7 reasons why a 50mm lens needs to be part of your kit

Dec 20, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

7 reasons why a 50mm lens needs to be part of your kit

Dec 20, 2017

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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The 50mm lens, often called the “nifty fifty”, is a popular lens. The f/1.8 version for Nikon, Canon and many other brands is very inexpensive and has been a staple of photographers for decades. Personally, I think it should be the first lens a new camera owner buys after they get frustrated with their kit lens.

In this video from Shutterbug Mag, photographer Jordan Matter offers up seven reasons why he feels a 50mm lens is not only vital but may be the only lens you need.

YouTube video

1. Less gear means less hassle

I’ll never go as far as to say that a 50mm lens is the only lens you’ll ever need to make good photography. But I do find them invaluable. When I’m packing minimal and just taking one camera and one lens, it’s often a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 that goes with me. To me, it’s just the most versatile to cover many situations. Even when I do have several lenses with me, I’ll often revert to a 50mm lens for much of a shoot.

2. Shallow depth of field

Even though a 50mm f/1.8 lens is ridiculously cheap you can get that shallow depth of field that you can’t with kit zooms. Their apertures just don’t open wide enough. The 50mm f/1.8 does. And while some 50mm lenses may not be razor sharp wide open, you’ve still got a good 3 to go before you hit the limits of an 18-55 kit lens. And even if you do have to stop down to f/5.6, the results will be far sharper than an 18-55mm kit lens at f/5.6.

3. Helps to get a wider background for environmental portraits

That 50mm focal length with the wide aperture also helps with environmental portraits. The field of view lets you bring in much of the surrounding area providing your subject with some context. The aperture is still large enough, though, that the background is thrown slightly out of focus, putting the attention on your subject. With a kit lens at f/5.6 and this sort of distance, pretty much everything would be in focus.

4. It works for macro photography

Ok, so many lenses can work for macro photography. All you need are some extension tubes. But if you don’t want to carry tubes around with you everywhere, just on the off-chance that you might want to try a macro, a 50mm can be very handy. With this, all you need to do is remove the lens, flip it around, and hold it over the mount on your camera. I’m not sure I’d do that in such a humid environment with sea spray in the air, though.

5. It lets you stop the action

That f/1.8 (or faster) maximum aperture isn’t just about getting a shallower depth of field. It also lets you get faster shutter speeds in lower light. Sometimes, your ISO’s as high as you’re comfortable with and you’re still not getting the kind of shutter speeds you need to freeze the action. With an f/5.6 kit lens, you might have to go to 1/50th of a second. Swapping out for an f/1.8 lens lets you speed that up to 1/500th of a second without increasing your ISO.

6. It lets you adapt quickly to changing situations

Because the lens is so small and light, it’s easy to quickly adjust and adapt as the situation before you changes. In the video, Jordan’s model is hit by a surprise wave of water. Her response is pretty hilarious. With a longer lens like a 70-200, movement will often quickly take them out of your depth of field. A wider lens, even with a pretty wide aperture will allow you to react, shoot, and keep the majority of those shots quickly in focus.

7. It lets you shoot later in the day

Again, that wide ISO lets you get more light through and hitting your sensor. This means you can shoot handheld when the light goes pretty dark. It might mean you’re able to stay out 30 minutes or an hour longer than you would with your kit lens to get some fantastic images. And it’s often those extra 30-60 minutes that yield the best results with amazing colour creeping into the sky.

Again, I’ll never suggest that a 50mm is the only lens somebody needs to make great photography. But, I do think every photographer should own one.

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John Aldred

John Aldred

John Aldred is a photographer with over 20 years of experience in the portrait and commercial worlds. He is based in Scotland and has been an early adopter – and occasional beta tester – of almost every digital imaging technology in that time. As well as his creative visual work, John uses 3D printing, electronics and programming to create his own photography and filmmaking tools and consults for a number of brands across the industry.

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40 responses to “7 reasons why a 50mm lens needs to be part of your kit”

  1. David Lorenzo Avatar
    David Lorenzo

    I love the 50mm. I also like wide angle lenses.

  2. Sandro Alencar Mrowinski Avatar
    Sandro Alencar Mrowinski

    Clickbait..

