Low Rainbow

Low Rainbow

You want to know the difference between your iPhone camera and a DSLR with a 50mm lens? Take a look at this photo of the Low Library on the OSU campus, and now look at the one below which I took about 30 seconds later with my iPhone:


(click to see full-size image)

Granted the latter might be considered somewhat cheating as it’s actually a panoramic photo, but you get the point: the wide angle of view on an iPhone camera can fit way, way more in the frame than the limited angle of a 50mm lens. For the sake of comparison, if we adjusted for sensor size and compared these two imaging devices on a level playing field the focal length of the iPhone 5C on which the lower image was shot would be roughly 31mm while the 50mm on a crop-sensor camera (which is what I used to make the top image) would be 75mm. That’s a massive difference, and hopefully illustrates why the latter is so much more limiting: you honestly can’t fit much in the frame!

And yet, it is precisely this limitation that makes it such a useful lens. To wit: the top image, which I prefer to the bottom one, shows a much larger rainbow and has a more tightly controlled sense of composition. There are three elements in the frame, or four if you count the sky. The other image, while showing a larger view of the rainbow as a whole, feels somehow less majestic and almost cold and distant. True, it does convey a greater sense of scale due to the wide grassy lawn and the several buildings which are cradled gently beneath the colorful bow in the sky. However the top image seems, to me anyway, more intentional and purposeful. It seems to be about something, whereas the lower image is a picture of something. Perhaps it’s a a distinction that is either quite subtle or utterly meaningless, but if you handed me a mobile phone and a DSLR with a 50mm lens I would choose the latter even though it is so much more limiting. For, as I have learned over the years, it’s precisely within those limitations that I find myself being so much more creative.


  1. Excellent point! My choice is the top image taken with the DSLR. I enjoyed the comparison article. In health. RoSeTta

    • Glad you like the top photo too, RoSeTta! It’s fun to shoot with all types of cameras, but at the end of the day I keep coming back to the tried-and-true DSLR + 50mm lens :)

  2. Eric Erickson says

    Well said, the creative power of limitation. My preference runs toward the 35 focal length because you can do so much with that focal length, but the point is excellent. One lens, one camera and you can make great art.

    • You know Eric, to be honest I actually prefer the 35mm focal length as well for normal everyday shooting. When I use it on my full-frame camera everything just feels so natural and I like how you can fit so much more in the frame too. I still prefer my 50mm lens for slightly more artistic and creative shots though, but whenever I take pictures of people (especially my kids) nothing beats the classic 35mm focal length :)

  3. My Samsung Galaxy takes a decent picture but I much prefer my DSLR! Great comparative write up!!

    • I know what you mean Camille! My iPhone is nice to have because it’s small and handy, but nothing beats a DSLR (in my opinion) when you really need to get the job done :)

  4. Simon —
    Great shot of the rainbow! The composition of the photo is awesome. I really love how you placed the rainbow between the tree and spire of the library. The arc of the rainbow hits the corner of the lower portion supporting the spire. Well done! Today’s photo is also another great example of proper composition. Thank you!
    Christos anesti!

    • Thank you David! I’m really glad you like the photo, and every time I see one I am reminded of Genesis 9:13. God sure did create an amazing world for us to experience :)
      Peace be with you!

  5. You need to be teaching a class.

  6. Awesome!

    And at the end of the rainbow . . . there shall be . . . Skittles!

    Nice shots, Simon!

  7. cherie miller says

    Thank you for this illustration. I really like your comment explaining the difference between a picture being “about” something as opposed to being “of” something. I’m going to try to remember that on my next photo excursion.

    • Thank you Cherie! I’m really glad you found that part to be useful, and it’s one of the reasons I like shooting with my 50mm lens. I find that when I shoot with wider lenses for general photography it comes across more of like a documentary, whereas using my Nifty Fifty often results in pictures that are a bit more…considered :)

  8. I agree 100%. I really like the shot taken with the DSLR, the composition especially. If I want a wider angle, I’ll use a wider angle lens. It’s that simple for me.

    Thank you for this article.

  9. Janet Richardson says

    Simon, I enjoyed the article and particularly seeing the comparison. I shoot on a crop-body and find myself using my 35mm (aka 52.5mm) more and more. I just came back from Palo Duro Canyon and the shots with the 35 mm are way more creative than the landscapes with the wide-angle lens. I agree with you whole-heartedly.

    • Janet, I’m glad you said that. I recently took a trip to Seattle and brought my D7100 + 35mm combo, and several times I was wondering to myself if I should have tried to get my hands on a wider lens for the trip. I mean, I was happy with the shots I got but I couldn’t get that nagging “what if…” feeling out of my head. Hearing about your experience with the same setup (crop body + 35mm lens) makes me feel a lot better about the Seattle trip! :)

  10. Simon.
    Sorry, you lost me with the comparison shots which do not appear to be at all similar. However, I totally agree with your comments but let us not ‘knock’ the mobile phone camera that is always in our pocket.

    • My intention was not to cast aspersions on mobile phone cameras, but to point out the difference between focal lengths of an iPhone and a 50mm lens. Understanding the types of shots each one is well suited for, and knowing the strengths and limitations of our cameras, lenses, and other equipment will help us all grow as photographers and learn to take the pictures we really want to.

Speak Your Mind