Pretty much every professional photographer has used a 50mm lens at some point in their lives – and many of them still use their 50mm glass on a regular basis.
Because 50mm lenses are incredibly versatile. They can capture great photos in tons of situations, and they offer plenty of amazing benefits, too. I myself use a 50mm lens all the time, and in this article, I share my top reasons for doing 50mm photography.
So if you’re on the fence about buying a 50mm lens or you simply want to know whether 50mm photography is a good idea, then keep reading!
1. 50mm lenses offer impressive close-up capabilities
No, a 50mm lens doesn’t offer true macro focusing, but it can get you pretty darn close to your subject. Most standard 50mm glass offers enough magnification to capture gorgeous flower photos, insect images, still life shots, and more.
And thanks to the f/1.8 or even f/1.4 maximum apertures, you can open your lens up wide to create beautiful background bokeh. That’s how I captured this next image (look at those lovely blurred roses!):
Pro tip: If you do decide to shoot at f/1.8 or f/1.8, I’d recommend focusing manually. That way, you can pinpoint the exact portion of the image you want sharp, while the rest is blurred into oblivion. Make sense?
2. 50mm lenses are shockingly cheap (yet the quality is great!)
Most lenses – especially the latest mirrorless lenses from Canon, Nikon, and Sony – cost a pretty penny. You can expect to pay upwards of $500 for each lens you buy, and if you go for wide-aperture lenses, you’ll pay a lot more.
The exception, however, is the humble 50mm lens. Have you looked at the latest 50mm f/1.8 prices? At the time of writing:
- You can buy the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM for just $179
- You can buy the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G for just $216
- You can buy the Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 for just $248
- You can buy the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM for just $125
And despite the low prices, these lenses are impressively capable. You’ll get decently sharp photos, especially if you shoot at f/2.8 and narrower, not to mention all the other 50mm photography benefits I discuss throughout this article!
One caveat: While 50mm f/1.8 lenses tend to be insanely cheap, you’ll pay more for 50mm f/1.4 and 50mm f/1.2 lenses. But many shooters, especially beginners, don’t really need these lenses; in my experience, they’ll be perfectly happy with an excellent 50mm f/1.8 model.
3. 50mm lenses are great for portraits
Finding the right lens for portrait photography can be tough. On the one hand, you want to get that close-up perspective and beautiful background blur – but on the other hand, you want to be able to include the subject’s whole body in the frame.
A 50mm lens offers the best of both worlds.
At 50mm, you can create beautiful background bokeh and capture reasonably tight portraits.
But you can also take a few steps back and shoot full-body (and even group!) photos.
And 50mm is the perfect focal length for candid portraits, too. You won’t be so close to the action that you’ll spook your subjects, but you won’t be so distant that you’ll lose a sense of intimacy.
I use my 50mm lens to photograph my kids all the time; here, my goal is to capture natural moments, not create posed portraits. The 50mm focal length gives me enough wiggle room to capture the wider scene, but I don’t have to get close (and risk ruining the moment!) the way I do with my 35mm lens.
50mm lenses also help you avoid perspective distortion, that age-old enemy of portrait photographers. Wider lenses tend to elongate limbs and facial features that are closer to the camera, which can look very unflattering – while 50mm lenses provide a more natural perspective.
4. 50mm lenses are great for low-light photography
As I mentioned above, 50mm lenses tend to boast a maximum aperture of at least f/1.8 (and more expensive versions widen to f/1.4 or even f/1.2).
Such a wide maximum aperture comes with a few perks, including enhanced background blur and beautiful shallow depth of field effects – yet the biggest benefit for many photographers is the improved low-light prowess.
You see, the wider the lens’s aperture, the more light it lets in, and the better it can handle scenes with weak illumination. Specifically, a wide maximum aperture will let you create a bright, detailed exposure at night and indoors, without forcing you to lower the shutter speed to a ridiculous level or jack up your ISO to noise-inducing heights.
Here are just a few scenarios where a 50mm lens can be a lifesaver:
- When shooting candid portraits indoors
- When shooting on the city streets at night
- When shooting nighttime events
- When shooting indoor concerts and productions
Note that I’m talking about handheld photography. It’s possible to work with any lens in low light if you have a sturdy tripod – but handholding does offer far greater flexibility, especially if you want to photograph at a fast pace. Plus, even if you have a tripod, you’ll need a reasonably fast shutter speed to capture moving subjects.
Will you be able to handhold or shoot moving subjects in pitch-black conditions? No – but as long as you have some sort of nearby illumination, such as a street light, you’ll generally be fine!
5. 50mm lenses are highly portable
Here’s the final reason I love 50mm lenses:
They’re incredibly small and they’re lightweight, so you can take one pretty much anywhere without issue.
For instance, you can pack a 50mm lens away in a small camera bag and still have plenty of room for cameras, accessories, and other lenses. You can also mount a 50mm lens on your camera, then carry it around as you head out with your kids, go on a street photography walk, and more.
Plenty of travel photographers keep a 50mm lens as their primary glass, and many street photographers use a 50mm lens almost exclusively (including famous street shooters like Henri Cartier-Bresson!).
You can also shoot in certain public areas (such as sports stadiums) with a 50mm lens – whereas a long zoom lens may get you denied entry. And if you like to go for long walks or hikes, a 50mm lens won’t start to feel like a brick after a few hours.
Bottom line: The 50mm lens is the most inconspicuous, travel-ready lens you can buy. If you want a lens for walkaround photography, if you plan to travel frequently, or you simply like the idea of keeping a barely noticeable lens on your camera, then it’s a great pick!
50mm photography: final words
Now that you’ve finished this article, you know why I’m a huge fan of 50mm lenses.
And if you’re ready to buy a 50mm lens of your own for travel photography, portrait photography, street photography, or pretty much anything else, here are a few of our favorites:
- The insanely cheap Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
- The high-quality Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G
- The impressively sharp Sony FE 50mm f/1.8
- The gorgeous (but pricier) Sigma ART 50mm f/1.4
Which 50mm lens do you plan to buy? What do you plan to photograph? Share your thoughts in the comments below!