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.

9 Comments

  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

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