It’s easy to think that a bag full of lenses is a good thing — hell, there’s one for nearly every possible use. But what exactly is the perfect lens? In our book, it’s the tried and true 35mm. A perfect medium between wide and normal perspectives, the 35mm lens stands as an indispensable gem for pro shooters and hobbyists alike. As the staple of prime lenses (fixed focal length), there’s no shortage of lofty offerings, but owning a Canon or Nikon camera doesn’t mean that brand has a stranglehold on the lenses you can shoot with. In fact, recent offerings have proven that the third party lens is a force to be reckoned with (case in point: the Sigma above). Here, we present five of the best 35mm lens offerings available today that aren’t Canon, Nikon or Sony. Consider it a fresh look on an old-school perspective.
Sigma 35mm f1.4 EX HSM
Best 35mm Lens Replacement: Remember the awkward girl from high school who blossomed into a total fox? That’s Sigma. The company was previously shunned by serious photographers, but in the recent years they’ve been churning out serious glass. The new Sigma 35mm f1.4 EX HSM resembles a Hasselblad product and captures stunning images with incredible bokeh. Walking around and need a single lens solution? Mount this beautiful optic onto your camera, and you’ll capture nearly any subject with superb clarity.
Leica 35mm f1.4 ASPH Summilux
Best 35mm Lens for the Rangefinder Romantic: Leica has a history that predates your grandfather, and their 35mm lenses have earned a chiseled corner in history. Though their 35mm f2 is more highly regarded for its combination of “low cost” and quality, Leica recently refreshed their 35mm f1.4. It’s a beauty, a rare sort of lens that differs greatly from more conventional glass. Handmade in Germany, it remains small, is manually focused and has a true aperture ring. Also, the lens is optimized to be its sharpest wide open at f1.4, so get ready to shoot parties with low ISOs and without flash. This is quite possibly the best lens Leica has ever made. (Note: this lens only works on Leica and mirrorless cameras.)
Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 X
Best 35mm Lens for the Documentary Photographer: Small, high quality digital cameras have forever been the request of documentary photographers. Scores of photographers clamored for the Fujifilm X Pro 1 when it was announced; the 35mm f1.4 X is just one small part of that camera’s lens lineup, but it hardly disappoints. Regarded by many as the sharpest optic in Fujifilm’s lineup right now, the lens works specifically with the unique X-Trans Sensor to render extremely sharp, high ISO images nearly devoid of noise.
Consider This: Many a photographer regards the 50mm lens as a normal focal length because it mimics the vision of the human eye. 35mm is the next wider traditional focal length. What many don’t consider is that the true normal focal length is 43mm, due to the diagonal dimension of 35mm film. One of the few companies that acknowledges this is Pentax — and they’ve been designing 43mm lenses for years.
Rokinon 35mm f1.4
Best 35mm Lens for the Budget Traditionalist: The underdog Rokinon, also known as Samyang, has recently found themselves turning heads in the still photo world. One of the reasons? Their 35mm lens. Like Zeiss and Leica glass, all Rokinon lenses adhere to the principles of simplicity. They are fully manual focus, manual aperture and even feature an accurate depth of field scale so that you can document daily life like the old masters did. Their 35mm lens is one of the most affordable on the market, which is a huge boon to photographers without a trust fund.
SLR Magic 35mm f0.95
Best 35mm Lens for the Darkness Conqueror: The f0.95 lens is something of a magical beast in the photo world — think of Falkor the Luckdragon meeting a unicorn and having beautiful babies. SLR Magic has been churning out some very high-quality Noktor glass of late, and their 35mm f0.95 makes Sony NEX and Fujifilm X users weak in the knees. At f0.95, it laughs at low-light conditions; ISO is a passing thought. Shot wide open, the SLR Magic 35mm f0.95’s depth of field is hair-thin. Just make sure you calm those quivering hands, partner.