Have you outgrown your kit lens? It kind of feels like taking your training wheels off, doesn’t it? Maybe it was because you borrowed your friend’s prime lens and realized what you were missing out on, or you figured out that the only way you were going to get that super blurry background is by buying a really fast prime lens. Now that you’re ready to buy a prime lens, should you go for a 35mm or a 50mm?

[LEARN: Free Lighting Tips and Tricks]

In DigitalRev’s new video, Kai Wong discusses his reasons on picking between the 35mm and 50mm focal lengths. He states the 35mm is a great universal lens for travel – great in tight spots and landscapes while providing great bokeh. For the 50mm, he feels like it could be seen as a 1 trick pony since it forces you to crop so tightly, but he likes the selective focus capabilities and the shallower depth of field. Check out the video below to see which lens he loves for street photography.

The Canon Lens Wars Series

Recently in our studio, we completed the Canon Lens Wars Series where we compared the majority of Canon’s lenses available in their lineup. Two focal lengths we featured were the 35mm and the 50mm primes.

The two lenses that outperformed the available choices were no surprise. The Canon 35mm f/1.4L lens for the 35mm focal length and the Canon 50mm f/1.2L lens for the 50mm focal length. Although, we’d like to note that the new Canon 35mm f/2 IS surprised us. At a fraction of the cost of the 35mm f/1.4L, the 35mm f/2 IS holds its own against its big brother – making you second guess whether or not the 3x extra cost is worth it for the L version. The 50mm f/1.2L, on the other hand, although much more expensive, provides you much more visual performance than the other 50mm prime choices.

Check out our image samples for both the 35mm f/1.4L and the 50mm f/1.2L

WOA-35mmf1.4L
Canon 35mm f/1.4L

Notice the slight increase in contrast with the 50mm over the 35mm. The bokeh is also noticeably creamier with the 50mm over the 35mm. The slight difference in compression between the two is apparent with the branch in the 35mm image looking longer while the 50mm image looks compacted.

WOA-50f1.2
Canon 50mm f/1.2L

When holding the two lenses, the major difference is the weight and construction. The 50mm 1.2L is much heavier than the 35mm 1.4L and the metal body of the 50mm provides you with a strong sense of build quality over the plastic 35mm 1.4L.

Another thing to consider when choosing between the 35mm and 50mm focal lengths is crop factor. When I bought my first prime lens, I was shooting with a Canon 7D as my primary body. I was actually deciding between a Canon 24mm f/1.4L and a 35mm f/1.4L. With my 1.6 crop sensor body, I wanted to achieve a 35mm look so I opted for the 24mm f/1.4L.  With the crop factor, that gave me about a 38mm lens.

ACCESS TO INDUSTRY-LEADING EDUCATION

Let us guide you in your photography journey with the best photography education and resources. Browse our complete, comprehensive solutions and take the next step in your photography.
BROWSE WORKSHOPS

Thoughts

The choice between the two focal lengths, 35mm and the 50mm, is really based on your personal photography style. Do you like to include a lot of the background in your shots or do you prefer a more defined separation of background and subject with creamier bokeh? While one lens could be considered more versatile because of its ability to compose at a wider focal length, the other lengths allows you more creative possibilities with depth of field. Whichever your choice, make sure it complements your style of shooting.

Currently, I shoot with a Canon 5D Mark III and I still own the 24mm f/1.4L, but now my focal length of choice – if I had to pick between the 35mm and the 50mm – would be my 50mm f/1.2. I love the depth of field and the bokeh it produces and since I’m pretty active and mobile while shooting, I’m thankful for the metal body for a more solid build quality. Ideally, I’d like to have both the Canon 35mm and 50mm L lenses, but if I had to choose one, it would be the 50mm. I love the shallow depth of field and with my 24mm f1/.4L and also a Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II in my UnDfind One bag the 50mm allows to have an option much different from the other two wide lens options I already carry.

To see the entire episode of the 35mm shootout, check out the video below or go here for a more in-depth analysis.

To see the entire episode of the 50mm shootout, check out the video below or go here for a more in-depth analysis.