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