4 Reasons Why Everyone Should Have a 50mm Lens

Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G

When we buy our DSLRs, chances are that we mostly shoot and grow with using just the kit lens provided for us by the manufacturerers. What some of us DSLR users don’t realize until we’ve grown enough is just how wondrous and useful a good 50mm lens with a wide aperture is. I’ve blogged before about learning on different lenses, but the 50mm is the one lens every photographer should have in their bag. If you havent’ got a 50mm lens or if you have one and don’t seem to cherish it that much, here are reasons why everyone should go out and shoot with just your little 50mm gem.

1. They’re Fairly Cheap

For the most part, 50mm lenses are cheap. A Canon 50mm F1.8 lens can be had for around $100. If you’re going for the higher-grade ones, then expect to dish out a couple hundred dollars or more depending on the brand and availability: the highly sought-after Panasonic/Leica 25mm F1.4 lens for four-thirds users isn’t far from $1,000. In general, all you really need is one that is around F1.8 as that aperture is wide enough for most uses and you may even find yourself closing that up at times. If you can get that level of depth of field for that cheap in order to single out your subjects in your photos, why not go for it?

What’s available for your brand:

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8

Nikon 50mm f/1.8

Pentax 50mm f/1.4

Sony 50mm f/1.8

Olympus 25mm f/2.8 ED Zuiko (25mm is equivalent to 50mm on a 4/3 sensor)

Panasonic 25mm f/1.4

2. The Field of Vision is Close to the Human Eye

50mm lenses mimic the field of the human eye and therefore will translate into your photos. This is partially why they are called, “normal lenses.” Also referred to as standard, when combined with good photographic techniques it can make people feel more as if they are actually in the moment you are capturing.

Note that on a crop-sensor DSLR, the 50mm produces an angle of view closer to 75-80mm.  As a result, the 50mm lens can also be a great focal length for portaits/candids as seen in the wedding shot above of a bride with her father just before she walked down the aisle and was shot with a Canon Rebel XT (a 1.6x crop camera) and Canon EF 50mm f/1.8.

3. Overall Usefulness and Versatility

A 50mm lens can be used to shoot in low-light, for portraits at a wedding (or portraits in general), photojournalism, macros, candids, etc. The only thing I don’t see them being used for may be sports. Even if it isn’t your primary lens, your 50mm should be your backup as it can do almost anything you may demand of it. With all this in mind, remember that you are the photographer and you need to make your tools work for you.

My 24-105mm L F4 would not ordinarily be able to capture the same images without cranking up the ISO beyond what I’m comfortable shooting at. Add onto the fact that a 50mm lens is so light and compact and you’ll be able to shoot anywhere without the intimidation factor of a giant lens.

4. The Ultimate in Street Photography

The Recession in New York City

I’ve written about street photography before, twice actually. This is by far the most used lens in the style. The reason why is as stated above, it gives the normal angle of view of the human eyes on top of letting people get close up to their subjects to photograph them. The lens is great if you want to do a small documentary project, like the one I did above.

Photographic Challenge: Try doing something similar to what I did in my above photo. Walk around the streets or neighborhood or city with nothing else but a 50mm lens the way our photojournalistic predecessors did. Force yourself to get close to your subjects to capture the shots you want. Then create it all into a small project of some sort with a theme. Using only the 50mm lens you will take yourself out of the normal and safer behavior you may have developed by shooting with telephoto or zoom lenses.

What 50mm lenses do you use and why? Let us know in the comments below.

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Comments

  1. John Miki says

    Chris,

    I too love pictures taken with my 50mm 1.8f. Most of my favorite shots taken on film were with my 50mm. But I have since moved on to a D70 dslr by Nikon. So here is my question should we dslr shooters be using a 35mm lens? (assumes you don’t shoot a full frame dslr and the crop factor is 1.5-1.6) The 35mm should give the same field of view as the 50mm on a full frame or film camera.

    John

  2. says

    As a matter of fact, I frequently use my cheap Nikon 50/1.8 for sports, too: It’s great when athletes compete on an indoor stage. Long enough to render a natural view/perspective of the athlete, short enough to cover his/her whole body – all that paired with unsurpassed low-light performance. So often I’ll leave my 70-200/2.8 in the camera bag.

  3. says

    Great article. I just got my first DSLR, a Sony a200, and I got 2 kit lenses with it, but very soon after I got a Minolta 50mm f/1.7 because I wanted the low light capabilities. The bokeh makes for great portraits too. When I’m indoors, I generally use this lens exclusively since I can use it so wide open.

  4. Luis Gomez says

    I had the 50mm lens with older Nikons and with my Leica, they where fantastic experience. But now I am using a D60 and a D90 Nikon. So, my question is I already place an order for the 35mm DX, but should I go for the 50mm DX? I understand the 35mm DX it’s going to be a 47mm on a DX format. Whats your opinion? Thanks for the article.

