A 50mm lens is like a must-have & very important for many photographer. In order to be even considered in the hallowed corridors of professional photography, your 50mm lens is like a passport. But why is that important to have a 50mm lens? Because of its focal length. Yes, the 50mm lens represents more or less the same perspective that the human eye has. So anything shot with a 50mm immediately becomes the same perspective that you have seen it with your naked eye.
But even before you jump to a conclusion and dash for your laptop to order consider this, the format of your camera makes a difference. Digital SLRs comes in two main formats, the full frame and the APS-C. I have deliberately not considered Panasonic’s and Olympus’s 4/3 system based DSLRs here as they are not that popular any more. So if you have an APS-C sensor powered DSLR the effective angle of view of a 50mm lens will become something like 80mm due to the 1.6x crop factor (for Canon users. Nikon APS-C users will experience a crop factor of 1.5x and a resulting effective focal length of 75mm). So if you do have an APS-C camera don’t go for a 50mm. Rather, opt for a 35mm lens which gives a more accurate angle of view. There are, however, some advantages to using a full frame lens on an APS-C DSLR. We shall be discussing that later.
Having said that here are the top reasons to have a 50mm lens
Excellent Image quality – If you want professional image quality at a cheap price this 50 mm lens is one of the best option. In terms of image quality these normal focal prime lenses can beat any kit zoom lens very easily. Just borrow one and compare it yourself. You won’t have to be a rocket scientist to notice the differences.
It is light – A 50mm lens is light. Compare the weight of any of the 50mm prime lenses that Nikon currently sells with that of the weight of their 85mm or 100mm primes and you will realize what I am implying here. Your camera bag feels that much lighter when you carry one of these to work.
It is quick & extreme low light performer – The 50mm primes come with some fast maximum apertures. F/1.8 and the f/1.4 lenses allow you to make stunning compositions in some of the weirdest lighting conditions. They also produce better & smoother bokeh than most consumer zooms.
It is cheap – These are prime lenses and one thing about prime lenses is that they are cheap. Cheap, however, does not mean that they are poorly made. Lenses such as the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is one of the best made you will ever come across. It is also one of the cheapest ever and at around $100 is a steal or AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D.
It forces you to move yourself around and position at the right spot because of the lack of zooming power and that in itself is good. Why? Because the luxurious 200-400mm and the likes of it often takes the fun out of photography. You can zoom in, click and zoom back out without ever having to lift your feet off the ground. Where’s the fun in that?
They are low-profile – A good thing for some. Street photographers for example would love to go for a lens that gives the proverbial 50mm angle of view and the advantages of a fast maximum aperture.
It gives the same perspective as the human eyes, and we have already discussed that in length so no point in going through it again. One thing, however, I would like to point out is that the 50mm lens works best with a full frame DSLR or MILC (like the Sony Alpha 7 & 7R).
The Art of 50mm Photography: Few examples of their capabilities
Photo: Sean Molin
Photo: Thomas Shahan
Photo: Thanh Tran
Photo: Nicolò Paternoster
Photo: Shandi-lee Cox
Photo: Bethan Phillips
Photo: Sorin Mutu
Photo: Adrià Ariste Santacreu
Photo: Michael Shaheen
Photo: Rachid Lamzah
Photo: Dustin Gaffke