35mm vs 50mm Prime Lenses: What Makes Them Different? (Canon Edition)

The ‘which is better’ debate between these two prime lenses is still going strong; truth is they’re both great, but for different reasons.

Can two prime lenses so close in focal length really be so different, and why should you choose one over the other? This is a question that has been asked many times before. Here we will take a quick look at the differences between the two and what they are both good for. There are some truly spectacular 35mm and 50mm prime lenses on the Canon platform and here we will take a look at a couple of each, but what’s the difference between the two?

35mm prime lenses are great for photographers who want to capture more of the entire scene. They are perfect for wedding photographers, photo journalists and documentarians, environmental portrait artists, landscapes, and travel photography. Their wide angle of view and fast apertures allow them to be used in tighter spaces and in low light conditions. They can of course be used for regular portraits too, but their wider angle makes then not so flattering.

50mm prime lenses are really fantastic for street photography and portraits thanks to the field of view being closer to what the human eye sees. The lenses are small, light weight, and have wide apertures which make them perfect for low light photography, and for creating some beautiful bokeh and background separation. Like the 35mm above though they can be used for any genre you want. There is no law saying you can’t shoot other genres with them, but they truly are perfect for portraits and street photography.

Here’s a look at some of our favorite 35mm and 50mm prime lenses for Canon cameras.


Canon 35mm F2 IS USM


Right now you’re probably looking at this lens and are wondering why the 35mm f2 made the list but the 35mm 1.4 L II USM didn’t. The reason is price to performance ratio. While the Canon 35mm f1.4 L II USM is a fantastic lens, the Canon 35mm f2 is $1,100 cheaper, offers outstanding image quality, and has image stabilization its bigger brother doesn’t have. In terms of bang for your buck, the Canon 35mm f2 is the way to go, and it will open the door to many photographers who are thinking about buying their first 35mm prime lens.

In our review we said:

“Want some really wonderful bokehlicious photos? Then the Canon 35mm f2 IS delivers to satisfy your thirst. It isn’t as nice as its 35mm f1.4 L brother, but it is still excellent for what it is. Beginners slapping this lens onto the camera will perhaps get stuck in a bokeh-addictive syndrome.”

The Canon 35mm f2 IS USM is a fantastic lens. The overall build quality is excellent, the plastic body is tough and feels premium, and the textured finish feels nice in the hand. Inside the lens you will find 10 elements in 8 groups along with 8 aperture blades. The optics are capable of producing some really beautiful, sharp images, even when shot wide open. The colors this lens reproduces are very natural looking, with skin tones that are on point. The bokeh produced by the Canon 35mm f2 is really quite stunning; perhaps not as much as it’s bigger L series brother, but still very nice indeed.

Autofocus performance is excellent. No matter what we threw at it, the lens was fast and accurate. In low light the center point was still incredibly quick. The image stabilization will help you even more in low light situations so that is a nice feature, especially at this price point. The 35mm f2 is small and weighs just 0.7lbs so it is nice to use for long periods of time.

If you are thinking about buying a 35mm lens for your Canon body, and you don’t want to break the bank doing it, the Canon 35mm f2 is one of the best prime lenses you can get with this focal length.

Buy now ($599): Amazon

Canon 35mm F2 IS USM Image Samples





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Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM


Sigma really makes some fantastic lenses and the 35mm f1.4 DG is no exception to this rule. The lens boasts a great overall build quality, image quality that rivals the much more expensive Canon 35mm f1.4 L, and super fast auto-focusing speeds. There is a reason why this lens has become a firm favorite for many photographers.

In our review we said:

“Overall, we can’t really say anything very terrible about the Sigma 35mm f1.4 DG. Even though it doesn’t have weather sealing, there are options out there that can do this for you. Otherwise, it has a wonderful build quality, eye-popping image quality, and is a relative speed demon when it comes to focusing.”

The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is significantly larger than the Canon 35mm f2, and weighs quite a bit more too at 1.46lbs (twice the weight). This lens has more in common with the Canon 35mm f1.4 L II USM though, so this is to be expected. Image quality is simply jaw-dropping. Images are sharp from edge to edge, and the bokeh produced is nice and creamy. Color rendition is nice with saturated colors that we have come to expect from Sigma lenses.

