Should You Use a 35mm, 50mm, or 85mm Lens?

35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses are some of the most popular out there, offering relatively neutral focal lengths quite suitable for portraiture. However, each one renders your subject quite differently and is appropriate for different situations. This great video compares the three focal lengths and will show you the sort of images you can get from each to help you choose the right for your work. 

Coming to you from Julia Trotti, this awesome video shows the differences between 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm lenses. All three lenses are popular with portrait photographers, and they offer natural looks for anything from headshots to full-body portraits without creating too much distortion or compression. That being said, the correct focal length for your work very much depends on what you shoot. For example, someone who shoots headshots should probably opt for a longer focal length — likely the 85mm or something a bit longer if desired, but that might create too long a working distance for someone who frequently shoots full-body portraits. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Trotti. And if you would like to learn more about portraiture, be sure to check out the wide range of tutorials in the Fstoppers store.

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10 Comments

Trey Mortensen's picture

Haha dang it. Beat me to the punch

Marc F's picture

Good video. As perspective/ distortion/ compression/ flattening only depend on the distance / position where the picture is taken, the lens is chosen according to how much of the subject / background is to be included in the picture. As I like to situate the person in his environment rather than shoot passport photos style portraits, I would avoid longer than 50mm equivalent lenses, unless there is too much part of the background that I don’t want.

Douglas Goodhill's picture

If you are asking this question, you may want to take up knitting instead.

Stuart C's picture

The 4th comment down on his comment history might clear it up for you:) it’s all in the first line.

David Purton's picture

Depends how distorted you want the face. Take the ears and nose for instance and the camera distance relative to them... it's not about focal length, it's about relative distance to the subject. If you shoot with a wide angle and a long focus from the same position and blow up the wide angle to the same crop as the long focus, it will "look" the same, including dof (Shot at same aperture of course).... This assumes the physical lens distortions are the same...(if you use software to adjust for barrel/pincushion, the images will be identical except for the degrading resolution effects of enlargement)

Stephen Strangways's picture

I feel like the increasing number of photographs that are selfies taken at arm's length with a wide-angle lens in a cellphone means that over time, the taste of the general public will shift towards preferring photos taken with shorter focal lengths at closer distances.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

I would have to disagree. Selfies have trended for about a decade now, and to this day, photos are taken with varying focal lengths. Just depends.

Sean Sitter's picture

Also, 135mm is definitely superior.

Douglas Liebig's picture

Doesn't the effect differ depending on the shape of the subject's face? I mean certain faces are flatter than others, other faces may have a more pronounced nose. I get it, but this could easily look very different with another model.

Julia Trotti's picture

If you watch the video, I explain and show just this - how different faces need different focal lengths.