Comparing a 24mm Versus 50mm Lens for Photographing People

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photographing-people-2

Image taken with Canon 60D and Canon 24mm EF-S lens.

A number of dPS readers have recently been asking about the Canon 24mm EF-S pancake lens, and how it compares to a 50mm lenses for photographing people. Both are great options, given the price point, but they do have slightly different strengths when it comes to people photography. In this article, I’ll show you several different images of the same model, location, and posing, photographed with both a 24mm and a 50mm lens. This will provide a good visual of the difference between the two lenses, as well as give you insight as to when you might want to reach for each one.

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Image taken with Canon 60D and 50mm lens.

For continuity, all images in this post were taken with a Canon 60D, and either the Canon 24mm f/2.8 or the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lenses. The 60D is an APS-C sensor (cropped sensor) camera, so first you need to multiply the focal length of each of your lenses by 1.6x in order to determine the functioning focal length of them on this camera (if you use Nikon it may be 1.5x, check your manual). So on a cropped sensor camera, the 24mm lens functions roughly as a 38mm lens, and the 50mm lens functions as an 80mm lens. In other words, the 50mm lens is great for head-and-shoulders portraits, while the 24mm lens is great for photographing people in the context of their surroundings. In the above example, you can see that the 50mm lens provided a tight shot of these two sisters, with a blurred background that keeps all the attention on their faces.

However, the context for this session is also important, in that it took place at a family vineyard, and the clients wanted to be sure that the grapes were also visible in the background of some of the images. As you can see above, the grapes really weren’t visible in the portrait taken with the 50mm lens, nor would closing down the aperture really give the perspective of the vineyard that my clients were looking for. So, after taking a few portraits with the 50mm, I switched over to my 24mm lens in order to capture a few wider shots.

photographing-people-24mm-1

Image taken with Canon 60D and Canon 24mm EF-S lens.

Same girls, same exact location, very similar pose. The only real difference here is that with the switch to the 24mm lens, you can see more of the girls and the the area around them. In some instances, you may want to minimize the area around your subject, in which case the 24mm lens would not be ideal. However, in this case it allowed for the images that highlighted both the girls and the vineyard, which was what the clients were after.

Bonus tip: Photographing sibling sets with a 24mm lens also allows you to see the height differences between siblings more easily with the wider angle shot, which is something that a lot of parents really enjoy.

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Image taken with Canon 60D and 50mm lens.

Another thing to consider, besides the contents of the background in your images, is the coloring of the background. In the image above, the deep colored wood background brings a moodiness to the image that could be appropriate for a musician. However, the interesting thing is that the overall feeling of the image changes quite a bit when you look at it from the 24mm angle of view.

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Image taken with Canon 60D and 24mm EF-S lens.

The second image, though in the same location, feels a lot less moody and dramatic than the first. The lighter stonework around the door brings a sense of balance to the image that just wouldn’t be achieved as well with the 50mm lens in this location. In my experience, this balance is especially important when it comes to converting images to black and white.

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As you can see in the left image, the lighter stonework, around the darker door, serves as a frame for the subject, and naturally draws your eye in towards him. In addition, the increased contrast and texture provide some of the key ingredients for black and white images, which makes the image more aesthetically pleasing than the image on the right.

Overall, while there may be instances in which the content or coloring of your background may cause you to reach for one of these two lenses over the other, I’m very much in favor of using both of them whenever possible. Here’s a quick example from my own life to explain why both are so great for their own reasons. I recently photographed my girls in their Halloween costumes. I started with the 50mm lens because it’s my favorite.

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Image taken with Canon 60D and 50mm lens.

I love this image of both girls (above) – the 50mm lens really lets you see their faces and expressions well, and the bokeh of the 50mm f/1.8 helped soften the literal construction site in the background of the image. However, the closer crop also means that only a small portion of their costumes were visible.

So, I switched over to my 24mm lens to take a full-length photo (below) of my little monkey and my lion as well. Now, I can really see them from head to toe. I can see the little fake feet of the monkey costume that freaked my youngest daughter out so much that she begged her sister to switch costumes with her. I can see the height difference between the two of them. I can see the black flats that my oldest daughter is so proud of, and wears to any event that she deems remotely “fancy”. Those are all things that I want to look back on, and remember. I love both images for different reasons, and am so happy to have them both, thanks to my trusty 24mm and 50mm lenses.

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Image taken with Canon 60D and 24mm EF-S lens

I hope this has given you a good idea of how these two focal lengths compare when photographing people.

Have you tried the Canon 24mm EF-S lens? How do you use it? Do you have a nifty-fifty and do you use it for people photography? Which is your favorite? Please share your comments and images below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Meredith Clark is a wife, mother, native Oregonian, complete bookworm, Top Chef lover, and new quilting addict. She can also be found blogging at La Buena Vida and Meredith Clark Photography.

