I want to know if it's advisable to use 50mm lens for general outdoor photography. I'm torn between 35mm and 50mm primes, and have read all the pros and cons. I understand that 50mm could be tight in some situations but I'm willing to pay for it (especially for the bokeh) if it's suitable to use it outdoors too. I own a Nikon D5100, which has a 1.5× crop factor.

I know that 35mm is a more general-purpose lens, but I'm a bit tempted by the glass quality and bokeh of the 50mm.

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    What will you be photographing outdoors predominantly? Tbh you will be fine with either, just zoom with your feet. Dec 11, 2012 at 8:23
  • @ElendilTheTall Thanks for the quick reply. I generally shoot city, people. I'm meaning to say general walkabout lens for outdoors. Please consider I'm willing to zoom with my feet wherever the space allows me to.
    – Thunderman
    Dec 11, 2012 at 8:30
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    Not an answer to the exact question, but if I were you (or if I were me 2 months before today) I would seriously consider a fast zoom (Sigma or Tamron 17-50 f2.8) unless you specifically want a prime. I bought the 35mm for mostly indoor use and actually the 1 gained stop isn't enough to compensate for lost flexibility. Your mileage will vary, but if it's your first prime, I would first spend some time with the 18-55 zoom taped at given focal lenghts before buying either.
    – Marco Mp
    Feb 3, 2013 at 13:52
  • if it is for street photography you might want both a 35mm and a 50mm. i shoot primarily with a 50mm so that i don't get too close to the subject and alter the scene, however if i'm in a busy city, the 35mm comes in handy. the faster the lens the better and shoot wide open as you really don't want to be using flash for street photography. May 3, 2013 at 9:24

11 Answers 11


The 50mm 1.8G is a great lens. But there isn't going to be a huge difference in image quality using any of the 35mm or 50mm primes.

I don't think anyone but you can really answer which one is more suitable for you. There may be some situations where you can only get so close, or so far, to frame your shot, and one focal length or the other might limit you somewhat, but for most situations you can zoom with your feet as ElendilTheTall pointed out.

Do you currently have a kit zoom lens? If so, my suggestion would be to review a sampling of your shots and see what focal lengths you tended to use. If you use Adobe Bridge or Lightroom, they will quickly give you counts of how many images shot at various focal lengths. I know I was surprised to find that I only tend to use the extreme ends of my 18-200 and not much of the middle, although I can also happily shoot all day with a 50mm.

Or you could set your zoom to 35mm and use it for a day, then spend another day shooting at 50mm. See if either one is more comfortable or frustrating than the other. I would guess you would adjust quickly to either and it wouldn't make a huge difference in the end.

I would tend to guess the wider the better for general use on a crop sensor camera, the 35mm being more "normal" focal length. But it really depends on your style of shooting.

If you think you may move up to FX format, you might want to go with the 50mm, as it's a true FX lens, and would be a normal focal length on an FX body.


Back in the 35mm days, the 50mm was the default lens focal length. It was believed that it allows for most shooting styles with some compromise. That assumption was based under the dominant aesthetic of the time (60's and 70's IIRC).

In the 80's, consumer cameras (such as the Olympus Trip) came equipped with a 35mm lens. This made it easier to use them in social situations, where it's more likely you'll be up close to the sujbects.

So yes, a 50mm equivalent lens will fit most shooting opportunities. In your case, with a cropped sensor, that would mean a 35mm.

A 50mm would become a 75mm equivalent on your DX, you'll feel you'll need a lot more room between you and your subjects (compared to a 35mm or a 18mm). It's a focal length I find particularly useless: not telephoto enough for close-ups, not wide enough for general photography.

If you're after bokeh, I'd recommend a full sensor and a 135mm macro lens. Beautiful bokeh is a factor of the shape of the aperture blades and the focal length. While the "maximum bokeh" of a 35mm at f/1 might be as big as the one from, say, a 135mm f/4, you'll notice a sharp transition from in focus to out of focus on the 35mm, while a smooth gradient on a 135mm. Since changing sensor paradigms is a harsh move, I'd rent a 100mm macro f/4 (or better) to check if this is really what you expect.

If you like the aesthetics of 80's pictures, I'd recommend a 35mm equivalent focal length (around 18mm for the DX). This allows you to shoot closer to subjects as well as include more of the environment on your shots (specially useful for "classic" travel photography, where your significant other stands in the foreground and the landscape/building/landmark in the background).


my suggestion.. go for the 50mm first and buy the 35mm later. The 50mm is cheap (compared to other lenses) and offers great image quality. Just remember to be creative with your shots and use the benefits of the prime (low light photography and that awesome bokeh!) to your advantage. In addition, the 50mm is also great for portraits.

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    The Nikon 50mm actually costs the same if not more than the Nikon 35mm (provided f1.8 AF-S versions of both are bought, which is needed to autofocus on the camera in question).
    – Marco Mp
    Feb 3, 2013 at 13:48

Generally speaking, I'd always recommend starting out with a 50mm (on a full frame camera), then adjusting what you use from there. As others stated, the 50mm is usually one of the cheaper lenses available, and usually the lightest as well (quality being equal). When possible, it's easier to move your feet than to buy another lens. Backing up a little bit gives you the same shot a 35mm lens would. But, you obviously can't always move freely, which is why experience and getting to know your camera, lens, and surroundings are so important before deciding what you'll need for a shoot.

