There is a reason why a prime lens is called “prime.” It’s the most important piece of your photography kit, the chief of the lens world. And it should be part of your everyday kit.
Our article will look at 35mm vs 50mm prime lenses and their attributes. We will also explain why you should always have a prime lens in your camera bag.
Comparing 35mm vs 50mm Prime Lenses: What Are the Differences?
A prime lens operates with a fixed focal length and low aperture value. For example, an 85mm, f/1.8 lens has a focal length of 85mm and an aperture of f/1.8.
We also use words like prime, standard, telephoto, and zoom to describe our lenses. So let’s look at what these and other lens terms mean:
- Fisheye Lens: 6mm to 16mm lenses with a very wide angle of perspective. Best for creative purposes.
- Wide Angle Lens: 14mm to 35mm lenses with a wide angle of perspective. Best for interior or landscape images.
- Macro Lens: 28mm to 200mm lenses for getting very close to a subject. Best used for photographing close-ups.
- Standard Lens: 45mm to 60mm lenses with minimal distortion. Best for portrait photography.
- Telephoto Lens: 85mm to 400 mm lenses with a far-reaching focal length. Best for wildlife photography or astrophotography.
All of the above lenses come in two forms—zoom and prime versions. With 35mm vs 50mm, we are talking about standard, prime lenses.
Pros and Cons of Using a Prime Lens
There are benefits and downsides to owning zoom vs prime lenses. It all comes down to what you are photographing.
Prime lenses tend to be smaller, lighter, faster, and sharper, with a higher level of resolution. They are the perfect partner for low-light cameras and a shallow depth of field due to their fast apertures.
Prime lenses can have apertures as fast and wide as f/1.4 and f/1.2. And sometimes they even go down to f/0.95.
A faster and wider aperture costs more money. But generally, prime lenses are cheaper than zoom lenses with the same fixed aperture value.
Unfortunately, photographers are becoming lazier and lazier, sacrificing image quality for zooms. With zoom lenses, you can quickly change from a wide-angle to telephoto with just a wrist flick.
Meanwhile, prime lenses ensure that you “zoom with your feet.” The fixed focal length means you have to get creative and walk around as much as possible to discover the best distance from your subject.
This can inspire new ideas. And it can help you discover some interesting camera angles during a photo shoot.
What Are the Features of a 35mm Prime Lens?
A focal length of 35mm gives you a field of view of 54.4 degrees. It is the wide-angle lens you should get if you are aiming to avoid too much distortion.
A wider field of view lets you get closer to your subject. It also lets you keep a safe distance to capture candid moments. It is also a great travel companion, as you see more of the scene.
The 35mm lens is great in tight spots, as the wide angle will capture those details just to the side of the main focal area.
This lens is versatile, letting you capture close-ups and landscapes with no problem at all. It lets you be part of the scene and interact more with your subject.
The 35mm isn’t as flattering as the 50mm for capturing human faces. The distortion is a little bit more aggressive.
But it might fit well for full-body portraits. This is because the angle lets you fit the whole person into the frame from a relatively close distance.
We recommend the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens. It provides a wide aperture and an excellent autofocus system, which is great for low-light conditions.
Also, it gives you more play in keeping your ISO low. Therefore, it helps maintain picture quality.
What are the Features of a 50mm Prime Lens?
A “nifty fifty” 50mm lens has a field of view of 39.6 degrees. It has been the standard of all lenses for some time. I would recommend it to photographers after they get used to their 18-55mm kit lens.
It’s important for beginners to experiment with a prime lens. It provides much better image quality than the kit lenses. And again, it forces photographers to move around and step out of their comfort zone.
A 50mm lens is most similar to the human eye’s focal component. 50mm is what the human eye sees as a sharp field of view. We are immediately used to it as we effectively use a 50mm all the time.
Just like the 35mm prime lens, a 50mm requires that you get close to your subject. It does let you stand a little further back, but not by any substantial amount.
You are still photographing up close and personal. It initiates a more intimate relationship with the subject. And it’s even better that you don’t need to yell instructions!
Which Lens Is Better and Why?
You may feel that there isn’t much between 35mm and 50mm lenses. With a 15mm difference in focal length, it’s easy to understand why.
But that little difference can make a mountain out of a molehill. Distortion can affect your subject, which gets worse the closer you get to your subject.
This is important to point out in case you thought stepping closer to your subject turns your 50mm into a 35mm perspective.
There is no winner between these two lenses, as they both have pros and cons. They work differently for every scenario.
You can often start with 50mm on a shoot and then switch to 35mm when you need a wider angle. This is especially relevant if your position is a little cramped.
Compare images taken with both lenses from the same position and with the same settings. You would see that the 50mm gives you a shallower depth of field and better bokeh.
The 35mm, on the other hand, will fit more into the frame. So it’s more suitable for landscapes and indoor photography.
Generally, a 50mm is a perfect choice if you are looking for a more versatile lens, and you can just bring one lens with you. Due to less distortion, it is also better captures what the human eye sees.
If you find the 50mm isn’t getting you close enough to the action, then try a third choice—an 85mm prime. This is great in low-light conditions. And its focus is very sharp.
The other consideration is if your camera is full frame or crop. A cropped sensor will add 1.6x to your lens’s focal length. Suddenly, a 35mm lens is closer to 60mm. And a 50mm becomes an 80mm.
This could drastically change your image, especially if you are used to a full frame camera rather than a cropped one.
Best Primes for Each Sensor Size
Lens equivalence is a technical topic that often confuses beginners. Don’t worry if you don’t understand the concept. You’re not alone!
Best 35mm Lenses
- Full Frame: Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM and Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8G ED
- APS-C: Tokina 35mm f/2.8 AT-X PRO DX and Nikon AF-S DX 35mm f/1.8G
- Micro FourThirds: Voigtlander 17.5mm f/0.95
Best 50mm Lenses
- Full Frame: Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art and Carl Zeiss 55 mm f/1.4
- APS-C: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM and Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G
- Micro Four Thirds: Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4 Summilux
Conclusion: 35mm vs 50mm
Prime lenses are great tools if you are looking for versatile and quality lenses. With 35mm vs 50mm, both have advantages and disadvantages.
The choice is yours to make, depending on what you want to use a prime lens for. We hope that this article has helped you with choosing between a 35mm and 50mm lens!