Most DSLR cameras ship with a 55mm variable zoom lens, these lenses are versatile, but produce results that are boring, predictable and sub-par. If you would like to take your photography to the next level I have a great suggestion get a 50mm prime. Here are all the reasons why this is a great lens
Blurry background effect
Most people when buying a DSLR camera think that they will be able to take magazine-like photographs with a shallow depth of field (and blurry backgrounds) straight out of the box, but fail as they are using the kit lens. These lenses don’t produce a bokeh/ background blur, due to a high aperture limit.
Aperture is an opening through which light passes into a lens. The larger the maximum aperture of your lens the more light it will be able to accept. Aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’, where f/1.4 would refer to a very large aperture and f/32 to a very small aperture. The lower f numbers mean wider/large aperture opening compare to higher f numbers which correspond to narrow/small aperture opening.
The 50mm lens is capable of producing a tight depth of field (Blurred background) due to its large maximum aperture of f/1.4 or f/1.8, which is unachievable for the kit lens that usually has a largest maximum aperture of f/3.5–5.6.
50mm Prime Lenses Vs Zoom Lenses
Every single lens is split into two groups; zoom lenses and prime lenses. No matter if you are using a wide angle, standard or telephoto lens, they either have a fixed focal length or they don’t.
When first starting out in photography, having the flexibility of a zoom can be very helpful and feels a lot safer, but it also has many disadvantages:
- Usually poor image quality (not very sharp and poor distortion characteristics)
- Very slow, in the aperture range of f/4 –f/5.6. Just forget about low-light and indoor photography!
- Slow aperture. You won’t get a lot of separation of your subject from your background.
The only good thing about a kit zoom is its optical range. In essence, you get a modest wide-angle with a normal 50mm lens and a moderate telephoto lens all-in-one.
The Nifty Fifty – The 50mm f/1.8 Lens
The 50mm ‘nifty fifty’ lens gives the most flexibility to your photography and is probably the easiest focal length to frame well.
Many professionals would choose one of the 50mm lenses if it was the only lens they could carry.
The 50mm prime lenses are probably the most useful and complete all-round lenses you could buy. Before the advent of zooms, most cameras were fitted with 50mm lenses.
In fact, possibly the most famous photographer ever, Henri Cartier-Bresson, used the 50mm lens for most of his photography.
Here are 8 reasons why you should have the 50mm prime lens in your bag!
- A 50mm Prime Lens Will Improve Your Composition
Ironically, not having the flexibility of a zoom, rather than limit your photography, will over time enhance and improve your composition.
With 50mm prime lenses, instead of zooming with your hand, you will zoom with your feet.
You’ll get closer to your subject to isolate it from a distracting background, which will mostly be abstract shapes (especially if you have the f/1.4 version).
You’ll also learn to step back from your subject to add context. After a while, you’ll be able to pre-visualise the image before you put your camera to your eye.
You’ll know what the scene will look like through a 50mm field of view.
And without the temptation to zoom, you’ll become more adventurous with your framing. You will learn to compose with the scene that is in front of you!
Canon 7D, 50mm 1.8 II, ISO 125, f/3.2, 1/60s
- You Can Shoot in Low Light
What? No flash? That pop-up flash on your camera is a real atmosphere killer. If you want subtle, natural light, you need your trusty nifty fifty!
If you are primarily working in low light, read this tutorial to learn how to capture great photos in low light.
A difficult-to-take portrait photograph at 1/15 seconds at f/5.6 (the usual aperture at the long end of your kit lens) becomes a comfortable 1/140 at f/1.8!
Most basic DSLR’s have a limited ISO range, so having the fast aperture ensures you can shoot in the lower range of ISO indoors, while providing a high shutter speed.
This is right by the window too, and again you can still see the background.
With a 50mm prime, at a relatively low ISO, we can focus on Frida’s cute little face as the background became soft and smooth.
