Whether debating on your first lens or looking for creative inspiration. Whether shooting video or photography. Whether on a micro or multi-million dollar budget, if you’re in the camera business you’ll need to answer the question – what is a 35mm lens good for?

Don’t worry. This article is all about the 35mm lens. How they’re used, the 35mm vs 50mm lens, and where to buy them for cheap. Let’s get to it.

What is a 35mm lens good for

What does 35mm lens mean

There’s a lot of talk about what a “standard” lens is. Most would argue that title belongs to the winner of the 35mm vs 50mm lens debate.

But, the term 35mm camera lens is meaningless to someone who knows nothing about cameras, so before we get too crazy, let’s cover some basics.

35mm Camera Lens Definition

What does 35mm lens mean?

A 35mm lens is a lens with a focal length of 35mm (millimeters). Focal length is the length from the optical center of the lens to the camera’s sensor, but that’s not super important to remember. What's important is what is a 35mm lens good for and what are the visual characteristics we often associate with it.

The 35mm is an extremely popular lens choice and a crucial tool for any photographer/cinematographer.

Why 35mm?

  • Semi-wide, but still a familiar, comfortable image
  • One of the “standard” lenses used in film and photography
  • Very versatile

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Let's look at some examples in context with other lenses. Here are a few visual cues to understand both focal length and the look of 35mm lens photography.

35mm lens photography
35mm lens photography 1

35mm lens photography

The shorter the focal length (the lower the mm), the wider the image. In the first example, the photographer is standing a fair distance from the house, but is more akin to photography.

If you want to know more about photography lenses, see where the 35mm camera lens ranks among the best lenses for portrait photography.

35mm lens portraits
35mm lens portraits 1

35mm lens photography

But with photos like the two above, it’s easy to see how this translates well to film! There is a naturalism to the imagery that eschews any stylistic attributes for more grounded and relatable portraits.

What is a 35mm lens good for

The 35 lens in film

It can take a pretty savvy eye to see a shot and know the focal length, but chances are… you’re used to seeing a 35mm prime lens in action. 

The film Call Me By Your Name (2017) was shot entirely on a 35mm prime lens. Here is that film's director, Luca Guadagnino, and the co-writer and editor Walter Fasano discussing the decision to use a single lens in the film.

Why 35mm  •  Call Me By Your Name

In a story grounded in a relationship, it makes sense for the camera to feel invisible. Flashy lens choices and excess camera movement could take us out of the story at the core of the film.

Here’s a clip to see the lens in action during Call Me By Your Name.

35mm Lens Example

There are several shot types in the above clip.  Wide shots, inserts shots, two-shots… all captured on a 35. All working seamlessly.

35mm prime lens

4 Reasons to use the 35mm lens

So you have an idea of what the 35mm lens looks like and understand that it’s a very common lens, but what are the main advantages of the 35mm?

Well, I’d say there are 4:

  1. Familiarity
  2. Versatility
  3. Portability
  4. Low-light performance

This video details these advantages and a whole lot more by testing the lens in the field, as well as providing some tips on using the 35mm. 

What is a 35mm Lens Good For

You can see why this lens is such a valuable tool. However, the 35mm vs 50mm lens debate is another discussion.

What is the 35mm lens best for?                .

1. Familiarity

It’s not the closest thing to the human eye, but it’s not far off. Most people give the 50mm that crown, but the anamorphic 40mm lens is also referred to as a “human lens.”

Generally speaking, anything from 35mm — 50mm can be called a “Standard lens.” We’ve seen these lenses in so many films and photos, there is a comfortability built-in. It feels right.

What is a 35mm lens good for

2. Versatility 

The 35mm lens is extremely versatile. The 35mm is a lens that allows you to capture many different types of camera shots and angles. It’s wide enough to capture background elements, but close enough to shoot more intimate shots like coverage and portraits.

Lenses with high mm levels (longer focal lengths) are for very specific uses. Often when far from your subject. Lenses with low mm levels (shorter focal lengths) help when you need an ultra-wide shot. These are nice luxuries to have but are by no means essential.

WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A 35MM AND 50MM LENS?  

3. Portability

Even though a smaller mm gives you a wider image… in terms of size, a smaller mm corresponds to a smaller lens. Remember mm = millimeters.

This makes a 35mm lens very easy to transport and great for travel photography or guerilla-style film shoots when you need to travel light and get shots quickly.

WHAT IS A 35MM LENS GOOD FOR

4. Good in low light

The 35mm lens has a relatively big aperture. A larger aperture allows more light into the camera, so when light is limited, it can maximize its potential.

This is HUGE. The sun sets at 5pm in the fall/winter months, and anyone who works production knows… extra time never hurts. 

Lighting, especially outdoor lighting, can make or break any shot. It’s tremendously important and it’s nice to have every tool at your disposal to combat it.

Here’s some night footage on 35mm for reference. 

What is the 35mm lens best for?

That footage is shot on a Nikon D750 camera (about $1500) and a 35mm 1.8 AF-S Lens (about $200).

I’ll let you be the judge, but that’s pretty good value to me.

35mm camera lens

Where to buy a 35mm lens

If I’ve sold you on this lens, maybe it’s time to crack open that checkbook! However, I’m sure you have more questions…

What’s the best 35mm for Sony? Canon? Nikon? Do you want a Carl Zeiss Lens? What’s a good starter lens? Cheap but still good?

What about an 18mm - 50mm variable lense? Here are my words of wisdom:

  • Every camera is going to have a 35 lens option. And ones at various price ranges. Know what you want to spend and read the reviews.
  • Buy a Prime Lens. Don’t buy a variable zoom. The variable zoom may seem tempting (especially financially) but any veteran cinematographer will tell you that you sacrifice image quality with variable lenses. Prime all the way, baby!
  • If you’re filmmaking, buy a lens designed for video. The first prime lens I bought was extremely well-reviewed, I brought it out to shoot and the image was constantly refocusing and making a ticking sound. It was a photography lens. Double-check this.

The best sites to buy lenses are Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama. You can always check your local camera store or meet-swap but selection can be very limited.

Find a lens in your price range, do a little research, and don’t get too cheap. Remember, with a camera, the lens is just as important as the body.

UP NEXT

Different types of lenses

The 35 lens is a great place to start, but if you wanna learn more about Lenses, better believe, we’ve got you covered.

Check out our go-to guide to all the photography and video lenses you can think of. We cover standard, wide-angle, long focus, fisheye, telephoto, macro, parfocal…. you name it.

Up Next: Different type of lenses →
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