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This post was most recently updated on June 26th, 2022

If you have stumbled across this article, you are probably wondering whether you have finally outgrown your kit lens. It happens to every photographer when they realize that there is more out there than the standard lens that comes with your camera.

You have been fine with the capabilities of a 18-55mm lens for so long, but perhaps you have noticed that there are limitations and you are bored of just zooming in and out producing okay photos.

If you are wanting to create beautiful bokeh that is not on your iPhone, then it is time to upgrade to a prime lens. In this guide we will take a look at the 35mm and 50mm, and why they are both essential lenses to your kit.

Why A Prime Lens?

A prime lens might lack in some departments, but it will create some amazing photos. Whilst it gives you less focal length versatility due to it being a fixed lens, it does produce a wonderful background blur and it can be used in low light situations. This is because it has a wide aperture, sometimes as wide as f/1.2.

Not all prime lenses are fixed, as you will spot the odd zoom lens which has a fixed aperture and is still able to be used in low light. These will be more versatile in the fact you do not have to move around as much as a fixed lens (if you know, you know).

Here are a couple of things to look at to consider why a prime lens is essential to your kit:

  • Low light capabilities – a prime lens is often known as a ‘fast lens’. This is because it has a wide aperture that naturally lets more light into the camera which finds its way to the image sensor. Doing this means that in lower light you can set the ISO to a lower number to stop the photo becoming grainy, and it enables you to set a faster shutter speed to stop motion blur.
  • Depth of field – when it comes to photos, there are times when we know a shallow depth of field would look amazing. It can help to separate the focal point from the background, which creates that depth of field within an image. For this you want to find a wide aperture, something like an f/1.2 or f/2.
  • Extra professional – if you are assigned a job like taking outdoor portraits, having a shallow depth of field will look a lot more professional than not having it. If you take a look at a wonderful outdoor portrait, more often than not it has a blurred background.

The Limitations Of A Kit Lens

Let us just get this point out there first: there is nothing bad about a kit lens. In fact, as you start out on your photography journey, it is a great lens to learn with. It is extremely versatile and affordable also.

The most common kit lens has a zoom range of around 18mm-55mm or 55mm-200mm. The handy thing about this type of lens is that it covers a lot within its frame meaning you do not have to move around as much to get the shot you want.

This is great if you are in a tight space and need to take pictures. Also, using a lens like this does still produce quality pictures, it just will not produce the background blur that you are after which can make a photo look ten times better. Even changing its aperture does not affect this.

The zoom on the lens will cause it to have a variable aperture. This is when the aperture changes due to the focal length being used. So, as you zoom in and out it can change from something like f/3.5 to f/5.6, but because even at the widest the setting is still too narrow, it will not create the bokeh effect.

Prime Lenses In More Detail

Prime Lenses In More Detail

When it comes to choosing a prime lens, a couple of good starting points are the 35mm and the 50mm. There are others ranging from 24mm all the way up to 135mm, but we shall be looking at two of the more popular choices.

To help you understand both of them, we shall take a look at them in more detail – but you may find that both will feel right at home in your gear bag!

The 50mm

The 50mm is a lens that is versatile enough for most photography, but especially for taking portraits. It can produce more natural looking photos because it offers less distortion compared to that of the 35mm.

It is also said that the focal length of the 50mm is more or less like the field view of our eyes. You cannot get more natural than that!

This lens offers a wide field of view which can show a lot of background within its frame, even at a close distance, though the crop of the image is too tight meaning you cannot use this within a small space.

The wide aperture of the lens can still capture ultra sharp images, particularly if you put distance between the lens and the subject. Also, if you stand away from your subject, you can still produce a nice background blur that separates the subject from the background.

Basically, it is a super all-round lens that is great for a variety of projects, but especially for photographing people without distortion.

The 35mm

Whilst the differences between both these lenses are not massive, they do have different characteristics that are worth pointing out.

The 35mm is great for something like street photography due to it being a good lens to use within tight spaces. Its focal length gives it that wide field of view, but you may need to move closer to a subject due to that aspect.

Even so, it is great for landscape photography and also gives a great depth of field, so you will not be disappointed.

It does however, distort portraits if not photographed correctly. With this lens you will need to make sure you keep them in the centre of the frame to minimize this effect.

Pros And Cons

For a more simple take on each lens, let us look at the pros and cons of each.

50mm

Pros

  • Great bokeh effect
  • Useful in low light conditions
  • A natural portrait lens
  • Versatile

Cons

  • Not good in tight space due to image crop

35mm

Pros

  • Great bokeh effect
  • Useful in tight spots so great for street photography
  • Useful in low light conditions
  • Can be used for landscape photography

Cons

  • Lens distortion means it can be tricky to use for portraits7

Why Are They Important Lenses?

If you want to upgrade your photography, venturing out to a 35mm or 50mm (or maybe both) is a great way of updating your skills. You will realise how much they can do compared to your original kit lens, such as work under low lighting conditions and create beautiful bokeh.

Whilst you do not need one, once you do use a prime lens, you will wonder how you managed without one.

Final Words

Now that you have looked at both the 35mm and 50mm, whichever one you both ultimately buy comes down to what you will use it for and which one you prefer.

Both have their different uses, but they are also quite similar. If you are planning to do portraits, then the 50mm is most certainly the go-to, but the 35mm has its own perks and is great as an all-rounder if you are travelling or carrying your camera around with you every day.