When it comes to general photography, the choice between a 35mm and a 50mm lens can be a pivotal decision that influences the way you capture the world around you. Both of these focal lengths have their own unique characteristics and advantages, catering to different shooting styles and preferences. In this article, we'll delve into the nuances of the 35mm and 50mm lenses and help you determine which one might be the best fit for your general photography needs.
Why the prime lens comparison only of 35mm vs 50mm lens?
When it comes to focal length there is no two more popular than the 35mm vs 50mm lens comparison.
If you are a beginner who is currently using a kit lens with your DSLR or mirrorless camera you may have experimented with many focal lengths already. However, the allure of a fast prime lense is likely calling you.
You could add 24mm, 28mm, or even 40mm but for different reasons they don't seem to be compared as much.
24mm is very popular for architecture / can be too wide for some situations
28mm is popular for street photography / can be too wide for some
40mm is close to 35mm yet much wider than 50mm / can be too tight in small spaces
35mm Lens: Versatility and Storytelling
The 35mm lens is often considered a classic focal length for general photography due to its versatility and natural perspective. It closely mimics the field of view of the human eye, allowing you to capture scenes that feel true to life. This makes it an excellent choice for street photography, documentary work, and capturing candid moments.
One of the key advantages of the 35mm lens is its ability to include more of the environment in the frame. It's wider than a 50mm lens, making it ideal for capturing landscapes, cityscapes, and scenes where you want to provide context to your subject. This focal length shines when you want to tell a broader story within a single frame.
Furthermore, the 35mm lens excels in low light conditions. Many 35mm lenses offer wide apertures (such as f/1.4 or f/2), allowing you to shoot in dimly lit environments while maintaining a shallow depth of field. This combination of wide aperture and low-light capability makes the 35mm lens a great tool for capturing atmospheric shots with beautiful background blur.
50mm Lens: Classic Portrait and Everyday Excellence
The 50mm lens, often referred to as a "nifty fifty," is another classic choice that has stood the test of time. It offers a slightly narrower field of view compared to the 35mm lens, which can be beneficial for eliminating distractions and focusing more on your subject. This focal length is renowned for its versatility and ability to capture subjects with a natural perspective, making it suitable for a wide range of general photography.
While the 50mm lens might not be as wide as the 35mm, it excels in portraiture and everyday scenes. It's often the go-to choice for portrait photographers due to its flattering compression and ability to isolate subjects from their backgrounds. The f/1.8 and f/1.4 versions of the lens provide excellent background blur, helping your subject stand out beautifully.
The 50mm lens is also prized for its sharpness and consistency across the frame. It typically has less distortion compared to wider lenses, making it a great option for capturing scenes that require precise details. Additionally, the 50mm focal length is well-suited for situations where you want to focus on a single subject without capturing excessive surroundings.
Fuji 35mm lenses tested by Iamtongue
Choosing Between the Two
When deciding between a 35mm and a 50mm lens for general photography, consider your shooting style, preferences, and the type of scenes you often capture. If you enjoy storytelling and documenting the world around you in a broader context, the 35mm lens could be your ideal companion. On the other hand, if you lean towards portraits, details, and capturing subjects with separation from their backgrounds, the 50mm lens might be your perfect match.
Ultimately, both focal lengths have their own strengths and can be valuable additions to your photography arsenal. Some photographers even opt for both lenses to cover a wider range of situations. Whichever lens you choose, remember that your creativity and vision are what truly bring your photographs to life. Whether you're drawn to the storytelling charm of the 35mm or the classic excellence of the 50mm, both lenses have the power to help you capture moments that resonate and endure.
Here is a great video from Youtuber, Doriyan Coleman about 35mm vs 50mm for Street Photography
So what is my personal favorite?
I personally choose to go 35mm. As a husband and father I always find myself in tight situations where the limit to capture my loved ones is the wide angle of 35mm. Anything tighter forces me to be watching and not participating in the the moments. That can work in street photography but not for family time. My favorite lens is the Fuji 23mm f2 WR (35mm equivalent with the APSC crop of 1.5).
My honorable mention is the 40mm focal length. I"m a Fuji X user and the excellent 27mm f2.8 WR is a great lens. 40mm is great for the streets and I highly recommend it. Its close enough to 35mm while being a pancake lens.
Cropping: A good reason to choose 35mm over 50mm in modern digital photography
If you have a modern digital camera with adequate megapixels you could take advantage of cropping. Now some purist will balk at this idea, but we have this convenience so why not use it. Here me out.
If you're using a 24 megapixel camera and you shoot with a 35mm you can crop your image down to get the field of view of 50mm and only lose 30% of your megapixels. That will give you a 16 megapixel image. This same math will apply to any other field of view you want to crop into.
35mm / 50mm = .70 x 24mp = 16mp
28mm / 35mm = .80 x 24mp = 19mp
Now in both scenarios you still have plenty of resolution for printing, web publishing, and social media. It all depends on your intended purpose. You can effectively get more out of one lens by using cropping as a tool.
The reason 35mm is better is because I can make a 35mm into 50mm, but I can't make a 50mm into a 35mm.
Enjoy your choice and take lots of photos my friends.
My name is Jason Logan. I'm a photographer and content creator from Jersey City, NJ.