with Courtney Slazinik
Menu
Comparing at 20mm, 35mm, and a 50mm on a Crop Sensor Camera
Gear

Comparing 20mm, 35mm, and 50mm lenses

Disclaimer: These links are affiliate links.

I knew I wanted a new lens for Christmas and I knew I wanted a wide angle. Unfortunately, I had the hardest time finding examples of what certain lenses looked like compared to others. My Nikon D90 has a 1.5x “crop” sensor. This means that my 50mm is really about a 75mm on my camera and my new 20mm is about a 30mm.

I decided since I had such trouble visualizing the difference in the millimeters I would help you out :O) Here are three photos taken in the exact same place with a 20mm f2.8, 35mm f1.8, and a 50mm f1.8. Since they were shot on prime lens I did not zoom. You can see what each lens is able to capture. All of there pictures were taken at f2.8 with minor shutter speed changes for the sun coming out behind the clouds. The camera sat on a tripod that was 6ft from the chair.

**I realize the composition for the last one is terrible but I didn’t want to move my camera so you could see exactly how much each lens captures.**

50mm

35mm

20mm

After I posted this originally, I was asked to take a few indoor shots to show as well. Here you go! Beautiful base housing kitchens :O)
50mm

35mm

20mm

Hope this helps you next time you are out shopping for a new lens! Thanks to Trisha for letting me borrow your 35mm.

Read more: Why you need a 35mm

83 Comments
  • January 16, 2011 at 10:39 AM

    Interesting read–how will I know if my camera has a crop sensor? Is it something that is listed in the manual?

    • January 16, 2011 at 11:46 AM

      You can google it but unless your camera cost around $2500 you probably have a crop sensor :O) You either have a crop sensor or a full frame and full frames are very $$ :O)

      • January 17, 2011 at 11:39 PM

        Well then- I guess I have a crop sensor…lol. I never knew!

  • January 16, 2011 at 10:56 AM

    great minds think alike, for my I learned this coming week, I was going to post a 100mm, 200mm, 400mm, 500mm. I have been on the hunt for a new lens and really want a marco and a zoom. I realize I will need 2 different lens. So now I just need to make a decision as to which way to go first.

    I am looking at a 35mm, f/1.8 and a 150mm – 500mm, f/5.6.

    I think I just need to win the lottery, then we all can have new lens!

    • January 16, 2011 at 12:56 PM

      I like the lottery idea! We can just split the money :O) he he Great minds think alike! I look forward to seeing your post next week!

    • kasualkat
      January 5, 2014 at 6:34 PM

      Trish, if you by the zoom lens your can use it to do micro photography. You will just have to be a couple feet away from your subject to focus.

  • January 16, 2011 at 11:00 AM

    Thanks for this! Wow I can’t believe the difference. Can you please do me a favor and take a picture of the sky w your 20mm? I really want to see how a landscape would look with that wide an angle.

  • January 16, 2011 at 11:02 AM

    if you don’t mind, of course. :)

    • January 16, 2011 at 12:55 PM

      Of course I don’t mind! I will try and capture a 50mm verse a 20mm of the sky sometime soon :O)

  • January 16, 2011 at 11:55 AM

    Oh wow! That is a big difference. Thank you for showing us!

  • January 16, 2011 at 12:12 PM

    Great post! I have a 35 and 50 but was considering a 85 next…can you borrow one of those too? :)

    • January 16, 2011 at 12:54 PM

      Ha ha! I will try and make friends with someone who has an 85 so I can show you :O)

  • January 16, 2011 at 12:24 PM

    Thanks for the info. I was clueless & still am a bit. For some reason I thought the lower the number the closer the person(thing) seemed.
    ~ingrid

    • January 16, 2011 at 12:54 PM

      Ingrid,
      Catherine is right. The smaller the number the wider the frame is. If you are looking to get really close to something you would want a higher number. For example, my 20mm is a wide angle where as a macro can be a 105mm. Does that help?

  • January 16, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    I have the 35 and 50 (Nikon) and love them borh, but the 35 is my go to lens indoors because the 50 feels a little tight. I think I want the 85 next for outdoor portraiture! :)

    Ingrid – it’s the opposite. The smaller the #, the wider the lens.

