Welcome to the 2,000th post at Down the Road! 🎉
35mm is such a useful focal length on a 35mm camera. It’s just right for the kind of work I do so often: walking around photographing the environment. It lets me get big things in the frame without having to back up as far as I need to with a 50mm lens, but is not so wide it can’t do credible close work.
For some time I’ve owned a 35mm lens for my Nikon cameras, and it was the perfect choice when I toured Ireland in 2016. But I shoot my Pentax cameras a little more often than my Nikons, and so I’ve been thinking for a long time about buying a 35mm K-mount lens. I’ve finally done it: the 35mm f/2.8 SMC Pentax-A. It’s praised by the reviewers at Pentax Forums and by James Tocchio at Casual Photophile for its sharpness, handling, and build quality.
One recent Sunday afternoon I picked up my son at Purdue and we went for a drive. He brought his Pentax K1000 and I had my Pentax ME with this 35mm lens mounted. I was shooting Fujifilm Superia X-tra 400 at EI 200. We stopped in Delphi, the seat of justice in Carroll County. Its downtown boasts the building at the center of this photograph: the recently restored Delphi Opera House.
The photos above and below tell why I love the 35mm focal length for road-trip documentary photography. I got so much into the frame in the wide shot above, and to make the closer shot below I didn’t have to back up all the way into the street.
The Wabash and Erie Canal passes through Delphi, and the town has made a lot out of it. If you’ve been reading this blog for a long time you might remember the Houck Iron Bridge, which once stood on a country road in Putnam County. It was dismantled, moved, and restored on this site over the canal in Delphi.
I can’t say I know the significance of this big old house, but here it stands on the canal. The 35mm lens captured it all with no drama.
In focusing, this lens has a long travel from 1 foot to 15 feet, and then almost no travel from there to infinity. It makes the lens feel biased toward long shots. Indeed, given that my subjects this day were almost always beyond 15 feet, I barely touched the focusing ring. It made the camera almost point-and-shoot simple.
Our trip also took us through Battle Ground, where a memorial stands to the site of the Battle of Tippecanoe. We’d been here before, but eleven years prior when my sons were much smaller. It was nice to return and connect to a long ago family memory. I wished my younger son had been with us, as he was fascinated by this memorial and studied every plaque on it.
This day I was taken by this gate and arch. The 35mm lens brought it into the frame with no drama.
As I’m learning, context is important in documentary photography. It helps the viewer feel like they might recognize a photographed place should they ever come upon it. With the 35mm lens it was easy to bring gobs of context into this photograph, and even to use the surrounding trees to frame this little church.
Then I was able to move in close to the church and compose this scene. I see scenes like this all the time when I have a camera in my hand, but at 50mm I usually struggle to capture what I see. At 35mm the scene fell right into the viewfinder.
This 35mm f/2.8 lens could well be the one I just leave on my Pentax ME. It’s that versatile and useful for the kind of work I usually do.