The 50mm f/1.4 lens was the first lens I purchased after my kit lens. A few years later, I got the 35mm f/1.4 lens - I have not looked back since. I rarely use the 50mm lens now since the 35mm f/1.4 has become my go to lens; if I could only take 1 lens with me to go out and shoot just about anything, it’s my 35mm lens. Needless to say, I think the 35mm f/1.4 lens is better for travel photography than the 50mm f/1.4 lens. I think the choice between the 50mm lens or the 35mm lens is a common question posed by photographers. Here’s why I prefer the 35mm lens for travel photography:
I’ve read that the 35mm is the closest focal length to the composition of the human eye, which is why when shooting with the 35mm lens the results are more realistic. Indeed, for me, the composition with the 35mm feels much more intuitive than the 50mm. When shooting with the 3mm, I move my body naturally without having to think too much about the focal length of the camera. The intuitive feel of the focal length is really important when I’m photographing on a trip, as I’m always browsing and chatting as I am shooting.
The focal length leads, naturally, to composition. I find the 35mm much easier to compose with as the wider lens allows more context for me to work with. In travel photography, so much is said in the context and background to the subject. I don’t have to worry about losing that when shooting with the 35mm lens.
Depth of Field
It’s true that the 50mm have a larger depth of field, but given the amazing layers of context I’m constantly trying to capture when traveling, this depth makes it harder for the 50mm lens to focus on my subject when I’m using a large aperture, as compared to the 35mm lens. Similarly, if there are several layers of background to my subject, it’s easier to capture sharpness on all planes on the 35mm lens than the 50mm lens.
Distance to subject
This one is sort of a double edged sword - as I explain below. But the reason I like the distance to subject the 35mm lens provides me is that I can shoot the subject at the distance I’m usually standing at when talking to them and observing them nearby. When shooting with the 50mm, I find that I often have to take one or steps back in order to create the same composition.
My 35mm is heavier than my 50mm. The 35mm f/1.4 comes in at 21.2 oz (601g). It’s a little bulky when compared to the 50mm f/1.4 which comes in at just under 10 oz (281g). Again, this is a tradeoff I can live with, especially since I’m quite content just carrying 1 lens around.
You can pick up the 35mm f/1.4 for $1,696.95, the 50mm f/1.4, on the other hand, costs only $426.95. The 35mm lens comes at a hefty price point, no doubt. At this point, I have to admit I received the 35mm lens as a present from Alex, after I’d saved up my pennies to purchase the 50mm - my first lens purchase after buying my camera body. If you’re saving up for one lens, then I would still recommend the 35mm, but if the price point is a deterrence, then go for the 50mm and with the money leftover, you can probably put your savings toward some other nice camera gear.
Downside: distance to subject
Although I mention the distance to subject as reason for why I prefer the 35mm over the 50mm, I can easily see how some might find this to be a disadvantage of the 35mm. In essence, the 50mm lens allows you to shoot your subject from slightly further away (about 1-2 steps). For the shy photographer, or just those new to street photography and not yet confident approaching their subject, the distance might provide some comfort and still allow you to capture the shot you want. Although I think practicing and working up the courage to actually work with and get close to the subject is important, I concede that the 50mm might be easier to begin with for this reason.