So, my poor little 35mm lens was looking a little despondent after I had finished extolling the virtues of my 50mm. The 35mm just sat on the shelf looking at me, forlorn and with a glint of sorrow in its glass. Had I forgotten how much I liked using it? Did I not have dozens of favourite images from around the world taken with it? Indeed I did, and thus I took it upon myself to ensure due credit was given to this gem. Well, that plus another request from a reader to talk about using it.
Most of the images I have taken with it have been on APS-C sized sensors, which give an equivalent field of view of approximately 52mm. Again, this is more about my impressions from using the lens and an encouragement to others to use it too. The 35mm and the 50mm have pretty much been the only primes I have used on my DSLRs. There are now a few 35mms available for the Nikon mount (both DX and FX), but years ago I chose the 35mm F/2 AF-D for its future compatibility with full frame sensors, and also for its very fast and close focusing abilities. All the images here were taken with the Nikkor 35mm F/2 AF-D on APS-C sensors.
As I said in my article on the 50mm, I haven’t used my DSLR gear much in the last year, but prior to that I had enjoyed shooting with my 35mm on countless occasions. As much as I like the 50mm, the 35mm was often my go-to prime for most of my photography.
One of the main reasons I like the 35mm, aside from all the versatility it has in common with the 50mm, is that on APS-C sensors the field of view seems just right to me for so many scenes. I realise many people will say that this is because it offers a similar field of view to normal human vision (52mm equivalent), but photographers have preferences for a variety of focal lengths, from wide to telephoto; 35mm on APS-C worked for me.
Like the 50mm, it’s a light and compact lens. But with a shorter field of view on APS-C than the 50mm it is more effective at placing the subject in its environment. It also means I didn’t have to step so far back to capture a scene.
The 35mm AF-D is pretty sharp wide open at F/2 and has some decent bokeh when close enough to the subject.
It was a favourite of mine for shooting long exposures at night, as the narrow aperture gave me some appealing star effects from light sources (you’ll notice many of the images here are night/dusk scenes).
When embarking on photo challenges, I would often use this prime for all my shots, especially shooting in the street. It is quite liberating not to be encumbered by a bag of different lenses nor inhibited by anxiety about choosing the right focal length. Compositional skill can only benefit in this way, and when out shooting I would often feel glad for myself witnessing other photographers with a huge backpack full of enormous lenses and a cumbersome tripod. Just a 35mm lens was enough to get me into the scene and capture its essence.
35mm is a great choice for candid street photography, and although I haven’t used it much for that purpose, I have tried to capture scenic street views.
As good as the 50mm is on APS-C for portraits, the 35mm holds its own too, and I didn’t have to stand (or sit) so far back from my subject to take the shot. I could also place the subject in more of their surroundings.
Finally, the fast aperture let me capture scenes at night hand-held when using a tripod was neither allowed nor practical.
Well, my guilt over momentarily neglecting my dear old 35mm has been somewhat purged. Even more so if my images can demonstrate not only the merit of this focal length but also that you really don’t need much gear to return some decent images. Using just one focal length, either as a prime lens or fixed on a camera, can be both liberating and rewarding. And at the risk of reinforcing a point I have made before (but is worth repeating), it will inevitably improve your photography. Thank you.
(This last photo was taken by my friend Petar – alas I can’t shoot a camera and shoot pool simultaneously.)