Nikon 35mm vs. 50mm for Portraits: Which Is Better?

Portrait photography is a whole new realm. There are many factors to consider to get the perfect shot. For instance, between Nikon 35mm and 50mm, which lens is better for portraits? 

Both the Nikon 35mm and the 50mm will shoot portrait photos with a shallow depth of field. However, the 50mm has more perks for the price, such as sharper focus, higher compatibility on more camera models, and amazing bokeh. 

By the end of this article, you will know more about the pros and cons of each. Lenses can make a big difference in the style and look of your photos, and this article will help you make a more informed decision on what lens to use for portrait photography. 

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Nikon 35mm: A Basic Overview

The Nikon 35mmOpens in a new tab. is a fixed lens for DX cameras. A fixedOpens in a new tab. lens is when the focus is preset at the time of manufacturing. When you are shooting, the front parts of the lens do not move, and the filter mount stays still while the back elements focus. However, you will be able to manually focus by adjusting the outer ring of the lens. 

The Nikon 35mm also does not zoom, and it is a bit longer than normal lenses. It is still small and is very light, making it great for smaller DSLRs. The lens costs around $200 and is a great price for those wanting the advantages of low aperture. 

This lens can shoot f/1.8, which will create beautiful portraits with shorter depths of field. The picture below was shot handheld using a 35mm lens; notice how well it picks up light in a low-light setting:

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Pros of Nikon 35mm

Let’s take a look at the pros of the Nikon 35mm lens.

  • The lens is great for shooting handheld shots. Since this is a fixed focus lens, you will be able to shoot handheld photos fairly easily—since the lens will focus for you.
  • You can override the autofocus manually. Another benefit of this lens is overriding the autofocus by manually adjusting the lens’s outer ring.  
  • The lens does not physically move in or out as it focuses. Many lenses will move as it focuses, sucking in air from the outside world. This action can be a problem in dry and dusty environments where dust can get stuck inside the camera chamber. 
  • It’s small size and low weight suits DSLR cameras well. Since the lens is small and light, it is very compatible with smaller DSLR cameras, making it great for beginners.
  • The lens works especially well on the cheapest DX Nikon cameras. This lens performs great on the D40, the D40x, and the D60. These are the cheapest DX cameras. 
  • The 35mm has a metal lens mount. Many lenses have plastic lens mounts which can easily break, but metal mounts will last you a long time. 
  • It is affordable. The overall span of lens prices is $100 to over $2000. Most lenses will be over $300, and this lens is around the $200 mark. 
  • It is great for low-light shooting. Since the lens can shoot f/1.8, more light will enter the lens at this aperture, allowing for better shooting in darker settings. If you want to get even better shots, consider using a tripod with this lens. 

Cons of Nikon 35mm

Now that we know all of the pros of the 35mm lens, let’s look at the disadvantages. 

  • The lens only works for DX cameras. One con of this lens is that it only works for the Nikon DX series and is not compatible with other models. 
  • The 35mm stays as a ‘normal’ lens on the DX cameras. We mention this because some 50mm lenses become a portrait lens or short telephoto lens on DX cameras. However, this lens shoots like a normal lens on DX models. 
  • There is some barrel distortionOpens in a new tab. on this lens. Barrel distortions are when any straight lines are curved inwards. This distortion happens when lenses have a wide field of viewOpens in a new tab. compared to the image sensor. 
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens with Auto Focus for Nikon DSLR Cameras, 2183, Black Opens in a new tab.
  • F mount lens/DX format. Picture angle with Nikon DX format 44 degree
  • 52.5 millimeter (35-millimeter equivalent). Rear focusing; Manual focus override
  • Aperture range: F/1.8 to 22; Dimensions(approx.) 70 x 52.5 millimeter

Last update on 2024-02-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Nikon 50mm: A Basic Overview

This lens is an updated version of the 1978Opens in a new tab. version of the 50mm f/1.8 lens. The 50mm has autofocus, but you can also override the focus by manually adjusting the focus ring. This Nikon lens is known for its quick and sharp focus and amazing bokehOpens in a new tab..

The lens will work on multiple camera series such as the DX, FX, and even some recent AF film cameras. Finally, the Nikon 50mm is suitable for photographers of all levels. For around $200, the lens is a good deal for all of the lens’s advantages. Many portrait photographers love this specific lens. 

The picture below was shot using a 50mm lens; notice the shallow depth of field:

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Pros of Nikon 50mm

  • The lens is not expensive. Like the 35mm lens, this is an affordable lens falling around the $200 price mark.
  • It is great for low light shooting. The low aperture settings make for excellent low light shots. 
  • You can shoot photos with shallow depth of fields. Since the lens has wonderful bokeh, your photos will have a shallow depth of field. This feature is perfect for portraits since it highlights the face(s) in the frame and blurs the background. 
  • There is no movement on the exterior of the lens barrel. Since all moving elements are on the lens’s interior, it will not move (and will not suck in dust) when it focuses. 
  • You can easily use lens filters on the 50mm. The lens’s optical design makes it easy for you to put on lens filters. 
  • The lens will work on multiple camera series. You can use the 50mm on DX cameras, FX cameras, and some AF film cameras. 

Cons of Nikon 50mm

  • There is some barrel distortion. There will be some barrel distortion with this lens, but many photographers have mentioned that you will barely notice it.
  • The lens is not weather sealed. While this is more of a bigger deal for professional photographers, it is good to know that this lens does not have a weather seal. However, it will be fine if you take good care of it. 
  • The 50mm lens will not autofocus on some cameras. Such as the d40x, the lens will not autofocus for certain models. However, you can still manually override the focus on these cameras. 

If you are interested in this lens, visit this link: Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G LensOpens in a new tab..

Which One Should You Choose?

Both the 35mm and 50mm have many advantages. When choosing the best lens for a certain shot, there are only so many technical aspects you can look at. At the end of the day, it all depends on your personal style of photography. However, reviewing some basic features should help you decide. 

Both the Nikon 35mm and Nikon 50mm have many similarities. These similarities include manual override autofocus, internal movements of focus to prevent dust in the chamber, and lightweight bodies. Furthermore, the two models are affordable and will work on cheap DSLRs, making them great for beginners. 

Nonetheless, the 50mm has a few more perks. This specific lens will work on more camera models than the 35mm. The 50mm also has an amazing bokeh (shallow depth of field). With portrait photographyOpens in a new tab., a shallow depth of field is vital since it will create that beautiful effect of everything else being out of focus other than the model. 

Overall, the 50mm has more features that suit portrait photography. Even though both lenses are very similar, the 50mm has more perks. Since both are very similar in price, you will get more bang for the buck if you invest in the 50mm lens. 


Both lenses will create beautiful portrait photos. Since both can shoot in f/1.8, you will be able to shoot with a shallow depth of field with both lenses (although the 50mm might be a bit sharper). 

Furthermore, the 50mm has more perks and is more targeted towards portrait photography. Both are similar in price, so depending on what camera model you have, the 50mm might be the best option.


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