Two and a half years ago, I bought my first prime lens. A Nikon 35 mm AF-S f1.8 G. I loved it! I did projects allowing myself only to use this lens. A few months back, I bought my second “prime”, the Nikon 50 mm AF f1.4 D, a.k.a. The Nifty Fifty. And what a great lens this is! Loving both lenses I decided to take them head-to-head. I wanted to see what type of photography suits which lens better.
For those wondering what a prime lens is: a lens that is fixed to one focal length, it can’t zoom. There are some advantages to this. Primes are less complex to build than zoom-lenses. Hence, production is cheaper and maintaining high quality is easier! The “disadvantage” of not being able to zoom is considered an advantage to most photographers, since it develops creativity. If you want to “zoom in”, you’ll need to get closer to your subject creating a “connection with your subject”. And if there is not enough space zooming out using your feet, you’ll need to rethink your composition.
Loving both primes I took them to the test and compared them in different types of photography.
In landscape photography you want your photo to be as sharp as possible from close to far away. Meaning you need a large depth of field, so you usually shoot with a small aperture. The 35 mm has a much smaller aperture (f22) than the 50 mm lens (f16). However completely stopped down, most lenses lose sharpness. Hence I don’t want an aperture smaller than f13, or f16. With the 50 mm at f16 and a subject at 10 meters distance your depth of field starts at 4,4 meters and ends at infinity. While with the 35 mm lens at f16 the depth of field starts at 2,78 meters. This is a big difference, much more of your photo is in focus using the 35 mm lens.
In the photo below the distance between the bench and me was approximately 10 meters. I focused on this bench and used an aperture of f13 creating an infinite depth of field using my 50 mm lens.
I took the same photo, on the same spot, with the same settings, however now I attached the 35 mm lens. This resulted in the photo below. The view is much wider in this photo.
In order to get the same perspective as the first photo, but now using the 35 mm lens, I needed to get much closer to the bench, reducing the distance to about 6 meters. Both photos below are taken with the same settings. The left photo is shot with the 50 mm lens, and the right one with the 35 mm lens. Notice how much wider the scene is in the second photo.
If you compare the both photos above, there is much more background in the second shot, what makes it better for landscapes (except if you want to isolate your subject). Keep in mind though, I shoot with a crop camera! So the 35 mm lens behaves like a 50 mm lens would on a Full Frame camera.
Sharpness on both lenses is great. The 35 mm however shows some Chromatic Aberration (which is easy to take care of in post-processing), but contrast is better on the 35 mm lens (in the RAW files).
A telelens is considered to be great for portraits for a variety of reasons. The three most important reasons are:
- Telelenes compresses the scene isolating your subject.
- They enable you to back-up from your model, so you don’t make them uncomfortable by pressing the lens in their faces.
- Wide angle lens are prone to distortion, and you don’t want to stretch the face or body of your model.
In this self-portrait, the distance between me and the camera using the Nifty Fifty was approximately 1 meter, while with the 35 mm lens attached, I needed to get closer to about 60 cm.
The 50 mm lens isolates me lovely from the background and is my popular lens for capturing portraits. The 35 mm lens shows more of the background due to it’s wide view, creating more negative space around my head. The 35 mm lens is also seems to distorts the head a bit more.
My last test was shooting a simple still-life. I want my photo to be as sharp as possible. Usually the “sweet spot ” of a lens is when you stop it down 2 or 3 stops from it’s maximum aperture. According to DxOMark the sweet spot of the AF 50 mm f1.4 D is at f2.8, while for the AF 35 mm f1.8 G this is at f1.8. I decided to use an aperture of f2.8. As you can see, the first photo (50 mm) seems to compress the scene, while the depth of field is larger in the second photo (35 mm). Focal point in both photos is the (dead) rose.
Again perspective changes a bit as you change distance. Have I not changed the distance to the scene after shooting with the 50 mm lens, the photo would have been as below.
For still lifes where a wider angle is wanted, I prefer the 35 mm. But if I want to set an “intimate mood” the 50 mm suits me better.
I have carried the AF-S Nikon 35 mm f/1.8 G with me for a couple of years and truly love it! It is hard to find anything negative about it, except it is prone to chromatic aberration. Focus is quick and silent, sharpness is terrific, and the large f1.8 aperture is useful in darker situations.
The AF Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 D has been on my camera non-stop for the past few weeks. I’ve fallen in love! There are a few things I would like improve on this lens. Since it does not have a built in focus motor, focusing is very loud and rather slow. The lack of lens hood is a big disadvantage too. It is annoying to have disturbing light entering the lens from the side. I solved this with a cheap Chinese hood.
Also, the Nifty fifty has a lower contrast compared to the 35 mm prime. The last disadvantage is the bokeh at f1.8, which is less pleasant than at f1.4 since it has only 7 aperture blades.
Do these disadvantages makes the AF Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 D a bad lens? No way! I love it! Since the 50 mm works like a 75mm on my crop camera the perspective of view is great! Sharpness on both lenses is fantastic! With the Nifty Fifty set to f1.4 bokeh is great too! At f1.8 it is less round, but the focal length compresses the scene nicely.
I think most “issues” of the 50 mm has been solved with Nikon’s much more expensive AF Nikon 50 mm f/1.4 G, which is also slightly sharper according to some websites. However, If you need an aperture ring, this won’t work for you. If it’s worth the money is up to you. Both the AF-D and AF-G are great lenses.
Both, the 35 mm lens, and the 50 mm lens are fantastic and I would not want to miss either of them. Personally I prefer the 35 mm prime for landscapes, and when shooting people I use the 50 mm prime.
What do you think? Which lens do you prefer? Do you own a prime? Let us know by leaving a reply!