Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway

Nidelva river through Trondheim Norway
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I'm new to photography. I got a Nikon D3100 with the 18-55 kit lens.

I was looking to buy a f/1.8 prime lens, and I found two options:

  • AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G
  • AF-S DX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G

How should I go for choosing one or the other?

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up vote 13 down vote accepted

The question here doesn't — or shouldn't — come down to what we prefer, but rather what you want to use it for. These lenses (because of their different focal length) have a significantly different angle of view, which means that they serve different purposes. Eventually, you may find that you want both.

On your APS-C Nikon, the 50mm lens acts as a short portrait lens. It's kind of awkward for most anything else, but is just about perfect for taking head-and-shoulders portraits. I say awkward because it's not enough "reach" to pick out details like a longer telephoto lens, but is narrow enough that it's difficult to frame indoor scenes. That doesn't mean you can't use it more generally, of course.

The wider 35mm acts as a normal lens — it gives a comfortable and versatile field of view that doesn't feel either wide-angle or telephoto. For that reason, if you're just going to pick one of the two, this is probably going to be your best bet. But it depends on what you're looking for — a portrait lens may be just what you need.

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I know this is an old answer, but it's still hard to square "kind of awkward for most anything else" with "that doesn't mean you can't use it more generally." – Caleb Jan 27 at 17:55
    
You can use it, but it's... awkward. I'll try to think of an alternate phrasing. :) – mattdm Jan 27 at 20:14
    
@mattdm "Doesn't mean you can't use it as a walkaround lens" perhaps or something of that ilk? – inkista Jan 28 at 23:44

I prefer the 35mm. I actually have the d3100 and upgraded to the nikkor 35mm f/1.8 a few months ago.

I will get the 50mm however, but use it only for portraiture (not the best, but still cheap, fast and compact).

As an exercise try to shoot all day at 35mm with your kit lens. And then 50mm. You will know for sure what you need.

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As indicated above, it is what you want the lens for that will be the deciding factor. I would also emphasize using the kit lens at 35mm and 50mm to see what you will like best. Tape the lens so it won't zoom when being used after setting the focus. However I have the 50mm f/1.8 lens for portraits, and am not happy with it. It works just fine, but I should have purchased the Nikon 85mm f/1.4D AF Nikkor that is for a full frame F3, but will work with my 3 DSLR camera's just fine. When using my film Nikon camera's I usually had a 100mm lens on for portraits, and just didn't think it through completely when purchasing the 50mm lens. The 50mm lens is only equal to a 75mm lens, not even close to the 80mm I consider the minimum for a portrait lens. Hope this helps you in your decision.

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Basically, this will depend on your needs as a photographer. I guess you should first figure that out. Anyway, both lenses are perfect for portrait and landscape photography. Both have motors (so they are perfect for your D3100). Because of the f1.8 aperture, both are good in low-light conditions. If I have a D3100 camera or any DX format camera, I would just flip a coin to decide--both lenses are okay on a DX format camera. But, if I have a Nikon FX format or full frame camera, I will definitely get the NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G lens. Well, actually, if I have a FX format camera I'll just get the NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8D lens. It is cheaper and is as powerful as the other 50mm lenses. The 35mm lens is not very compatible with a FX format camera.

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I have both lenses. Both are awesome lenses. For 35mm you will get some more wider that's all the difference.

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My preference in this case would be the 50 mm lens, because my interest is in landscape photography. While the 35 mm lens would give you a better field of view, it's better to use a 50 mm lens and then get to the desired field of view by compiling a panorama, as that yields a higher resolution image. Even if the resolution of the picture taken by a 35 mm lens would be good enough, the higher the resolution of the image, the more room you have to improve the image in post processing. E.g. simply reducing the resolution of the panorama compiled with the 50 mm lens to obtain a picture you could have shot directly with the 35 mm lens, will significantly reduce the noise.

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These two lense are mostly equivalent in a lot of things--build quality, price range, focus motor features, image quality, age of design...

So the one big difference between them is 35mm vs. 50mm.

50mm is special in one way. The magnification of the lens most closely matches that of the human eye and there's little distortion. In other words, if you compose a scene with both eyes open, what you see through the viewfinder will match what you're seeing through the unaided eye. Composition, then, simplifies down to the simple act of framing. But because of the APS-C sensor size, the field of view of a 50mm lens on a crop body may be narrower than you'd like for walkaround use, or for composition in small spaces.

35mm is special in a different way. If a lens has a focal length equal to the diagonal dimension of your image format (i.e., the sensor), the field of view that's yielded is considered "normal". It's what 50mm yields on full frame, so if you were shooting FX, the 50mm would be normal both in magnification and in field of view. But on APS-C, you can't have both in one lens. So the field of view a 35mm lens gives you on a DX camera is more natural for general purpose walkaround and portrait use, but if you shoot with both eyes open, what you see through the viewfinder will look farther away than what you see with the unaided eye. And there is a slight distortion to achieve this, so for portraits, you can inadvertently get a bit of a funhouse mirror effect if you aren't careful with your composition.

Which one you would prefer is up to you, and will depend greatly on what you shoot the most and what working distances from your subject you prefer.

The only other (slight) difference I can think of is the 35/1.8 has a close focus distance of 30 cm, while the close focusing distance of the 50/1.8 is 45 cm.

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I had the same question a while back and the advice I was given was to use the kit lens at aprox 35 and at aprox 50 for what I would normally photograph, and then analyze the pictures afterwards and decide which look I preferred. One thing of note, is that its not just focal length that is different, but also background compression. In otherwords, the 50mm will bring background elements a little closer than the 35mm lens. When you take a few pictures at 35mm, take the SAME frame at 55mm and you should see the difference.

Ultimately, I found I enjoyed the 50mm the best, so went with it. When I need something a little more wide, I just use panorama techniques and stitch multiple images together after the fact. The Brenizer Method works quite well at 50mm.

Also, the 50mm is a full frame lens, so if you upgrade to full frame in the future, you have one less lens to replace. The 35mm would still work on the full frame camera, but it will downgrade the sensor into "crop mode".

If you need to take lots of shots where you need a wider lens, and will not have the time to stitch or there will always be lots of moving objects, then the 35mm would make a better option.

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