    1. Adrian Gordon Avatar
      Adrian Gordon

      That’s not a focal length i’ve heard of :P But yes, this unequivocally clickbait.

    2. Adrian Gordon Avatar
      Adrian Gordon

      For those that care:
      You can carry less,

    3. Ian Brace Avatar
      Ian Brace

      Please learn what clickbait is first than ask yourself why are you following this page then?

  3. Oleg Antoshkiv Avatar
    Oleg Antoshkiv

    I mostly take landscape photos that is why I prefer wide lenses

    1. Ian Brace Avatar
      Ian Brace

      My 10mm is my go to lens, but I will always have something around 50 – 70mm at hand.

  4. Nuno Petinga Avatar
    Nuno Petinga

    Love 50mm 1.8f… Bug also love 24-70mm 2.8

  5. Matthias Bober Avatar
    Matthias Bober

    Just keep in mind that a 50mm lens is actually more like a 75mm lens on APS-C sensor cameras. Get a 35mm lens on these cameras for the nifty-fifty feel.

    1. Jacob Christensen Avatar
      Jacob Christensen

      53mm ???

    2. Andy Talbot Avatar
      Andy Talbot

      I have sigma 30mm f1.4, definitely more practical than 50mm on a crop sensor.

  6. Pierre Bisson Avatar
    Pierre Bisson

    My fave lens by far is my 400/2.8

  7. Lee Ballard Avatar
    Lee Ballard

    All those shouting ‘click bait’. It’s hardly click bait when the title tells you what the content of the article is. That’s not click bait, that’s a description! You may agree of disagree with the content but that’s a different thing!

    1. David Sargent Avatar
      David Sargent

      It’s like people expect all 7 reasons to be included in the title lol.

    2. Ian Brace Avatar
      Ian Brace

      I think they need to read up what clickbait is first? And also why are they following this page if they feel like that.

  8. Mike Musto Avatar
    Mike Musto

    50 and 85 are my go-to lengths

  9. Ian Brace Avatar
    Ian Brace

    Please learn what clickbait is first than ask yourself why are you following this page then?

  10. Marc Stokes Avatar
    Marc Stokes

    70-200

  11. James F Byrnes Avatar
    James F Byrnes

    Ian Brace I have been following this page for a while now…no issues until this article. Starting reading it and an ad for “a free Amazon gift card!!!” pops up and you can no longer read the article. Call it what you want. Sounds like click bait to me!
    Thanks for your concern btw….

  12. Luigi Ginosa Avatar
    Luigi Ginosa

    85mm f1.4 … and if I have to explain why you shouldn’t be in photography

  13. Joel Wood Avatar
    Joel Wood

    Canon FL 19mm f3.5 R
    Minolta MD Celtic 135mm f3.5
    SMC Pentax-A 50mm f1.7

  14. Scott Waltrip Avatar
    Scott Waltrip

    I’d tell you 7 reasons not to lol

  15. D Scott Clark Avatar
    D Scott Clark

    I’ve stopped using it completely. It has always been a part of my kit, now it just sits in my bag. The 35mm is better for environmental scenes and the 85mm is a much better portrait lens. Portraits at 50mm still look a bit distorted.

  16. Alexander L. Harris Avatar
    Alexander L. Harris

    I really want an infinite line of another photographer shooting this photographer shooting that photographer getting his shot, ad infinitum, just a continuous line of photographers shooting the previous photographer all the way up the beach.

  17. Raymond Jackson Avatar
    Raymond Jackson

    I shoot on a crop sensor so for me it’s my sigma 30mm 1.4.

  18. Stephen Masiello Avatar
    Stephen Masiello

    I’ve got a 50 1.4 and 1.8, both of which are usually sitting in my cabinet while I’m out shooting with my wide and tele zooms.

  19. Vincent Cyr Avatar
    Vincent Cyr

    A crop sensor camera (mine is a 1.6x) makes a cheapo 50mm lens equivalent to a(much more expensive) longer lens, in my case 80mm, perfect for portrait work(at the cost of a little bit of the DOF, but the difference is negligible unless you are looking for it). It also takes advantage of the sharper part of the “image circle”, trimming away the softer outside parts of the image. A 50mm is good for folks with a full-frame camera, but it is a real must have for those of us with a cheaper crop sensor camera.

