50mm or 35mm Lenses: Which Should You Choose

The obvious answer between choosing a 35mm and a 50mm lens is whatever suits you. But there’s more.

This may sound like a crazy title, but in all honesty, it isn’t. The easy answer is, “Whatever is best for you.” But that’s not deep enough of an answer for whether you need a 35mm or a 50mm lens. Both lenses offer a field of view to photographers that mimic what the human eye sees. Both are good in similar situations, with one having a slight advantage over the other in varying degrees. And in today’s world, both types of lenses are easily able to deliver great image quality. So which do you choose?

Well first off, let’s explore the view point. Look at a scene. Seriously, as you’re reading this blog post look at a scene. Whatever is right in front of you and the main point of your focus and mind is 50mm. Whatever is right in front of you and in the periphery is 35mm. So let’s think about that. Are you a person that’s very laser-focused on things and that pushes everything else out of your way? That’s more of a 50mm outlook. If you’re a person who focuses on the whole picture and scene, then you’re more of a 35mm person. Growing up I was a 50mm guy. Then, as my eyeglass prescription changed, I became a 35mm guy. There are a variety of factors beyond just eyesight though.

Here’s a list:

  • Landscape photography: Either way, you’re focusing out to infinity. Does what you’re doing demand a wide angle or a slightly more telephoto angle?
  • Portraiture: They both do well. But do you want more compression and more bokeh? Or are you trying to shoot an environmental portrait and tell a story with the mis-en-scene? The former is 50mm, the latter is 35mm.
  • Street Photography: Zone focusing? Then shouldn’t you try to get as much in focus as you can? 35mm wins out here.
  • Documentary: Both can work, but often storytelling requires a 35mm
  • Walkabout: Unless you’re in a packed city, then 50mm is more than good enough.
  • Food: 50mm, you need to focus on exactly what’s in front of you.

If you’re in a transition period as a photographer, try the two different focal lengths out. And if you’re stuck at 50mm, go wider.