The nifty fifty lens is usually recommended as the standardized focal length for general applications, but just as popular is the 35mm, which has a wider scope of view and a very natural perspective. The best 35mm lenses are usually recommended for the likes of photojournalism and street photography, but the 35mm has so much more scope from portraits to landscapes.
Luckily, as 35mm lenses are popular choice, there are plenty of options on the market to fit the most common camera brands. In this regard, let’s have a closer look at the options available and how they weigh up against one another.
1. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art (Overall Winner)
Sigma’s Art series of lenses keep popping up on recommended lists, which is no surprise with the likes of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. Available for a wide range of camera mounts, the lens features lots of corrective elements which include 13 arranged in 11 groups, with one F Low Dispersion (FLD), two aspherical elements, a floating element system for better optical performance, and a Super Multi-Layer coating to correct any lens anomalies.
The integrated HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) is extremely quiet in operation and although the lens isn’t weather sealed, it is robust enough for most applications. As for overall sharpness levels, the lens brings in excellent sharpness levels at f/1.4 and hitting their peak at f/2.8. Images are resolved with a high level of resolution and detail, with the only downside being aspects of chromatic aberration when the aperture is at f/1.4.
In all other respects, this is a solidly built and very good quality lens for the money.
If you’ve already jumped into the Canon mirrorless offerings of the EOS R and RP cameras, then the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM is a good option. Compact and lightweight, coming in at only 305g, the lens has added benefits such as optical stabilization with five stops of compensation and a nice rounded nine-blade diaphragm for lovely bokeh effects.
The Macro facilities provide a maximum magnification of 0.5x and a 1:2 reproduction, along with a minimum focusing distance of 17cm. Internally, the lens has 11 elements arranged in nine groups, plus a Super Spectra coating to increase contrast and color, while also reducing ghosting and flaring.
This lens is extremely sharp across the frame, with the sharpest results coming in at f/2. There’s a lot to like about this lens with its neutral and sharp rendering and with the addition of the Macro functionality, the usefulness is more fully rounded. These points make the Canon RF 35mm a great solution from the smallest to wide shooting scenarios.
The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM is a lightweight lens solution which is equally capable on full-frame and crop sensor camera bodies. Boasting a Image stabilization system, Super Spectra coatings, and ring-type ultrasonic motor, it works as a great 35mm solution for the DSLR crowd.
The optical design consists of 10 elements in eight groups, with a glass-molded aspherical element and Super Spectra coating. The lens handles chromatic aberration and light falloff at the edges very well. Plus, center sharpness is excellent throughout the aperture range, with only slight amount of edge softness at f/2.
Overall, center sharpness is on a par with the Canon RF 35mm, with the aforementioned winning out with better edge sharpness across the board. As an all-rounder lens, the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM is a great solution, especially with its image stabilization inclusion.
For the Nikon mirrorless crowd, one of the top contenders in the 35mm market is the Nikon NIKKOR Z 35mm f/1.8 S. It features 11 elements in nine groups, with a nine-blade rounded diaphragm, stepping motor, and a minimum focusing distance of 0.25m. Maximum magnification comes in at 0.19x, with a total weight of 370g.
The aperture of f/1.8 may not be as wide as other offerings on this list, but its latest and greatest design means the image quality is fantastic, with excellent center sharpness even when the lens is fully wide open. In-camera stabilization results in this lens achieving some extremely low shutter speeds, which means as a solution for discreet street photography, it’s a great coupling with the compact size of the Nikon Z6 and Z7 cameras.
The Tamron SP 35mm f/1.4 Di USD has lots of potential with its wide and bright f/1.4 aperture and high-end optics. The design features four low dispersion and three glass-molded aspherical elements, with a second-generation BBAR-G2 coating for improved clarity, while also increasing contrast and color.
A nine-blade rounded diaphragm is added for quality background blur, while the Ultrasonic Silent Drive autofocus motor and Dynamic Rolling-cam mechanism provide rapid focusing even at f/1.4. This setup also allows a maximum magnification of 1:5 and a close focusing distance of 30 cm.
Sharpness at f/1.4 is commendable, with only slight edge softness, while stopping down to f/2.8 starts to bring in the sharpest results overall. Traditionally, Tamron usually provides the lowest cost lenses in a category, but in this case it’s one of the most expensive. However, in return, you do get excellent resolution and the wider aperture produces some excellent separation between subject and background.
6. Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC (Budget Winner)
If you don’t mind a manual only lens and cost effectiveness is key, than the Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC is a likely candidate. The Canon version can control the aperture by the camera as with the focus confirmation lamp, but for all other lens mounts, this is fully manual.
It features 12 elements arranged in 10 groups, with two high refractive index and one aspherical elements, plus a UMC lens coating. The lens is not exactly lightweight, coming in at 700g, but this is mainly due to its large f/1.4 aperture and element arrangements. Sharpness levels aren’t the greatest at f/1.4, but from f/2.8 upwards, sharpness across the frame increases dramatically.
The main selling point of the Samyang is it’s cost-effective nature and as long as you shoot above f/2.8, images can be produced with a lot of detail, just not to the extent of some of the other lenses on this list. For cost effectiveness alone, this is a good budget purchase.
Summary of the Best 35mm Lenses
If there is no other prime lens you have in your kit bag, then a high-quality 35mm lens is a good option. With lenses available for all the common camera mounts, the examples above have their plus and minus points depending on your individual needs and shooting scenarios.
Some of you may need an aperture as wide as f/1.4, while for most circumstances an f/1.8 lens can serve very well for general purposes. With many options to choose from, there should be a 35mm lens on this list that suits your shooting style and budget levels.