Samantha Searles

Comparing 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses

I remember when I was just getting into photography. I had no clue what difference a good lens could make, and I had little understanding of the uses and differences between the 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm prime lenses. I hope this blog will help you gain an understanding of my favorite and most used lenses.


First I want to show exactly what 35mm, 50mm and 85mm look like in distance. In order to show the distance difference between the three lenses, I set up some flowers in my back yard, stood in the same place, and took a photo with each lens.

Left to right we have the 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm.

As you can see, the 85mm photo is a good bit zoomed in compared to the 35mm. This shows the difference in shooting with the three different lenses. When shooting with the 35mm, I tend to feel like I am standing very close to my subject, compared to the 85mm where I feel very far away. There are pros and cons this though! So keep reading!


To Illustrate the difference in depth of field, I took images with each lens at f/1.8.

I started with my 35mm. As you can see, the main birdhouse is clear, but in the background, you can vaguely make out some other objects. There is a small, blue birdhouse off to the left, and bushes back behind. Moving to the middle image, the 50mm, although slight, you can see that the red birdhouse pops off the background a little bit more in this image.

(I think it’s only fair to note that my 35mm and 85mm lenses are L-series lenses, where my 50mm is not. You can see this in the difference in bokeh. This is a whole new topic that I will cover in a separate blog! I promise!)

Lastly, the 85mm. The difference in depth of field is much more obvious. The depth of field is so great that it is almost impossible to make out background objects. This is great is you are photographing in an area where your background isn’t all that amazing. Maybe you found a really pretty tree to photograph under, but there is a parking lot a little ways behind. This lens may allow you to blur the parking lot out enough so you can’t even see it!


One of the things I love about the 35mm is the wide angle aspect of it. If I have a large bridal party, no sweat! If I want to photograph a couple under a beautiful tree, I reach for my 35mm. Here is an example.

Here is my puppy, Petie, waiting expectantly for a bite of food. You can see how wide the frame is here compared to the image below.

This image was taken with the 50mm.
As you can see, the 35mm has a wider frame compared to the other two lenses. Curious about the 85mm with this shot?

The image is much closer zoomed in, as I know you were expecting. But again, not as wide as the 35mm. This is great if you are photographing in an area where your surroundings are not as beautiful as you would like. This lens can crop out some of that unwanted background clutter so you can fully focus on your subject.



If you are photographing kids, or animals, or anything on the move, the 85mm is not your friend. This lens produces beautiful images with beautiful bokeh, but it’s not the quickest of lenses.


As I showed in my first image, the 35mm is pretty zoomed out compared to the 85mm. But this doesn’t mean you can’t move your feet. If you want to use the 85mm to really make your subject pop off the background, you can move way back and still capture the surrounding area along with your subject. You can play with your f-stop and the distance your subject is from the background to allow the background to be more or less blurred out.

Along these same lines, I remember thinking, “Ok! I have this 85mm and I am going to be able to get really awesome macro images because I will just get really close to my subject with this massive lens. Wrong. And let me show you why.

From left to right. 35mm, 50mm, 85mm.

The 35mm and 50mm are pretty similar in how close in distance the lens will allow you to get to your subject. The 85mm will not let you get as close, as you can see in the far right image. You may be wondering what I mean when I say “the lens will not let you get as close.”  What I mean by this is the lens will not focus unless you move back if you are too close.

Each lens has its pros and cons depending on what you are photographing and what look and feel you are after. My first prime lens was the 50mm. I find it to be a good in-between lens and the f/1.8 version is fairly inexpensive! It’s GREAT for portraits and detail shots. It’s also my favorite on-the-go lens because it’s so small and lightweight! You can find it HERE.
My 35mm f/1.4  L-series lens can be found HERE. And my 85mm f/1.2 L-series can be found HERE.

June 28, 2017

Samantha Searles