  • trevinowarren

    Wish Nikon would make a cheap 24mm so I can get that 35mm (full frame) standard wide view…. on a crop sensor…

  • AllanBrito

    My happy medium is the Canon 35mm f/2 USM on my cropped sensor. I can get both effects really well; not too tight, not too wide.

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  • I was about to respond that Nikon makes several 24mm lens but then I saw you said *cheap*. You can either save up for the AF-S NIKKOR
    24mm f/1.8G ED
    (US$750) or … push your skills a bit more, and get the AF Nikkor 24mm f/2.8D (US$395).

    Unless of course what you are really saying is “I wish Nikon would make a top-notch 24mm lens and sell it for under $200.”

  • This was a really good article, Meredith. Thanks for posting all the comparison shots, as it really helped me see the difference between those two lenses.

  • Kayla Bowers

    Right now I’m using a 55mm 1.4 lens for portraits, I do a lot of glamor style portraits, and as a hairstylist I frequently take photos of my work as well, ~24mm is too wide for most of the portrait work I do

  • Johan Bauwens

    A 24 mm on the 60D acts as a 38 mm compared to fullframe

  • Meredith

    Yep–you’ll see some discussion about the magnification factor in the second paragraph above 🙂

  • Meredith

    That sounds like a great lens for your goals, Kayla! The 24mm (on the 60D) is definitely best suited for “people photography” rather than strictly portraits.

  • Meredith

    Thank you for the kind words, Simon! That really means so much!

  • Meredith

    Canon does 😉

  • Meredith

    I hear you! I started on a 35mm black and white film camera, and totally was not prepared for the magnification factor when I first switched to digital. It’s nice to have an option that more closely mirrors film at a more reasonable price point!

  • Meredith

    That’s great advice for someone who can only buy one lens. Thanks for chiming in, Allan!

  • Mike

    Great article. I only own a 50mm 1.8 on a Canon 70d but am in the market for a 24mm to get close to 35mm “feel” The only thing I haven’t done, and I didn’t see you do either, is taking a photo with the 24mm to get the same look as the 50mm. Just curious how it would look. And is the 24mm you used the pancake version of the “IS” version?

  • Meredith

    Hey Mike, could you explain a bit more about what you mean by taking a photo with the 24mm to get the same look as the 50mm? Do you mean taking a head and shoulders-style portrait with the 24mm?

    The 24mm that I used for this article was the pancake version.

  • Mike

    Yep exactly what you just said. 24mm Head and Shoulder portrait shot. Have you had any experience with that?

  • Meredith

    I find that shooting that close with the 24mm usually gives some distortion (it usually makes the subject’s head look unnaturally large), so I don’t use it in that way too often. Coincidentally though, one of my favorite pictures I’ve ever taken of my youngest daughter was actually taken closer than I’d usually go with a 24mm lens (she was making a particular face that I couldn’t resist trying to capture!). So, it’s not something that can *never* work, it just doesn’t work well consistently in my experience.

  • Mike

    Great! Thanks for the info.

  • Goli

    Thank you for this info. I recently bought Sigma 85mm f1.4 and i I have 7D . As i understand from this article i couldn’t take a body portrait. I usually take a photo from kids with sun light .Do u think Is it work for me ?

  • You’ll get a S/H AF 24mm 2.8 D Nikkor for $200, or an old AI or AI S for under $100 and still very sharp and usable on many cameras (eg my D70 and I’m sure many others) if you own a separate light-meter. Works for me!

  • northlander30

    I love my Canon EF50mm f1.8 II and EF-S24mm f2.8 STM lenses. They both take great photos and I use them on a battery gripped T3i. I don’t know why I felt the need to purchase the 24mm f2.8 STM as I have the 18-55mm kit lens and I purchased a second hand EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 USM lens last year. But both the 24 and 50mm are great lenses to have in the bag and are great I think at least for portraits.

  • northlander30

    Yes it acts as a great street photography lens as well. Even on a cropped sensor, your still getting wide shots with the 24mm. I bought mine this past March and haven’t looked back!

  • Jeff Kermath

    I think this article misses the most import point. A lot of people might say ” well if you have a 50mm and you want to capture head to toe, just back up”. Some times that is possible, some times not, but the real difference is in the background. The 50mm is going to pull the background in closer. If you have a 24 and a 50, and you compose your image so that the subject in the foreground appears the same size with both lenses, the 24 will still show a wider swath of background, and in the example of the vineyard above, the vine rows would appear longer and more drawn out than with a 50mm. You can capture head to toe with just about any lens given enough room, but how much of the background you capture can dramatically affect the image. Also a longer focal length will produce more bokeh than a shorter lens at the same apertures.

  • Manoj Pandey

    The 50mm lens is THE portrait lens for headshots.

    And the 24mm is NOT for portraits/headshots, its similar to the 35mm lens which can be used for street photography.

    The pics that you have taken from 24mm lens can also be re-framed with a 50mm one. But if you try to use 24mm instead of the 50mm you need to go very close to your subject, thus distorting the image, like flat face, with nose looking big and ears small, like a monster head.

