The Top 8 Reasons Why I’m a Big Believer in 35mm Lens Photography


After two years of testing, renting, buying and selling just about every level of Nikon and Canon lenses and cameras, I have learned quite a bit about what works and what doesn’t. Pretty much you can’t go wrong with Canon or Nikon, and just about everything they make is top notch.

You can buy one or the other and in the end you’ll have a great product (though, I do give Nikon a slight advantage in most categories). One thing I have learned is that the more you spend the better the quality of the lens, the camera and the final pictures you take.

Well, that is until this week. This week I discovered the Nikkor 35mm manual focus lens.

This lens has been around so long that it has reached legendary status (I believe it has been around since 1982 which is amazing considering how much technology and cameras have evolved from that point).

The lens was originally created for press photography and is one of the fastest wide angle lenses that you can buy even to this day.


This lens has one of the most superior color renditions of any lens I have used and creates great contrasty images with amazing depth of field when you open up the aperture to its largest size.

For years I have tried different focal lengths on lenses from super wide angle and fisheye to super 500mm zoom to find the perfect picture. Even though I tried them all, I never had a 35mm lens.

I was convinced that the best focal lengths for portraits was my trusted 85mm lens and the best focal length for landscapes was my 16mm to 35mm lens. I had 50mm lenses and almost everything in between but never a 35mm lens.

Now that I have one, I am surprised at what I was missing and I have changed my mind. 35mm lenses are a must have (in my opinion) for any photographer and videographer.

I have a variety of reasons for saying that, and if you are looking for a great 35mm lens, I think the Nikkor 35mm AIS is as fine as any lens out there even more expensive ones. Here are the top 8 reasons I am a big believer in 35mm lens photography:

eyeball#1: Focal Length – In terms of composition, the 35mm lens is the closest to the focal composition of the human eye. That is why it is used so often in movies because it gives a much more realistic vantage point for the viewer.

In terms of photography, using a fixed 35mm lens requires you to get creative in terms of how you move your body around to get the right composition. You can’t be lazy but when you catch a shot with a 35mm lens it has a more artistic look to it than any other lens that I have tried.

#2: Versatility – The 35mm lens can be used for almost anything: Landscapes, portraits, travel shots, macro photography, street photography, real estate photography, product photography – just about everything.

The 35mm I use allows me to get great close up images but also allows me to get pretty decent wide angle shots. Many photographers refer to the 35mm as the wedding photography lens because of its versatility indoors and outdoors.

#3: Video – I originally purchased the Nikkor 35mm lens exclusively for creating videos with my D3S. I had read a few articles on the fact that it was the best lens for videography for a variety of reasons. All of those reasons were spot on and I could see the difference I snapped the lens on the camera.

The focal length was wide enough where I virtually had no camera shake but not so wide that I could not focus on my subject. I could walk a foot away and get great close-ups and the video had an almost cinematic quality when you dialed in the aperture to its lowest levels. Here’s a test video:

In short the video is just beautiful with a lens in this focal length. If you use a DLSR for your video you know that the autofocus feature is nearly useless and will cause your videos to go in and out of focus quickly. The fact that this 35mm lens only provides manual focus and no autofocus engine is not a problem since I rarely use the autofocus feature for my videos anyway.

#4: Best Capture of Subject and Environment – One of the best features of a 35mm lens is that it allows you to capture your subject relative to their environment. I think this is another reason that it is used so broadly in film – it helps you tell a story with your video or your photograph. I brought the 35mm lens to a show I went to for my brothers band. I was positive that I would not use it since the music was fast and I was positive I could never dial in the right focus to capture what was happening since autofocus was not on the lens.

When I got home I was amazed since my best pictures of the night came out of the lens. The reason was that I was able to capture the subject and what was happening around them to the perfect degree.

#5: Forced Interaction – You can always tell from someone’s photos if they were passively or actively engaged with there surroundings. The best photos I see is where the photographer is actively involved in their environment – not changing the scene but involved in it somehow by getting in the middle of the action.

