What is a 50 mm lens good for? Here are our top five reasons every photographer should consider adding this to their camera bag!
It doesn’t matter if you shoot Canon, Nikon, Sony or any other camera brand, the fact is, every photographer should own a 50mm lens! The amazing thing about a 50mm lens is that it’s incredibly versatile! It is the most popular amongst portrait photographers, wedding professionals, and street/documentary artists. This prime lens has so many perks that it’s easy to see why most professionals reach for this lens first. It’s not too wide, or too long, meaning you can use it in cramped spaces (like a studio, or narrow street), or back up to get those killer wide shots of buildings and landscapes. It packs a real punch as compared to many other lenses! Here are our top five reasons for adding this lens to your camera bag!
1. It’s Cheap!
Let’s face it, camera gear in general is really expensive! What’s amazing is that you can get a brand new 50mm lens between $100-$200! Don’t let the small price fool you, it’s a great lens. Used 50mm 1.8 lenses are quite plentiful so if a brand new 50mm 1.8 lens isn’t in your budget, you can typically find them used for as little as $50. It’s definitely our go-to for a lens on a budget!
If you shoot with a Canon camera, check out this reference guide for more budget-friendly options!
2. It’s Fast.
Perhaps the greatest attribute of the little “nifty-fifty” is it is “faster” than the fastest of zoom lenses. Faster? In photo talk, the term “fast glass” refers to wide aperture lenses. The wider the aperture on the lens, the faster the shutter speed one can achieve compared to a zoom lens. Even on a crop sensor camera, this lens is really great.
Let’s show you an example:
Let’s say you are trying to take some photos indoors at a church without flash, and you are using the 18-55 kit lens that came with your camera. At the long end of that range, the widest aperture is usually f/5.6. Therefore, if you have a 50 1.8 you will be letting in more than 3 full stops of light, giving you the ability to use an 8x as fast shutter speed. A 50 1.4 lens will give 4 full stops difference from f/5.6! Being able to superbly outperform all zoom lenses makes a 50 1.8 or 1.4 prime lens a must-have tool.
3. It’s Small and Lightweight!
I am not going to lie, I hate having to lug around bulky heavy lenses like my 70-200 f/2.8 zoom and I love when I can put the big zoom away and shoot with my small 50mm prime lens. The best part is that it gives your wrists and arms a rest! A 50mm lens not as obtrusive and noticeable which is great when trying to pack light and just “blend in,” without drawing much attention to yourself. You can toss this lens in a backpack or small bag and be on your way, without the extra bulk! The 50mm lens is definitely a great option for travel photographers for this very reason!
4. It’s Versatile. What is a 50mm good for? Pretty much everything!
The 50mm focal length is a very versatile range. This is especially true when used on full frame camera bodies like the D800 or Mark III. The 50mm yields a “normal” perspective and field of view similar to what we see from our very own eyes, which make it a great lens for photojournalists. It’s for this reason that on my most recent trip to Paris and Italy it was one of the 2 lenses I took with me, for a whole 10 days! It’s a great “walk-around” lens, but also can be great for portraits too.
On a wedding day, it is also great for getting ready shots, especially when we have to shoot at 1.4 to help blur out messy getting ready rooms! The compression that you get really starts to be apparent with this lens, which is really great considering the price. At wide apertures, you can get that creamy blur that makes photos look high end!
Another HUGE perk is that this lens is known for being great in low light scenarios! This comes in handy during indoor settings or after the sun has gone down on a portrait shoot!
Some types of photography where you can easily use a 50mm lens: Portraits, Weddings, Documentary/Lifestyle, Street Photography, Travel, Newborn, Studio Photography, and Landscapes!
5. The 50mm Will Make You a Better Photographer!
I am a firm believer that using prime lenses rather than zoom lenses force photographers to be more creative with compositions, more agile and overall “keep you on your toes” since you don’t have the luxury of zooming in or out for your shot. In addition to being forced to zoom with your feet, you are also able to shoot at wider apertures like 1.8, 1.4 and 1.2 (Canon) that allow for more creativity with use of depth of field that just simply isn’t an option with equivalent range zoom lenses.
Other questions about the 50mm lens, explained
Can you use a 50mm for landscape?
The 50mm lens can definitely be used for landscapes. Most landscape photographers prefer a wider-angle of view, such as the 35mm or 24 mm. Others prefer something more telephoto lens to dial in on unique features. But a 50mm lens can easily be used for landscape photography, for many of the reasons we’ve already discussed, namely that it’s so lightweight and inexpensive. If you are a general shooter with no real specialty that occasionally takes landscape photos, a 50mm lens is a great choice. You will have to work harder to at composition, certainly. But the sharpness, color and detail of a 50mm lens is always a good choice. Just keep in mind that on a crop sensor camera, the working focal length can be closer to 75 mm or more, so plan accordingly.
Is the 50mm lens good for portraits?
If you haven’t guessed it by now, the 50m lens is great for portraits! The 50 mm allows you a good working range from your subject. You can be close enough to give instructions and maintain intimacy, but far enough away that you aren’t violating a subject’s personal space.
The 50mm shines at environmental portraits, especially. You get the flattering focal length for portraits but still have enough room to include some environment and scene which lends the image contest. When shooting a telephoto, such as a 70-200mm f/2.8 zoomed all the way to 200 mm, the compression is beautiful, yes. But you’ve rendered the background so out of focus that it loses meaning and context, both are important to an environmental shot.
Why do they call the 50 mm lens a nifty-fifty?
Nifty fifty started as a term used to describe 50 popular stocks on the stock exchange in the 1960s and 1970s. Some clever soul along the way also started using it to describe a 50 mm lens, and the nickname stuck. But given all it’s positive traits, we think it’s a nickname well deserved.
What is the difference between a 35 and a 50 mm?
As you begin to upgrade your photography gear from kit lenses to prime or pro-grade options, one consideration you might have is between the 35mm and 50 mm lens. Both are great lenses and are widely used and loved. In general, the 35mm gives you a wider field of view but also comes with more distortion. The 35mm is great for getting close to the action or pulling in lots of the environment and details in your shot. The 50mm, on the other hand, is a more flattering focal length for portraits but can be unwieldy in tight spaces like indoors or in crowds outdoors.
Read our full 35mm vs. 50mm review here!
There you go, those are my 5 top reasons why you need a 50mm lens, plus a few other questions answered! It’s cheap, fast, versatile, lightweight and gives you a professional look to your images that will keep you getting business. There are very few drawbacks to this lens, making it our top pick for both new and seasoned photographers!
Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you already have a 50mm lens? If so, please let me know in the comments below what your favorite thing about your 50mm lens! What do you use it for, or want to use it for? What do you love about it, or wish was different? Do you have any questions about it? Please share your experiences!
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