Which Is Better – 35mm or 85mm?

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There are various focal lengths for prime lenses, prompting the never-ending debate about which one rules them all. For this ultimate lens battle, we’re going to discuss which is better – 35mm or 85mm? We’re also going to compare their differences to see where they work best.

Which Is Better – 35mm or 85mm?

The 35mm is better than 85mm when you need broader perspectives, more foreground and background elements, and sharpness across the entire frame for portraits, landscapes, and street photography. Meanwhile, it’s better to use 85mm than 35mm for a zoomed-in effect and background isolation in headshots, macro, and event photography.

To better understand how they function best in certain situations, let’s first look at their major features.

35mm Lens vs 85mm Lens

The 35mm and 85mm are both prime lenses. While they have a few similarities, they also come with varying features that make them equally unique and outshine each other in some situations.

A Fujinon 35mm lens on glass surface

As the world adapts to changes due to the pandemic, the global photographic services market expects a 10.6% annual growth rate from 2020 to 2021. This calls for the chance to upgrade your photography equipment and experience the wonders of the 35mm and 85mm lenses.

  • Focal Length: The 35mm and 85mm both have fixed focal ranges. The superior focal length would depend on your needs. The 35mm would be beneficial if you need a wider perspective, while the 85mm is perfect if you need to fill the frame.
  • The Angle of View: The 35mm would be more fitting when you need more foreground, whereas the 85mm produces a tighter perspective.
  • Depth of Field: The 35mm and 85mm camera lenses create a shallow depth of field, making a pleasing out-of-focus background for subjects.
  • Sharpness: Because of the broader field of view, the 35mm would be a better option if you need focus across the entire frame. On the other hand, the 85mm is ideal when you need to emphasize the subject to isolate it from the background.
  • Distortion: While the broader angle of view is appealing to some, this is also the culprit why the 35mm might produce distortion, especially in the corners. Unless you need to add creative effects, you may want to use an 85mm lens, which has minimal distortion and vignetting.

Shooting Conditions Where 35mm is Better Than 85mm

The 35mm is one of the go-to prime lenses for photographers, so these are examples of when it’s the best time to use 35mm instead of an 85mm lens.

Portraits

The 35mm lens is the ideal angle of view for portrait photographers who prefer to include the surroundings in the shots. This is why the 35mm beats the 85mm when doing group and solo pictures with additional foreground and background elements for more context.

However, the broader focal plane also means some parts of the body may look more prominent, so this has a bit of a learning curve.

A Sony camera with 85mm lens

Landscapes

The 35mm lens lets you photograph the vastness of the scene, ensuring you get to include the foreground and background. This is important in nature photography, where you would want to shoot the mountains, fields, and the sky in a single frame.

The same idea goes when shooting real estate, as the wide perspective enables you to reflect the full size of a property.

Travel

Traveling means photographing a mixture of people, objects, and sceneries. Besides, if you prefer to travel light, it’s more convenient to use 35mm to shoot landmarks, structures, and portraits.

Shooting Conditions Where 85mm is Better Than 35mm

The 85mm is a versatile prime lens, yet these are the types of photography where an 85mm works better than a 35mm lens.

Events

Like a wedding, the 85mm enables you to move closer to capture the facial expressions of the couples. Similarly, you may move away to get a full shot of the reception setup.

The same goes when shooting concerts, as the 85mm enables you to stand back and capture the moment the crowd dances along to the artist’s song. Additionally, you can still zoom in to photograph the movements and expressions of the musician.

A Nikkor 85mm lens

Headshots

If your style involves close-up shots, the 85mm produces a much more zoomed-in effect than the 35mm. The 85mm lens is extra helpful, especially when you’re in an outdoor location with several distracting elements in the scene.

Macro and Creative

Since the 85mm has a narrower perspective, you can use it to highlight details for nature, product, and food photography. Moreover, it singles out subjects in a greater scene while still giving an idea of what’s going on around them, like fashion, lifestyle, and editorial shoots.

However, when shooting too close, the center of the frame may have slight distortion. Although you can use this to emphasize a particular feature.

Conclusion

The 35mm lens is better if you need a wider angle of view and even sharpness. Sometimes, it’s much better to use an 85mm lens when highlighting subjects through background blur and zoomed effect. It’s crucial that you know their differences so that you can use the right lens.

Kaitlin Cooper is an active professional wedding and portrait photographer in San Diego, California at Kaitlin Cooper Photography. She is also a contributor to many large publications, including Bridal GuideBustlePixpaWith Joy, and Hello Giggles.