nikon, Canon) with 50mm lens. Some of the world's best-known photographers such as Henri Cartier-Bresson and Ralph Gibson made virtually their entire careers with this combination.

Check out the rest of the article for a primer on camera lenses, and why you might not want super-zoom or super-wide-angle.

Link via 43 Folders.

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Svetlana Ivanova, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
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What It's Like to Live in Yakutsk, Siberia, the Coldest City on Earth
Svetlana Ivanova, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0
Svetlana Ivanova, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 3.0

The residents of Yakutsk, Siberia are experts at surviving harsh winters. They own thick furs, live in houses built for icy environments, and know not to wear glasses outdoors unless they want them to freeze to their face. This is life in the coldest city on Earth, where temperatures occupy -40°F territory throughout winter, according to National Geographic.

Yakutsk has all the features of any other mid-sized city. The 270,000 people who live there have access to movie theaters, restaurants, and a public transportation system that functions year-round. But look closer and you’ll notice some telling details. Many houses are built on stilts, and if they’re not, the heat from the building thaws the permafrost beneath it, causing the structure to sink. People continue going outside during the coldest months, but only for a few minutes at a time to avoid frostbite.

Then there's the weather. The extreme low temperatures are cold enough to freeze car batteries and the fish sold in open-air markets. Meanwhile, a thick fog is a constant presence in the city, giving it an otherworldly aura.

Why do people choose to live in such a harsh environment? Beneath Yakutsk lies a literal treasure mine: Mines in the area produce a fifth of the world’s diamonds. Valuable natural gas can also be recovered there.

While Yakutsk may be the coldest city on Earth, it’s not the coldest inhabited place there is. That distinction belongs to the rural village of Oymyakon, 575 miles to the east, where temperatures recently dropped to an eyelash-freezing -88°F.

Snow-covered road.
Conservation of Arctic Flora and Fauna- CAFF, Flickr // CC BY-NC 2.0

Road covered in snow.
Magnús H Björnsson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Church surrounded by snow.
Magnús H Björnsson, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

[h/t National Geographic]

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François Prost
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Photo Series Shows Paris, France Alongside Its Chinese Replica
François Prost
François Prost

If tourists want to see the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa, and Versailles on their next vacation, they have options. The most obvious choice is Paris, France. Then, if they’re looking for something a bit different, they can visit Tianducheng on the edge of Hangzhou in China, which includes replicas of these attractions in its scaled-down model of the French capital. The resemblance is so convincing that it inspired photographer François Prost to capture both cities and showcase the pictures side by side.

There are Eiffel Tower replicas around the world, but Prost was intrigued by the level of detail invested in Tianducheng. “It seemed more extreme and obsessive,” he tells Mental Floss. “It was planned as a real neighborhood with people living there as they would live anywhere else in China.” So last year the Paris resident booked a flight to the city to document its people and its architecture. The Paris facsimile was built just over a decade ago, but as you can see from the photos below, the aesthetic is lifted straight from classic Europe.

After a week of taking pictures there, Prost returned to Paris where he tracked down the original inspirations of the subjects in his photos. The resulting series, titled Paris Syndrome, pairs each scene with its counterpart across the globe.

If you’re not from Paris or Tianducheng, it may be hard to match the photo to its country of origin. There are a few images that give themselves away, like the Parisian storefronts branded with Chinese lettering. According to Prost, the project “blurs our perceptions of reality. You can no longer tell what is real from the replica.”

After sharing the photos on his website and Instagram page, Prost plans to do a similar project comparing Venice in Italy to its Chinese doppelgänger. Check out the highlights from Paris Syndrome below.

Eiffel tower and replica at night.

Parisian building and replica.

Eiffel tower and replica.

Parisian storefront and replica.

Mona Lisa and replica.

Parisian fountain and replica.

Portraits of city workers.

Eiffel tower and replica.

Paris and Chinese replica.

[h/t Co.Design]

All images courtesy of François Prost.

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