Full Frame Cameras – 35mm vs 50mm

Matthew Osborne Photography

If anyone asks me “Are you a 35mm man or a 50mm man?” I always reply 50mm.  50mm is my go to focal length for any full frame camera.  My favourite camera is my Leica M3 as it has 50mm frame lines filling the 0.91x magnified viewfinder.  My favourite combo for full frame film is a Leica M3 + Leica Noctilux 50mm f1.0 v2 + Kodak Tri-X.  My favourite Nikon lens is the Nikkor 50mm f1.2 AI-s.  Even for medium format film photography I used the equivalent of 50mm on a full frame (35mm) camera.  80mm for medium format cameras roughly equates to 50mm for my Leica or Nikon cameras.  For the Mamiya 645 Super I use a Mamiya Sekor 80mm f1.9 C and for the Rolleiflex SL66E a Carl Zeiss Planar 80mm f2.8 HFT.

Why do I like the 50mm focal length?  It provides the same field of view as the human eye and the most ‘natural’ or life size view as if I was looking at the same view without a camera.  I use many different lenses but 50mm just seems to suit me best.  If a want a small Leica camera setup I use the Leica Summicron 50mm f2 v5 lens on the M3 or the M9.  Great little lens.

Am I missing something when chosing 50mm?  For me personally, yes.  I tend to shoot as close to 0.7M-1.0M as I can for most of my portraiture, whether on location or in the studio.  This means I can have amazing scenery around me and the model yet I blur it all completely by shooting my lenses wide open and then cropping in portrait orientation to remove any background that was in view.  It makes me wonder sometimes if it is worth visiting other countries when a portrait photo could have been taken in my back garden.

50mm for wedding photography?  If I use one camera body for a wedding my normal focal length is 50mm.  I have used the Leica Noctilux 50f1 for weddings and have had to back into the corner to get a wide enough field of view.  That or I just take a 50mm crop of the scene.  I do take wider lenses too so to get a complete set of wedding photos but 50mm is often the norm.

35mm for wedding photography? A few days ago I was looking back at some wedding photos from over 12 months ago where I used the Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f1.2 ASPH lens for the majority of a wedding (on my M9).  I had also done an earlier wedding with a 28mm Voigtlander Ultron f2 lens and liked those images too.  For both sets of images I got to see not only the wedding couple in the images but the wedding guests or venue around them.  I also liked the perspective the wider lenses gave.

To recap my standard camera setup, for digital photography I have a Leica 1.4x magnifier on my Leica M9 camera viewfinder.  Permanently.  If a lens is wider I just guess the composition, review and refine if needed.  The 1.4x magnifier gives me a 50mm view like the Leica M3.

35mm for model photography?  On location. Today I decided to remove the M9 1.4x magnifier and attach my Voigtlander 35f1.2 ASPH lens rather than a 50mm lens.  As usual I focused the lens near to as close as it could focus (0.7M) most of the time but now I found myself shooting more in a horizontal format, rather than mainly a portrait orientation (as I mostly do with the Mamiya 645 Super and WTL).  This meant I was starting to make use of my surroundings and composing my images to include both the model and space around her.  I liked it!

35mm for model photography? In the studio.  After today’s location shoot we continued the photography back at the studio (in the warm).  I tried to push myself and stick to the  35mm focal length throughout despite it not being ideal in the studio.  On the whole I did however I did swap to longer lenses a few times.  For me 35mm is too wide for portraiture in a smallish studio.

Conclusion?  Am I a changed man?  Well not really, I still prefer 50mm overall but I can now appreciate that for multiple subjects, such as a wedding I might go for a 35mm lens  first and for model photography with a single person I will keep using 50mm if in the studio but consider wider when on location.  That or just try to back up from my subjects more to capture a wider scene with a 50mm lens.

Sample Images (some of which break the above general comments)

50mm on location

Leica M2 + 35mm Kodak Tri-X

50mm in the studio

Leica M9 + Noctilux Portrait

35mm on location

Leica M9 + Voigtlander 35mm f1.2 ASPH

35mm in the studio

Leica Summaron 35mm f3.5

35mm wedding

UK Leica Wedding Photography

50mm wedding

Leica M9 Noctilux Wedding

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