    • laura
      January 5, 2014 at 3:19 PM

      I have the 50mm, but like you said, I feel its a little tight indoors. Have been eyeing a 35mm as my next lens purchase to be used for indoor photos

  • Trisha
    January 16, 2011 at 12:57 PM

    Wow, this was really a great post. I can’t believe the difference. Next post – zoom lenses. Find someone who has some of those!

  • Trisha
    January 16, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    PS, thanks for the shout out. ;)

  • January 16, 2011 at 5:52 PM

    What an incredibly helpful post! I know my next purchase will be a wide angle and it’s great to be able to see the differences!

  • January 17, 2011 at 2:48 AM

    Thank you for this. I have the nikon 35mm I am getting ready to get the 50mm.

  • January 17, 2011 at 6:41 AM

    Love seeing the differences between each lense. Very helpful for anybody wishing to get a second lense!

  • Carlynn
    January 17, 2011 at 6:44 AM

    Thanks for reading my mind. I was just on craigslist looking for a lens for the new camera other than the kit lens. Any suggestions as to which one to get first? I want to be able to get a small focal area. (Like the toes picture on our changing focal point post)

    • January 18, 2011 at 11:26 PM

      A 50mm 1.8 is what I used for that one. What lenses are you looking at?? I suggest for the price you really can’t beat the 50mm 1.8 :O)

  • January 17, 2011 at 1:00 PM

    Those last two photos were very cool! Thanks for the “how to”! :)
    ~ingrid

  • January 17, 2011 at 1:05 PM

    Okay, duh! I was trying to comment on the bokeh post. lol

    lol,Courtney, I understand aperture. What I’m confused on is focal lenths and how it relates to how close or how far a subject will appear in your photo. Is the higher number the closer it appears & the lower further away? Thanks!
    ~ingrid

    • January 17, 2011 at 6:58 PM

      Yes, as long as you are standing in the same position :O)

      • January 19, 2011 at 12:08 AM

        Great, thanks! :) Learned something new!
        ~ingrid

  • January 18, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    Thanks girl. I was going to email you again this week and ask about lens. This helps me consider what to get next a little more. I am still a little confused, but primarily because I am unsure of what I really want to use it for.

  • January 18, 2011 at 9:19 PM

    I have a 35mm 2.0 (great for group shots) and really like it! I have a 50mm 1.4 and LOVE it!

    I have a 24/70mm 2.8L and don’t love it at all. I’m learning that my prime lens (fixed focal lengths like Courtney shared here) are my FAVORITE ones!

    But my absolute favorite lens I own now is my 100mm 2.8L and LOVE LOVE LOVE it!

    Great way to show others the difference in each lens! :-)

    Blessings,
    Jill

    • January 18, 2011 at 11:26 PM

      Thanks, Jill!!

    • Say my name say my name
      September 5, 2015 at 6:21 PM

      24-70mm 2.8 is my biggest dream.. But the price is just.. :( I only have 50mm 1.8g, love it, but it’s frustrating me during travel.. I’m often like “i’d picture it if my lens was wider”.. Altough i brought 1.2k pictures home, many of them are always lovely, I just feel like they could be better if I captured more.. Sometimes.. :(

    • saymynamesaymyname
      September 5, 2015 at 6:24 PM

      Under a little emotion, i started to feel like 35mm would satisfy me. And i could afford a bright 1.8 one. But would it be fine enough for landscape shot?..

      • September 8, 2015 at 12:48 PM

        I prefer the 20mm for landscape but if I had to pick one for people and landscape I would go with the 35mm :)

  • Melissa
    May 8, 2012 at 1:14 AM

    Ok…if you had one prime lens to buy, which would you recommend? I am the mom of two little ones and I rented a 35mm 1.8 and really enjoyed it – what a difference from the standard kit lens! However, I have heard so much about the “nifty fiftys” and want a lens that will give me that great aperture effect. But my new lens will have to work well outdoors, indoors, natural and low light, and chasing after a toddler and a 5 month old – need the best bang for my buck – what do you think, 35mm or 50mm 1.8?

