35mm Focal Length: Yea or Nay?

If someone came to you and said you're going traveling and for one reason or another can only bring one lens with you, what lens is the first that comes to mind? How many of you would think of a solid 35mm prime?

Many might argue that something like a 24-70mm would be ideal to cover a range of scenarios, but Julia Trotti has five reasons why one of her favorite go to lenses is the 35mm. Personally, I am a huge fan of primes lenses and really think that learning to be comfortable with a fixed focal length has some serious advantages. At the same time though, I understand that depending on your location (especially when traveling the country or abroad) that being able to zoom can come in mighty handy. 

When I think travel photography I think landscapes, cityscapes, and candid portraits and moments. I think hiking and seeing the sights and I definitely wouldn't want to be changing lenses constantly. Sometimes even a single lens swap can be downright impractical (wind plus beach sand sounds like a lethal combination). The question is can a single prime lens cover enough of the bases that you'd want to rock it over a zoom? I think that the answer depends heavily on how you shoot but generally speaking, I'm all in support of prime lenses. 

Do you agree with Trotti's reasoning to consider the 35mm? I think that she makes a pretty strong case for the lightweight wide-angle prime. What's your experience with this particular focal length? Do you like the way it shoots or would you still prefer to have something with a zoom range for your travels?

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18 Comments

Richard Bradbury's picture

It's my fav focal length on full frame. Use it a lot and will always have a 35 prime in the kit.

Tony Tumminello's picture

I personally bring my 24-105mm f4L IS if I'm only bringing one lens. Yeah it's not as fast, small, light, or sharp as my 35mm, but the flexibility is what tilts it into favor for me.

Tony Clark's picture

I agree with your comments, I sold my 35/1.4 after buying a 24LII but intend to buy a 35LII soon.

Wes Jones's picture

My favorite lens is my 35 Sigma Art. Very sharp.

Christos Dikos's picture

My favorite lens was the Sony Zeiss 24mm 1.8 on the Nex-7 (35mm equiv). Love that focal length.

36mm but that's close enough. :P

im beginning to think that i need 70-20mm lens for travel landscape photography and a 24-70mm lens

David Pavlich's picture

I have the Tamron 35 f1.8 and it pretty much stays on my camera.

Michael Deslippe's picture

We'll, 35mm is a great lens for it's purpose, I actually use a 30mm Art from Sigma, but I would never take it on a travel vacation. A prime lens is just too uncompromising and inflexible unless you planned a vacation to one spot and we're never going to photograph except at that one spot. A photographers vacation takes in many, many unknowns and a prime can't possibly keep you comfortable. A 24-70 with top glass will work every bit as well. However, when I go on vacation, I like to take a walk-around lense that can capture everything I might meet. For me, that's the EF 24-105 f/4 L. That lense will capture anything and everything you might run into on vacation. It allows great flexibility and, allows many frames to be taken from one spot to give you the advantage of many views from a similar location.

Krzysztof Kurzaj's picture

"A photographers vacation takes in many, many unknowns and a prime can't possibly keep you comfortable."

You are making a very general statement about every other photographer's comfort level. Given the fact there are photographers who feel very comfortable working with single focal length (see other comments) I trust you see what is wrong with this statement. If you want to talk about technical limitations of prime lenses then I'm all ear.

Also since you mentioned Sigma 30mm you must be referring to the crop lens which actually provides equivalent field of view to 45mm. I used this prime in the past for some street. Not as versatile as 35mm or 28mm if you shot in confined spaces but I'm sure some photogs out there also feel comfortable with this one.

I've taken many vacations with only my X100t. It's 35mm equivalent. I was always pretty comfortable. There are some shots I might not get, but tbh, missing a few shots isn't that big a deal. Unless I was specifically on a photo trip, then taking photos is only part of the fun of a vacation.

Michael Friedman's picture

If I'm traveling or shooting street here in Los Angeles, I'll have both my 35mm F1.4 and 24-70 F2.8 with me pretty much at all times. Sometimes I just bring two cameras in my bag and leave one on each camera. If I want to travel lighter I'll just bring the two lenses. If I have to go with only one lens though, I'm bringing my 24-70, it allows me to get a lot of shots that I just couldn't get on the fly with my 35mm.

Korey Napier's picture

I'd have to say my favorite overall focal length is 85mm, but I think 35mm is a sweet spot for travel. I have the X100T that comes with me on any trip I take and it has proven perfect for a variety of situations.

Jorge Garcia's picture

35 mm is my favorite focal length for street and personal projects. One night during a business trip to Jacksonville, I challenged myself to take only my 35 mm f/2.8 with me and I was more than happy with the results. Here's a couple store fronts from Neptune Beach.

Brandon Mount's picture

i don't have a FF camera, but the 23mm f2 Fuji on my XT bodies is one I will use anywhere, anytime.
Throwing some sea foam around, x-t1 and '35mm equivalent fujicron 23mm f2' sooc jpeg, no processing.

Lately because of the versatility on my g9 I've been using the Leicasonic 12-60. I'm satisfied with 17mm @ f4. It's in the sweetspot. That doggy shot is a sooc jpeg no edits and with factory in camera jpeg settings, camera standard. I can actually shoot anywhere in the focal range with this lens and get results that are pleasing to my eye.

edit: Ain't lightroom great for finding shots with a certain lens and aperture 'x' and seeing frequency of focal length usage in zooms? Nice stuff.

Austin Williams's picture

The best upgrade i've ever done was going from a Canon 50mm 1.4 to the Sigma 35mm 1.4 Art lens. AMAZING lens on all fronts.

35mm is a "one stop shop" lens, it will do people it will do cities, and landscape. But in my opinion non of these very well. I did shoot with an 17mm Oly. on a m4/3 for a very long time, and yes it will do many things, but non of them perfect.

I'd bet for city- and landscape 28mm is actually a way better choice, and for people I personally do like the 50mm more than the 35.

I must say that the light produced by the Nikon AF (D)'s is fantastic, and I really like them ... but it's so much easier just to throw an Zoom on the camera.

Dean Allman's picture

Fixed focal length lenses especially for travel, make me work a little harder. Bot I find it is worth it. I move around a lot more and pay more attention to composition. I get a little lazy with zooms. Primes draw me in more to photography, and lately I am realizing that is a good thing.