One of the biggest reasons I picked up my first mirrorless camera (and stepped away from the world of smartphone and point and click cameras) was to get fast telescopic lenses to take amazing Bokehful pictures. Fast forward only 6 months or so and I had traded in one of my Olympus cameras so I could switch to a fixed 35mm equivalent lens camera in the Fuji x100t. This is why I only (well pretty much) shoot with a 35mm lens now (pretty much) and why you might want to as well.
You CAN take portraits with a 35mm lens
I think it’s worth commenting on the biggest objection to using a fixed focal length (like 35mm). People say you can’t take portraits with it, and while I’m never going to try and take a professional modeling photo with my 35mm I can certainly snap some great portraits of my friends, family, or street portraits.
A 35mm lens won’t flattern your subject like a tele lens will do but that can be an advantage too. It doesn’t create such an artificial appearance. Of course, it can make some elements of a person look much bigger than others and distort elements of a person, not to mention that you have to get pretty close to a person to take their portrait with a 35mm lens but I like it.
A 35mm lens provides context
Unlike some lenses which cut out everything that is going on in the background (or blur it out) a 35mm lens will often show you more of the situation you are in (certainly more than a 50mm or 90mm). That means you get context and setting to help create a theme or tell a story. This is great for “environmental portraits” and also for street scenes, landscapes and so on.
35mm is close to the human eye perspective
This is one of those descriptions which gets used by both 50mm and 35mm. The truth is that both have some case for this claim. 50mm has the same sort of depth and perspetive as the human eye, 35mm lens get’s basically the same field of view. Sure you don’t have some of the peripheral elements but you don’t generally pay attention to them otherwise.
A 35mm lens gives you a bit better separation
One of the things I’m starting to get used to, is noticing that when two people are overlapping just a bit, it might actually be fine when I shoot. That’s because 35mm separates elements a bit more due to it’s perspective. This is intensified towards the edges of the image.
A 35mm lens is great in the house
I know American’s generally have big houses but here in Europe we typically have very small places and sometimes it can be hard to find space to pull of a picture. If you have a wider length, you can more likely get the shot. I was at a party recently and my 35mm lens was great when I was sat across the table from friends or up close in the kitchen. Another friend had a 50mm and was finding it hard to get enough into his frame.
Using one lens is lighter and smaller
Having just one lens means I only take one lens with me, saving on weight. In fact, the lens is built into the camera which means it’s even smaller and lighter than a removable 35mm that is always attached. This makes it brilliant for traveling with. I can fit it into my coat pocket without any problems. This means I always have it around.
Using one focal length is simpler
Sticking with one focal length that can be used for almost all things really helps to simplify my shooting process. I don’t have to think about what lens would be good here because I just have one lens. I think there is an element of “to the man with a hammer, everything is a nail” but there is also a truth in that by removing options, you force yourself to make the most out of what you have and perhaps realise that you don’t need anything else.
When you use one focal length, you start to think in that focal length
When you get used to one focal length by only shooting at one focal length, you can start to see how the picture will look before you bring your camera out. Admittedly I’m not fully there yet but I do realize when I need to get closer so the image will fit into my frame, and I also am aware of how the distance between objects will be different in my picture. This will increase the more I use the camera and get use to that focal length.
A 35mm lens is Great for street photography
As you might have guessed, all these factors make 35mm great (for me) in street photography. I’m not saying you have to use 35mm or even ought to use 35mm but for me it works well. Having one focal length is helping me (and the camera) get out of my way and just capture the moment. It helps the camera to become an extension of my eye so that when I see something interesting, I know what it will look like in the camera and get into the right position for that.
It’s also means I’m carrying less, and have a simpler set up so I can move easily and discretely around. The lens also provides context in my picture to ensure that I don’t end up with a blurring messy background or use bokeh to poorly hide bad separation in an image.
When I don’t use a 35mm lens
Having said all that, I don’t always use 35mm. Sometimes (especially when I take my Olympus out) I don’t stick to 35mm. Sometimes I want to take a more professional portrait and so go for 90mm. Sometimes I want to take a wide landscape and so go to 24mm. However, these occasions are rare and more for a very specific purpose such as when I’m hired to or specifically asked to take a certain style of photo. If I’m just shooting for fun, I’ll stick with 35mm.
What is your favourite focal length
Do you have a favourite focal length for shooting? Maybe you like using the same focal length for everything or perhaps you like to shake it up and switch around. Let me know below.
Also published on Medium.