    Thanks for the advice, I am loving this website, feel like I am learning so much! :)

    • Courtney
      May 10, 2012 at 3:12 PM

      I think if you can afford the 35mm 1.8 and are going to be doing a lot of indoor shooting maybe you should get that one. I know several of my friends who have the 35mm and love it! I only had the 50mm 1.8 for along time and never purchased the 35mm but often wished I had. I do love my 50mm and it lives on my camera most of the time but I have a full frame camera. Hope this helps!! Congrats on getting to get a new lens! They are so fun!!

  • han zhong
    June 12, 2012 at 5:26 AM

    thank you very much, 50mm f1.8 at around $100 is a great buy for portraits

  • July 29, 2012 at 6:16 PM

    If you want a good wide angle lens for a crop sensor, check out the Tokina f/2.8 11-16 mm!! It is highly recommended and comes out close to a 17-35 mm range.

    • Courtney
      November 12, 2012 at 11:34 AM

      Thanks for the suggestion!!

  • November 6, 2012 at 5:11 AM

    Hi, I really enjoyed all the posts here. I am using a Nikon D90 with 20mm f/2.8D, 50mm f/1.4D and 70-300mm VR Lens. I sold my kit lens 18-105mm. From your expeience do you think i need a 35mm f/1.8 G lens?

    • Courtney
      November 12, 2012 at 11:36 AM

      Hey Sami!!

      I never had the 35mm 1.8 when I had my D90 and didn’t feel like I needed it. If you feel you are able to capture the look you want with the 3 lenses you have now, then I wouldn’t worry about getting the 35mm 1.8. I am now dreaming of getting a 35mm 1.4 with my D700, but just dreaming for now :)

  • Chris
    February 25, 2013 at 9:16 AM

    I have been searching the net for something like this. Very helpful thank you

    • Courtney
      March 1, 2013 at 2:55 PM

      Glad it was helpful!! :)

  • Yngve
    April 14, 2013 at 3:18 PM

    another place where you can look at the differences is at the Nikon site, if you go to the site where they show the lenses, there is a simulator program where you can choose FX-body or DX body and FX-lens or DX lens and look at the picture they show to see what happens as you change the focal length

  • July 31, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    Thanks so much for posting this. I have googling 50mm vs 35mm comparisons for the past hour when I finally found your post and exactly what I was looking for.

    I currently have a 50mm prime but I think it’s too close for a general walkabout lens, so I’ve been researching the 35mm f/1.8 (for my Sony A580). I wondered how much a difference 15mm would actually make and turns out it’s quite a lot! Thanks for clearing that up :) I’m going to make a purchase on Amazon later! :D

  • Paty
    December 31, 2013 at 11:41 AM

    Your examples are terrific and can’t wait to get my hands on another lens… Going for the macro!
    Love love your ideas!

  • January 5, 2014 at 3:06 PM

    So informative! Thank you. I currently have a 50mm and was on the fence about adding a 35mm, but suddenly feel like I need one!

  • March 20, 2014 at 9:58 AM

    This explains it so well! I always get the mm screwed up! Thank you!

  • April 15, 2014 at 8:32 PM

    Thank you so much for these examples! I’m a photography newb and I have done nothing but read various blogs and articles on the comparisons of these lenses. But examples are always more helpful. I’m itching to buy my first non-kit lens. With the help of this article and the article about the 1.8 v 1.4, I’ve decided the 50mm 1.4 is the right one for me (with dreams of the 1.2 in the future of course). My little Canon Rebel t4i is gonna be so happy!

    • April 16, 2014 at 10:52 AM

      You’ll love the 50mm 1.4 :) So glad the examples were able to help you make your decision!

  • David Shaffer
    May 21, 2014 at 3:42 PM

    Thank you for a wonderful comparative display. Yours is the only one I have found to be truly illustrative of the differences of focal length. I’m trying to decide if I want to purchase a 50mm tele for my X100S and so was curious about the differences with a crop sensor. Thank you. Respectfully.

