To answer the question posed by fellow writer Todd Vorenkamp in his article about the venerable 50mm prime, the lens I would choose if I were to be stranded on a desert island would have to be a 35mm prime. Sure, the 50mm is an old and reliable choice that should cover most subjects, but it doesn’t work amazingly for anything specific and, frankly, I think it’s a little boring these days. The 35mm, on full-frame of course, will open the door to a different type of imaging experience, and it can do pretty much anything the 50mm can do, plus a bit more.
Like many photographers, I started off with the classic “nifty fifty” on film and digital cameras. It is a useful focal length, but arguably boring, due to how common it has become. I also find it somewhat limiting for many subjects; I was always craving something a little wider. Eventually, I relied on a 16-35mm for a lot of my documentary work, including environmental portraits, and I consistently found myself at the 35mm end. So, when I went to purchase some new glass, a 35mm became a priority, and now I have three different 35mm options sitting at home (which is too many, but I just can’t seem to part with any of them).
What makes the 35mm a worthy go-to lens? Well, I think the most important consideration must be the slightly wider than “normal” angle of view. This means there are more opportunities for capturing part of the background along with your subject and telling a complete story. I shoot a lot of documentary and photojournalistic work, so the wider view is a huge benefit. It also means I can work in tighter spaces, an issue I’m sure many photographers have run into while composing pictures. On top of this, the 35mm can usually get closer than your basic 50mm lens, giving you more freedom of movement overall. And, now that we have so many cameras with resolutions greater than 24MP at our disposal, cropping in post comes at a very small cost to overall image quality. This makes it one of the most usable and versatile primes out there.
Field of View
I find the 35mm to be the perfect focal length, not too wide and not too long. It manages to avoid many of the issues of distortion that accompany wider options and can still create images with shallow depth of field. Our natural vision may be more closely aligned with the 50mm, but I think that's why the 35mm is a much better pick. It gives users a slightly different look than we get with our own eyes, especially if we want to capture something unique and reveal something about the scene in front of us that may not be obvious with a more restricted point of view. And, as I mentioned earlier, framing wide and cropping closer gives you the option to get the 50mm field of view whenever you want.
35mm lenses may not be the smallest options out there, but they can come very close. Some great examples of this are the Sony FE 35mm f/2.8 and Nikon AF NIKKOR 35mm f/2D, which match even the most compact nifty fifties out there. If you start looking for larger apertures, however, I must admit that the size does go up noticeably. The current crop of f/1.4 lenses gets longer and larger, but not so much that it is problematic, in my opinion. Anyway, it’s a prime, not a telephoto, so you are going to have a lighter load overall, compared to any professional zooms.
Alright, Todd has me on cost. The 50mm options can be found for less, since they are generally simpler, better-known lens designs. But you are paying for quality glass, and if you are anything like me, you will probably get more use out of a nicer 35mm, later in your photographic journey, than an inexpensive 50. If you look at used gear or slower options, you should be able to find one that fits your price range. It will be well worth the cost.
The 50 is easy, but a good 35mm is where you start seeing some specialized glass. Whether it's your more basic aspherical glass or the complex Blue Spectrum Refractive element, you can be sure that most 35mm lenses are quite good. The 35 isn't wide enough to be hugely problematic in any specific way, but a good lens will have some corrections to limit any aberrations.
35s can be quite fast. Nearly every brand has a 35mm f/1.4 option available, and every single one has something around f/2. With current sensor tech, you should be more than happy with any of these choices, and they are plenty fast for getting shallow depth of field, especially if you get up close to your subject.
Hopefully, you are now on your journey to obtain a 35mm prime. Let us help you—just find your lens mount and compare some of the top lenses available. I’m going to dial this into a couple of main picks for each mount, to make things easier on you. And keep in mind that I am only going to list native options.
Canon EF (Full Frame)
Canon makes a couple of stellar options for 35mm seekers. First, one of its newest lenses is the EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM, which is obviously the most optically refined and high-end option for Canon shooters. If that is a little pricey, Sigma makes the 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art that will certainly satisfy many. For a more mid-range pick, it's hard to beat the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM, which is among the few wide primes with stabilization. Canon's EF mount is packed with options, but if you need something affordable, it'll be hard to beat Yongnuo's YN 35mm f/2.
For the complete list of 35mm full-frame lenses for Canon EF mount, click here.
Canon EF (APS-C)
If you are working with Canon’s APS-C system, you should be looking at lenses that are about 24mm (though 22mm would be perfect with the 1.6x crop factor). The only dedicated APS-C lens available is the affordable EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM, which has the benefit of being a pancake design. Beyond this, you need to look toward full-frame options, such as the EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM.
For the complete list of lenses for APS-C Canon cameras, click here.
Nikon F (FX)
As one of the oldest mounts still in use, Nikon’s full-frame 35mm line is comprehensive, but the most recent picks are going to be your best bets. This includes the Gold series AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4G at the top, followed by the smaller and more affordable AF-S NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G, both of which have many of the latest features for digital cameras. If you are looking for some more classic glass, Nikon still produces the AF NIKKOR 35mm f/2D, which offers AF and a physical aperture ring. And, for pure manual operation and high-end optics, there is the NIKKOR 35mm f/1.4, though a better bet today is likely the ZEISS Milvus 35mm f/2 ZF.2 or ZEISS Milvus 35mm f/1.4 ZF.2 Lens. If you are just looking for something to get started with, Yongnuo makes a great budget lens in the YN 35mm f/2, though you will get a lot more by stepping up to the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art or Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD.
