Using ExifTool to find your most used focal length

I would like to get a better quality zoom lens, so I’ve started looking around the web for recommendations on replacements. The options seem endless. I’m even considering a couple of primes instead of one zoom.

Background: I only have two lens; the EF-S 17-85mm kit lens that came with my Canon 40D and a Canon EF 80mm 1.8.

Naturally, one of my first questions is… what focal length should I get? The 17-85 is a good range, but do I really use the different lengths? Could I just get a nicer, wide prime and physically move in or out to compose?

That got me thinking… I wonder what focal length I use most of the time?

The answer:
I use my 50mm 25% of the time
I use my 17-85mm 75% of the time

17mm: 17% of the time (Yes, I double checked the math.)
50mm: 25% of the time
85mm: 14% of the time
Most of the remainder is wider than 50mm (47%)

Picture 1.png

How do I know?
Phil Harvey has created a really cool command line tool called ExifTool that can scan all your photos and export a list! From there, you can open in Excel and evaluate your data. It works on Windows or Mac.

I think I will look for a better lens in the 17-55 range. And also something longer than 85mm.

Phil’s Website:


How it works: I use Lightroom on a Mac to manage my photos, so I navigated to my Pictures directory in terminal:

cd /Users/(myusername)/Pictures

then ran this script

exiftool -r -T -filename -focallength -ext CR2 2008 > 2008.txt

That scans all files ending in “CR2” in the 2008 directory (AND all subfolders) and exports them to a file containing the image name and the focal length. The file is named 2008.txt. I opened the txt file in Excel and created a pivot table to find the sum of each focal length (or you could use another method).

Feel free to comment if you want to try it, but need help.


  1. Thank you very much!! Greatly empowering. Just what I needed as I’m looking forward to understand my ‘focal length habits’, shed the extra lenses and concentrate on a few good (possibly also new) ones that suit my style best. Super thumbs up!!

  2. This will give you a text summary for the same data, which is probably easier to work with.

    awk '{print $2, $3}' 2008.txt | sort | uniq -c | awk '{print $2, $1}' | sort -n

    Writing the same summary to a csv:

    awk '{print $2, $3}' 2008.txt | sort | uniq -c | awk 'BEGIN { OFS = ", " } ; {print $2, $1}' | sort -n > 2008.csv

    It’s worth pointing out that as the focal lengths increase, they become more similar to each other – a 149mm and 150mm focal length are closer to each other than a 14mm and 15mm focal length.

  3. Thank you another great write-up, I take pleasure in reading through everything you need to point out even if I would not constantly recognize. It is not exactly the same here is Most of Asia. Asians possibly visualize it a little in different ways. Which i love to look for a Cookware girl’s standpoint.

  4. Other explanation is that I really like landscape photography at wide angles. I’m planning to get Canon 10-22 soon when I find the money for it.

  5. Strange, my results are exactly as yours 🙂 I have also the same 17-85 lens. 99% of photos are shot either at 17 or 85 mm. I explain this to myself in that way: I keep the lens at its most-retracted state which is 17 mm. When I shoot I’m too lazy to adjust the zoom, so I shoot most at 17 mm. But when I want to zoom something, I zoom it to the end.

    Check it out here:

  6. Awesome, just what I was looking for!




  1. - [...] has a good post showing how to use Exiftool to find your most commonly used focal [...]

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *