35mm focal length – An Ideal Range to Tell Stories

35mm focal length - An Ideal Range to Tell Stories

Guides and Tips

35mm focal length – An Ideal Range to Tell Stories

If you are new to photography and these numbers (focal length), such as 28mm, 35mm, 50mm always confuse new users and they often ask themselves which one should I try first? I will briefly introduce you the 35mm focal length in this post to let you know what 35mm feels like and you can decide whether it is suitable for your needs or able to capture the kind of photographs that you want. I have selected a series of photographs that I documented in Cuba in places like Havana, Cienfuegos and Trinidad to illustrate how 35mm performs.

Field of view

People claim that 35mm is similar to our human eye perspective, I think 28mm is more close to how we see and 35mm is more like a crop of unwanted items inside the frame but not as narrow as 50mm perspective I will talk about the advantage of using 35mm in this post.

Telling a Story with 35mm

When I first started looking at lenses for rangefinder and DSLR cameras. 35mm is the first focal length came into my eye because there are so many astonishing works taken with 35mm and these photographs are mainly documentary photography. They attracted me because it is able to record moments including details in the surroundings which brings out the story as a whole with information like the background and textures while 50mm is more focused on a certain area such as only the subject and it is more narrow that can bring out emotion and mood.

Locations also play a major part in how you should pick a lens such as in Hong Kong shooting in urban areas 50mm is my ideal focal length because there are too many contexts and things happening around the subject or moment that I would like to capture. Whereas in Japan, it is easier to shoot with 35mm because there are more patterns and space to compose for a nice shot. But this is only my personal preference.

Background Separation

35mm has less compression, it is not as great as 50mm to separate the background from the subject. It has a broader depth of field which means that at smaller f stops, things can get focused easier and the background will be less blurred.

Observer and Participant

I often say that if we are shooting with 35mm you are participating in the scene that you are capturing. You have to get close enough than 50mm to get that field of view and compression, using 50mm is more like an observer where you keep yourself little distance to your subject without alerting them.

Hyperfocus (Zone Focusing)

Doing street photography without letting people notice, one way is to use zone focusing, stop up your aperture (f8, f11 or eve f16), look at the focusing scale on your lens and determine the distance you want to capture without focusing. It is much easier to do a zone focusing on 35mm than 50mm because it has a broader depth of field and the view of angle is not that tight.

Size and Compactness

The weight and compactness plays the major part, since the size of it makes us more willing to carry it around. Majority of the 35mm lenses are quite handy except fast lenses at f1.2 aperture. I once had the Voigtlander Nokton 35mm f1.2 II, it was the second version of this ultra-fast lens, it was a wonderful lens with great contrast and sharpness, I would say for the price and quality it is on par with the Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE but because of the weight, I do not want to bring it out but in 2020, Voigtlander updated this lens to Version 3 and reduced the weight and size so I am also very tempted to try this lens!

35mm Lens Recommendations

Summilux 35mm f1.4 pre-a

Summilux 35mm f1.4 ASPH FLE

Summicron 35mm f2 V1 8 elements

Summicron 35mm f2 IV pre-a (King of Bokeh)

Canon 35mm f2 LTM

Voigtlander Nokton 35/1.2 II or III

Zeiss Biogon 35/2 ZM

Nikon 35/2 D

Nikon 35/1.4 AIS

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