Why I use a 50mm lens over a 35mm

I’ve tried many different focal lengths and I have set myself up with only using one, the 50mm. Recently I thought I would quickly (very very very quickly) try out the classic focal length of 35mm. For thous of you that don’t know, I only shot with a 50mm. And I have so say… I’m conflicted.

OK first off I’m not talking about brands or specs, purely focal length. I personally love the 50mm and how focus falls off. The 35mm is a close second but just has a little too much in focus for my aesthetic. BUT, BUT! I do love the versatility and coverage a 35mm gets over the 50mm. You can really establish a scene with a 35mm. And if shot correctly you can give a better feeling of intimacy when shot close.

The downside is I’m not good at framing a 35mm lens. My images start to become messy and cluttered. Some of that has to do with getting such a wide focus. And a lot of that has to do with my skill using the 35mm. In short, I suck at using it, probably because I’ve shot with a 50mm exclusively for 7+ years.

Here is the kicker I used to only shot with 35mm. That’s right I was someone that got the 35mm for street photography. I did a few Bruce Gilden style images back in the day when I started out in photography. I kinda love it…? I thought that was the length everyone was recommending me, so I got one. I’ll see if I can find any of my M6 images for back then??? Are here they are.

Not very good… anyway in short here is a direct comparison between a 50mm and the 35mm. Personal I find the different to be minor. Both are shot at f2.8 and I kinda still prefer the 50mm. But again this is totally up to your own personal preference. I myself am not sold just yet to go back to my Gilden days. But you never know till you try. I feel like a 28mm and a 50mm is a good lens combination. Who knows maybe I’ll change focal lengths if I get the Leica Monochrom? Or if you have been following me, a little sooner 🙂

There is nothing wrong with trying something new. There is nothing wrong with experimentation. It’s good to go outside ones comfort zone. As creatives we should strive to do it on the regular. We need to embrace failure and learn from trying, missing the shot, not getting the right (insert problem here). For myself trying something new (a lens) or revisiting my very very very old ways, has calcified my choices. I know now that I still have a very strong feeling and aesthetic around using the 50mm focal length and I don’t see myself changing any time soon for a 35mm (just yet, but maybe a 28mm).

Keep shooting, keep experimenting and keep loving what you do. I’d love to hear about what focal length(s) you use the most? You know what I use, I’d love to know whats fixated on your camera body. Keep it kind and keep photographing the way you see the world, because no one else will.


  1. I have the very same conflicted feelings between 35mm & 50mm. I own both a 35mm & 50mm Voigtlander but ended up buying a 40mm f2 Summicron which offers a great option between the two and it’s a great lens too!
    • When I first got into rangefinders I was heavily considering getting the 40mm as well. The only thing that stoped me was that the Leica M camera's didn't have the 40mm frame lines. I wish I did what you did.
  2. I use a 35mm summarit for 95% of my images as it suits my style for both people and landscape photography. I was influenced to try the one lens approach by various articles including one of yours and it works! For me anyway. I am 61 but at last i have some identity in my style thanks to the simple beauty of a leica rangefinder[m262] and using mostly one lens.
    • That is awesome to hear. I'm glad you have found a focal length that works for you. It's so freeing when you learn a focal length and just know what the image is going to be before you even frame up the shot with your camera. I'm super happy to know your committed to the 35mm.
    • Love it. It's awesome when you find that focal length that works for you. 90%-95% of your workflow is amazing.
  3. I have been shooting Leica M (first M262 now M246 Mono) and 35mm Lux FLE exclusively for the past two years. I just bought the Leica Q-P (had a Q that I sold before M) as a back-up and using right now, while my M and 35mm is being serviced at Leica Wetzlar. I find 28mm in the Q-P more challenging than 35mm (mainly document my daily life with the people close to me, i.e. people reportage shots), but also part of the allure. So, I have actually contemplating whether switching exclusively to 28mm and the Q-P. But I’m still torn... Would love to hear your thoughts? Best, Mads
    • Shooting with one focal length does sharpen your eye and you instantly know what a can fit in your frame before even looking through the camera over time. Choosing to shot at 28mm, 35mm or 90mm for that matter is really personal preference. What lens aesthetic you like is something I can't answer for you. Personal I don't see the point in having two camera bodies with the same focal length. Why not just use one camera body then? Or diversify your camera setup and have different focal lengths on each camera.
      • Thanks, mate. Makes good sense. I meant moving to Q-P only and hence 28mm, not 28mm on both M and Q. Anyway, prob makes sense to keep both, as this both gives me 28mm on Q and 35mm on M Mono. So two slightly different focal lengths plus back-up body if one camera acts up and needs service. Cheers, Mads
  4. Thanks! I started shooting film with the Leica and I have the 50mm. It’s always been my favorite focal length since forever. Now I am very tempted and thinking to buy (and probably will) the 35mm. It’s harder to frame but when you do it the results are great! The best use I found for the 35mm is shooting indoors with family, which is what I mostly want to photograph. We spend a lot of time indoors (even outside pandemics) having dinners and friends over. I find that the 35mm works very well for this type of photography/lifestyle. However, in bigger spaces or outside I will probably always prefer the 50mm. I find it works better for more artistic work too (as far as my definition of it goes). If I were to chose only one, I would take the 50mm. Leica lenses are very expensive and it’s hard to decide to buy one. Having more than one lens is also a bit odd at times due to the fact of having to decide which one to use and at times even pondering if the other would be better. These things can obstruct your photographic creativity. On the other hand, switching between these two I find that it can also do the opposite: stimulate creativity; simply because they really are two ways of seeing. The 50mm focuses more on a subject, a piece of the world, whereas the 35mm will make you look for things within their context and include that along with it, which can create beautiful stories. I could say that the 50mm can create beautiful moments and the 35mm can create beautiful stories. This is my view. What do you think?
    • One lens edited and helps you create the other lens capture and documents. I have a 50mm and a 28mm. I find myself taking more documentary and candid moment with the wide angle lens, and more structured and controlled shots with the 50mm. There is nothing wrong with having more than one lens. I just suggest if you get one master it, use it and have fun.
  5. I've been a 50mm guy for the longest time. But when I finally worked up the courage to go one camera one lens with the X100V I opted to accept 35mm. Truth is, I really like both focal lengths. I do feel that 50mm is closest to what we see and pay attention to with our eyes. It's precise and clean, and even minimalist when used in landscapes, architecture, or other traditionally wide genres. But it can be boring because it's so normal - which does challenge you to fill it with something interesting! Still, I enjoy the way you can more easily bring context into the frame with 35mm. It has the storytelling possibilities of a wide-angle without all the annoying perspective distortion to manage. I still prefer 50mm portraits but I'm starting to love 35mm for my documentary work and hope I can learn to love it for portraits! Good luck if you decide to give it or 28mm a try!
  6. Thanks for the article. A rare constructive one not focused on tech specs :) I personally use both focal lengths for portraits. 35mm when I want a bit of surrounding, intimacy, when the subject is centered or when I don't have much space. I find the 50mm a bit more versatile for framing (subject on the sides look usually better on 50mm than 35mm. It s a bit distorted with a 35mm). But I do love the intimate feel and close communication with the model using a 35mm.

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