Autofocus speeds are very fast and match those of the much more expensive Canon version. The only thing that would have made this lens an absolute killer would have been the addition of weather sealing. The build quality is really very nice. While the body is made of plastic it still feels like a premium lens, and is more than strong enough to withstand bangs and bumps.

If you have a little more money to spend the Sigma 35mm f1.4 DG is one of the must have 35mm prime lenses on the Canon platform. You won’t be disappointed in any way, shape, or form.

Buy now ($815): Amazon


Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM Image Sample



Pro Tip: Quality lenses can be quite expensive so you want to make sure you take care of that glass at all times. Having a nice lens cleaning kit in your bag will help you keep the front and rear elements clean, and will help you clear any debris that may be trapped on your lens. This kit from Zeiss comes with a pouch to keep everything together in your camera bag.


Canon 50mm 1.8 STM


There is simply no way we can do a piece about 50mm prime lenses for Canon and exclude the 50mm 1.8. The ‘nifty fifty’ is a lens that everyone should have in their camera bag. The light weight, small footprint, and wide aperture of this lens makes it a must have. It’s affordable, light weight, produces great images and is a perfect way to introduce yourself to 50mm prime lenses.

In our review we said:

“Canon’s 50mm f1.8 STM is a great lens for the beginner, hobbyist, enthusiast, or even the professional who likes to rough and tumble their equipment.”

Don’t let the price fool you. This is very much a case of you really don’t have to spend a lot to get a good lens. The 50mm f1.8 has 6 elements in 5 groups, and 7 rounded aperture blades. You might think that images produced with this lens would be less than stellar, but you would be wrong. Images are great for the price that you pay. They are sharp (especially when the lens is stopped down just a little), colors are nice overall, the bokeh produced is pleasing to the eye, and autofocus performance is quite good.

Build quality is good; you’re not going to be getting a premium feeling lens here but the plastic is tough, and it will survive anything you can throw at it. The Canon 50mm f1.8 is really a marvelous little lens. It’s small enough to put on your camera and walk around all day with. It’s a great portrait lens, it’s a great street photography lens, and overall it is just a great way for a beginner to get into the world of primes without spending a fortune.

When it comes to prime lenses the Canon 50mm f1.8 should not be overlooked. Yes, it’s a world away from Canon’s premium 50mm f1.2L, but in terms of image quality it beats out Canon’s 50mm f1.4. For just over a hundred bucks it’s a steal.

Buy now ($109.99): Amazon


Canon 50mm 1.8 STM Image Samples




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Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art


Another Sigma lens makes this list and for good reason; the Sigma 50mm f1.4DG HSM Art is a great lens that strikes the perfect balance between performance and pricing. Yes, it is significantly more expensive than the Canon 50mm f1.8, but you are getting a premium lens with performance that will make your jaw drop.

In our review we said:

“Yes, it’s true. Sigma’s 50mm f1.4 is super sharp. We find it to be incredibly sharp when shot wide open and that it manages to reach its critical sharpness at f8. At f2 though, you’ll have the absolute best balance of bokeh quality and sharpness. Additionally, the lens is super sharp at f2. In fact, we think most folks will want to shoot at this aperture with the lens all day.”

The Sigma is quite a beastly lens weighing in at 1.79lbs, but then there’s a lot of glass inside the premium metal body. 13 elements in 8 groups, and 9 rounded aperture blades make up the optics of this prime lens, and when combined they produce some absolutely gorgeous images. Pictures are ridiculously sharp wide open, and the bokeh is unbelievably smooth and creamy. Colors produced are nice and saturated; not as much as the 35mm listed above, but they still look gorgeous.

Like many other Art lenses autofocus performance is excellent, even in challenging lighting conditions, and distortion and color fringing is kept to a minimum.

If you are looking for a premium 50mm prime lens the Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art is really hard to beat, especially when you consider the price. The build quality, image quality, and overall performance will put a smile on your face every time you use it.

Buy now ($785): Amazon


Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art Image Samples



Brett Day

Brett Day is the Gear Editor at The Phoblographer and has been a photographer for as long as he can remember. Brett has his own photography business that focuses on corporate events and portraiture. In his spare time, Brett loves to practice landscape and wildlife photography. When he's not behind a camera, he's enjoying life with his wife and two kids, or he's playing video games, drinking coffee, and eating Cheetos.