Zoom lenses can make a photographer a little lazy since they can zoom into their subject from far away and not get in the middle the action. The 35mm is a lens really requires you to get in the middle of a situation to get a good photograph.


If you stand far away from your subject it won’t work since the angle is pretty wide and you won’t have a real subject in the end photo. I find that the 35mm is perfect since it requires you to jump right in to find the perfect picture.

#6: Low Light Performance – I am referring in particular to the Nikkor 35MM AIS when I refer to the stunning speed and low light performance of the 35mm lens. I find that the combination of my D3S and 35MM lens which can be dialed back to 1.4 aperture level provides me with unreal low light performance. I can take pictures in near dark rooms and the photos appear that they have been taken in great lighting conditions.

This is beneficial not only for photography but videography as well. I find that the videos taken with the 35mm lens have far less noise and are far less grainy than pictures taken with my other lenses.

#7: Small, Light and Compact – When I put the 35mm lens on my camera it makes my camera feel small and light. When I compare that to my more expensive prime lenses which make my camera feel about twice the weight it is really an added bonus to this lens. Since the lens is so light, compact and versatile it makes the perfect walk around lens for taking street photography or any type of photography when you are traveling.

Sure, you might be tempted to break out your fish eye or zoom but this lens will force you to deal with your situation and take the best picture possible with what you have. I find that always makes for more interesting photography.

#8: Wide Angle with Constraint – I was editing pictures once and a friend of mine advised that I turn the contrast up to exactly where I wanted it and then to dial it back slightly. Constraint is ultimately very important in photography and is what differentiates an average picture from a great picture.

The 35mm lens is considered the very beginning of wide angle lenses. It is the most subtle wide angle on the market and that is why it consistently delivers great shots. It is certainly not fish eye, certainly not super wide angle, but it is wide enough to capture a subject interacting with their environment.

I am often tempted to use a wide angle lens. The 35mm lens is analogous to slightly dialing back the level of contrast that I feel is appropriate. The 35mm keeps my wide angle nature in check.

About the author: Frank McKenna is an amateur photographer based in La Jolla, California. You can find him on his blog, 500px, Tumblr, and Google+. This article originally appeared here.

Image credit: Nikon Prime love by 55Laney69, The Mechanic Eye by bogenfreund

  • Jen

    Where exactly did you get that they were upset? It looks like statement, not a complaint. Chill out, Joe.

  • Justin Haugen

    I didn’t realize such an obsession was out there.

  • Max

    Focal length is not relative to field of view,
    It is the distance from the sensor.

    This means that 35mm is the same field of view
    Than a 52mm on full frame, just as a 300mm
    Telephoto is 450mm on a crop.

    Lots of confusions on that topic.

  • Ryan

    But movies shoot sideways on 35mm film, giving the 35 more of a 50mm feel due to the cropping factor. A 35mm feel on motion picture film would be more like a 24mm

  • InTheMist

    I have one – stays on my D800. Truly awesome glass and better than either Canon or Nikon.

  • Carlini Fotograf

    I would completely disagree with his comment that every lens that Canon and Nikon make is top notch! Yes Canon L lenses are fantastic.. but their lower end line is plastic crap. Same with Nikon. I would much rather shoot with my Zeiss lenses..

  • harumph

    It’s a bit like arguing over pen sizes. Which is “better,” a .45mm pen tip or a .20mm tip? They both have their uses. They both achieve different looks. It doesn’t really make one better than the other. All that matters is what the artist/photographer can do with them.

  • Ben Woodworth

    SpeedBooster (or Chinese version “Lens Turbo”) fixes those issues if it really concerns you.

  • posesawkwardly

    and no focusing issues? Ugh I think I’m going to get it. Like, today. Anyone in so cal looking for a 28 1.8? ha.

  • Redstart

    35mm in 135 format is not “normal”. 50mm in 135 format is also not normal.

    True normal is 43mm.

    I know everyone likes to defend their silly gear but 50mm is not normal. There are plenty of 40-45ish focal lengths available for Canon and Nikon as well as other brands. Stop spreading these lies about what a normal lens is. All of you.

