During a recent podcast, a reader asked about what prime focal length range I would recommend for landscape photography and I suggested that he look at zooms but his question got me thinking about lenses for travel photography. To me that means wide angle lenses so lets look at the classics.
A focal length range described as classic has a long-standing tradition. For decades, the 35mm was the wide-angle lens. there simply were no others or at least none that were adequately corrected. Technological advances have enabled the design and production of well-corrected lenses with ever increasing angles of view. The extreme wide-angle lens’s greatest success was changing the way we look at the world. The net result was that images taken with the 35mm no longer exhibited wide-angle characteristics but rather looked “normal.” The 35mm therefore lost its appeal as a wide-angle lens – and immediately earned a reputation as a standard lens.
With an angle of view of 63 degrees, a 35mm lenses allow you to capture significantly more of the subject than the 50mm normal lens while maintaining a normal perspective. The depth of field is also greater than with the 50mm and the risk of camera shake is lower. Snapshots, photo journalism, landscape photographs that look natural, group shots, contextual portraits where the surroundings are included in the image, still-lifes of larger subjects or architectural details at eye level are the domain of the 35mm.
Canon offers 35mm prime lenses with two different apertures: The EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM and the less expensive EF 35mm f/2. Lenses with a maximum aperture of f/1.4 are ideal for available light photography but 35mm’s with a speed of f/2 are more compact and lighter than the f/1.4. Over in the Nikon world, you have your choice of the AF Nikkor 35mm f/2D or the more expensive AF-S Nikkor 35mm f/1.4G lens. And if you are really in search of optical excellence, check out the manual focus Carl Zeiss offerings including 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZE or 35mm f/2.0 Distagon T* ZF.2 that are available in either Nikon or Canon mounts.