35mm 1.8 or 50mm 1.8? That is the question...

Hey all,

So I'm looking at getting myself a new lens. I know the choices, but I'm so torn.

I mostly take photos of my kids and it's mostly indoors. The 18-55 kit lens just doesn't cut the mustard indoors and it's time to move on...

I know that the 35mm is a great lens and I've been wanting one for some time, however a lot of things I read about portrait photography as well as general shooting and street photography says to use a 50mm because it distorts the image less and looks more natural. So now I'm really confused and unsure which way to go.

I'm also shooting a wedding & reception in the summer so will have a lot of close up & group shots to contend with.



  • First of all, you should remember that many people, when speaking of relative distortion and the like, are referring it to full frame cameras.

    As you may have found out from the kit lens, when you go to a wider angle, perspective is changed, and, among other things, a face will have a greater appearance of depth. Among other things this produces the effect of a bigger nose, and a less complimentary look. Background objects tend to be larger, and more abstract, when you choose a longer focal length, and that is another advantage to the 50 in portrait work when you may not want identifiable junk in the background. Composing the best still takes some skill and you can still do it with either lens, but it may be a little easier with the 50.

    A normal lens will produce a perspective that is similar to what you actually see. That's about 50 on FX and about 35 on DX. A longer focal length lens than normal will tend to flatten a face a little more, and often will be better looking for a portrait. It will also tend to compress perspective (though not a great deal on a 50) so that background objects seem closer and larger.

    For portraits, a 50 is great on DX, both for its mild telephoto effect and its good rendition of background blur. A 35 will be OK too, but will not render quite such creamy backgrounds, and will produce a less complimentary face close up. But in exchange, it gives you a wider field, and is more likely to satisfy for general purpose shooting. The 50 is likely to be nicer for the closeups, but you may have trouble standing far enough away for larger groups.

    I'd suggest first of all that you check what you've been shooting with the 18-55. Look at the EXIF information on the shots you like the most, and see what focal length they were done at. If your best shots tend to be at the long end, get a 50. If they're closer to 35, get a 35. Different people have different styles, and different preferences for what they habitually want to include in an image. If you experiment a bit you can get a better feel for the differences in focal length. For example, find a head, or a head-sized 3D object, and set the lens at 55 mm. and have the head fill the frame. Now set the lens at 18 and move in and have the same head fill the frame. When you compare the two images, you'll immediately see how the perspective differs - not only in the shape of the head but in the dimension and clarity of objects in the background.

    As for weddings and the like, my guess would be that whichever lens you get you should make sure you take along the kit lens, so that if you have a scattered group you can go wide enough. Groups will tend to need a smaller aperture, and more depth of field, than single portraits anyway, so the slow speed of the kit lens will be no handicap. But you'll almost certainly want a faster lens for later, when you may need to shoot without flash in poor light. For individual faces, the 50 will likely give you a little nicer look, and you will be able to get it from a bit further away.
  • Thank you for such a detailed answer. I'll do some experimenting and take a look at the EXIF data of some shots and see what happens. I guess I can't really lost in the end as hopefully both the 35 or 50 will bring a lot to the table for me.

    I'll let you know how I get on.
  • OK, so it seems that the shots I like the most are actually a mix of either 35mm or 55mm on the kit lens... No definitive answer! I suppose I need to do more testing haha!

    One thing I have noticed is that the 35mm doesn't distort nearly as much as I thought it might so I'm less worried about that now.
  • No, I don't think you need to worry much about distortion. If you use a 35 on full frame, where it is a mild wide-angle, it will give a perspective that's a bit unkind to closeup faces, but even there it will be fine at longer distances, and many full frame shooters who like a more inclusive view use a 35 as their "normal" lens rather than the more common 50. On DX your main considerations will be the difference in background blur and field of view. If you had them both you'd likely find yourself either switching them often or moving around more. The one thing I'd add is to remember that there's a fair amount of cropping room on a D3200, and while you can crop a wide picture, you can't expand one that's too narrow. So whichever lens you choose, make sure you have with you something that can shoot wide when you just don't have the room to back up.
  • @bruto thanks for the tips.

    Looks like 35 is the best bet after all!
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