Choosing lenses can be a daunting task; they are an expensive purchase and each could dramatically shape the look of your photographs. Two lenses that often come up against one another are the 28mm and 35mm. Both have wide angle lenses with large field of views, but there are some dramatic differences between the two.
Choosing between a 28mm and 35mm lens comes down to personal preference and the types of photography being pursued. Both lenses are perfectly capable of taking a variety of shots. However, 35mm lenses are usually better for individual and group portraits because of less lens distortion. The 35mm lens also mimics that angle of view that we see with our eyes so it looks more natural. 28 mm lenses are better for landscape and architecture photography because it can take in more of the scene due to the wider field of view. The short focal length also gives the 28mm a more unique look thanks to it’s wider angle of view and lens distortion. Also, because it has a large depth of field it is hard to blur out the background and make your main subject stand out with the 28mm. This means most of your image will be sharp and in-focus.
Both lenses would be a welcome addition to main camera bag, but choosing just one requires some forethought. Consider the pros and cons of each, along with the intended photography style to help make a decision.
Do I Need a 35mm Lens?
The simple answer to the question “do I need a 35mm lens” is “no”. Truthfully, great photographs can be taken with any lens – the only difference is how the lens is supporting or hindering the intended intent of the images. Thankfully, 35mm lenses are great at supporting a wide variety of styles.
For general photographers, those interested in portraits, or generally taking photos that focus on the subject more than the background (like in photojournalism, street photography, or wedding photography), a 35mm lens can be a phenomenal addition to any lens collection. The wide variety of shots that can be taken on a 35mm is one of it’s largest draws.
Thanks to the unique depth of field and focal length of 35mm prime lenses, shots often closely align with how the human eye naturally sees things. This builds upon the strengths of the lens; shots can be made to look as people would normally see them or twisted around to cause unique effects.
A 35mm Lens’s Focal Length
Focal length is a measure of how much of a scene a lens can capture. The larger the number, the more narrow it’s field of view and the further “zoomed in” the image will look. For instance, a 200mm lens will be incredibly tight, unable to even capture a whole face without the photographer being very far back. In comparison, with a 50mm lens the photographer could stand closer and get more of the main subject in frame.
Using this same scale, a 35mm lens is wide enough to capture most subjects comfortably while still allowing for background detail. Subjects in the frame will take up the large majority while not resulting in an overbearing presence. The subject-focused focal length of a 35mm lens is its largest strength, and the main reason to choose one. For photographers who prefer to focus on individuals or objects rather than a whole scene, it is a much better fit than a lens with a shorter focal length, like a 28mm lens.
The focal length of a specific 35mm lenses may change slightly despite having the same base. This is for a number of reasons, but the main reason is whether the lens is on a full-frame or APS-C sensor camera. In general, if you put a lens made for a full-frame camera on a APS-C sensor camera, the lens will have either a 1.62 crop (for Canon ASP-C sensors) or 1.5 crop (for Nikon DX, Sony, Pentax APS-C sensors). Then a 35mm lens will appear like a lens with a focal length of about 56mm for Canon (1.62 crop) and about 52.5mm for Nikon DX, Sony, and Pentax (1.5 crop) APS-C sensor cameras.
This chart above from wikipedia shows common crop factors of cameras.
Depth of Field On A 35mm Lens
Depth of field is how much of the scene is in focus when a photo is being taken and is a factor of focal length and aperture size. Longer focal lengths (like 200mm) generally have less depth of field, while shorter focal lengths have more. The less depth of field, the less is in focus in the scene. Although that can sound like a bad thing, in reality, it draws attention to the subject of the frame and allows everything else to support it. The is especially true in portrait photography.
35mm lenses being a wide-angle lens are not known to have an enormous amount of shallow depth of field (like a 200mm lens), although they can hold their own for those interested in achieving the look. 35mm lenses can create a shallow depth of field in the right conditions but are best for a more subtle, shallow depth of field like in the image below.
This helps the lenses achieve a realistic look similar to the human eye. For photojournalists or street photographers, this can be a huge benefit. Thankfully, the 35mm has enough depth of field to still allow shots to explore and play with background blur.
The Pros and Cons of Each Lens And What They Are Good For
Ultimately, looking at the pros and cons of each lens can dramatically help when deciding which one is right for you. Both are fantastic in their own right, so it is important to know the pros and cons for each one.
In general, a 35mm lens is slightly better for subject-based photography, while the 28mm is better for landscape photography. Of course, there are more photography disciplines than those two, so it is best to not base the whole decision around this point.