  5. says

    Good article! I bought a Nikon 18-200mm zoom a year ago and thought that it would be my walkaround lens but as soon as I got a 50mm I use that lens much more.

  6. says

    I think that the answer should be yes, for crop sensors, we should be getting the 35mm lens, not the 50. I bought the 50 and while it does take great pictures, I find it to be a little too narrow a field. I wish I had picked up the 35mm which would be giving me the ~ equivalent of 50mm. – Alan

  7. Lynn Kahbeah says

    My friend talked me into purchasing a 50mm for my Nikon D70. She was getting awesome “indoor” gymnasium shots with this lens. That is where I was having difficulty so I purchased it and absolutely love it. My daughter is in volleyball and using manual settings I was able to get great shots. No more dark blurry pictures. Try one you will be sold!

    Lynn

  8. says

    The lens of choice for wedding photography from the sixties through the eighties was a normal lens. In this case it was a 75 or 80mm lens on a Rolleiflex or Hasselblad. The public liked the normal perspective, the feeling of being there in the picture and the low distortion of the faces. The F2,8 with ISO400 film made available light shots possible. I myself preferred bouce flash at F5.6 for infallable shots all day.

  9. Sky_walker says

    “The Field of Vision is Close to the Human Eye” – Since when? Did you ever compared what you can see through viewfinder and with naked eye? 50mm is like an outzoom comparing to naked eye. Eye is closer to 100mm or so. But if you’ll compare angles than it’s almost like an fisheye lens – human eye field of view is about 130° × 160°.

    Other than this – nice article :)

  10. Bechak says

    I agree with Sky_walker…50mm doesn’t similar to human field of view but 50mm is a good lens to practice composition and it’s make us aware more to the subject. I’ve own Minolta MD 35mm and it’s been on my Alpha 700 for every occasion.

  11. says

    Two years ago i set up a photo project using a 50mm lens, i’d shoot everything and anything with a 50mm lens but only at f1.8. It’s a fantastic project and i can see myself doing it for pretty much the rest of my life. I find a 50mm lens very versatile and extremely creative.

    You can check it here…
    http://www.50mm-photography.com

  12. pentaxZ says

    I use a manual Pentax SMC 50mm 1:1,7 on my K20D. I bought it for approximately $30. A real bargain. It´s a real pleasure to use and by far the best lens in my bag. It´s ridiculous sharp and has the most wonderful bokeh. I just love it and will never get rid of it.

  13. says

    I use my Nikon 50mm f/1.8. It was the first lens i bought after the kit lens. Have been with me for a year now and it works brilliant. I use it for alot of portrait but sometimes for smaller objects and macros. It is great in lowlight situations and as you wrote, it can be used almost everywhere, everytime. I use it also to challenge myself to NOT have the ability to zoom and get different focal length. It is fun and challenging to do stuff like you have with your project. It´s small and doesn´t draw attention and the weight is compared to air ;)

    Really great stuff that everyone should have, indeed! I´m going to use it now and make a project out of today!

    Peace!

  14. Mohawk51 says

    I still shoot film. The Nikkor 50MM F1.8 AIS is one of three lenses I carry in my bag. The other two are an 85MM F1.8 and the 17-35MM F2.8. The 50 is a “little jewel”. The clarity, contract & sharpness are great. This is for sure an under rated lens.

  15. Mike says

    The best prime lens for me is the Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM (for Canon users) and there’s no doubt about it. Plus its USM with FTMF. Crispy shot and oohhhh… love those bokehhh….

  16. Jan says

    I own a 50mm 1.4 Nikon. Used it this morning for taking pictures at school outside. It was a little dark still and so the 50mm was my first option. Grea pictures and great colours with a D70. Then switched to 35 2.8 a 50mm look on a DX camera. Very natural. Now going for de D700 to get it all out of my 50 mm!

  17. krishna kumar says

    I have been a ‘passionate photographer’since 1993 with an obsession for the
    50mm lens. Although I have worked with various focal lengths,my all time favourite has been the 50mm. The reason is that this lens gives the best results especially in window light and other low light conditions thus making it possible to create a ‘classic’ image without that irksome flash! Another reason is that the 50mm is capable of giving ‘true to life’images with no distortion whatsoever. I consider that a photographer who doesn’t employ a 50mm lens is no photographer at all! Small but fast and versatile 50mm lens is the best thing to have happened to photography.
    During my film photography days I used a Minolta AF 50mm f/1.7 lens.
    Now I use a Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM lens on a Sony Alpha 330 digital camera.

  18. says

    My 50mm 1.4 is my all time favourite. I’m fairly new to the 50mm world, but this baby has not left my camera since I got it! I need another body so I can use my other lenses! Hehehehe!

  19. Dan M says

    I own the Sigma 50mm 1.4 EX DG HSM on a Nikon D5000. Photos are simply breathtaking! I got the D5000 as a gift with its kit 18-55mm but it just was not able to give me that superb shallow DOF (bokeh effect) that I wanted so I got me the Sigma 50mm. It is the ONLY lens I carry now.

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