There is always an argument with regards to which is the best one focal length for photography, the best fixed prime focal length to work with for a multitude of scenarios. In this blog we will look at why so many people understand why around 35mm is the best focal length, and the only focal length you’ll ever need.
For this article I’ll be giving both APS-C and Full Frame equivalent focal lengths where necessary. The 35mm we are talking about, to put things into perspective would be equivalent to a 23mm on an APS-C camera or 17.5mm on a micro four thirds camera. So, let’s do this…
Knowing your 35mm
Since the days of film cameras, there have been two main prime lenses that people praise for being perfect for photography, the 35mm (as we mentioned above) and the 50mm (which would be a 33mm on an APS-C camera and 25mm on micro four thirds camera). Both these lenses come close to what the human eye sees in focus when you look at something, and because of this, they give a real-world view of your surroundings
The great thing about the 35mm is that you know if you see something you like, and raise the camera to your eye to take the photograph, there is no thinking involved, you can press the shutter button and the result will be identical to what your vision had seen in front of it. It makes a great lens for many purposes, it’s wide enough to use for landscapes and street photography, it’s perfect for portraits and just about any other type of photography where you need to capture what you see without the camera extending your vision. You’ll also find there is not much distortion with a 35mm focal length, and your subjects will look like they should, not exaggerated in the way a wider angle or a narrower angle would do.
A lot of people say similar about the 50mm lens, however, for me it’s a bit more limiting a focal length at times when you may need it. It’s a bit too long to be useful in tighter spaces or in general use, and it’s not quite wide enough to make it as versatile as the 35mm for landscapes, inside shots or street photography, however it can be great for portraits. As a “put to your eye and shoot what you see” lens though, it’s not quite as accurate as the 35mm. It’s always a tough decision for new photographers to make.
Freedom with a prime
For many people, usually those less experienced in photography, the thought of just taking and using one camera with one prime lens is a daunting one. Many think they will be afraid to miss a shot, or they won’t be able to get the composition that they wanted. However, it’s quite the opposite to what you believe. Having just one camera and one prime, especially the 35mm lens, brings you an experience that will produce you better images than you could have imagined. You’ll have to think about what you are doing for once in your life. No more relying on zooming in with your 18-300mm lens, but more wandering around and working out what works best. It’s like a voyage of discovery, with every step you take, a new composition will be unveiled, and it’s quite an exhilarating experience.
35mm lenses (or as close as possible) just work on so many levels. After a short amount of time with one, you will understand that in almost every situation they perform admirably. Of course, if you want distant shots, this is not the lens for you, but for most everything else, the wonder of using a 35mm prime is priceless, giving you a timeless look that only such a focal length can give.
Mistakes people make
There is one huge mistake that people make, usually those with APS-C or Micro Four Thirds cameras. They will buy a 35mm or a 50mm prime and wonder what all the fuss is about. That is because of course, people tell them “use a 35mm” or “use a 50mm”. In reality, on these cameras these lenses are equivalent to around 52mm and around 75mm. Both very different to what you actually need to be accurate! Ideally you should pick up a 23mm (35mm) or 33mm (50mm) or the closest lens you can.
Don’t be afraid to limit your equipment and enjoy the experience of just enjoying your photography. One camera one one lens with just the one focal length won’t limit what you can do, but will open your mind to new possibilities.
I said, over a year ago, that I was going to go almost exclusively prime lenses, and now the Viltrox 23mm F/1.4 lives on my camera, for it’s 35mm equivalent focal length. On the streets and with family I have my Fujifilm 27mm (40mm) F/2.8 pancake lens which is absolutely tiny, and for longer reach and portrait photographs I have the Viltrox 85mm F/1.8. For ultra wide angle shots and a bit of fun I have the Meike 6.5mm F/2! Now that’s a wonderful lens, and another blog!