Why a 50mm Lens is your new Best Friend

Why a 50mm Lens is your new Best Friend

You may have heard the term Nifty Fifty before.  If you haven’t, it is usually a reference to the Canon 50mm f1.8 lens. But for the purpose of this article I’m going to use it synonymously with any prime 50mm lens.

What’s the best “next” lens to buy?

I get asked all the time by my students about what lens they should buy next after the basic kit lens that came with the camera. I almost always recommend picking up a simple 50mm prime lens. Let’s look at some reasons . . .

Reasons why this lens should be in your bag

  •  GREAT FOR LOW LOW PHOTOGRAPHY – with the wide aperture of f1.8, especially going from your typical kit lens which is usually f5.6, this lens gives you 3 stops or EIGHT times (2x2x2) more light coming through the lens opening. This allows you to use either a faster shutter speed and avoid camera shake, or a lower ISO and avoid the noise you get from higher ISOs, or a combination of both.


    Shot at ISO 1600, 1/50th a f1.8. Without the 1.8 aperture I would have needed a much slower shutter speed or even higher ISO.

  • GREAT VALUE, LOW COST – at a price range of $100-200 for most popular brands this lens’ low price tag makes it affordable as a good first lens investment
  • LIGHT WEIGHT – ranging from only 4.3 oz to 6 oz (Pentax, Canon, Nikon, Sony in order of lightest to heaviest) there is no reason to leave this lens at home. That means even when you don’t want to haul a whole bag full of stuff around, you can easily grab your camera and the Nifty Fifty and go. No excuses!
  • KILLER BOKEH – prime lenses typically produce nicer bokeh (how the lens renders out of focus areas) than most zooms, and with the f1.8 aperture you can make some really nice bokeh. Bright lights, off in the background, twinkle with this little lens! DrinkClickDec2012-0021-600px
  • SUPER SHARPNESS – prime or fixed focal length lenses are usually inherently sharper than zoom lenses, partly due to there being less moving parts inside the lens, and less lens elements. You will also experience increased sharpness due to the wider aperture which allows, as I mentioned above, being able to shoot at faster shutter speeds and lower ISO.  Being able to get a fast enough shutter speed to eliminate camera shake, or freeze a moving subject has a lot to do with getting sharper images as does minimizing noise.
  • IT’S VERSATILE – the 50mm lens is a great street shooting lens, not too wide, not too long. On a cropped or APS-C sensor (any non full frame camera body) it is also a great portrait lens, just long enough to remove distortion from your subject’s face and flatter them a bit more, not so long you need to stand across the street.
  • GREAT FOR TRAVELING – because it’s light weight, and is a fast lens (big aperture f1.8) the 50mm is a great addition to your bag for trips. Usually I take along a good wide zoom lens (my 17-35mm), a good long zoom (70-200mm) but I never forgot my little Nifty Fifty.  Even if you have two kit lenses that cover that focal length, say an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm, the 50 f1.8 fills the bill for low light photograph that the other two can’t because of their aperture limitations.  Plus it weighs practically nothing, you don’t even know it’s in there.Latinfest2010-00333-600px
    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “the good old days” when I all my lenses were prime or fixed focal length, and how we’ve come to be dependant on using zoom lenses for convenience. They absolutely have a place in photography especially if you’re photographing things like sports or weddings. However, I also think they can make us lazy as photographers.  Instead of walking two feet to get the crop we want, we can just zoom in.  But what if that angle of view two feet closer makes for a better image?  We’ll never know because we have our feet planted, so use your feet and walk around your subject and see different views. I believe using a prime lens challenges you to think more about composition before you press the shutter, which often makes for better photos in the end. If you want more challenges, you might want to read my free ebook 10 Challenges to help you take better photos without buying any new gear.
Fun bokeh at a wedding using ambient light. Almost impossible to get this shot without the big aperture.

Fun bokeh at a wedding using ambient light. Almost impossible to get this shot without the big aperture.

Summary and action plan

Like I tell most of my students, I highly recommend you have a 50mm lens in your bag.  If you can afford a fancier one go for the f1.4 or even the f1.2.  However they do come with much bigger price tags, and are a lot heavier.  So keep that mind if you go shopping for a 50.

Here’s some of these 50mm lenses listed on Amazon:

Then think outside the zoom lens box and see what other prime lenses might be perfect for the kind of photography you do. I love my 85mm f1.8 as well, it’s great for portraits (I use a full frame camera so will be similar to the 50 on a cropped sensor).  If you like macro work perhaps a 60mm macro or 100mm will do the trick for you.  Either can also double as a nice portrait lens.

Lastly – show me your Nifty Fifty photos!  Share some images you’ve done with your little 50mm lens. Let’s see what it can do!