The Pros Of A 35mm Lens
A 35mm lens is a common recommendation for a first prime lens for a variety of reasons. It is solid all around, and many applications can be found for it. Thanks to the large variety of uses, it is widely considered a good everyday lens for those that prefer slightly wider shots.
Some of the common pros of the 35mm lens are:
- A natural look with little lens distortion
- Good all-around depth of field
- Great for subject photography when not placed too close to the edges
- Easy and quick to use
- Usually light, small, and compact
The natural look of the 35mm lens can actually be seen as a pro or con, depending on your intended style. However, most people find the reliance and how immediately recognizable photographs taken from the 35mm to be a bonus. Especially if you are interested in photographing weddings, photojournalism, or portraits, all of which usually benefit from capturing people naturally, with little distortion.
The average depth of field of a 35mm lens is also very nice looking. Still allowing for bokeh when the focus is placed on the subject of the image, the 35mm lens can easily capture multiple subjects in the frame. Additionally, there is enough in the depth of field to allow for unique angles and perspectives to be added to every photograph. With some preparation or creativity, the depth of field on a 35mm lens can lend itself to some incredible photographs.
The 35mm lens’ adeptness at subject photography cannot be overstated. Able to capture portraits, group shots, items, or small scenes, the lens naturally and quickly focuses in and creates a perfect shot in a large variety of locations. Many 35mm prime lenses can obtain large apertures (like f/2 or f/1.4) which allows them to take in a great amount of light, as well, making them great for taking images in low light.
To round out the list, the ease of use of a 35mm prime lens is wonderful for those photographers who prefer to shoot “run and gun“. Thanks to the generally quick focus and large aperture, multiple photographs can be taken in less than ideal conditions (like low light situations that wedding photographers find themselves in) and turn out wonderful. If you find yourself needing to shoot from the hip often, the 35mm is likely to serve as a better option than some competitors for portrait shots such as the 50mm.
The Cons of A 35mm Lens
Of course, there are more pros to be found with the 35mm as you become more familiar with the lens. There are also some common issues or complaints with the lens, however. Some of the common cons, or discrepancies, that you may run into using the 35mm prime lens are:
- The lens is too narrow for landscape or wide images
- Shots can look too journalism-based for those interested in more artistic focus
- The lens is too wide for images of details
Many of the issues that 35mm lens users bring up are about its place as a lower mid-range focal length lens. While it can capture many things well, it is still a prime lens with a low focal length; this is an inherently limiting factor. Thankfully, the 35mm lens can be made to work in spite of these issues – it may simply require more practice or effort.
A 35mm lens is not great for landscape or wide shots. Most of the time, they will come out looking cropped or shortened, not achieving the sweeping grandeur that many landscape shots are looking to capture. This can be a bonus for those looking to simply capture these types of wide shots, but for the majority of photographers looking to make their photos at least a little artistic, this is a noticeable limiting factor.
Thanks to the human eye having a focal length roughly close to a 35mm lens, this can result in boring or generic shots, especially if they were taken quickly. This is a con that is easily avoided by taking extra time to make shots interesting by using more unique angles or perspectives rather than straight on at eye level, but it can be a problem for beginning photographers.
One of the final complaints about a 35mm lens is that it is too wide for detail shots or heavy depth of field. This is the opposite of the first con mentioned; in this case, where the goal is to capture details rather than the subject in an environment, the 35mm is often far too wide. Situations where detail shots come up often include weddings, product photography, and some styles of street photography. In cases such as these, it may be better to invest in a zoom or macro lens to better achieve your intended look.
The Pros of A 28mm Lens
28mm lenses are fantastic wide-angled lenses that can create some truly unique shots. Many phone cameras default to roughly this focal length, so it is a look that has become more common in recent years. Along with this resurgence, the 28mm lens has seen a great number of pros be further explored.
The differences between a 28mm and 35mm lens seem like they would be minor; after all, it is only 7mm of difference between the two focal lengths. The differences may be hard to tell for the average person. However, these small distinctions are noticeable to a photographer and end up defining quite a few of the pros of a 28mm lens. Some of the most notable pros of using a 28mm lens are:
- Fantastic, unique wide-angled shots
- Deep depth of field
- Adds a specific character to images that help make your images stand out
- Generally a small, light, and compact lens
The wider angle of a 28mm lens makes a real difference in capturing the scenery and surrounding subjects of a shot, even when compared to the similarly-angled 35mm lens. When shooting using a 28mm lens, it is helpful to think of the lens as a window into the world; the 28mm is a slightly larger window, letting you see just a bit more. Unlike even lower focal lengths (like the 16mm), it is not obnoxiously so; subjects are still in frame and clearly noticeable. Instead, using a 28mm, the scenery becomes more, if not, just as important.