  • Rabi Abonour

    If I had to pick one focal length to live with, it would be 35mm (when I’m using my X100s this isn’t a hypothetical). 50 feels a little too tight for my style of shooting a lot of the time. 35 is just versatile. However, on an ILC I actually am more likely to go 28+50 to cover more range.

  • ShootnHooton

    The author misses out one vital point and that is whether he is shooting DX or full frame. I would assume DX as he refers to 35mm as being close to the eyes vision whereas 52mm is the closest using full frame. On DX format the 35mm focal length is a ‘standard’ normal lens.

  • wayne.carroll

    There is NO lens that is exactly the same as what the human eye sees – sorry. 50mm covers a 24x36mm image area [full-frame to you pistol-packin’ digito’s] . This BS about it or any other lens exactly covering what the human eye sees is just marketing jargon. There are just TOO MANY aspects to what you’re seeing and what a one-eyed box sees. To start with you have 2 eyes. Check it out for yourself and stop this incessant parroting of what some internet “expert” had to say about it. Then while you’re at it grow yourself a frikkin’ brain.

  • Michael Andrew Broughton

    it’s hard to take this guy seriously when he can’t make it through the first half of his first reason without getting things completely wrong. 35mm movies and 35mm photos are not the same format!

  • dozy

    No word on how soft the Nikkor AIS is at 35/1.4? Almost foggy!

    “One thing I have learned is that the more you spend the better the quality of the lens, the camera and the final pictures you take.”

    The more you spend, the better the pictures you take? I feel sorry for you.

  • taneli34523523

    Shouldnt this be titled “8 reasons… 64 degree FOV photography”?

  • taneli34523523

    Shouldnt this be titled “8 reasons… 64 degree FOV photography”?

  • ninpou_kobanashi

    “Each human eye can see over 150 degrees horizontally with field of view of both eyes being way over 200 degrees”

    That person must have fish eyes, if they can see behind themselves (^_^)

  • Javier A.

    35mm in full frame gives a bit rounded image. Why do you think 35mm in a crop is similar to 50mm? In theory, yes, but image itself is not the same.
    Anyway, 50mm is a must if your photographic style requires it (but If I were a seller then I would say 50mm is a must for everyone!)

  • Jason

    Cool! Love 35mm.
    Works great together with proper film presets (like from reallyniceimages or vsсо) providing the true film epoch look.

  • Azety

    Its because amateur people use 50 1.8 for nice bokeh and speaking about themself as ” professional “.

  • Praverb

    I just bought a 35mm f2 for my Canon 600D and I can’t wait to start shooting with it. Thank you for this lovely post.

  • Rasmus Helenius

    The article clearly states why it’s 35mm and NOT 50mm, that is his favourite medium.

  • Nick Bedford

    35mm is wonderful for almost anything. 50mm is wonderful for portraits in particular (say, head shots).

    Then again, I only own a 24-70mm F2.8L II and a 50mm F1.4 prime for my 5DIII. My EOS M is my 35mm travel cam (22mm F2 on APS-C).

  • Nick Bedford

    35mm is such a magic focal length (55 degree field of view to be unambiguous). I took my EOS-M and 22mm pancake to Europe and it was all I needed.

  • Peter Hovmand

    I agree, this is a really great lens! I use it as a standard lens … instead of a 40mm … which is okay, since I then have something extra to work with afterwards …

  • jon

    Not a great post. 35mm is a great length, but the reasoning here is a little immature. Also, 50mm is closest to the human eye (not in field of view, but in rendering of depth).

  • Robbie Khan

    I have had the new SIgma 35mm 1.4 DG HSM since shortly after launch
    and I’d say to date that 95% of my shots are with this lens. I’ve had the 50mm 1.4, have the 85mm 1.4 and also have the 17-40mm which is only really used for Urbex and cityscapes.

