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50mm vs 85mm

In: 
Published: 24/11/2021

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The first time you buy a new camera lens, it can be challenging to know which one is right for you. This decision will impact the photos that you take, so it's essential to get it right. In this article, we'll help you compare 50mm vs. 85mm lenses.

50mm vs. 85mm General Overview

A 50mm lens is a classic and versatile tool for both portrait and street photography. It allows you to take photos that look natural as if the viewer was standing right there with you. 

An 85mm lens, on the other hand, is best used when your subject matter requires more compression, which makes it excellent for portraits.

The photographic services industry is anticipated to rise to $44.07 billion in 2025. The more you practice, the better you'll get. You must improve your abilities to attract new clients and schedule bookings, and learning the differences between these lenses is a step forward.

A Canon DSLR camera attached with 50mm lens

50mm Lens

The 50mm lens is a wide-angle lens that views the subject reduced to 50 percent of its natural size. The short telephoto perspective makes it ideal for photojournalism and unobtrusive documentary photography. It mimics human sight because we view the world with such lenses, making us seem closer together than we are.

A 50mm lens is well suited for street photography because you can take photos without drawing much attention. Because of its wide angle, your subjects will feel like they're part of the scene and not immediately aware that you're photographing them.

Its effective focal length is 75mm on an APS-C camera, making it suitable for everyday use since this is the standard kit lens that comes with most DSLR cameras. Alternatively, you can use an adapter to make it compatible with full-frame cameras too.

Advantages of 50mm Lenses Over 85mm

  • A 50mm lens is smaller, lighter, and cheaper than an 85mm. For these reasons, it's easier to carry around, and there are more f/1.8 lenses since they don't require as many glass elements to function correctly.
  • 50mm lenses also offer better edge-to-edge sharpness, although the increase in sharpness isn't too noticeable unless you're printing photos on a large scale.
  • 50mm lenses offer a wider field of view which lets you get up-close to your subject without being too conspicuous.
  • 50mm lenses produce natural depth-of-field effects that give you more creative control over your shots.

The zone inside a photo that appears in focus and sharp is known as depth of field. In each shot, there is a focal point (where you focus your lens).

Disadvantages of 50mm Lenses Over 85mm

  • A 50mm lens doesn't have as much reach as an 85mm lens, so you have to be closer to your subject.
  • You can't shoot as wide a scene with a 50mm as you can with an 85mm, making it harder to capture all of the action in one shot.
  • A 50mm has slower autofocus and is unsuited for taking videos.
  • A 50mm produces less background blur, so your subject isn't as isolated from the background.
  • An 85mm is more expensive than a 50mm and has better sharpness, autofocus speed, and chromatic aberration control. If you're willing to pay extra for these features, then it's definitely worth the money.

85mm Lens

An 85mm lens can be best described as a long telephoto lens. It makes your subjects look as if they were magnified by about 1.6x their original size, making it great for portraits.

The compression effect makes your subject pop out in the frame and draws more attention than using a 50mm lens. Many photographers use 85mm lenses to photograph people because they can blur out distractions around them that might otherwise take away from their portrait.

It's equally suitable for portraits when taking photos in dimly lit environments. Its wide aperture of f/1.8 also lets you compensate for the lack of light and capture detailed shots with a shallow depth of field.

Advantages of 85mm Lenses Over 50mm

  • 85mm lenses have a much longer reach, which means you don't have to get as close to your subject. This makes them more suited for shooting portraits and wildlife where you need to keep your distance.
  • 85mm lenses are better suited for videos since the faster autofocus speed keeps moving subjects in focus.
  • The longer focal length lets you shoot a wider scene by standing further back than you would with a 50mm lens.
  • 85mm lenses produce natural depth-of-field effects, which make the subject stand out from the background. This is great for taking dramatic shots where you want to draw attention to your subject without distractions getting in the way of your composition.
  • 85mm lenses have a much wider aperture than 50mm lenses, giving you greater control over your depth-of-field effects.

Disadvantages of 85mm Lenses Over 50mm

  • 85mm lenses are considerably larger and heavier than 50mm lenses, making them less suitable for casual photography.
  • 85mm lenses also cost more than 50mm lenses, although they aren't as sharp, have slower autofocus speeds, and can produce noticeable chromatic aberration.
  • 85mm lenses are more suited for shooting at a distance rather than photographing moving subjects.
Selective focus of an 85mm lens

50mm vs. 85mm

One of the most debated topics in portrait photography is what lens to use for a particular shot. From 50mm up until about 85 mm, it is somehow impossible to say which one will give you that perfect look. However, there are still many opinions among veteran photographers.

