I’ve had a 35mm lens on my dream list for a while. I’ve read about the characteristics of this focal length and have made note of images captured with a 35mm for some time now. With a telephoto lens in my arsenal, I’ve had the opportunity to play with that focal length; additionally, my old (film) Pentax (on which I learned to shoot) was a 35mm. The focal length isn’t new to me. But owning a 35mm lens for my Fuji mirrorless is new to me. Since I’m not an impulse buyer and am, rather, more of an obsessive over-thinker or careful planner, it took some time to decide on this purchase. While I was obsessing (I mean carefully planning), I saved my pennies. And, recently, I took the plunge.
Typically, I keep my 50mm (35mm in the Fuji mirrorless world) on my camera body. It’s my best friend. It’s fast with a wide aperture of f/1.4 and I have grown to love – and have gotten quite comfortable with – its intimate framing. It suits my style well.
So why the 35mm then? At the beginning of the wide angle lens grouping, it’s wide without being too wide. I know my style, and I don’t need wide. But sometimes I find myself wanting a little more space around my subject, a little more environment. And sometimes I can simply take a few physical steps back and that does the trick. But sometimes there isn’t room to take those steps. And sometimes the difference is far subtler. There’s a compression in the 50mm that doesn’t exist in the 35mm. I’ve read explanations of both these lenses being closest to what the human eye sees. Which is it? I guess that’s up to the photographer and viewer to decide. It’s up to us to feel. I do think lots of the subtlety between the two lenses is in the feeling of what’s captured. One isn’t necessarily better than the other. Just different.
I’m interested in telling a story, and the 50mm allows me to do this. But I’m curious to stretch myself. I have a tendency to move close to my subject…again, this suits my style. But can I tell a slightly different story by opening up that frame just a wee bit? I know that I’m interested in details, but what if I marry those details with a bit more of the environment? This is my challenge.
Truthfully, I’m not sure how I feel about the 35mm, for me. It’s too new in my hands (and, boy, is it pretty…and fast too, with a f/1.4 identical to my nifty-fifty). I’m incredibly comfortable with the 50mm focal length so I’m not clear on whether the hesitation is that I’m out of my comfort zone, or perhaps I’m just not a 35mm kind of girl.
In an effort to get to know my new lens, I decided to begin by playing rather deliberately. I wanted to make obvious for myself the visual differences. Staying indoors in order to make the switching of lenses slightly less of a hassle (with a table or chair to hold the extra lens), I made an assignment for myself: I went to some favorite spots in our house and stood in one place. Keeping settings and physical position the same (some settings shifted as light needs shifted), I shot with the 35mm and then with the 50mm. You can see, by looking at the pairings in this post, that the differences are subtle. And also quite dramatic.
As stated above, shooting at this focal length is not new to me. Somehow, I was still surprised by the shots. I felt like a little kid discovering something for the first time. Like a kid in a candy shop. Like a kid waving a magic wand. It really is kind of amazing. I will be the last in line to explain the physics and optics of photography lenses to you; I find it fascinating but don’t understand it well enough to explain to anyone. But look for yourself! Kind of amazing.
Time and practice will tell if the 35mm is a focal length I employ. I’m pretty sure I’m going to enjoy it; it’s more a question of understanding where my photographic story lies. I do not wish to have a shelf lined with All the Lenses. I want only what I need in order to tell my story. So I’ll play. And I’ll practice. I’ll wave my magic wand and see what kind of stories I can tell with this new lens. I’ll step a bit out of my comfort zone while maintaining intimacy with my subjects. I’ll allow for a little more space to filter in. We’ll see, we’ll see…
Do you shoot with a 35mm lens? Or maybe the 50mm? The August theme for ViewFinders is street photography, for which 35mm is an ideal focal length; though some photographers love the 50mm for street (Cartier-Bresson, case in point)! I’d love to hear what you think about either of these lenses…or perhaps you have another favorite. Do tell us in the comments below. We’d love to hear!