Writer's Favorites - 35mm Prime Lens

Writer’s Favorites – 35mm Prime Lens

Street Photography

When I was 15, I was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder. While it has gotten much better with age, when I was younger the slightest stimuli would grab my attention. It was a tough job to keep me focused on a single task (it still is if you ask my wife).

Why am I telling you this and what does this have to do with my favorite lens / focal length? I’m telling you because over the years simplifying things has become very important to me and for my photography, and this has manifested itself into a love of the simple 35mm prime lens. I much prefer the simplicity of sticking with a single focal length, as long as a situation allows for it.

When I say 35mm prime, I am referring to the 35mm focal length, so it would be a 35mm lens on a full frame, around a 23mm lens on a cropped APS-C sensor, and around a 17mm lens on a micro four thirds camera.


Lightweight

Brooklyn Bridge35mm lenses are light and non-intimidating, which is a huge advantage for daily use. For this reason, I prefer lenses that are a little slower, such as a 35mm f/2 instead of a 35mm f/1.4, because the f/2 lenses are usually significantly smaller than their faster counterparts. I rarely feel the need to use f/1.4, particularly since most newer digital cameras can shoot very well at high ISOs.

The Freedom of a Prime Lens

Using a single focal length is a great way to simplify your photography and to make it more consistent. The constraint can slow you down and help you think more critically about perspective and framing. It can help you grow as a photographer.  In addition, 35mm  is just wide enough without being too wide. It will not overly distort a scene, but it will allow you to capture a wide scene from a close distance.

Fuji X100s + 23mm (35mm equivalent)

Fuji X100S

Fujifilm X100S with 23mm F2 Lens (35mm equivalent).

Currently, my favorite 35mm lens is actually a camera, the Fuji X100S, which has a fixed 23mm (35mm equivalent) f/2 lens that is not removable. I use this small camera as a daily complement to my DSLR system and am now able to carry a high quality camera with me everywhere, no matter what I am doing.  Because the lens was built specifically for the Fuji X100S, it is a spectacular combination and the image quality is very comparable with my high-end DSLR in a much lighter camera body.

A 35mm can be used for a variety of situations. It is not perfect for every situation, but you can use it for street photography, landscapes, travel photography, portraiture, and even architecture. Here are my favorite ways to use the 35mm focal length.

Street Photography

Street Photography

The 35mm focal length is one that has been used by many street photographers over the years and there is a reason that so many do. The focal length makes it easy to show an entire scene, to combine a person and a background, or to combine multiple subjects within the same frame from a close distance. It is wide enough for you to show a large area of background while still focusing on a main subject at a close and intimate distance.

PortraiturePortrait

A 35mm can even be used for portraiture. It is not your typical lens for a tight headshot, where an 85mm to 120mm is ideal. However, the 35mm excels at producing wonderful environmental portraits from a little further away, where both the person and elements of the background are prominent. It is wide enough to include a lot of the surroundings, but not too wide to significantly distort the subject’s features.

Architecture

Architecture

This focal length is not ideal for zooming into building details at far distances, however it is a great focal length for capturing buildings. The constraint can almost turn into an advantage as you begin to photograph buildings in ways that you might not otherwise. I do not recommend only a 35mm for architectural photography, but a 35mm can be a big asset much of the time.

Urban Landscapes

Urban Landscape

The focal length is wide enough to include a scene with a lot of depth and a lot of interest, while not being too wide as to significantly distort the features of the scene.


Travel Photography

Overstuffed Photo Backpack

Have you ever given your wife a black eye by swinging around a tripod that was attached to your backpack at 5am, while getting out of a taxi at the airport for a vacation to Mexico with her extended family? Here is how I used to pack for vacations. I no longer pack like this for vacations.

So for these reasons the 35mm is my favorite lens. Do you use it? What is your fave and why?

Don’t have one? Shop for 35mm lenses here on Amazon.

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James Maher is a professional photographer based in New York, whose primary passion is documenting the personalities and stories of the city. If you are planning a trip to NYC, he is offering his new guide free to DPS readers, titled The New York Photographer's Travel Guide. James also runs New York Photography Tours and Street Photography Workshops and is the author of the e-book, The Essentials of Street Photography.