  • Meredith

    Exactly. As I mentioned in the second paragraph above, when the crop factor is considered, the 24mm is really functioning as a 38mm lens, so it can absolutely be used to photograph people, but isn’t necessarily your best bet for portraits.

  • Meredith

    I’m right there with you Jeff, and this is exactly what my first point with the vineyard shot was meant to convey–if you’re looking for a wider shot, you’ll yield better results by shooting with the 24mm lens rather than by using the 50mm lens and using your feet to zoom.

  • Not that you can’t do it you’ll just have to back up a lot more to get it.

  • Hi, great post! Am I allowed to use your images for a german translation of your topic on http://fotoblog.viktor-dite.de ? My most viewed Content is why you have to use 50mm instead of 35, 24 or 18mm for portrait fotography http://siehe.link/gu . Your post ‘ll be a great extension.
    Of course i would mention the copyright of your images with a link to the original source.

  • Hi Viktor, I’m the Managing Editor of dPS and unfortunately I have to say no. Duplicating our content, even in other languages is not allowed. Thank you for asking, and all the best with your site.

  • Hi Darlene, I am sorry, may my english was not good enough for making my intentions clear. I want to write about your post, not a duplicate of your post.

  • Can you show me an example of how you would do that? And then just link back here?

  • So you just want to put a link ON that existing article, back to this one here? Yes that is fine. But you may not use any of the words copied and pasted directly from our site. Thank you.

  • Guilherme Palazzo

    Thank you SO much for this review/comparison, Meredith! I am struggling right now looking for a complementary for my 50 1.8, my wish is the 17-50/55 2.8, but it is above my current budget and I’m just tired of my 17-85 kit lens. I started looking for low cost primes and was deciding between the 35 2.0 and the 24 2.8, buy your review ended my quest, I’m going for the 24!
    Another point, my 17-85 broke the flat cable and I got it repaired by myself, and now I’m having similar problem with my 55-250, the lens don’t work in any aperture except full wide. After these two problems, I’m now much more inclined to prime lens instead of zooms.

  • Meredith

    I’m so glad you found it helpful! The 24mm is an absolutely great lens. I’d certainly recommend it! But, if you’ve had another lens you’ve been considering for quite awhile, it also might be worth checking to see if Canon offers it refurbished on their website–I’ve made several refurbished purchases from Canon, and have always been very pleased with the quality!

  • Laura Jabin

    I love the distortion on the 24mm for portraits of kids, pets, and goofy grown ups. The slight ballooning really adds to the fun. Get in real close and embrace it. But I agree that it wouldn’t work for headshots for professionals.

  • Laura Jabin

    I love the distortion on the 24mm for portraits of kids, pets, and goofy grown ups. The slight ballooning really adds to the fun. Get in real close and embrace it. But I agree that it wouldn’t work for headshots for professionals.

  • Johan Bauwens

    On the 60D the 24 mm turns into a 38 mm, so not that much of a difference compared to the 50 mm on a fullframe

  • Maria R

    I have a Nikon d3100 and i love using the nikkor 35mm f1.8. Equiv to 52.5mm (nifty fifty). Do you think it’s good to have the 50mm f1.8 as well? I already have the kit lens 18-55mm. Thanks

  • alex42na

    The kit lens doesn’t have the great wide aperture like the primes you have. Love that Bokeh! I have both the 35 and 50mm. I think having 50mm, which really is a 80mm, in your bag just in case a situation comes up where as to you can’t move back or forth as much.

  • Bineesh Thavanur

    7D is a cropped sensor one. So 85mm will make it 136mm on the camera. If you go for Canon 5D, you will get exactly 85mm. But im not sure sigma 85 is cropped specific or not.

  • N Soman

    Among the 50 mm STM and 24mm STM. Which one would be preferable for a Wedding photography?? Kindly suggest. If one afford to but only one lens.

    Thanks

  • Meredith

    I don’t think either of these lenses would be sufficient for Wedding Photography all by itself. Weddings typically require everything from macro images to portraits to wide angle shots of the ceremony. It’s difficult to achieve all those things with only one lens.

  • N Soman

    Sorry I forgot to mention that I got Kit Lenses 18-55 IS II and 55-250 IS II with my Canon 700D. So I wanted to know which lens among 24mm STM and 50mm STM would be great for a wedding shoot.

  • Annerie

    I use exactly these two lenses with all my shoots. The 50 mm and 24mm. I bought the 24mm because the kit lenses doesnt perform well in low light…even with my external flash….in other words…indoors as well. The quality of the 24mm indoor is much better than the 18-55mm kit lens, taking that in some cases you dont have the space to fit your whole audience. Obviously there would be better choices but its also what my budget allows. Only other irritating thing for me is the natural vignetting of the 24mm.

  • Vineeth

    get a 50mm since you can get better portrait and low light performance.

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