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Choice of Lens and Focussing

Lenses are used to change the audience's geometrical relationship to the field of view.

A long shot or telephoto shot from the film Health of a City.

  • Extreme long lenses of 200mm or more allow us to film from a great distance and compresses the visual field
  • Long lens (a.k.a telephoto lens) – a lens of 85mm or more that compresses the visual field less obviously
  • Regular 55mm lens – this lens is often used to give the viewer a feeling of objectivity since it most accurately mirrors the focal length of the eye

A shot from Wealth of a Nation using a regular 55mm lens

  • Wide angle – a lens of 35mm or less that spreads the visual field and is often thought of as giving the viewer a more subjective relationship to the action
  • Fish eye – an ultra-wide angle lens that distorts the visual field and gives it a surreal feel.


The depth of field - the area in the picture, from near to far, that is sharply in focus on a lens can also be adjusted to influence the way we read the action in a scene. It is worth noting that an additional key attribute that differentiates lenses one from another is the different depths of field they offer: wide angle lenses give deep focus, while long lenses have shallow depth of field.

Deep Focus - accentuates the character's relationship to his or her surroundings.

Shallow Focus - concentrates the audience's attention on a character's thoughts, or on characters’ developing relationship, or on an important detail.

Split Focus - where the focus prioritorises one character over the other.

An example of how shallow focus concentrates out attention on the action from the wartime film Children of the City

Pull Focus - adjusting focus between characters refocuses the audience’s attention and allegiances.