Similarities

Between 50mm and 85 mm, there isn't much difference between them, so that it could depend on personal preference. Nevertheless, let us look at why someone might want both perspectives.

  • Both lenses produce a natural depth-of-field blur that makes your subject stand out from the rest of the frame.
  • Both lenses have a wide aperture of f/1.8, which is excellent for low-light photography.
  • Neither lens has optical image stabilization. However, this can be compensated for with effective camera and lens stabilization techniques. Also, a tripod is a good stabilizer when photographing static subjects.
  • Neither lens has a wide range of focal lengths, so you have to move around to frame the scene properly.
  • Both lenses are less expensive than their f/1.4 counterparts, so they can be easier on your wallet if you don't need the extra speed and other features that come with them.
  • Both are prime lenses. This means that you do not have to switch out or move your camera for different zoom capabilities - the only thing you need to do is move back or forwards. 
  • The background is often softened by the two lenses, which is beneficial in terms of reducing the distracting background elements while focusing attention on the subject and generating a more attractive effect.

Differences

It's challenging to choose just one type of camera or even another because every photo has particular areas requiring special attention, such as close-ups versus wide angles. However, we will try our best here to look at their differences. 

  • A 50mm lens has a broader field of view which means you can get closer to your subject without becoming too conspicuous. This makes it ideal for photographing people and other moving subjects.
  • An 85mm focuses much faster and is more suitable for video recording, while a 50mm takes longer to focus and isn't suited for taking videos.
  • An 85mm is better for static subjects since you can isolate them from the background, giving you a more dramatic effect. A 50mm is ideal if you want to take photos of moving subjects since it lets you get close without scaring your subject away.
  • An 85mm gives you the best bokeh effects though this depends on other factors, including your aperture size and the distance between you and your subject.
  • A 50mm lens produces an aesthetically pleasing blurred background effect which makes the subject stand out. An 85mm is better for isolating your subject from the background if you focus on what's important rather than what's around it.
  • On pricing, the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 Lens costs anywhere from $180 to $220, depending on where you buy it, while the Nikon 85mm f/3.5 to f4.5 Lens is priced anywhere between $200 and $500. This means that if you're looking for something affordable, then 50mm is the better choice.

Major Distinguishing Factor

An 85mm lens has a narrower angle of view, so you have to stand further away from your subject for it to fit into the frame. This is fine if you're photographing static subjects such as buildings, products, and landscapes. 

A 50mm lens, on the other hand, is better since you can get up-close. If you want to be unobtrusive, then this lens will let you do that without being too conspicuous about it. It's helpful when photographing moving objects such as people and animals.

An 85mm lens is not very versatile, so it's best to use it when taking photos of people and not much else. This can be problematic if you plan on photographing random subjects that you come across during your daily life.

An 85mm lens beside a Nikon camera

When to Use 50mm

A 50mm lens is better suited for taking pictures of objects from a distance. 50mm is an excellent all-purpose lens. If you're traveling, 50mm will allow you to capture the whole scene without distortion. The same applies if you are taking group shots or photos of your family. 

If you're shooting in a well-lit area, then a 50mm lens performs just as well as an 85mm. However, if you're taking pictures in low-light conditions, the 85mm lens has a significant advantage.

A 50mm lens has a wide aperture of f/1.8, is ideal for low-light photography, and lets you take those dreamy "bokeh" shots.

When to Use 85mm

The 85mm works best if you're trying to photograph objects at a moderate distance. It's better than a 50mm lens for shooting portraits and wildlife since it lets you get close to your subjects without getting in the way.

If you don't know what you're doing, stick to a 50mm lens since you can get great pictures without worrying about controlling your depth-of-field effects. It's unsuitable for taking pictures of moving subjects since it has a slower autofocus speed and doesn't produce much background blur.

If you don't plan to take candid shots of people (in low-light conditions), then an 85mm lens is better suited for taking pictures indoors at night. If you're shooting at a basketball court on the sidelines, a 50mm lens will work well.

Final Verdict

The 50mm is a cheaper alternative for everyday photography, while the 85mm lens gives you more magnification so that you don't have to get too close. This ultimately boils down to how much money you want to shell out and your requirements when photographing people with your DSLR camera.

PFRE Team
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