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Darlene Hildebrandt is an educator who teaches aspiring amateurs and hobbyists how to improve their skills through articles on her site Digital Photo Mentor, online photography classes, and travel tours to exotic places like Peru (Aug 31st - Sept 13th, 2019), Thailand, and India (Oct 28th - Nov 11th, 2019). To help you at whatever level you're at she has two email mini-courses. Sign up for her free beginner OR portrait photography email mini-course here. Or get both, no charge!

Some Older Comments

  • krishna kumar September 20, 2013 03:53 am

    My Reasons for loving a 'Nifty Fifty' ( My Lens - a Minolta af 50mm f/1.4 )

    1. Very bright / fast
    2. Very sharp
    3. Great bouquet
    4. ideal for hand-held head&shoulder portraits with an APS-C DSLR
    5. Great for indoors
    6. Light Weight
    7 Life-Like Perspectives
    8. Ideal for Natural Landscape Photography
    9. Zero Distortion
    10. Affordable Price
    NEED I SAY MORE ??? !!!

  • Darlene Hildebrandt September 2, 2013 05:15 am

    @Matt any time! Love your travels, looks like a great life

    @amjid yes it could be, give it a try and see if it works well for you

    @keith yes I agreed, sadly though they likely won't ever do that as consumers want the zoom lens and I think on some level perhaps adding one as a kit lens gets the user hooked on having more zooms

  • Matt Hahnewald September 1, 2013 11:13 pm

    I perfectly agree with you. Last year, I bought a second-hand Nikon 3100 body together with a relatively cheap Nikkor AF-S 50mm 1.8 G lens which also has never come off the camera since. It’s a compact, lightweight “kit” and has become the ideal travel companion. The seeming disadvantage (to fit the whole building into the picture) have turned into a challenge (to identify the most relevant details or angles which allow the viewer to create an internal picture in his/her mind). Besides, I like to take pictures of people. I am just back from Kuching in Borneo. Find my 50 mm snapshots here. Whether or not to use photoshop and to what extent is a different question. I am still a very beginner…but a firm believer in my 50 mm lens.

  • Keith August 31, 2013 12:17 am

    Darlene, I would go so far as to say that maybe manufacturers should use a 50/55mm prime as a kit lens! You can learn so much about fundamental photographic technique that will stand you in good stead as your experience and skill increases.
    I started some 40 years ago with a Konica SLR and 55mm F1.4 lens and have to admit that exposure to automatic cameras with super-zooms in recent years has made me lazy. I recently upgraded to a DSLR and bought Sony's 50mm F1.8 prime (how cheap is that?), it's never been off the camera! I've had so much fun with it. It's worth its (admittedly minimal) weight in gold.

  • Amjid Jabbar August 6, 2013 11:28 pm

    This article has fully endorsed my thinking that the 50mm lens is the missing link for me. I shoot with the sony alpha nex and so far have the 16mm, 18-55mm kit and the 70-210mm lenses all E-mount. I do need that prime lens so that I can get the in event photography. Here is a link to my facebook photography page, like and comment as you wish. https://www.facebook.com/instinctive.images.photography?ref=hl

  • Matt Hahnewald August 6, 2013 09:55 am

    Just another short example for the versatility of the 50 mm lens:
    50 mm Lens in Bangkok

  • Matt Hahnewald July 30, 2013 10:27 am

    Hello Darlene:
    Many thanks for your ongoing encouragement. Yes, I am retired and I am travelling – together with my Nikkor AF-S 50mm 1.8G which is an excellent compromise between quality, weight and cost. I am just back from Seoul/Korea where I did again all my shots with my old Best Friend (and a little help of Photoshop, sometimes). Please, have a look at Matt with his 50 mm Lens in Seoul
    Kindest regards, Matt.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt July 29, 2013 05:01 pm

    @kaynat so happy it's working out for you!

    @Matt wow great photos in China! So you really retired and hit the road, or sea and have been traveling since? I love it!

  • Matt Hahnewald July 12, 2013 02:23 pm

    Hello Darlene:
    I fully agree with you that the 50mm lens is my best friend. It has even become my "alter ego", although it rather works like a 70mm lens on the small 3100-body from Nikon.
    When I went to Beijing and to Taipei last year, I took only (!!!) my 50mm lens thus creating a deliberate challenge. Have a look at the results, all done with the 50mm lens:
    Konni & Matt in Beijing
    Konni & Matt in Taipei
    Many thanks, Darlene, for your excellent article and for your suggestions.
    Kindest regards, Matt.

  • kaynat kazi June 19, 2013 08:36 pm

    Thanks in tones for this wonderful article,i purchased 50 mm lens just after reading this article and seeing the pictures..i must say its a best portrait lens. gr8 sharpness,light weight...in fact the day i purchased this lens i don't even touch my other lenses......
    i am a learner and i should say thanks to you all for sharing so much interesting information to enlighten people...God bless u all...

