A Prime Dilemma: 50mm vs 85mm Lenses And How to Choose

E Mount Lenses

Popular lens upgrades for photographers who prefer primes to zooms, the 50mm and 85mm focal lengths are among the most popular in use today. But which one should you go with if you had to choose just one for your next lens purchase?

50mm is a common answer when anyone asks about what lens they should buy next. This is in part because fast 50mm lenses are incredibly affordable (when compared to other primes lenses) and in part because they are incredibly versatile, being able to thrive in many shooting situations ranging from street photography to portraits.

85mm is a go-to recommendation for portrait photographers due to its compression and telephoto qualities. These are also generally cheaper than longer primes in the 135mm and 200mm ranges that have also been traditional portrait lenses.

But beyond the well known characteristics of both focal lengths, the real differentiator between the 50mm and 85mm focal lengths is what you will be using them for. What sort of photography do you do or plan to do? This will and should be the biggest factor in your decision about which focal length to invest in next.

If you want to shoot portraits – the 85mm is probably your better bet as this is the more traditional portrait lens. The one caveat here being if you shoot with a crop sensor camera, in which case an 85mm may be too tight and you would be better off with a 50mm first.

If you want to shoot street photography – the 50mm is the better bet here. Honestly even 50mm can be a little tight for some street photographers, so unless there is a specific and unique look you are going for in your street imagery that will call for an 85mm, than 50mm is likely your best option.

If you want to shoot action sports – honestly you could go either way here as neither of these is a particularly popular lens for action sports. The key piece here is your working distance to your subjects. If you are shooting on the sideline of a basketball court, than a 50mm will be perfect. If you are shooting subjects farther away then the 85mm will help you get some tighter shots.

If you want to shoot weddings – this could really fall into that portrait category. But 50mm is a much more versatile lens during a wedding day than an 85mm. For this reason we would probably recommend a 50mm if you are using this kit primarily for weddings.


Ok, so now that we have some direction for you to consider, lets take a moment to talk about some of the great 50mm and 85mm options out there to consider.

Our 50mm Recommendations

  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B00X8MRBCW’ text=’Canon 50mm F1.8 STM’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’67ae0184-14c1-11e7-8d2c-5b843d039615′]
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B004Y1AYAC’ text=’Nikon 50mm F1.8G’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’6d2711a4-14c1-11e7-97a9-d7ec68c981cc’]
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B01MS6WINK’ text=’Fujifilm 50mm F2′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’85c679bc-14c1-11e7-819d-0b299f44f808′]
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B01DLMD5O6′ text=’Sony FE 50mm F1.8′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’8d244f60-14c1-11e7-8529-7dea22e2cec3′]
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B014ULAFJA’ text=’Tamron 45mm F1.8′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’beaa39c5-14c1-11e7-98c9-5ff9a37e4aba’]

Our 85mm Recommendations

  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B006TAP096′ text=’Nikon 85mm F1.8G’ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’c40c17fc-14c1-11e7-8d98-3985bbd1fe57′]
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B00007GQLU’ text=’Canon 85mm F1.8′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’c906345f-14c1-11e7-a44e-0393518a5048′]
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B00XI4PAZ0′ text=’Fujifilm 90mm F2′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’ce621f61-14c1-11e7-8ed3-ab15849f4261′]
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B06WLGFWGX’ text=’Sony FE 85mm F1.8′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’d9081ab5-14c1-11e7-8bd4-bb3f543649a7′]
  • [amazon_textlink asin=’B01CIXJLI8′ text=’Tamron 85mm F1.8′ template=’ProductLink’ store=’thephobl-20′ marketplace=’US’ link_id=’b536f26d-14c1-11e7-aafe-7157e2349102′]

So there you have it. A quick, high-level look at the 50mm vs 85mm dilemma with some recommendations for those of you who are looking at expanding your kit. Cheers!

Anthony Thurston

Anthony is a Portland, Oregon based Boudoir Photographer specializing in a dark, moody style that promotes female body positivity, empowerment, and sexuality. Besides The Phoblographer, he also reviews gear and produces his own educational content on his website.