With this wide-angle lens comes a necessity to treat the area around the subject as just as important as the main subject itself. Ultimately, this can lead to some unique shots and make you a better photographer as you consider more of what to include in the scene of each photograph.
The incredibly deep depth of field that most 28mm lenses come with help make the background as important as the foreground. The depth of field is difficult to subtly vary on a 28mm, so things like bokeh, or out of focus background, are largely impossible.
For those who have gotten used to larger focal lengths like the 50mm, this can be a big change; however, it can ultimately create some very sharp and stand out photographs. As an extra benefit, learning to properly capture subjects without needing to blur backgrounds will make other photos with your other lenses better as well.
Finally, thanks to the relative constraints of a 28mm lens, it lends itself wonderfully to characteristic images. In this way, despite the small difference, it is almost the opposite of the 35mm lens. The slightly wider focal length allows for more areas in each photo to be distorted, or the tops of buildings to be captured. This comes up often in street photography or landscapes where the scale of the images emphasized.
The Cons of A 28mm Lens
Of course, the 28mm lens is not without its own set of problems. In the same way that its unique form factor gives it many pros, it also introduces a specific set of problems. Some cons of a 28mm lens include:
- You must be much closer to subjects
- Lens distortion
- Wide angles can be difficult for many common shots
28mm lenses have to be closer to your photography subjects to achieve similar results to a 35mm or 50mm lens. Anytime that you want to take a picture with one subject as the clear focus, whether for a portrait, still life image, or display, you will have to move much closer. This can be an issue for event photography, as the photographer traditionally wants to stay as out of the way as possible. It can come up in other areas too. Street photographers may have to get closer to people than they feel comfortable with, or they may lose a shot if the subject moves away quickly.
Getting used to the innate lens distortion on almost all 28mm lenses can be a challenge, and is one of the top reasons why adjusting to such a wide-angle lens can frustrate photographers. The distortion can make faces look weird, or buildings too wide if not composed correctly. Subjects will not be captured in flattering proportions and shadows can become longer or shorter than anticipated. Thankfully, this is a problem that is much easier to deal with than ever before with new 28mm lenses, and it becomes less of an issue as you get more comfortable using a 28mm lens. Eventually, the distortion can become a pro to the lens, and even contributing to unique images.
One of the biggest cons of using a 28mm lens is images taken with the lens do not generally look “normal”. Portraits are very common for almost any photographer to take, and they can become distorted or difficult to capture with a 28mm. Additionally, detail or close up shots of just about anything will suffer when taken with this lens because of how much of the scene will be captured with the lens. All of this is to say that, despite its great effectiveness at what it does, the 28mm is not a highly versatile lens; it is not going to be a one and done lens for almost anyone.
Which 35mm and 28mm Lenses Are The Best?
After deciding on which size lens to go with, the next important question is – which is best? There are many great 35mm and 28mm lenses available from every major manufacturer, and even 3rd party photography companies have developed their own. The number of options is fairly large, so it is important to figure out which one suits your needs the most.
When looking at lenses of any focal length, some important factors to keep in mind are size and weight, aperture size, and minimum focus distance. Size determines how compact and discreet the lens will be, weight speaks to how heavy the lens is, the aperture determines how much light the lens gets into the camera (also this affects depth of field), and the minimum focus distance determines how far something must be from the lens for it to be able to focus on it.
In general, smaller and lighter lenses with larger apertures (like f/1.4) that let in a lot of light, and those that have lower minimum focus distances will be better. When looking to buy lenses, it is important to remember that, generally, speaking, you get what you pay for. Many manufacturers have lenses available across a small spectrum of qualities, so choose the best one available in your budget.
With so many manufacturers around, it is important to do your research and ensure that the lenses will fit your camera. If you have any doubt, look around online or call a local camera shop for an expert opinion.
The Best Canon 35mm And 28mm Lens
Canon is one of the most popular camera and lens manufacturers in the world, offering products ranging at the beginner level to top professionals. With canon, it is absolutely important to determine a budget before buying any lenses; although they do have a slightly smaller offering pool for 35mm and 28mm, there are still plenty of choices across price ranges.
