You might be contemplating buying a 35mm lens as your first prime or simply looking for a more versatile addition to your kit – either way, it’s helpful to know what a 35mm lens is good for and why they’re so popular.
Words and Photography by Urth HQ
The 35mm lens is much-loved by many photographers. It’s a versatile piece of equipment that can be great for travel, street photography, film and more. This guide shines a light on the best use cases and multiple benefits of the 35mm camera lens, whether you’re an established photographer or a first-time buyer.
Why is the 35mm lens called a “standard lens”?
A 35mm lens is one of the most popular “standard” lenses used in film and photography, the other being the “nifty-fifty” 50mm lens. Standard lenses are popular choices between amateur and professional image makers as they are considered to be ideal focal lengths that aren’t too “zoomed in” or “zoomed out”. Shorter lenses are most often called wide angle lenses whilst longer lenses are typically called zoom lenses.
Many new photographers go for a 35mm f/2 lens as their first purchase after they’ve had time to experiment with their kit lens. 35mm as a focal length is quite versatile and generally produces a comfortably wide image with a pleasing field of view. There are plenty of vintage and modern options to suit various full frame and crop sensor camera bodies.
Why is the 35mm lens so popular?
One important aspect is the slightly wider than “normal” angle of view which results in more opportunities to include elements of the background along with your main focus to create images with more context and narrative. Paired with accessories, the creative boundaries are limitless. For inspiration, check out this beautifully visual article by James Caswell on how to experiment with an ND filter and a 35mm lens.
35mm lenses can often get closer than basic 50mm lenses, allowing more flexibility and freedom of movement overall. Larger sensors now make for easy crop-ins during post-production at a relatively negligible cost to overall clarity and image quality.
What is the 35mm lens good for?
Most people find the 35mm focal length to be particularly easy to use with a natural feel for framing and focus. It takes experts years to instantly recognize focal lengths used in shots on sight but chances are you’ve seen many photographs and scenes in films shot at the 35mm focal length given its ubiquitous appeal.
Aside from the familiar point-of-view, 35mm lenses (with the 35mm prime lens options in particular) make for versatile, portable and accessible workhorses with good low-light performance that suit a wide range of applications.
A DEEPER DEPTH OF FIELD
Focus is controlled by a lens’ focal length and aperture setting as well as the subject’s distance from the camera. 50mm lenses can often look “overly zoomed in” especially when used with a crop sensor camera, making for difficult situations indoors or in tight spaces. 35mm lenses can allow for closer focusing distances, and paired with the wider field of view, they provide a deeper depth of field overall.
Depth of field refers to a set distance between the closest and farthest objects in a photo that appears acceptably sharp. Focusing at 50mm lens to 10-feet at f/2.0 results in 17 inches of focus, whereas a 35mm lens focused 10-feet away at f/2.0 results in over 35 inches of focus, allowing you to get more of your subject sharp.
This versatile focal length is perfect for almost any situation, whether you’re out in nature capturing landscapes, exploring the city creating street photography or getting up close to your subject with portrait photography. The 35mm lens provides a wider field of view than a 50mm lens without nearly as much distortion as a 24mm lens. This allows 35mm lenses to perform as a wide angle lens when desired and also a standard lens if needed.
The 35mm lens’ versatility was recognized early on, and many earlier makes and models of analog cameras had fixed 35mm prime lenses. If you’re into old school bodies and film photography you might find our guide to the best lenses for recreating a film aesthetic using digital cameras useful.
COMPOSITION & BOKEH
The recognizable perspective allows for a very human, natural framing with enough separation to create intrigue in a photo without losing too much of the available context. If you decide to go for a 35mm prime lens over maybe a slower zoom lens you also get the benefit of shallow depths-of-field and generally nice bokeh. This may be more apparent on a crop sensor versus a full frame camera, but you will likely see the benefits either way!
Why choose a 35mm lens?
The nifty-fifty (A fast 50mm lens) is the tried-and-true option that most photographers will default to… But it doesn’t create amazing results for anything specific.
This can make for ‘predictable’ photos due to how common and accessible lenses are now, with second-hand Canon EF 50mm options sometimes coming in at less than the cost of a restaurant meal. Whilst a bit more expensive, a 35mm lens on a full-frame body does pretty much anything a 50mm lens can do with some added benefits.
FIELD OF VIEW
Most 35mm lenses manage to address many of the distortion issues found in wider focal lengths while still capturing images with a shallow depth of field. Even though human vision is more technically aligned with a 50mm lens, a 35mm lens allows for a close-to but not exactly-like perspective. It’s an instantly relatable appeal with a great balance of focal point and context.
Shooting on a full frame or mirrorless camera will often allow for cropping in later on as well so there’s no need to worry about shooting too wide either!
The 35mm focal length isn’t wide enough to be overly problematic and most decent lenses will have been designed to correct any common aberrations. Many lenses produced in this focal length are also relatively quite fast, with most manufacturers producing f/1.4 and f/2.0 options. Most camera bodies will have sensors that will allow you to get a lot of versatility from a 35mm lens while shooting and in retouching. Their apertures are fast enough to get shallow depths of field and adequate performance in low-light environments.
There are 50mm lens options that are available for less than most 35mm prime lens options since they are generally simpler in terms of design. That said if you’re in the market for high-quality lenses you will probably get more out of a good 35mm than a cheap 50mm. Have a look at vintage or second-hand gear, you will likely find one that suits your budget and more often than not it will be well worth the cost.
EASE OF USE
The 35mm lenses on the market may not necessarily be the tiniest options out there but they often come quite close, although the size and weight do noticeably increase as you start looking around at faster lenses with wider apertures. That being said, these options are usually prime lenses which result in a lighter weight overall compared to big heavy professional zoom lenses.
Is the 35mm lens good for filmmaking?
35mm prime lenses are popular picks for filmmakers, often for many of the same reasons they are loved by photographers. The natural framing, great balance between the focal point and background separation and the overall versatility of the 35mm focal length are just some of the reasons why this lens is so great. If you’re looking to buy a 35mm lens for filmmaking you should check out our article on the 5 best cameras for filmmaking on a budget.
Photography lenses can be used either directly on some video camera bodies or otherwise adapted using speed rings, but video lenses are designed with key differences that make them even better suited for filming. Photography lenses can cause issues with constant refocusing and poor sound quality.
Why are 35mm lenses so expensive?
There are many options available on the market to fit most budgets, but high end glass direct from manufacturers will often cost more. That being said, this is true for all lenses in general. They say you always get what you pay for and in this circumstance, it’s often worth the investment when it comes to optical equipment. Good quality lenses retain their value well and can last a lifetime, especially if you use a UV lens filter for protection.
Should I buy a 35mm camera lens?
35mm lenses are amongst the most popular out there, considered to be standard lenses with an ideal focal length that covers multiple applications. They’re accessible, easy to use and fun to shoot with which is why many photographers include them in their kit.
Whether you’re new to photography or just starting out, the 35mm lens is a great option that you should consider. Broaden your options even further and check out our range of reliable lens adapters so you can use pretty much any lens you want on your camera body.