    1. WillMondy Avatar
      WillMondy

      I loved the 50mm on my old crop camera, but I hated it on full frame.
      Now I have a 35mm which I love, but I’m tempted by the cheap 50mm again now I am switching brands

  20. Duncan Knifton Avatar
    Duncan Knifton

    depends what I’m doing…but it seems my prefered lens is the 70-200 f/2.8

  21. Paul Abrahams Avatar
    Paul Abrahams

    I’ve never owned a fifty and never owned a full frame camera. On my Oly ep2 the Olympus 12mm is superb and auto focus works well The zeiss 21mm (zhongyi ef-4/3 adaptor) is great too but manual focus is tricky with my bad eyes.

  22. Joan Le Jan Avatar
    Joan Le Jan

    I prefer 85mm with full frame

  23. Frank Nazario Avatar
    Frank Nazario

    “after they get frustrated with their kit lens” … hummm that really does not apply to me. I LOVE my kit lens … it is versatile, at least my copy is EXCELENT when it comes to real world expectations… I do from group to portraits and in very close quarters is wide enough… maybe its a bit slow (3.5 – 5.6) but nothing that ISO 800 could not fix and a touch of post processing. Bokeh, camera to subject subject to background tweaking and I get blurr enough… even though we all understand that the bokeh whores abound all over the natural space of the planet ( I’m one of them sometimes LOL ) maybe the fast fifties are better option for low light but the truth is that i seldom NOT use flash… so its a mute statement for me. Kit Lens DO have a place in your bag as the 50 1.8 also its just a different tool.

    1. Bolkey Avatar
      Bolkey

      Both kit-lenses I had were about as sharp as a pair of spectacles under the shower. Despite that both got quite good reviews.

      1. Frank Nazario Avatar
        Frank Nazario

        dude i have an 18-55 and a 55-200 … and STOPPED renting the 70-200 Nikon 2.8 VR 2 because when i ended editing the photos between the 55-200 at f/5.6 and the 70-200 stoped down at the same f stop they where practically identical….
        Ive been literally living out of the kit lenses now for the past 4 years… and STILL use them for commercial work and projects… I still need to find a client that does not approve the photos because of image quality…
        Any criticism has come from composition or light but not image quality.

        then again… im mostly a strobist and shallow depth is really not my thing either even though i own a sigma 18-35 art and very frequently rent a 70-200 from thelenspal.com in Orlando FL

      2. Frank Nazario Avatar
        Frank Nazario

        im so sorry to hear that… both kit lenses that i have for the past 4 years challenge the premium line of Nikon at the same f/stop… maybe i was lucky i guess… my 55-200 at 5.6 and the same 70-200 VRII at 5.6 … the kit lens will make the other sweat bullets to be sharper…

  24. George Berney Avatar
    George Berney

    120-300 2.8

    1. Vincent Cyr Avatar
      Vincent Cyr

      The big difference is that new nifty-fifty costs a hundred bucks or so, while a used 120-300mm f:2.8 cost more than my car plus a couple years of insurance on it. People can afford to buy a 50mm lens as a spur of the moment thing. The lens that you(and others, not really singling you out) suggested is not purchased lightly.

  25. Fred Smith Avatar
    Fred Smith

    Here is another reason: You can find older manual 50mm lenses for $40-$60 that are as about as sharp as a new $400 automatic focus versions and better than any standard zoom. If it is a macro lens for macro work auto focus doesn’t matter since you aren’t going to use it anyway. For other work? Many of us grew up in the manual world and manual focus is no big deal.

  26. Paddy Avatar
    Paddy

    Are you talking full frame or APSC?

  27. James Gordon Patterson Avatar
    James Gordon Patterson

    Canon 50mm f/1.8 is super cheap and good. I have and love the Canon f/1.4 50mm and find it excellent for photographing small venue bands. I use a Canon 5d Mark IV. I’ve also used the Canon 24-105mm. When I want zoom on the Canon 50mm, I walk closer to the subject. The nifty fifty is truly something you should have in your bag and it’s cheap, even for a new one.