  • Gerry908 May 19, 2013 10:17 am

    PJ, I know what you mean. I too have a condition called 'Essential Tremor' which makes it hard for me to use a lens without Image Stabilisation and I have to concentrate on my stance and breathing but as we're all different, it would depend on the severity of your shakes (if that's what they are).

    I went to Aquarium with my Canon 50mm f1.4 and it was totally useless because it wasn't wide enough to get a good shot, so the people who suggested the 30mm f1.4/f1.8 have a valid point. I ended up using my 24-105 L lens with a high ISO which of course gave me a bit of noise, but at least it gave a reasonable shot

  • PJ May 7, 2013 04:26 pm

    Yep, that is the lens I have. I am fine with it after using it on my tripod or at a really fast shutter speed handheld, I just expected a bit more I suppose. If I ever have the money I'll probably trade in and upgrade since I prefer to shoot handheld. Part of my problem is that I have some health issues so I'm not always as stable and steady handed as I'd like to be, which, yes I know means I should start getting away from handheld shooting so much, but I just prefer the freedom of it. I'll still make good use of it, and I'll have to work on my body control when I use it without my tripod. Thanks for the reply!

  • Darlene Hildebrandt May 7, 2013 09:51 am

    @heinz, that's a good idea but check out the crop factor of the camera you select first. Many of the 4/3's ones are 2x crop not 1.5 so a 35mm might be too long.

  • Heinz May 7, 2013 09:48 am

    Darlene, thanks for checking. If I should decide to get a G5 of similar, I think I will check out my Minolta and Konica lenses with adapters, the 28 mm or 35 mm lenses should be about equivalent to a 50 mm on a 4/3 camera.
    Like many others here, I really enjoyed reading your article.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt May 7, 2013 07:28 am

    @pj did you buy this lens? http://www.amazon.com/Nikon-50mm-Nikkor-Digital-Cameras/dp/B00005LEN4/ref=sr_1_2?s=photo&ie=UTF8&qid=1367875273&sr=1-2&keywords=nikon+50+f1.8

    If so yes on your camera it will be manual focus. If you read the reviews and info below the listing it will tell you things like this.

    Try this one instead: http://www.amazon.com/Nikon-50mm-NIKKOR-Digital-Cameras/dp/B004Y1AYAC/ref=sr_1_1?s=photo&ie=UTF8&qid=1367875273&sr=1-1&keywords=nikon+50+f1.8

    @heintz not that I can find, sorry. The 4/3 lenses are all more expensive than that and mostly zooms with a smaller aperture. This is close as I could find for you and not in that price range. You pay a premium price for "small"



  • Heinz May 5, 2013 02:26 pm

    Over the last few decades I have mostly been using P&S cameras and now hope to upgrade to a four thirds camera (e.g. Panasonic G5). Are there any lenses that for 4/3 cameras in the 35-50 mm range with f1.7 and in the price range of $100-200.
    I still have several lenses, including 50 mm f1.7 lenses from my old Minolta X700 and also from a Konica T3, could I use those, maybe with a adapters or is that not worth considering?

  • PJ May 4, 2013 07:26 pm

    I recently bought one like this for my Nikon D3100 but I have a very hard time getting things to focus properly. The lens doesn't have AF or vibration reduction, and my camera doesn't have those features built in, so I end up with most of my images out of focus. If I have to carry my tripod around just to use it, it takes away from the mobility of it all. I prefer to shoot handheld as much as possible. It may be as simple as more practice, or maybe I just need to sell it and get one that is better suited to my needs.

  • Debbie Waters May 3, 2013 06:57 pm

    The 50mm is supposed to be the lens that most closely reproduces the way the human eye views an image. I absolutely love mine for any kind of portrait work as it feels like you just cant go wrong with this lens. http://septemberlegs.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/People-Portraits/G0000oBr4G6KB_SQ/I0000jPstfY7XDPs

    My 50mm has also produced some amazing candid and street scenes, and is fantastic in low light conditions. I certainly couldn't have taken this close up with my zoom http://septemberlegs.photoshelter.com/gallery-image/Patterns-Textures/G000080q4h4W..ZA/I0000dEG6Zxk2zFQ/C0000m_0zqzL0pZM

  • c. remley May 3, 2013 07:02 am

    (apologies if this posts more than once, the site keeps eating my replies)
    The 50mm f/1.8 is hard to beat for the money, although I opted for the faster focusing and better built 50mm f/1.4. It’s not as good as it could be, it’s due for a redesign and lacks true ring USM focus, but still a good lens. It’s recommended that you keep the hood on it since it doesn’t use an internal focus design, if the front of the lens takes a shock it could damage the focus system.

