There were some recent forum comments suggesting that some videos of sea conditions did not accurately capture what the captain felt the see conditions were at the time. I kind-of jokingly quipped that this may be because a wide-angle lens makes close-up things seem bigger as compared to far away things. It was then quipped that if a wide angle lens made close things abnormally bigger and far away things abnormally smaller then a telephoto lens would make far way things abnormally bigger and close-up things abnormally smaller – implying that if close-up things were not in fact abnormally smaller with a telephoto lens, then the statement about wide-angle lens would not be true.

Well it is obvious that a telephoto lens will magnify both close up and far way things but does this fact necessarily negate the statement that a wide-angle lens will make far away things seem smaller relative to close-by things as compared to other focal lengths?

To test this, I did a quick experiment. I set up two 1-foot rulers separated by 6 feet and placed a camera one foot away from the closer ruler.

C       R1                                                   R2

One foot between the camera and the closer ruler and 7 feet between the camera and the farther way ruler. I then took three pictures. Two with a Canon PowerShot Elph 300 HS camera – one in wide angle and one in telephoto mode. Then I took another picture with my GoPro camera in wide angle mode. After cropping the pictures, I compared the vertical distance of the far-away ruler (in counting vertical pixels in the image) to the close ruler. I counted 16ths of an inch on the closer ruler.

If the comparisons would have been all the same, then that would mean that there would be no contribution to the focal length in preferentially magnifying close-by things relative to far-away things.

The pictures below show what I got.  The numbers/16 are the length of the far-way ruler superimposed on the close-by ruler measured in 16ths of an inch.

The faraway ruler appeared bigger with the telephoto image relative to close-by ruler when compared to the two wide-angle pictures. It wasn’t a dramatic difference, but a difference never-the-less. So, to a small degree, a wide angle lens will preferentially make far-ways things seem smaller relative to closer-by things.

Undoubtedly, there is a large psychological aspect with all senses in play and attention acuity focused on the sea conditions for a captain in the moment that probably explains most of the feeling that the videos didn’t do it justice. But there is a small contribution to this feeling due to the wide-angle lens.