- You’ll Achieve Beautiful Bokeh
Knowing when to use 50mm lens is half the battle. Bokeh is just one example of the endless possibilities. This is because the faster the aperture, the shallower the depth of field becomes.
What this means for your images is real isolation of your subject from its surroundings and beautiful bokeh–blurred backgrounds or foregrounds.
50mm photography utilising a wide aperture will create very attractive bokeh, resulting in images that will look way more professional and atmospheric!
Canon 7D, 50mm 1.8 STM, ISO 250, f/1.8, 1/25s
As they are a large part of the frame, the leaves in the foreground compete for our attention.
It is less obvious that the flowers are the intended subject, and our eyes will flick between the two competing elements.
Flowers with 50mm lens, f/1.8, ISO 100 and 1/500
When your foreground or background is out of focus (especially at f/1.4), your subject will have a greater impact within your composition.
The out-of-focus elements aid the composition (rather than causing distractions), as the eyes focus on the subject in focus. It’s also a lot more pleasing to the eye!
- 50mm Lenses Are Super Sharp at All Stops
Even at its maximum aperture of f/1.8, the 50mm prime lens is much sharper than your kit lens. Stopped down to a smaller aperture like f/4 and you are talking tack-sharp!
- You Can Travel Light
The standard f/1.8, 50mm prime lens is smaller and lighter than your kit zoom, which means carrying it around all day is a breeze!
- You Become Less Visible
Using a fast prime lens allows you to take a different attitude to your 50mm photography.
Rather than orchestrating a photograph, you can develop a more candid style and capture your friends and family quietly and unobtrusively.
Even your dinky kit zoom let’s people know you are there, as they usually extend when zooming in, making you more noticeable. And it can be intimidating to some of your shyer subjects.
With the small nifty fifty, you’ll be less obvious and better able to capture that great moment without being noticed or altering the mood!
All you need now is your stealth suit!
- The 50mm Prime is the Most Versatile Lens
On a full frame camera, the field of view of your trusty 50mm prime lens looks very similar to how we see with the human eye.
If you put your open hands at the side of your head like side blinders, the edge of your hands is the limit to the frame on a 50mm lens.
The magnification is literally the same. So what you see is what you get with the 50mm photography. What this means is…
Canon 5D mark III, Ef 50mm USM,1.4, f/3.2, ISO 200, 1/640s
It’s a Great Portrait Lens
With the beautiful shallow depth of field you can get fantastic, naturally lit portraits that will look more like the professional images you see on the web.
Canon 7D, 50mm 1.8 STM, ISO 400, f/2.2, 1/250s
It Works with Landscapes in a full frame
You can also use your 50mm for tighter framed landscapes; you don’t always want a wide angle for this type of shot.
This image has only the two small leaves on the right in focus, but still works as the background is just a beautiful wash of colors and shape.
Your Nifty Fifty is Great for Street Photography
50mm prime lenses are also great for street photography lens. Since the field of view mimics our eye it’s a great lens to learn street photography with.
And with the wide aperture, you will be able to shoot in streetlight!
Canon 50D,50mm 1.8 II, f/2.8, ISO 400 and 1/125
- 50mm Lenses are Not Expensive
If you are willing to buy second-hand or refurbished, you can pick up the old 50mm lens for almost half the price of a new 1.8G.
So you don’t have to fill your piggy bank for very long to get one !
Canon 50D, Ef 50mm 1.4 USM, ISO 160, f/5.0, 1/125s
A 50mm lens is often referred to as a “nifty fifty” because it is so versatile and easy to use. It is also an inexpensive investment that promises to improve your photography without weighing down your camera or your bag. It is a lens you can shoot with all day or easily keep tucked away when needed. A 50mm prime (the word photographers use when you are talking about a lens that doesn’t change in focal length or “zoom”) is probably the cheapest way to dramatically improve the image quality of your photos – at least compared with the quality from the lens that came with your camera, often called a “kit” lens. It should be the second major investment you make as you start out with your photography. Fair warning though, it will be the gateway to wanting good quality zoom lenses that are far more expensive.