    I agree that it’s got a great tell, you can see when someone used a 35mm 1.4, doesn’t matter what brand it is because the 35mm format on a full frame has a unique look and subjects pop out giving that cinematic feel. It’s a look I’ve always been inspired by so when I was able to afford a 35mm I had to jump on the opportunity.

  • jon

    the way depth is rendered, it’s closer to 50mm (on every camera, in any medium). Field of view is a different story.

  • jon

    It’s the best ff 35mm for DSLR cameras.

  • LucidStrike

    Late response: It’s typical for a human to be able to see slightly behind the shoulders. It’s just not in focus.

  • martin959

    Great article… :D

  • Leslie Dean Brown

    I also like the 35mm focal length for street photography. If I was forced to go with one lens that would probably be it. I’ll definitely be purchasing the f/1.8 FX lens when funds allow. (it has taken some time to figure out but 28mm is pretty wide for street. You have to get right in there and sometimes it’s too “in your face”. So after I upset a few people I normally head back out to 85mm, 50mm and then work my way back down until I regain my confidence…

  • Rachel

    I debated over the Nikon 35mm and the 50mm and went with the 50mm (Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G).

    I notice that I can’t take very close up pictures with this lens. Is it because of the focal length? I’m thinking I need a 35mm to get really close (I am using a Nikon 3200 and taking food pics).

  • Igor Škalceri

    It is relevant for all of us :) I use XT1 Fuji (APs-C sensor) and an adapter with this lens and many other. So with the conversion FF to APSc I get a nice 64mm portrait lens. So in order to have a 35mm, i have bought the Canon FD 24mm and in real width I will have a 36mm. By this review at least some newbies found out new things about 35mm in general what is it good for. All arounder size.

  • Igor Škalceri

    I use 24mm on my Fuji XT1 with an adapter and it comes out to 36mm. Love it.

  • Bubba Jones

    To add to the other responses, when it is spoken 43 degrees the fact most folks forget is they are referring to the depth if you will, not horizontal vertical. Our eyes may emulate the depth of a 43-ish degree lens however as others have correctly stated human eyes can see over 150 degrees.

    Another point to be aware of is everything we look at is in focus, notice I state “we look at”, but what is slightly off of our point of focus becomes progressively out of focus. Thus we can focus on only one plane at a time and one item at a time. Example, reading this print only one word is in focus. What happens is as we move our eyes, the eyes and brain adjust rapidly giving the illusion everything is in focus, it is not.

  • Bubba Jones

    When placed on either a DX or FX/full frame a lens focal length does not change; a 35 mm is still a 35 mm. It is the crop factor of the sensor that is the issue.

    Another interesting point is a 35 mm DX lens on a DX camera does not incur any crop factor. Why, because it is designed for that sensor. It has the correct for that sensor image circle.

    Put a lens designed for full frame camera on a DX camera, yes in comes the crop factor.

    Both a lens designed for DX and one designed for a full frame the placed on the appropriate camera should produce near the same results. It is the image circle produced by the lens that is the deciding issue.

    Of course you must run your own tests. Then you will not believe all you have read about crop factors and lens. Yes, I ran my own tests.

    As Max stated, “…Lots of confusion on that topic…”

  • Michael Andrew Broughton

    apart from the first paragraph, everything you said is wrong, just completely wrong. image circle and crop factor aren’t the same thing.

  • Brad Maestas

    “…with amazing depth of field when you open up the aperture to its largest size.”
    This is awkward. What is amazing about it (at f/1.4)? Surely its *lack* of depth of field. Yes, this lens is legendary but it’s also massive and might not be for everyone. The perpetual regurgitation of what focal *length* is closest to the human eye is getting awfully tiresome. All FLs are useful. Master them, choose one and get out there and shoot!

  • [email protected]

    Good experiment would be to see if this lens could adapt to the digital side. Using lens that are sharp could be a very good use for those of use thar cycle our lens and adapt them by using with the digital age. Saves money!!!! Keeps those lens in continued use and guess what you’d sill get great photos. I know there is a dslr camera Ana there are adapters out there. But who you are using your lens on types of camera?