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Round Lenses, Rectangle Photos, Reasonable Answer

A Little Squared Humor

Welcome back to the “Unfiltered” category of my photo blog. While this category will not often have photography related posts, there will be a few exceptions, such as this post where I don’t really see it as a photo tip, tutorial or appropriate for my diary section. Often I get interesting questions, some humor me and today was no different when a model asked me on the phone, “If lenses are round, why are photos rectangular?” I chuckled at first and then told her, “That’s a good question,” then I gave her some logical answers.

Back of Canon 5D Mark II Camera, rectangle photo

While camera lenses are round, capture devices are rectangle, thus providing for a more aesthetically pleasing image.

First, it’s a known fact while lenses capture an image throughout the circumference of the glass, any degradation occurs on the outer parts of the image, hence cutting off those parts results in a sharper overall image in a rectangular format. Of course, she then responded, “Then why aren’t images square?”

Another good question as it makes sense to trim off the degradation equally from all sides, which results in a square. However, any designer will tell you that a rectangle is more pleasing to the eye, since we tend to naturally see more through our own eyes in a horizontal format.  This rectangle format also allows us to shoot the more powerful vertical. Though there have been square format cameras in the past, like the Kodak 126 Instamatic camera, basically a squared 35mm format, and the more commonly known amongst professional photographers was the medium format, 2 ¼ square format.

I myself used the square format back in high school as a photographer. The camera of choice for my photojournalism instructor for his photographers was the Yashica Mat 120G medium format camera. The square image the camera produced was 2 ¼-inches square on each side, many times larger than a 35mm negative, allowing us ample room to crop out rectangle images in either a horizontal or vertical format.

So the more I thought about that question, I decided to come up with some answers of my own (in a humorous way) and a few other questions I’d love to know about the answers myself. So first, here are a few of my assumptions on why we capture in a rectangular format vs. a round format, though we use round lenses:

  • Rectangle lenses would provide lens barrels that would be difficult to focus. Imagine turning a rectangle, focusing ring not, to mention attaching rectangle filters.
  • Finding picture frames would become interesting, now we’d have different circumference size frames.
  • There would be tons of paper waste because paper is in a rectangular format, so round prints would create a non-green environment.
  • Round computer monitors to view photos doesn’t make sense.
  • It becomes difficult to properly align round images in frames and hang them properly, exactly the way they were captured.
  • If video adopted round formats, tubeless televisions today but appear as one large tube.
  • Our smart phones would become round to view the images properly too. Now can you imagine round Instagram photos instead of their current square format? Even worse, if you dropped your phone can you picture it rolling down hill?
  • Billboards would become round adding a tunnel vision perception.
  • If theater screens were round would we be sitting in tunnels viewing movies instead of rectangular theater rooms? Can you imagine the acoustics alone?
  • The Rule of Thirds would require a revision.

Now here are some of my questions about other things in life:

  • Why is bacon in the U.S. cut in rectangular strips and Canadian bacon in round pieces?
  • Who invented liquid soap and why?
  • Why of all the cold cuts bologna is round knowing it will go on a square piece of bread?
  • Why does Wendy’s make square hamburger patties for their round buns?
  • If you made square donuts would you have square donut holes?
  • Cannibals don’t eat clowns because they fear they might taste funny, so with that said, would Cannibals fear eating astronauts because they’d become spaced out?
  • Since cows eat corn, grass and hay, does that mean it’s OK for vegetarians to eat cows?
  • Why is our alphabet in the order that it is?
  • Why does shrimp come in jumbo sizes?
  • If Australia is “down under,” why isn’t the United States “up over?”
Rectangle photo of model during Virgin Islands photography workshop.

This photo of Julia, taken during a recent Virgin Islands photography workshop, fits a more horizontal format due to her extended arms. Picture this in a round format.

I’m sure there are many other interesting, and humorous questions out there that can fascinate us with answers, but ultimately there are many logical reasons why lenses are round and capture devices as well as prints are rectangular. Since I’m not a photo scientist I can only refer to the obvious, we see in a horizontal format, cropping the image in a rectangle format leaves us the sharpest part of the image and it only makes common sense when it comes to printing.

As promised for this “Unfiltered” category, I’m just telling it like it is, I am that I am. I close by saying, please don’t forget our military service members, their friends and families, it’s their sacrifices that protect our freedoms—and they protect our freedom, sometimes using binoculars that use round lenses. God Bless them! Rolando


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  1. I think the biggest factors behind square and rectangular images are due mostly to manufacturing of stretched canvas for paintings, sheets of paper, frames, etc.. television on the other hand could have easily gone round if the display tube was the only factor.

    CRTs are naturally round and take quite a bit of engineering to achieve a flat, rectangular viewing area. In fact around 1950.

    But now LCD panels have rendered that a mute point.

  2. So funny- the whole circle/square thing never occurred to me. I DO remember seeing old portraits hanging in my grandparents’ house that were oval. Maybe that was a compromise between the circle and square!!!

  3. We really had fun with this topic when Rolando brought it up on Facebook! The knee-jerk reaction was that it was a silly question. But it didn’t take long to realize that it was a very good question.

    • It was fun. It also helped me finish this article 😉 Thanks again for the feedback on Facebook and here!

  4. Wendy’s burgers are square because, according to their motto, “We don’t cut corners.”

  5. In a digital world, I don’t understand why sensors aren’t square, allowing for different digital crops (in-camera or in post.) It would not be hard to fit “crop” metadata into RAW images so that in-camera crops could be adjusted in post. Approaching it this way would also let us take portrait orientation photos without having to rotate our camera. How great would that be?

    I guess camera manufacturers may not think so — they’d sell less battery grips.

    • Not a photo scientist, but think that is cost prohibitive and honestly, layout and design principles shy away from square anything, especially photos. Just my thoughts.

  6. Nice post. By the way, I can how it’ll be like to watch a round TV screen 🙂

    • Thank you. I guess you could view it through a square opening? 😉 Thanks!

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Welcome to (Lens Diaries™), a hybrid photography blog with social flair. The photoblog provides photo tips, photo tutorials and photo diaries by professional photographer, author, writer, speaker and social media consultant, Rolando Gomez.

Lens Diaries™ is open to all levels of photographers, beginners to advanced, including fine art photography, fashion photography, wedding photography, portrait photography, people photography, baby photography, sports photography, nature photography, iphoneography, landscape photography, studio photography, underwater photography, etc.

Our primary photography focus is digital photography and digital cameras. From iPhones to Canon’s and Nikon’s, you can count on us!