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Understanding Focal Length and Lens Ratio

A primary characteristic of a lens is the focal length. A lens’ focal length is defined as the distance between the lens’ optical center and the camera’s image sensor (or film plane) when focused at infinity. To understand this definition of focal length, we need to define “optical center” as well. A lens’ optical center is the point (usually though not always) within a lens, at which the rays of light from two different sources entering the lens are assumed to cross. Shorter focal length lenses provide a wider field of view, but offer less magnification. Conversely, longer focal lengths offer a shorter field of view, but provide greater magnification. On DSLRs, the interchangeable lens’ focal length is measured in millimeters. The focal length of a lens is usually displayed on the lens barrel, along with the size of the adaptor ring.

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