Favourite lenses: the 35mm prime

The 35mm prime is my favourite “event” lens. On a full frame camera it makes images like this, right out of the camera (shot at a corporate event the other day):

An image made with the 35mm f/1.4 lens on a full frame camera

35mm f/1.4 lens on a full frame camera

In other words, this is a great lens for portraits at events, of one or two people. The ideal length (on a crop camera you would want a 24 mm lens, which would give you the same angle).

I was originally reluctant to use this. Surely a zoom lens is better. Yes?

Actually, no. The prime lens, although it necessitates walking back and forth a bit, is great, because:

  • It is relatively light and small
  • It is very sharp
  • It is fast – f/1.4. Meaning it goes to a low “F” number, which means that you can go to that low F-number in low light; it also means that when you shoot at even a slightly higher F-number,like 2.0 or even 2.8, it is very sharp indeed.
  • It enforces the right discipline: many images are just right because I move the right way.

We overestimate the need for zooms. When shooting an event that involves pictures like the one above, this prime lens gives me excellent, repeatable, consistent, and professional results. What more can you want?

Oh, and one more note: a quick start guide for events:

  • Use an external flash.
  • Aim that flash behind you, as I have pointed out many time here.
  • Set your camera to manual mode: start at f/4, 1/30th, at 400 ISO.

But you can’t shoot at low aperture numbers.


Wrong. The above picture was shot at f/1.6. I used that aperture and 400 ISO at 1/60th second, because I wanted optimal image quality, and yes, you can shoot at low “F” numbers with a wide angle lens without running into depth of field issues.

So: go for it. And above all: have fun. Your pictures are guaranteed to be better than Uncle Fred’s.

0 thoughts on “Favourite lenses: the 35mm prime

  1. Hello Michael, myself and my wife were at the show on the Sat. and enjoyed your afternoon presentations. We have a Nikon DX80 and a single lense the 18-200, which is really great outdoors especially in the landscape spaces, which we do mostly as we hike quite a bit. However when the trails take us thru the forests there are lots of opportunities to shoot the tiny flowers and stream photos. Here’s the question; we have wanted a 2nd lense (leaning towards a macro, Nikon AF-S 105 F2.8 VR) however not totally convinced thats best choice. I would really appreciate your thoughts if this is the best direction or a recommendation to another configuration.
    Thank you, Don.

  2. Absolutely, Don. And thanks for the compliments.

    If you lean to flowers, plants, mushrooms, and various other close-ups, then a macro is a GREAT option. I have one and used mine today in my cottage’s back yard. You’ll love what it does to close objects.

    If you had said “portraits” I would have said 50mm f/1.8. But from what you say, that’s later: macro first.

    And have fun!

  3. Hello Michael, 1st thank you for your response and effectively an affirmation of the Nikon Macro lense. I must admit we have lots a family events and those portraits and indoor pictures are my challenges. Your recommendation of the 50mm f1.8 is certainly worth looking into. Question, would the 105 macro not produce quality portrait like pictures, it may seem like a silly question, but I am still trying sort out all the different lenses and trying to optimize to a few. Much appreciated. Don

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