  • Lindsey
    June 27, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    Geez louise! it has taken me WEEKs to find someone that does comparisons like this!! Thank you very very much :)

    As convincing as your discussion is in favor of the 50 mm I think for my needs and wants for bokeh effect, I’m certain 35 is for me after this :)

  • Roxanne
    July 13, 2014 at 3:17 PM

    Thank you sooooo much! Me too I’ve been searching for a way to visualise the difference between lenses. the price can vary so much and i was like what’s the difference really if i can just stand closer to my subject. i looked at many pictures but nowhere i found someone who took the time to take the exact same picture with different lenses. it’s impossible to compare different pictures with different lenses in different conditions. 50mm for me! thank’s a lot and have a great day :).

  • September 14, 2014 at 12:28 PM

    Great post! I am looking at purchasing my next lens. I have a canon 50mm 1.4 and love it, but I find it to be too tight for indoor lifestyle shooting. Can anyone help me narrow my options down from this this!? I have a Canon T3i body. Thank you!!

    Canon EF 35mm f/2
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00009XVCU/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_S_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=2FPTTU5KQEVWJ&coliid=I2DTBH98UX2GGZ

    Canon EF 28mm f/1.8
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00009R6WU/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=2FPTTU5KQEVWJ&coliid=I3MNZXWPCI1FFY

    Canon EF 20mm f/2.8
    http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00007GQLT/ref=wl_it_dp_o_pC_nS_ttl?_encoding=UTF8&colid=2FPTTU5KQEVWJ&coliid=I35LF9Y7Z4O5GR

    • January 8, 2015 at 3:41 PM

      Hey Angela,

      Just saw this post. I don’t think you can go wrong with any of those lenses. I think it just depends on which focal length fits your style the best.

  • November 26, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    I liked it a lot, it’s always good to try and understand better about photography. Thanks.

  • Katy
    January 7, 2015 at 4:54 PM

    I was looking at the 50 mm lens because I love the look of the closer up portraits but now I’m considering the 35 mm after seeing these shots. I have 2 year old twins (#3 on the way) and often am taking pictures of both of them together so I think the wider angle would be better. Also, they are difficult to catch sitting still and I end up chasing them around a lot. Do you agree that the 35 would be best or would the 50 still do the trick for catching 2 kids at once?

    • January 8, 2015 at 3:42 PM

      Yes, if you are in tight spaces indoors and have two little ones you want to include and the budget allows for it, the 35mm sounds like it may be a better fit.

  • Barbara Potter
    April 20, 2015 at 1:29 AM

    I have Canon T5I. So happy I found this. I have a Canon EFS 10-22mm which is very wide angle 3.5-4.5, an 18-135 mm 3.5-5.6 and a Canon 55-200mm 4-5.6. I want to get a prime lens and I can’t decide on the 50 mm 1.4 or the 35mm 2.

    I shoot outdoor and inside but not necessarily close up where tight would be a problem. I am an new and learning. Which lens do you think would be better for me considering what I have already.

    Thank you Barbra

  • Sarah Harvey
    May 17, 2015 at 12:51 AM

    Wow! Thank you for this! I’m traveling to Portugal this summer and was trying to figure out what lens I should buy for my travels, 35mm vs 50mm. I have an 85mm for portraits and love it but it’s definitely not for the tighter spots! I think I’ve decided on the 35mm now because of your post! Super helpful.

  • Nancy
    October 15, 2015 at 6:52 PM

    Hi, I’ve been reading a lot of your posts and thank you very informative. I have my 50mm which I love but hate. The crispness is amazing but obviously no wide angle. Can you help me with finding which would give me crisp and some more range. Should I be looking at a 35 or 20? Thanks
    NAncy

    • October 23, 2015 at 10:00 AM

      The 35mm may be just what you are looking for.

      • Nancy
        October 30, 2015 at 3:46 PM

        Great thank You again!

  • Lizzy
    February 12, 2016 at 10:17 AM

    I’m pretty new to this. I bought my first lens a Sigma 18-250 mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM All-in-one Zoom Lens. I have a Nikon D5100. Someone told me this would be a good lens for a walk around lens and I would love it. I thought I would be able to get blurred background with this lens but I can’t seem to get it to stay at f/3.5. My camera changes it. I’ve tried Manual and Aperture Modes. It’s frustrating. I know it has to be something I’m not doing right.
    Anyway I’m going to get either the 35mm or 50mm 1.8, just can’t decide which one. My children are grown and I want a walk around nature lens with that great blurred background.

