35mm vs 50mm

edited April 2016 Posted in » Nikon D3100 Forum
I am new to this forum, and just getting into photography. I've always enjoyed taking pictures, and I love working in Photoshop, and the two combined are so fun! That being said, I am STUCK trying to figure out what my first lens purchase should be. I too love the "dreamy" blur and I know I have to have low f-stop for it. I'm stuck on the concept of the length needed. I have a toddler I mainly love to photograph and am interested in engagement sessions, maternity, and baby/mommy photos. Can anyone tell me which one will be best to start with?


  • edited April 2016
    If you now have the 18-55mm kit lens, or any other zoom that covers the range of 35mm to 50mm, I suggest you get out and take a lot pictures with it, trying as much as possible to use only the 35mm and 50mm lengths. See which one gets you closer to what you want in framing.

    As a rule, the 35mm will be a bit more versatile, being what one might consider the "normal" perspective and viewpoint for DX format. The 50mm is a short telephoto in this format (it's normal in full frame), and less versatile for ordinary shots, scenery, and the like. In return, however, it is a good length for portraits.

    The longer lens will give a slightly shallower depth of field than the shorter one, even though the shorter one must be a bit closer (which also reduces depth of field). Focal length wins the shallow-DOF race here by a nose. A longer lens also compresses perspective a bit more, and thus has two advantages in portraiture. First, it tends to flatten features, and make faces look a little less lumpy. Second, it tends to make background features larger, and by doing so can, if you arrange it right, make them more abstract and less distracting.

    The disadvantage will be that it may be difficult to get everyone into a shot, when you're in closer quarters, such as indoors. The 35mm is more inclusive, and better if you need deeper focus, such as with a scattered group, or if you are doing a more environmental style of portrait, in which a person is shown with recognizable surroundings, apparatus etc.

    If you have a cooperative subject like a toddler, try taking intimate portraits in which the face, for example, is framed the same in both focal lengths. When you shift to 35mm, you'll have to come closer to get the same framing. Although the face will occupy the same space in the frame, the images will be quite different, and this can be a good way to get familiar with the way the two lengths differ.

    Once you've gotten used to the two, you can decide whether the superior portrait qualities of the 50mm outweigh the versatility of the 35mm. The Nikon 35mm f/1.8DX and the 50mm f/1.8 are both superb lenses and both bargains at the price. I don't think you'd be sorry to get either one.
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