The 35mm And 85mm

Nikon 35 and 85mm iamchrisphotography_February 22, 2012Just a few short months after making the decision to shoot with only primes lenses, my camera bag looks a whole lot different.

My Nikkor 24-70mm and even my Nikkor 50mm f1.4 have gone to new homes, and have been replaced by the Nikkor 35mm f1.4 G and 85mm f1.4 G.

I kind of want to refer to these as “the twins”. They are almost identical in every way.

The 35mm and 85mm share the same size, weight and excellent solid construction. They are both supremely sharp, colourful, prime lenses with fantastic Bokeh and loads of character.

The great thing about this pair is that complement each other perfectly. The 35mm / 85mm combo has been a favourite of photojournalists and wedding photographers for years.

The Nikon 35mm f1.4 is a great landscape, street photography, group portrait, candid, and general all rounder. Or the other hand the 85mm f1.4 is the sharpest, most beautiful portrait lens I have ever used. It produces wonderful headshots as well as dreamy looking environmental portraits.

It’s like having a 50mm lens, but with option to go wider and also a bit longer for portraits. Both of these lenses together still weigh less than my old Nikon 24-70mm.

I seriously cannot wait to get out and really see what these lenses can do!

  • Roland Pache said:

    Hi Chris,

    I just stumbled across your site while browsing for prime lens articles.
    I am also shooting Nikon and have collected the f/2.8 trinity, which I think are all three absolutely fantastic lenses. However, changing my style away from landscapes and towards portraiture I found myself wanting the faster f/1.4 primes, also originating from getting great pics from the 50mm f/1.4G lens. Also, as a walk around lens, the 24-70 is indeed a bit heavy, and I also think using it makes me going the easy route of just zooming to the frame I want, instead of moving my body to get the right composition.
    Now that you acquired the 35 and 85 primes, how happy are you with those?
    Do you miss the 24mm angle of view of the zoom?
    And what about the weight of the f/1.4 primes (35+85 are actually more heavy than the 24-70 alone), does it feel right for you or would you recommend considering the new 28 and 85 f/1.8G lenses instead that just came out? (from the reviews I read it seems they are almost as good optically, but at a much lower price point)

    Looking forward to hear from you!

    Best,
    Roland

    • Chris said:

      Hey Roland

      Yes I'm very happy with the 35mm and 85mm. They compliment each other really well. The 85mm for distance/portraits, and the 35 for everything else!

      I didn't use the 24mm end of the 24-70mm, that's where it was optically weakest. If were to need a wide angle, I wouldn't use a prime, I would get a decent zoom like the 14-24, but that is both heavy and expensive, so I just live without one! :)

      The 35mm is great focal length that isn't too wide, but just wide enough to use comfortably indoors, and for portraits with a bit more "space"

      You are right that the 35/85mm together weigh more than the 24-70mm, but on the other hand, I use only these 2 lenses for everything. I don't carry around anything else apart from a couple of SB900's and some kenko tubes for macro work. I like to keep it simple. Carrying kilos of gear around for hours makes me grumpy. :)

      It's tough call about the new 1.8 primes, they do look very very good, but I still think I would have chosen the 1.4 versions, just because they are the only lenses I use. But if I was supplementing my main kit with primes, I would go for the 1.8 versions, they seem good value for money.

      Hope this helps!

      Thanks

      • Roland Pache said:

        Hey Chris,

        thanks fro your reply, I am getting more and more sold on getting the 35+85 1.4 primes.

        I agree that the 24mm end of the 24-70 is not the best and, since I have the 14-24, I often went to that one when needing a wide angle. However, carrying both of them around is indeed quite heavy, resulting in sore shoulders at the end of the day even without carrying a telephoto lens in addition...

        I was therefore also considering to go for the 24 f/1.4 lens, but that one is even more expensive and right now I can't afford more than two of the 1.4 primes.
        I love wide angle shots though, so I might still want to save up for one, but not this year ;-)

        My love for wide angles probably comes from my background in landscape photography, but since I now want to focus more on portraiture, the 35mm angle of view might be enough for most situations (especially since with a shorter focal length you really need to pay attention to not distorting faces too much).

        My concern about the 1.8 primes is mainly their build quality, they seem to be a bit plasticy. I like your point of supplementing the already heavy f/2.8 kit with the lighter f/1.8 primes, but, similar to yourself, I am tending more and more towards shooting primes only (except perhaps for the excellent 70-200 f/2.8 VR II, which is able to deliver incredible head shots). So going with what you said before, it probably makes more sense to exchange the 24-70 with the pro-grade 1.4 primes rather than aiming for the more consumer-grade 1.8 lenses.

