What are Prime Lenses?
It is only right to address what prime lenses are before diving into the similarities and differences between the 35mm and 50mm prime lenses.
Prime lenses are lenses with a fixed focal length. These kinds of lenses are exceptional for photography and especially filmmaking because the totality of the lens’ quality is focused on a single focal length, as against lenses with multiple focal lengths like the zoom lens or varifocal lens.
While prime lenses have their drawbacks (they can’t zoom without the user moving), it more than makes up for it in superior focusing abilities, weight, excellent performance in low light scenes, high aperture range, and generally less technicalities. These reasons and more are why most people, including professionals, prefer the prime lens to its counterparts.
The general rule when it comes to focal length in camera lenses is the inverse relationship between the focal length and the field of view. In simpler terms it means, the more the focal length of a camera lens, the narrower the lens’ field of view. This simple rule is a key basis for most of the differences in a “35mm vs 50mm” lens comparison.
With that said, here are some comparisons between a 35mm lens and a 50mm lens.
What are 35mm Prime Lenses?
Like every other lens, the 35mm prime lens has its unique advantages and best use cases both in photography and video recording.
Some of the key advantages of the 35mm lens compared to the 50mm lens includes:
- Wider Field of View
As mentioned earlier, smaller focal lengths translate to a wider field of view. While the 35mm is not the smallest on the focal length spectrum, it is definitely smaller than the 50mm lens, and that means a wider field of view.
The significance of a wider field of view to a photographer or videographer can not be overemphasized, especially when it concerns capturing a large shot in a cramped space. For example, making a video recording in the theater.
The wide field of view makes the 35mm perfect for group photos or videos, landscape photos, and other forms of photography and video capture without sacrificing the edges to distortion(1)(more on this later).
- Greater Depth of Field
Another stand-out feature of the 35mm when compared to its 50mm counterpart is that the 35mm prime lens has a greater depth of field. In simple terms, the depth of field of a lens simply refers to the amount of vivid detail in a picture or scene. However, the depth of field of a lens is dependent on the lens’ aperture, distance from the subject, as well as the focal length,
One thing to note is that creativity is important to photography and cinematography. What passes as a disadvantage for a type of lens to an individual can be the perfect recipe for success for another individual.
Putting all the factors that affect the depth of field into consideration, the 35mm lens shows a greater depth of field. Now, a greater depth of field is not necessarily an advantage, but, in scenarios where an individual wants to focus over a major part of the frame or shot, then the 35mm lens is the preferred choice.
The importance of a greater depth of field accompanied with a wider field of view when compared to a 50mm lens results in a lens that is better for capturing full scenes with focus on a major part of the shot even in cramped spaces.
Also read: What Does mm Mean on Camera Lens
What about 50mm Prime Lenses?
50mm prime lenses a.k.a. nifty fifty is the industry’s standard lens. While there are arguments for the 35mm lens, a lot of experts still consider the 50mm prime lens the closest to the human eye in terms of the field of view. Apart from the human-like field of view, the nifty fifty can substitute well for most forms or photography or cinematography.
Anyways here are some advantages to adopting a 50mm prime lens over the 35mm prime lens.
- Shallow Depth of Field
As mentioned earlier, the depth of field of a lens is not necessarily an advantage except in particular situations. When compared to the 35mm prime lens, the 50mm prime lens has a shallow depth of field. A shallow depth of field simply means a smaller part of the frame will be in focus as against the 35mm prime lens.
The importance of a shallow depth of field is mostly appreciated in portraits. The Bokeh effect. In cinematography, it helps the videographer to focus only on the subject. A shallow depth of field is also important in other aspects of photography, depending on how creative the individual is.
- Less Distortion
Distortion is something that happens with camera lenses basically because the lenses are made up of curved glasses. Although not all distortions are due to the camera lens, the distortion in question is due to camera lenses, and there is a significant increase in it towards both ends of the focal length spectrum. Distortions are not necessarily bad also, it all depends on the idea that is being executed.
In comparison with the 35mm prime lens, the 50mm prime lens produces less lens distortions, all things being equal. Less distortions indicate the ability for both videographers and photographers to accommodate enough in a visual frame without fear of warped images at the edges.
Do you know how to take good care of your camera lenses? Check here to learn how to clean a camera lens without the cleaning kit.
35mm vs 50mm: Which is the best for videographers?
The choice of lens for an individual is down to what the lens is intended for, and the same applies in a ‘35mm vs 50mm‘ lens situation. Both focal lengths are great for videography because of the closeness to the human eye.
The 35mm lens offers users more focus depth and a wider angle of view compared to the 50mm prime lens. This feature makes the 35mm prime lens perfect for close, indoor, and full shots. There is also the added advantage of easier edits during post-production due to the wider field of view.
On the other hand, the 50mm prime lens is more versatile, and helps narrow down the focus to a smaller region in a shot making it perfect for isolating the subject(s). Furthermore, the 50mm offers less distortion when compared to the 35mm, all things being equal.
These differences, although subtle, go a long way in portraying information when shooting videos.
Recommended 35mm and 50mm Prime Lenses
Here are some highly recommended 35mm and 50mm prime lenses for both full-frame sensors(2) and cropped sensors for some top camera brands.