It is hard to go wrong with an official Canon lens that matches your desired focal length, regardless of your budget. However, it is in your best interest to choose the one that fits your need best. With Canon lenses, the more money you are able to spend, the faster (larger aperture) and better made the lens will be.
For the 35mm focal length, Canon’s RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM Lens is tough to beat. It is a compact lens, meaning that it is even more lightweight and easy to carry than other 35mm lenses and sacrifices very little in return. It is made for the new RF mount cameras that Canon recently has produced. It has a fast aperture at f/1.8, so photography will be quick enough to set up for street and event photography. Additionally, the camera is rated as a macro lens which means it has an incredibly low minimum focusing distance of 0.56 ft. With one that low, it is unlikely that you will run into any problems focusing on close-up details.
If you do not own a RF mount camera, then I’d suggest the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Wide-Angle Lens. This lens is built for full frame cameras, has autofocus, affordable (compared to the more professional level Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens), has a relatively fast aperture at f/2, light weight at 0.8 lbs., and the minimum focus distance is short at 0.79 ft. This camera also comes with a built-in image stabilizer function.
If you own an APS-C camera than I suggest looking at the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM. This lens is built for APS-C sensor cameras, it is affordable, has autofocus, has a relativly fast aperture at f/2.8, light weight at 6.7 oz., and is a macro lens the minimum focus distance is very short at 5.12 inches. This camera includes a light on the end of the camera to light your subjects which works great for macro shots. It also has lens stabilizer that helps your images stay sharp when hand-holding while taking images.
For Canon’s 28mm lens offerings, look no further than the Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM. It is Canon’s fastest 28mm available (there is a f/2.8 version available with similar options) and boasts many similar features to those found on the aforementioned 35mm lens. It has autofocus, come with an image stabilizer function, very small and light weight at 0.57 lbs making it perfect for accompanying photographers anywhere, and provides more depth of field adjustment than many competitors. The camera also has a minimum focal distance of 0.75 ft.
Once thing to not is this 28mm lens is designed for use with full-frame cameras – if you attach it to a APS-C camera, it will have a 1.62 crop factor with makes the lens actually function more closely as a 45mm lens. This is an issue that will happen with any 28mm lens, so be aware of your camera sensor type and adjust accordingly.
The Best Nikon 35mm And 28mm Lens
Nikon is another incredibly popular manufacturer of both camera bodies and lenses. While Canon has surpassed Nikon as the most common camera producer, especially in the beginner APS-C sensor style cameras, many professional and beginner-level photographers use Nikon as their preferred choice. Due to Nikon’s long and successful history, they also offer a wide range of 35mm and 28mm lens choices.
As when choosing any lens type, it is important to keep a budget in mind. Cheaper options of both the 35mm and 28mm lenses listed here are available from Nikon for a fraction of the price. If you need to downgrade or are looking to simply dip your toes into these new focal lengths, those may be fantastic options. However, for the best of the best of Nikon 35mm and 28mm lenses, there are some clear winners.
At the 35mm focal length, Nikon’s NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S is the best available for the Nikon’s Z style mount of cameras. Part of Nikon’s top line of lens products, it boasts a fast aperture at f/1.8 and comes with some of the highest quality glass available. The autofocus on this lens is something Nikon is particularly proud of, and there is no wonder why; many customers claim how easy and fun it is to use for that very reason. The Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S is a large lens, but Nikon has worked hard to make it lightweight at 0.82 lbs which makes it easy to carry while retaining great durability. The camera has a minimum focus distance of 0.82 ft. Nikon’s offering for the 28mm lens is not only one of their best lenses period, but it also may be the best 28mm lens available on the market today.
Nikon’s offering for the 28mm lens spot is not only one of their best lenses period, but it also may be the best 28mm lens available on the market today. The AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.4E ED has absolutely everything that someone buying a premium prime lens can hope for. It comes with autofocus and the fast aperture of f/1.4 is makes it one of the fastest lenses available today. The lens is not compact and lightweight at 1.42 lbs but makes up for it with it’s image quality. This lens has the Nikon gold ring which makes it one of the best lenses that Nikon manufactures and has a minimum focus distance of 11.02 inches.
Choosing the Right Lens for You
Depending on your photography style and needs, you will want to use a 28mm over a 35mm lens on certain occasions and a 35mm lens over a 28mm. They both have pros and cons but each has specific strengths. Now you have a deeper understanding of what each focal length offers.