Choosing the right lens can significantly impact your photography, and two of the most popular options are the 35mm and 50mm lenses. Each offers unique advantages and has its own set of challenges. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll delve into the specifics of these two lenses, discussing their strengths, weaknesses, and suitability for different types of photography, helping you make an informed decision on which lens is the perfect fit for your creative vision.

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35mm vs 50mm Lens Comparison

First, let’s define focal length

A 35mm lens and a 50mm lens are two types of camera lenses and focal lengths. Before we dive into the differences between the two, it’s important to understand what focal length is. 


What is Focal Length?

Focal length is the distance between the optical center of the lens, and the camera sensor or film plane when focused at infinity. The optical center is where light rays converge inside the body of your lens. 

The focal length defines the magnification and field of view for a given lens. This value is most commonly measured in millimeters. Prime lenses have set focal lengths whereas zoom lenses have variable focal lengths, and any change alters the visual properties of your footage.

Why is focal length so important?

  • Determines field of view
  • Impacts magnification
  • Controls depth of field
  • Influences perspective

Difference Between 35mm and 50mm

Understanding the Basics

Focal length, measured in millimeters, significantly impacts your photography as it essentially determines how 'zoomed in' your photos appear and influences the depth of field, which can either isolate a subject from its background or provide a sharp focus throughout the entire image. Here's our breakdown of the various types of camera lenses and how they work.

Ultimate Guide to Camera Lenses  •  Subscribe on YouTube

A 35mm lens, named for its focal length, provides a wide field of view making it perfect for capturing expansive landscapes or tight interior shots. 

On the other hand, a 50mm lens, often referred to as a 'nifty fifty,' offers a narrower perspective, ideal for portrait photography or detailed close-up shots.

35mm vs 50mm Comparison

Pros and Cons of a 35mm Lens

Let’s delve into the advantages and disadvantages of using a 35mm lens, from its broad field of view to potential distortion issues, with insights drawn from personal experiences.

Pros of a 35mm Lens
  • The 35mm lens has a wider field of view, perfect for capturing expansive scenes.

  • It's excellent for street photography and landscape photography, allowing the inclusion of more environmental details.

  • Personal Example: When photographing the busy streets of New York, the 35mm lens allowed me to capture the vibrant atmosphere and architectural details along with my subject.

This video does a great job at breaking down the differences visually.

50mm vs 35mm Lens Comparison

Cons of a 35mm Lens
  • The wide field of view can lead to potential distortion, especially around the edges of the frame.

  • This lens is not typically ideal for portraits as it doesn't isolate the subject as well as longer lenses.

  • Personal Example: In my experience, when shooting portraits with a 35mm lens, the background was often too prominent, detracting from the main subject.

Check this video comparing the look of a 35mm lens, 50mm lens, and 85mm lens when shooting portrait photography.

Comparing 35mm vs 50mm

Pros and Cons of a 50mm Lens

The 50mm lens, often referred to as the "nifty fifty," is a common staple in many photographers' kits due to its versatility and excellent image quality. Let’s look at the pros and cons of this focal length. 

Pros of a 50mm Lens
  • The 50mm lens is renowned for its versatility.
  • It's particularly well-suited for portrait photography due to its ability to isolate the subject and provide a flattering perspective.
  • Personal Example: When taking portraits, I've found that a 50mm lens beautifully blurs the background, drawing focus to the person and creating a professional look.
mm vs mm Lenses mm lens portrait by Julia Trotti

50mm lens portrait by Julia Trotti

Cons of a 50mm Lens

  • The narrower field of view can be restrictive when photographing larger scenes or in tight spaces.
  • It may not be as suitable for landscape photography or architectural photography where a wider perspective is often preferable.
  • Personal Example: I recall struggling to capture the entirety of a grand cathedral with a 50mm lens during a trip, wishing I had a wider lens.

Choosing Between 35mm vs 50mm

Which lens is right for you?

Choosing between a 35mm and a 50mm lens depends on several factors, including the type of photography you're interested in, the environment you'll be shooting in, and your personal artistic style.

Type of Photography

If you're into street photography, landscape photography, or architectural photography, a 35mm lens with its wider field of view might serve you well. On the other hand, if portrait photography is more your style, a 50mm lens can provide a flattering perspective and beautifully isolate your subject. This is showcased in action in the video comparison below. 

35mm vs 50mm  •  Best First Prime Lens?

Shooting Environment

Consider the environment you'll be shooting in. If you often find yourself in tight spaces or want to capture expansive scenes, the 35mm lens' wide angle could be beneficial.

However, for controlled environments where you can manage the distance between you and your subject, a 50mm lens could be more suitable.

mm vs mm Lenses Jack Forster New York City Street Photographer

Jack Forster  •  New York City Street Photographer

Artistic Style

Your personal artistic style also plays a role. If you prefer images with more environmental details and context, go for a 35mm lens. But if your style leans towards isolating subjects and creating more depth in your photos, a 50mm lens might be your best bet.

In the end, it's all about finding the lens that best suits your needs and complements your creative vision. Whether it's the wider perspective offered by a 35mm lens or the subject-focused clarity of a 50mm lens, the choice should align with your photographic goals and style. Remember, the right equipment can enhance your creativity, but it is your unique perspective that truly brings a photograph to life.

Up Next

Different Types of Camera Lenses

Having explored the differences between the 35mm and 50mm lenses, it's clear that each lens serves unique purposes in photography. Let's now broaden our view and delve into a wider range of camera lenses in our next article.

Up Next: Types of Lenses →
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  • Kyle DeGuzman graduated from San Diego State University with a Bachelor of Science in Television, Film, & New Media. He currently resides in Denver, Colorado spending his time writing, filmmaking, and traveling.

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