    Lizzy

  • Sandy M
    March 22, 2016 at 10:10 PM

    I have a D7200 and have loved my 50mm forever. I recently bought my daughter a 35 and picked up an 85mm for myself. I discovered the difference when I had all three at my disposal. I thought I needed the 35mm but realized that the 50 is perfect for me and the 85 is a dream for outdoors.
    My daughter, on the other hand, loves the 35mm since she takes a lot of her images in a small house and that provides the best distance.

  • Marie
    March 23, 2016 at 1:16 AM

    HI

    I have the 50 mm 1.8 & 35mm 1.8 but wanted to know if there would be a big difference to trade in/up my 50mm 1.8 for a 1.4? Also, I think I like the 20mm example you posted. It seems to allow more of the room/space and I think that might work better for group photos…any feedback would be appreciated. Maybe even trading (50mm) in for a 85mm. I just do not want to feel like I have several lens that capture same capabilities. If that makes sense.

    FYI-I use D7100. Also, is that FF or Crop?

  • Susan
    March 23, 2016 at 8:07 AM

    What I am curious about is what the picture difference is between a crop and full-frame. I’m ready to replace my starter camera, and one person says ‘go full-frame, you won’t regret it.’ But another friend (and my wallet) say stick with a better crop sensor. I’m only a full-fledged enthusiast/hobbyist, so the professional need for full-frame isn’t there. But the crop is only a few hundred dollars less than the full-frame – not counting lens replacements. I’ve been trying to read all the articles I can find.

  • Aurelija
    March 27, 2016 at 6:32 AM

    Thank you so much, this was very useful to me.

  • Camila Teodoro
    May 10, 2016 at 12:09 PM

    best article about diferences between prime lenses, ever!!
    many many thanks!!

  • avi
    November 3, 2016 at 4:27 AM

    thaks! just what needed.

  • Alyssa
    April 9, 2017 at 12:03 PM

    I have a Cannon T4i and I have the 50mm f/1.8 lens. I shoot party set up photoshoots from home and outside. I love that lens, however I need a bit more of a wider shot when I’m using inside because I can only go as far back as my wall takes me. Would the 50MM f/1.4 be a next good choice for me? Thanks for any input.

  • Betty Cox
    December 14, 2017 at 2:09 AM

    First i want to say how much I have enjoyed reading your articles on lenses. I too have been trying to decide on my first non-kit lens. I shoot with a Sony Alpha65. It came with an 18-55mm F 3.5-5.6 and a 55-200mm F4-5.6 I love shooting wildlife and nature scenes. As well as storms and lightning. I find it very hard to take good lightning photos at times. They seem to be one of the hardest subjects to capture. What lens would you recommend that best suits my needs? I love to just grab my camera and hit the back roads around my small Texas town where I look for lots of species of birds from hawks to buntings. Jack rabbits to deer grazing in the fields. I love the old windmills and old barns that are hidden away. I look forward for any of your recommendations. Thanks again for the wonderful website and info that you share.

  • Tony Varghese
    June 21, 2018 at 4:31 PM

    Loved reading comments on this site.Thanks for showing the difference.between the three lenses.I have a Nikon D7100 and would love to purchase my first prime lens for taking potraits.I loved the outdoor photo on the 35mm lens.Now I understand that the crop factor on a Nikon is 1.5X.So if I wish to buy a lens that can give me photos like the 35mm , I need to buy only a 20mm lens i.e 20mmX1.5=30mm(close to a 35mm) or should I buy a 50mm lens to get an image like 75mm (50X1.5).Please advice.What do you suggest Courtney.

    Also what would be the best lens to a group photo on a Nikon D7100.

  • Leslie M
    August 29, 2018 at 11:19 AM

    Exactly what I was looking for, thank you very much!!

  • Imran
    December 9, 2018 at 7:09 PM

    Thanks for this helpful comparison. Definitely going for the 50mm. #50mmbokehgamestrong. 👀

Leave a Comment