For the complete list of full-frame 35mm lenses for Nikon F, click here.
Nikon F (DX)
There unfortunately aren’t many choices for DX-format Nikon cameras, where you will need to look toward the 24mm to get your 35mm equivalent, but the few choices available are quite good. Starting with the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.8G ED, you will have contemporary glass and features for sharp imagery and fast operation. However, if you want something a little more affordable, the classic AF NIKKOR 24mm f/2.8D will definitely be able to do the job. There are a few more options that you can find by just clicking here.
As a relatively small system compared to the more established brands, the A mount does still have some quality glass available. Sony has its own 35mm f/1.4 G for those who want to stick with the OEM. However, the system really opens up with third-party choices, including the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. Also, Tamron has its SP 35mm f/1.8 Di USD, for those looking for a more compact or affordable lens. If you want something for APS-C A-mount cameras, the only full-featured option is the Distagon T* 24mm f/2 ZA SSM, which provides a 36mm equivalent. There is also an all-manual Mitakon Zhongyi Creator 35mm f/2 Lens for Sony A Mount.
For the complete list of full-frame A-mount 35mm lenses, click here.
For full-frame Pentax slingers, the only choice from this company is the HD Pentax-FA 35mm f/2, which seems to be a capable option. If you want something more modern, you should check out the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art and, if you prefer the manual life, there is the Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC or Mitakon Zhongyi Creator 35mm f/2. If you are among the APS-C shooters, the closest pick is going to be the compact HD Pentax DA 21mm f/3.2 AL Limited, with its 31.5mm equivalent focal length.
Well, this is easy. For Sigma APS-C and APS-H cameras, the 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art will get you the closest, with an equivalent focal length of 36mm and 31mm, respectively.
This is my current system, so it is easy for me to pick a few options here, starting with the mid-range pick of the Sony Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA. This option is super compact, has a price range in the middle of the pack, and offers excellent performance. For less cash, try the Rokinon AF 35mm f/2.8 FE, which claims many of the same features at a more palatable price. If you want to step up from this, there is the Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA with its faster aperture, even better optics, and a physical aperture ring that can be de-clicked for video. Looking into the manual realm, you have the Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC and, if you are a video shooter, ZEISS offers the Loxia 35mm f/2 for you. For more full-frame options, click here, or if you find you really like 35mm lenses, just get the RX1R II.
If you are an APS-C E-mount shooter, there is one serious option: the Sonnar T* E 24mm f/1.8 ZA. One of my favorite lenses when I used an a6000, this lens is certainly worth the cost, which is good since it’s the closest thing to a 35mm you can get for the system unless you look at the all-manual Rokinon 24mm f/1.4 ED AS IF UMC.
FUJIFILM X (APS-C)
FUJIFILM has an APS-C system, so you should be checking out its 23mm lenses for the 35mm look. Fortunately, the decision is quite easy, with just two options. The latest XF 23mm f/2 R WR is compact and weather resistant, while the XF 23mm f/1.4 R is obviously faster and claims better optics. If you want something strictly manual, then I would have to recommend the Rokinon 21mm f/1.4.
For all the Fujifilm X-mount options, click here.
Canon EF-M (APS-C)
Another APS-C system, the EF-M mount has few options, but it is really hard to beat Canon's own EF-M 22mm f/2 STM. Fast, tiny, and optically superb, it is an easy choice. If you want something manual, Rokinon makes a 21mm f/1.4.
Micro Four Thirds
Crop factor makes finding a 35mm equivalent a bit confusing for Micro Four Thirds since, technically, you would need a 17.5mm. Luckily, one does exist in the specialized Voigtländer Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95, but since this lens is focused on providing exceptional bokeh, it may not be an ideal day-to-day optic. For everyday shooting, I would have to recommend the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 or, for a wider view, the manual Rokinon 16mm f/2 ED AS UMC CS.
You can find a few more 17mm Micro Four Thirds options by clicking here.
If you are shooting with a Leica M-series body, it’s hard not to want to stick to Leica glass, and Leica makes it easy with two distinct choices, the Summicron-M and Summilux-M. First, you have the Summicron, with its highly regarded optics, f/2 aperture, and compact size. Then there's the more expensive f/1.4 Summilux, which is a slightly larger and heavier option, yet with a dreamier look and greater speed. If you are looking for something a little more affordable, it’s hard not to recommend any of the ZEISS and Voigtländer options, especially if you are planning on adapting them to other systems.
Those with Leica L-mount cameras can choose a 35mm suited to speed and price points. For full-frame shooters, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM and 35mm f/1.2 DG DN Art lenses offer the fastest speeds, while Leica aficionados may wish to stay on brand with the Leica APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH. Finally, the KIPON Iberit 35mm f/2.4 rounds out the selection for those on a budget. For T and TL shooters, there is exactly one 35mm equivalent option, and that is the Summicron-T 23mm f/2 ASPH. If you are shooting with an APS-C mirrorless camera from Leica, you should own this lens.
One last option worth mentioning is the recently announced ZEISS ZX1, which in addition to a fixed ZEISS Distagon T* 35mm f/2 lens, features a 37.4MP full-frame CMOS sensor, 512GB of internal memory, and an integrated version of Adobe Photoshop Lightroom CC pre-installed for in-camera editing and sharing.
Love the 35? Hate the 35? Is there a specific lens you feel very passionate about that didn’t make my list? Or is there another focal length beyond the 50mm and 35mm that you think is even better? Leave a comment below!