The 50mm prime lens, commonly known as the Nifty Fifty, is one of the most popular lenses of all time. But while portrait photographers, event photographers, and street photographers love to shoot 50mm primes, it’s rare to find a landscape photographer packing a Nifty Fifty in their bag.
And I think that’s a mistake.
You see, for the last four years, I’ve been shooting landscapes with my 50mm f/1.8 lens. And it has been incredible. I can’t overstate the usefulness of this little lens, and I’m not just talking about cost (though it is super cheap).
The Nifty Fifty is an amazing lens for beginner landscape photographers, and it’s great for more experienced shooters, too. In this article, I aim to explain why – and I hope to convince you that 50mm lenses for landscape photography can be a stellar idea.
So without further ado, let’s tackle the five reasons a 50mm lens is great for landscape shooting, starting with:
1. 50mm lenses help you focus on what’s important
A 50mm focal length is on the tighter side – it’s certainly no wide angle! – and we tend to think of landscapes as sprawling scenes that include many elements in one frame.
But do all landscapes require a wide-angle perspective? Can’t we capture the beauty of the area around us in a tighter package? I think so. For instance, an outdoor scene featuring rolling hills and an interesting tree is more than enough to create a thought-provoking image without resorting to a sweeping, wide-angle composition.
Shooting the landscape at 50mm forces you to focus on the most important parts of the scene. You may be tempted to capture everything – the trees, the rocks, the foreground, the background – in a single shot, but at 50mm, it’s just can’t be done, and that’s a good thing.
Over time, a 50mm lens will train you to identify what matters. And you’ll start to instinctively exclude unimportant elements from your scenes.
2. 50mm primes offer outstanding image quality
The best landscape photography lenses are sharp from corner to corner. After all, landscape photography highlights even the smallest details – the texture of autumn leaves, the swirl of sand on the beach – so it pays to maximize resolution.
Fortunately, 50mm primes are incredibly sharp, especially for the cost. To my mind, they offer the best bang-for-your-buck sharpness of any lens on the market today.
Sure, they’re not perfect wide open, but stopped down to f/5.6 or so, image quality is beautiful. And narrower apertures, which is where you’ll be shooting most of your landscape images anyway, will still yield excellent results.
Many beginner landscape shooters use kit lenses. And while these lenses work okay and can certainly get you some beautiful images, the sharpness just isn’t on the same level as a 50mm lens.
3. 50mm primes force you to take your time
Since the 50mm is a prime lens, you’ll get an added benefit: 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, which is always a good thing.
With a zoom, you’d likely adjust the focal length without even thinking until the scene is framed in a way that looks good. But while you might end up with a decent shot, the Nifty Fifty will give you the incentive to take a chance and try something different, whether it be a new angle, a different distance, or an unusual perspective.
In fact, I’d recommend turning this thought process into a careful routine, if you’re up for it. As soon as you spy an interesting subject, take out your camera with its trusty 50mm prime. Then put the viewfinder up to your eye and walk. Simply head back and forth around the scene until you’ve tested it from several directions. While you’re at it, get down low and even try to find a high vantage point.
You’ll come home with a better image (or two, or three). And you’ll become a better photographer in the process, as you’re forced to think deeply about perspective, composition, and focal length.
4. You can shoot wide-angle scenes if you really want to
In the previous sections, I emphasized the value of isolating a single subject and going tighter. And I stand by what I said, because 50mm is a good focal length for more intimate landscape shots.
However, if you come upon a scene that’s just crying out for a wide-angle field of view, all is not lost. Because you can actually create wide-angle images using a 50mm lens…
…with a little creative panorama stitching.
You see, while 50mm isn’t a wide-angle focal length, by taking several 50mm shots and slowly rotating your camera, you can create a panorama – which can then be stitched into a wide-angle image in Photoshop.
In fact, a Nifty Fifty landscape panorama may look even more dramatic than a single wide-angle shot!
5. 50mm lenses are wonderfully lightweight and compact
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? But did you know that the Canon 50mm f/1.8 weighs just 4.6 ounces (130 g)? It’s also impressively small, so it barely takes up any space in your camera bag (and you can carry it around in a single pocket if you so desire).
For many photographers, lightweight lenses bring freedom. No longer is it a chore to pick up your camera backpack and head out the door. And you can handhold a lightweight setup without getting tired, which is always a bonus.
50mm landscape photography: final words
All lenses and focal lengths have advantages and disadvantages, and the case can certainly be made for using wider glass. But the 50mm prime lens is a great option for landscape photography, especially if you’re a beginner; it will make you think differently about your photos, it will free you from the constraints of a heavy setup, and it will easily provide you with clear, sharp images.
So if you don’t own one already, go ahead and buy a Nifty Fifty!
Now over to you:
Which of these reasons to use a 50mm lens for landscape photography did you find most compelling? Do you think you’ll purchase one? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
Table of contents
- 5 Tips for Setting the Focus in Your Landscape Photography
- 5 Quick Reasons to Use the Nifty Fifty for Landscape Photography
- ADVANCED GUIDES
- CREATIVE TECHNIQUES