I was at the Leica store the other day and got to chat with one of the salespeople. It was no surprise when he told me that the fast moving items in their inventory were the C and the T (I forgot to ask about the Xvario and D-Lux lines). What came as a surprise was that among their lens lineup, the 35 was the hot-seller, leading the others by a mile. It was a toss up between the cron and the lux, by the way. I asked about the 50 and he mentioned something about it being more popular in European markets. Of course, we’re just talking about data coming out of a newly-opened store manned by newly-oriented staff so it’s in no way conclusive but the observations are interesting nevertheless.
I hear and read of people draw the line between the 35 and the 50 like you need to take sides. The fact that they’re next to each other in the focal length line-up only adds fuel to the fire. They say that if you have the 35, that you should skip a focal length and go for the 75. And it does seem logical on paper. But in practice, not so. I have both and I can tell you straight away that these two focal lengths are as different as night and day. I think it’s at the junction of the 35 and 50 where perspective takes two very different paths. From 18 to 35, the vista is wide where drama starts to taper off at 35 and then straightens itself on a dime when you hit 50. At 50, the vista becomes decidedly flat all the way to 135. What I’m saying is, you need to try both but maybe at different points in your life. Ok, so you’re saying that you can only give up one kidney… Well, this is then where it becomes personal. The 50 will give you a bit of distance from your subject. The 35 is a bit more intimate and will give you a first row seat to a subject’s persona while also taking in a bit of his or her environment. It can only add depth to a subject’s character. You’re an observer at 50, a participant at 35. Which one are you at the moment, you can only answer.
Which leaves me a bit puzzled with the 35 and the Asian photographer. I always thought the store would sell more of the 50 simply because of my naive viewpoint that Asians would rather step back rather than engage. Or is it because we value personal space less than our western brethren such that their 50 is our 35? It’s quite dangerous to go into categories or labels so I won’t delve any further into this subject.
My chat with the staff did led me to review my 2012 photographs where for that year, I only used the 35 cron with my then M9-P. Contrary to what the internet says about CCD/CMOS, I can’t help but feel nostalgic about how the M9-P renders versus the M240. Maybe it’s the noise at high ISO that I’m missing with the M240. Anyway, I digress.
Batanes and the M seem to be the perfect companion for travel photography. This place let’s M photography shine like how different F1 cars pair in different ways with specific race tracks. It’s no big surprise why the 35 can be a best seller. It’s the jack-of-all-trades of focal lengths. And Batanes just takes the M to church and back with the 35.
Further musings on the 35/50 bring me to a couple of interesting observations. I think the guy who goes for the 50 KNOWS that he wants the 50 and probably for very particular reasons. And it’s a focal length that I don’t usually recommend to people asking me for advice. The 35 would be the safer choice as it can be the more flexible first-lens option for the newbie. It can take portraits and landscapes with equal aplomb.
Ok, now that we’ve narrowed it down to the 35, it then becomes a question of cron or lux. What I have here is the cron so I can only comment on cron ownership. What I like about the cron is that at wide open (f2.0), the background doesn’t turn into mush. The separation is subtle yet distinct. Surprisingly though, it’s the same with the lux if my 50lux can be used as basis for such a claim. The transition from background to foreground wide open, while not as subtle, is quite smooth and the bokeh really creamy (it’s a favorite word by reviewers when referencing bokeh). Please refer to my father and child photograph above and note the foreground to background transition on the 35 cron.
Here’s the thing though, at some point, as you go deeper into M photography, your tastes will be a bit more discriminating. Appreciation between focal lengths will be a bit more nuanced. As of this writing, I really hardly use both my 35 and 50 for travel and photograph almost exclusively with the 21SE. Again, it’s a phase and M photography is almost always about the journey. And I’m only half way to wherever it is that I am supposed to be.
Thanks for reading and hope you guys can share this article to folks who are on the fence with regard these two focal lengths.