For many photographers and filmmakers, the 50mm prime is their abandoned island lens. But why is that, and what exactly makes it so great? In this article, we’ll focus on the top 7 benefits of using a 50mm lens.
Read on to find out why it’s the perfect first lens to start your glass collection and never leave it.
Has Creamy Bokeh at Wide Apertures
A 50mm lens tends to produce lush, creamy bokeh when kept near wide open. This works wonders to separate the subject from the background. It also opens up for making soft, entirely blurred-out backgrounds for digital art projects and composite photography.
The shallow depth of field on the 50 mm lens can be helpful for filmmakers, too. The softness generally lends itself well to the movie screen and helps convey a particular mood.
50mm is Perfect for Portraits
Ask any portrait photographer using a crop sensor camera what their favorite focal length is, and the odds are they’ll say 50mm. While the full-frame equivalent is around 75mm, in practice, the closest focal length is 85.
The compression is pretty similar when using a 50mm lens on a crop sensor camera. And so is the field of view.
Of course, it’s possible to do portraiture with a host of focal lengths. But the natural and flattering look of the 50 mm standard lens is a sure winner. This focal length also works great for pet photography.
Works Great for Landscapes
Although the 50mm prime lens doesn’t necessarily spring to mind as a ‘prime’ choice for this, it’s more than adequate for landscape photography. In landscape shots, going too wide and failing to emphasize any one element of interest is a common mistake.
By cropping in at 50mm, much of the background is cut out – leaving more room for the king of the frame – the subject. Plus, panorama stitching in post-production is always an option if you end up needing a wider focal length after all.
Next time you’re going for a walk, try and bring just the 50 while leaving your wide-angle camera lens at home.
Compact and Lightweight
Although a 50mm prime lens is not the most compact type of glass out there, it’s certainly on the smaller end of the spectrum. Something premium like a Sigma 50mm 1.4 DG HSM Art or the infamous Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM weighs quite a bit more than the more basic options.
On the opposite end, a plastic-made Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II – also known as a Nifty Fifty – weights a measly 0.3 lb / 130 g. Most notably, it can be found for 50 bucks and sometimes less.
The Nikon version, Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D, is both better built and a tad more pricey than the ef lens – while offering very similar optical quality and visual characteristics to the Canon.
The 50mm focal length is the sweet spot of all focal lengths. While it is not overly telephoto, it is also not particularly wide, either. A 50-mm fixed focal length is, in essence, one of the most useful lenses to have, thanks to the wide range of scene types that it can handle pretty well.
Do some of the cheaper options produce chromatic aberration? Sure they do. Can it be pretty much ironed out in post-production? Yes, it can. All in all, it’s hard to beat a 50 mm prime lens like the Plastic Fantastic for sheer versatility and bang for the buck.
Excellent Optical Quality
Being a prime lens, the 50mm fixed prime tends to be sharper than if it was on the extreme end of a similar quality zoom lens. That’s because there need to be much fewer concessions in terms of optics in a prime lens.
There is a variance in sharpness and severity of optical flaws amongst the different iterations of the 50 mm. In the end, you get what you pay for. But perfectly spherical bokeh bubbles and lack of focus breathing are negotiable for most users.
Of course, since a 50mm often has an utterly monstrous aperture size, it’s usually best to stop it down a couple of clicks to get the sharpness right. Simultaneously, the colossal aperture still lets in more light, which comes in handy in dim-lit scenes.
It Encourages Good Composition
The 50mm is the focal length of the human eye. This means that it’s the most natural one to photograph with, as it’s the exact same field of view that we’re used to in daily life, although cropped. The lack of zoom encourages using our legs.
This is one of the most critical lessons for budding photographers. As a side bonus, it’s more fun and healthy for the rest of us.
If you’re just getting your first camera, it makes perfect sense to buy the body only and choose a 50 mil lens as your first piece of glass. This way, you’ll solidify the crucial aspects of photography before succumbing to the luxury of a zoom lens.
While a bundled kit lens is often a good deal, a fast 50mm prime lens delivers excellent low light performance and delicious bokeh in a much smaller, lighter unit.
The beauty of the 50mm is that it can do it all pretty well – from training wheels to professional work. That’s why every passionate photographer should own at least one. The 50mm fast prime is not only the best first piece of glass to get.
It’s also a terrific portrait tool, a versatile walkaround, travel, landscape lens, and a staple in any filmmaker kit.