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The 50mm prime lens, commonly known as the Nifty Fifty, is a lens that even inexperienced photographers have likely heard of. Most of us know it for its outstanding qualities; it’s an inexpensive, high-quality, prime lens that is in plenty of photographers’ bags around the world and is one of the most popular lenses of all time.
What we might not think of a Nifty Fifty as, however, is a lens normally used for landscape photography. The field of view is tight, and the lens doesn’t possess a focal length wide enough to usually be considered proper for this sort of work.
But I have. For four years, the 50mm f/1.8 has been my workhorse for portfolio building (which is primarily nature and landscape), and even though I’m branching off with other lenses, I can’t stress the usefulness of the Nifty Fifty. And I’m not alone.
My primary reasoning for using the 50mm instead of going out and buying a proper wide-angle lens such as a 35mm or even wider?
I was diving back into photography, and I was on an extremely tight budget. After buying my camera, spending $500 on a lens simply wasn’t an option. It didn’t take long for me to hear my fellow photographers sing the praises of this wonderful lens: cheap, fast, and sharp. Right up my alley.
There are no tricks or immaculate revelations here, and you won’t likely become famous for taking only landscape shots with 50mm lenses. But there are a few reasons why shooting landscapes with a 50mm lens can produce great results.
Giving it a try can only improve your photography and make you a better observer of the world around you.
We think of landscapes as sprawling, wide shots that include many elements in one frame, but do they have to be that way? Can we not capture the beauty of the area around us in a tighter package? The rolling hills and an interesting tree in an outdoor scene are more than enough to create a photo that provokes thought.
Shooting at this focal length forces us to focus on the most important parts of what we’re seeing around us. Trimming the fat, as they say. In doing this, we’re also training ourselves psychologically to do the same in all of our shots.
Landscapes usually require very good sharpness, and 50mm prime lenses excel at that. No extra moving parts normally required for zooms makes for a crisper, sharper result. As with most lenses, the Nifty Fifty sweet spot isn’t wide open, but more in the f/4 to f/5.6 range. And narrower apertures will still yield excellent results.
Since the 50mm is a prime lens, you’ll get an added benefit (or detriment, depending on how much you care for walking): The single focal length means you can’t just shoot from anywhere. Instead, you’ll need to move around to find the best angle and distance. This automatically forces you to think about your shot a bit more, which is always a good thing.
With a zoom, you’d adjust focal length without even thinking until the scene is framed in a way that looks good. But what if that isn’t the best angle or distance? The Nifty Fifty will give you the incentive to take a chance and try something different, whether it be an angle, a distance, or a perspective.
Of course, there can! The 50mm gives you a gentle push into playing around with some panoramic shots. Three, four, five, or more shots can be stitched into a flattering wide-angle composite, sometimes with even more dramatic results than a single wide-angle shot.
If you’re serious about landscape photography, you’re probably already lugging around a considerable amount of gear. Camera bodies, other lenses (you don’t go out with just one lens, do you?), tripods; the list goes on.
The last thing you need is more heavy lenses when you’re out and about, right? Do you know what the Canon 50mm f/1.8 weighs? 4.6 ounces (130 g). It’s short, sweet, and light to boot.
At the end of the day, all lenses and focal lengths have advantages and disadvantages, and the case can certainly be made for using wider glass. But, as a teaching tool, the 50mm prime lens is a great option for your landscape photography; it will make you think a bit differently about your photos and easily provide you with clear, sharp images.