The 35mm and The 50mm

In Digital, Still Life

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.

35mm, ISO 200 f/1.4 1/4000 sec
50mm, ISO 200 f/1.4 1/4000 sec

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.

35mm, ISO 640 f/2.8 1/30 sec
50mm, ISO 1250 f/2.8 1/30 sec

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.

35mm, ISO 200 f/4.5 1/50 sec
50mm, ISO 200 f.4/5 1/5 sec

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.

35mm, ISO 500 f/2.5 1/30 sec
50mm, ISO 1250 f/2.5 1/30 sec

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.

35mm, ISO 200 f/2.5 1/350 sec
50mm, ISO 200 f/2.8 1/150 sec

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…

xmichelle

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!

18 Comments

  1. I do love my 50mm but recently adopted an orphan camera that came with both a 50mm and 35mm. I guess I need to get out there and play!

    • it’s been so long since I shot with my 35mm on my old Pentax! this new lens is really making me think (and feel) in new ways. have fun playing with both lenses…I’ll be doing the same!!

  2. I’m the opposite of you… my 35 is always on my camera and only occasionally the 50. I so agree that one composes a photo differently depending which lens is on the camera! I find with that extra space, I compose much more carefully with the 35 – the 50 I tend to point and shoot more. Interesting how our eye and process changes. Love this commentary, Michelle!

  3. Ice exclusively shot with a 50mm for more years than I can recall. For the same reasons you stated, wanting a bit more room and finding myself unable to back up I finally added a 35mm. At first it felt foreign but it has since grown on me. However I find myself switching to the 50mm when I want to capture a portrait/close-up of my teen and young adult.

    • so good to read about your experiences, Jackie. I have a feeling the 35 will grow on me…I appreciate the shift in space and storytelling that it provides. I think I’ll always love the 50, and will surely continue to reach for it as you do 🙂

  4. My 35mm lens has been my favorite lens since I first rented one about 5 years ago. I rented it, fell deeply in love with it, and then saved and saved until I could justify purchasing it. At the time I wasn’t sure why I was photographing and I felt funny about justifying the expense. But, I can honestly say it was the best decision I ever made. I’m like you. I don’t want “all the lenses”. I want a small collection that meet my needs and that’s it. Thank you for this thoughtful review of the two lenses and welcome to the 35mm club. We are happy to have you. xoxo Deb

    • Thanks for that warm welcome, Deb! 😉
      I’m always fascinated and inspired by photographers’ love for certain lenses!

  5. I have a Fuji with a 35mm & love love this lens. It’s fast, gets great bokeh and is perfect for so many things. I hardly take it off. I want the 50 because I’m told it’s a good macro.

  6. I used a 35mm all the time on my cropped sensor camera. With full frame, I find myself going back and forth between 35 and 50. I reach for the 35mm if I know I’ll be shooting things happening indoors or will be in a crowd. Often if I am using my 35mm I also have my 85mm in my bag for portraits or more reach. I reach for the 50mm for still life, and situations where I know I might shoot a few portraits together with more general shots.and don’t want to carry an extra lens.

    • Yes to all you’ve said, Deirdre. I kinda love how each lens has its own strengths and personalities…just like us 🙂

  7. Ooooo. I am a total 35mm fan, having tried the 50mm several times but needing more space. But reading this has made me think I should try it again!

    • it’s definitely fun to play with both and notice the differences (and similarities). I think we all end up with a favorite, but I’m finding switching it up really helpful in thinking about how I shoot and how I want to shoot!

  8. I love both of these lenses so much, I keep both of them in my camera bag at all times. I loved the side by side images here.

  9. i started with the 50mm and got the 35 later when i realized each of the rooms in our house was about the same size and images of my kids filled up so much of the frame! i’m not sure i’ve put my 50 back on since!! but, maybe i should. play is essential. loved these side by sides!!

    • well, there’s something to be said for knowing what works for you and what you love!
      I’ll say though, it’s nice to shake things up. putting on the 50 for a little spin now and then would likely spark something in the way you use your 35.
      glad you liked the side by sides 🙂 thanks for letting me know.

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