        Best,
        Roland

        • Roland Pache said:

          small addon question:

          Did you ever regret selling the 50 1.4G, or don't you miss that focal length in your shooting sessions?

          Roland

          • Chris said:

            No I didn't actually. The 50mm f1.4 was my absolute favourite lens for a long long time.

            But it was the weakest of the three primes, it just didn't get much use. The 35mm is a little bigger, but it's gets in closer (0.3m) and its sharper wide open, which makes up for it.

            The 50mm is a almost perfect all round focal length though. I plan to buy the Nikon 50 f1.2 ais when I find a decent second hand FE2.

  • phototrope said:

    Hi Chris,
    I just came across this page (googling for nikon 35mm 85mm) and your website for the first time. Really chuckled when I read this page because I have, after a very long-winded process, also settled on exactly the same lens combo as you. The nikon 35/85 f1.4g lenses and a D800. I also have a 50/1.2 ais which I use occasionally when i feel like travelling light. Then I read the rest of your blog and your photographic journey and it seems to mirror mine in so many ways. I haven't got website though. Really like yours. Very inspiring. Thanks mate :)

    • Hey. Thanks for commenting. Glad to hear I'm not the only one mad enough to go down the two prime route! It's not one thing I have come across a lot, but I find it work really rather well. Its so weird that we both think similarly, as my next lens to buy is the 50mm f1.2, once I have found a good condition Nikon FE2 for it to go on!

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    • Peter said:

      Hi Chris,
      I have been asked to do a wedding and I too only use 35mm and 85mm.
      This is my first wedding and it's for a work colleague's daughter.
      I have 2 x D700's and 2 Sb600 flashguns but wondered if the 85mm would be long enough for the church ceremony without having to be intrusive?

      Do you have any experiences of feeling, "if only i'd had that extra reach"?

  • Lee said:

    When I bought my Nikon d7000 earlier this year I sold my zooms and began only using either a Nikkor 50mm 1.8g or 28mm 1.8d. The latter has been the primary lens ever since. I am seriously considering the new voigtlander 28mm though as the colour rendition is simply gorgeous. My Belgian mate has the 48mm version on his D700 and his images from them are stunning. Loving the blog since I found it while researching think tank retrospective bags....

    • Thanks Lee.

      Yes there are certainly some great primes out there. The colours that a some lenses can produce can be subtle but really unique.

      Will have a look at that voitglander lens....

  • Mark said:

    Chris,

    Be super keen to know whether things are still hunky-dory with this two prime combo? Asking since I'm contemplating a similar move - trading my 24/50/85 combo for the simpler 35/85mms. So I wonder what exercising this discipline looks with 6 months over your shoulder.

    Cheers,
    Mark

    • Absolutely. My move to Canon was a great decision. However, I am without a 35mm at the moment which is very frustrating, as it is my favourite/most used focal length. At the moment I am using the Canon 50mm f1.2, 85mm f1.2 and 135mm f2.0. I am waiting on buying a 35mm f1.4 (and finish my set) until Canon have released their long awaited 35mm MK II, but I am also very interested in the new Sigma 34mm f1.4, that sounds like a killer lens for not much money.

      The 35mm/85mm combo covered 90% of situations, but the 50mm f1.2 gives me a rock solid, "pro level" 50mm with something special, and the 135mm is getting occasional use for the times I need the extra reach.

      Hope that helps.

  • Adi said:

    I sold all my zoom and prime lenses, to go with 2 prime setup 24 1.4G and 85 1.4G. I was going to go with the 35 1.4G instead of the 24, but... I don't know... I never really got done with this thought :(
    I did try to heal the wound with a 40 2.0 Voigtlander and mount it on my FE.

  • Mayank Jain said:

    I own a 35mm f/1.8 and am really looking forward to buy the 85mm. I want to ask - how is the experience of having to keep changing the lenses? Do you shoot one complete shoot with one of these or keep changing?

    • Hey. It depends on the type of shoot. For weddings I shoot with two cameras, and switch between 85/135 on one, 35mm on the other all the time. For portrait shoots, I take a single camera and switch between 35 and 85mm as needed. It's no big deal.

  • I also have de 24-70mm and found it also to heavy and was thinking of replacing it with prime lenses i think the 35mm and 85mm is perfect mayby de 24mm 1.4 for wide angle wil be fine. thank you for your article.