The ZEISS Milvus 35mm f/1.4 ZF.2 is a 35mm lens with absolute quality and a bit old-school with the manual operation. However, it is still one of the best dynamic lenses around with outstanding speed. It is a heavy lens for a 35mm prime.
The AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8g is more recent though and fairly priced for a top lens. This is one of our top choices for low light scenes and outstanding bokeh effect.. You can check out our complete list of best lenses for low light here.
For the 50mm prime lens, there is the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S which is one of the fastest nifty fiftys in the market. Also, you get a wonderful build alongside the OLED display and customisable controls.
A 50mm prime for the Nikon F camera mount is the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G with incredible sharpness across the picture frame. It is also a lightweight option and recommended for videographers.
The ZEISS Loxia 35mm f/2 is a highly recommended lens for filmmakers because of the manual aperture declicking feature and weather sealed build. It is a lens for the Sony E mount type.
A 35mm lens for a Sony type A mount is the Sony’s 35mm f/1.4 G with OEM. You can switch the focus between AF and MF. In addition, you get a wider than average field of view from a 35mm lens.
The Sony FE 50mm f/1.2 G Master is a nifty fifty by Sony for mirrorless cameras. This lens has an incredible build quality with the dust and moisture resistance, and also has an unrivaled sharpness and brightness.
Samyang AF 50mm f/1.4 FE is a good third party 50mm lens for Sony cameras. It is a moderately priced lens that boasts an ultrasonic auto focus with manual focus override, although it’s a bit bulky compared to other nifty fiftys.
Fujifilm uses an APS-C sensor type so the lens types to look at will be lower in focal length to match the nifty fifty and 35mm prime lens.
The Fujifilm 23mm f/2 R WR is the equivalent of a 35mm prime on a full sensor except this lens maxes out at 34.5mm. This lens has a durable build thanks to the EBC coatings and weather seals. You also get a fast and portable lens for photography on the go.
An upgrade in cost will help acquire the 23mm f/1.4 R WR lens which is an upgrade on the f/2 version in quality, design, and output. It is recommended for the weight, speed, and excellence in low light settings.
To get imaging close to the 50mm prime, there is the Fujifilm 35mm F2 R WR lens. It tops out at 52.5mm for the APS-C sensor but can match the best nifty fiftys in the market. It comes with 2 aspherical elements for lowest distortion possible, and also has features suited to contrast adjustments and color fidelity.
Another 50mm option for Fujifilm cameras is the 35mm f/1.4 R WR. It boasts better speed, brightness and low light operability than its f/2 counterpart and also enhances the best of the f/2 features. It is costlier.
The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM lens for DSLR cameras is a quality lens for the top brand lens mounts. This lens is a bit pricey due to its high versatility, but it makes for it with a lot of modern lens features like the hypersonic AF and manual focus override. Recommended for high-end cinematography.
The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is a top lens with an impressive aperture range for all kinds of desired field depth. In addition, it boasts the unique blue spectrum refractive element designed to eliminate color aberrations. It also has a durable design with the fluorine coating and weather seal.
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM is one of the most portable and efficient lenses out there. It is surprisingly very affordable for the quality it oozes. A unique feature of this lens is the customisable control ring. You also get a lens that is perfect for all expert levels of photography and videography.
Another 50mm prime lens for Canon is the NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2s. This is an high-end lens with a snappy, wide aperture and multi-focus feature accompanied with an OLED display and customisable controls. Heavy and expensive but worth every penny due to the combination of multiple features of different lenses. It is a versatile lens for different camera brands.
Recommended Lens for other APS-C sensor cameras
The recommended lens types above will result in a bigger focal length around 1.6x or 1.5x zoom when combined with an APS-C sensor. However, here are some wonderful lenses that can give a close result to the 35mm prime and 50mm prime when combined with an APS-C sensor.
Also, note that a 35mm lens on an APS-C sensor will result in something close to the 50mm prime.
The AF NIKKOR 24mm f/2.8D is a portable, quality, and affordable lens for those looking for a budget crop sensor lens suitable for Nikon Cameras. It maxes out at 36mn for a crop sensor camera.
The Distagon T* 24mm f/2 ZA SSM is a third party choice for Sony A APS-C mount type. This lens offers 36mm equivalent of a 35mm prime lens, and boasts a supersonic wave AF motor alongside a focus hold button and rear focus.
Canon’s own EF-M 22mm f/2 STM is a small, fast, and unique digital lens. Although the options for the APS-C frames for the Canon EF are not much, this lens makes up for the lack of options with affordability, short minimum focusing distance, and continuous AF. A budding filmmaker’s ideal lens.
One is not better than the other. However, the lenses are more suitable to certain circumstances than the other.
Yes, but only if the lens fits the lens mount on the camera. Although there are adapter options for cameras now, you will be sacrificing some features in the lens.
The 35mm vs 50mm debate yields no winner, and definitely no loser. At the end of the day it all boils down to preference, style and circumstance as both kinds of lenses are worth the hype.
What kind of prime lens do you use? Which prime lens is your go-to lens for videography? Share with us in the comments.
- Nasim M. (2020 July). What is lens distortion? Retrieved from https://photographylife.com/what-is-distortion
- Jackie D. (2013 Oct). Demystifying digital camera sensors once and for all. Retrieved from https://www.techhive.com/article/2052159/demystifying-digital-camera-sensors-once-and-for-all.html