Since the 5100 is a DX, you're working with a tighter frame. If it were me, I'd go with the 35 on a DX format, especially if you plan on taking more scenic/landscape shots where you want to pull in backgrounds or draw the viewer into a scene. If you are more interested in tighter shots (as opposed to landscapes), a 50mm on a DX frame will be just fine for you to start out with.

Quick side note: Since you mentioned bokeh, be careful using the 50mm 1.8 at larger apertures (2.8 and up) during mid-day sunlight. Without the use of an ND filter you are likely to get harsh flaring...especially in areas with objects that reflect (i.e. water or glass). Stopped down to 8 or 11, the 50mm 1.8 is as sweet a prime lens if you're looking for edge to edge sharpness and minimal chromatic abb.


This is a good question, I had also experienced that kind of difficulty before. 50mm FX when installed on a DX nikon becomes a semi telephoto lens and will be harder to use when shooting in small spaces, you have to go further from your subject just to fit on screen. Framing the subject is really difficult when shooting on limited space like indoor. 35mm on the other hand will best fit for portrait on a DX camera.


Since you mentioned in several comments that you will pretty often be shooting people, the 50 mm would be the way to go. As @Nostron mentions, it is roughly the natural focal length of the eye (try looking through the viewfinder of a camera held in portrait with a 50mm lens attached to it and keep both eyes open - you'll notice that the images you see pretty much match) - so using the 50mm, it will be easier and faster for your eyes to find correctly framed shots (then again, correct framing is a matter of habit).

The 35mm would be more for general city scapes / buildings since it offers a wider angle of view (for buildings even shorter focal lengths can be interesting - not considering perspective distortions).

Thinking of people as a topic, you might later look into an even longer focal length (like 85, or 115 or even 130mm) since they might enable you to close into situations easier without having to "zoom with your feet" but the 50mm will keep the shots from looking too flat (as with longer focal lengths).

  • Recall that the 50mm on a crop sensor camera like the D5100 is a bit longer (50*1.5 = 75) than a normal lens on a full frame camera, so the images would not be perfectly matching.
    – Francesco
    Dec 16, 2012 at 7:55
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    @Francesco: that's true, I forgot to take into account the crop factor. For his preferred shooting subject I would prefer the 50mm (--> 75mm) even more. It is not that extreme as a tele as a 200mm or more (images would look pretty flat) and it offers more of a magnification than the 35mm (x1.5 = 52,5mm) --> closer people shots. If the focus was on city scapes, then of course the 35mm would be better suited (wider field of view).
    – Erik
    Dec 16, 2012 at 15:01

I also have a D5100 and a 50 mm prime. I have to say that it's my favourite lens (of the ones I have), I love the bokeh and the shallow depth of field. I really like the portraits and some detail pictures, but I struggled with wider subjects like architecture. In many cases it was too wide for details and too narrow for capturing the whole building.

I found it too narrow especially when I couldn't step back enough to get the picture as I wanted, and a couple of times I took multiple shots and stitched them with Hugin. But if you can live with it, or better can adapt to it, it's a great choice!


50mm 1.8 is a great overall lens. I believe (I could be wrong) but it's the natural focal length of your eyes. I suggest purchasing that before purchasing the 35mm.

Also, what kind of "outdoor photography" are you talking about? Portraits of people outside or landscape?

  • Thanks for your reply. I was talking about city,people,a walkabout photography in general. The only concern is whether 50mm on a DX(nikon d5100) could be used for this purpose or not.
    – Thunderman
    Dec 12, 2012 at 5:21
  • Then I would 100% definitely go with a 50mm 1.8. 35mm in my opinion is a bit too wide and it can sometimes distort people's faces if you get too close.
    – Nostron
    Dec 14, 2012 at 2:23

I bought my 50mm along with my camera half a year ago. I have enjoyed the flexibility, and the only time I feel it falls short is when I am unable to zoom with my feet. I would say that outdoors is where the 50mm thrives, with lots of room to move your feet. It also works well indoors, but I often need to take a step back to get a good composition. :)

For my next lens I plan to buy a 24-70mm zoom lens, but I still have no regrets about making the 50mm prime my first choice.

  • Thanks for replying..May I ask if yours is a crop sensor(DX) camera too?
    – Thunderman
    Dec 17, 2012 at 5:34
  • No, mine is a full frame. So you might have some more issues with framing your subjects with a 50mm, you may need to step two steps back to compose right.
    – Henrik
    Dec 17, 2012 at 6:41

When I am outdoors, I am generally shooting landscapes or doing closeups, especially of flowers. I have a love hate relationship with my kit lens of 18-55mm so I bought 50 mm manual first. The 50 mm is amazing for close-ups. Sharp images, nice bokeh and much better IQ than my kit lens. For a while I did landscapes with this too and I had no complaints. I then bought the 35mm and figured immediately that I was much more satisfied with my landscape shots with this lens. I have a DX camera and I did not want to carry two primes with me. So over a few months of learning, adjusting with the 35 mm lens, I am wholly okay with it doing both landscapes and closeups. That has been an experience. Now to be pedantic or to follow some procedure to actually figure if your needs are satisfied, read MikeW's answer.


The short answer to this question is YES, the 50mm f/1.8 will be fine for outdoor work.

I have the f/1.4 version and often find myself with just that lens on my camera all day. It is sometimes not so convenient but the plus side is that you are forced to work with what you've got so you think about positioning, composition, 'zooming with your feet'.....And that then leads to more though about lighting. Where is the sun, what are the shadows doing, is the contrast good, etc. It all helps.

Also, on your D5100 with that crop factor, the 50 becomes 75mm - which is near to 85mm - which makes a great portrait lens :-)

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