    Recently I got the Sigma 30mm f/1.4, it works well for me since I shoot on a crop-sensor Canon 7D. Usually with a fast prime like that I want to use it for indoor portraits, and while the 50mm is OK for headshots in that regard it frames pretty tightly indoors. That and the 30mm will let me include a little more of the environment in the shot, so for my use it’s a bit more well rounded on a crop camera than the 50mm focal length.

    RE: Using the 50mm for portraits and whether it’s “flattering” or not
    The crop factor does matter in terms of perspective distortion. Crop factor determines FOV, which determines how you frame your shot and what your working distance is, and it is your working distance that affects perspective and perspective distortion. It isn’t a result of the lens optics or the focal length itself. If short focal lengths caused perspective distortion and crop factor didn’t play a role, then P&S zoom cameras should all have horrible distortion, as they all use shorter focal lengths than the 35mm or APS-C format.

    That’s why a shot taken with a 50mm focal length on a crop camera will look exactly the same as a shot with an 80mm focal length on a full frame camera, assuming the shots are taken from the same position and are framed the same way (assuming the Canon 1.6x crop factor).

    In fact, if you take a series of shots with different focal lengths from the same position and crop the shorter focal length images so they match the framing of the shots that used a longer focal length, the perspective will not change. Perspective distortion will only be an issue if the working distance is decreased, or if you’re using a lens that is purposely distorted (e.g. a fish eye).

    So then, as far as whether a 50mm is “long enough” to be flattering for portraits, generally 85mm is considered a popular focal length for portraiture, as the 50mm equates to 80mm (on the Canon crop cameras, it’s 75mm on other APS-C formats) it’s pretty close. Some prefer to use longer lengths. Whether it gives you the FOV and compression you desire for your images is a personal call, but I would consider it adequate.

  • Geoff May 2, 2013 04:05 am

    After a lot of study I decided on the sigma 30mm 1.4. A cheap fast prime lens.I chose that size because of the
    1.6 crop facter on my 7d and some rooms just aren' t large enought.I knew this lens would be soft wide open',
    and was disappointed by how soft it was at first,but soon realized that chasing young children around in a dark game arcade I would have had no photo's at all without this fast lens.The next time I used it was in better light.
    At f2.0 Sharp as without flash, as my next fastest lens is 2.8 and would have either needed a very high iso or bounce flash.Very happy with my ebay purchase.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt May 1, 2013 03:24 pm

    @tankhimo I have the 85mm f1.8 also and you can't compare the two. The achieve different results and are not in the same price range with the 85mm being about $600 to the 50mm f1.8 at $100. So for the money it's still a great value.

    @C. remley - I addressed that earlier, there are many nicknames for the 50mm lenses but in most circles it's the 1.8 that's the Nifty Fifty.

  • C. Remley May 1, 2013 01:58 pm

    I've heard the Canon 50mm f/1.4 referred to as the "nifty fifty" and the 50mm f/1.8 as the "plastic fantastic" ;)

  • Gene May 1, 2013 09:48 am

    Thank you for your article. I've had one of these 50mm lenses for several years, but have hardly used it. Now I will.

  • tankhimo April 30, 2013 11:45 pm


    I personally don't have a 50mm - not much need for it between my 28 and 85mm primes. However, I have a couple of friends who are not happy with their nifty fifties at low light. We did a side-by-side shooting at a dark outdoor bar in Mexico, and my 85mm won hands down. We used single spot focusing, of course.
    In the sun, both lenses produced equally beautiful images.

  • Darlene April 30, 2013 08:53 am

    @paul plak not exactly, the angle of view is the same just not the covering power which is why the DX version is less expensive. If you put them on the same cropped or APS sensor body they will give you exactly the same angle of view. Try it. The difference is if you plan on upgrading to full frame one day and you buy all DX lenses you will have to start over again on all your glass.

  • Paul Plak April 30, 2013 08:11 am

    Nikon DX vs FX

    to put it simply : if you have a camera with a FX 35mm sensor, don't buy DX lenses, you'll be limited in image size and will only use half of your sensor.

    If you have a camera with a DX sensor, a DX lens will often be a cheaper option (50 mm 1.8 D costs 150 EUR, 50 mm 1.8 G for FX costs 195 EUR), but you can use any FX lens without any problem on a DX camera, the focal length will not change (just the angle of view you'll get) and you will not have any loss in image quality or ease of use. So if you find a good price or a second hand one, go for it.

  • Darlene April 30, 2013 08:02 am

    @john b, tom, tony: thanks for your comment in my defense. I don't take things personally but I appreciate your support.

    @theresa you asked: "I am wondering if anyone has attempted a group shot of four people with the 50 mm 1.4? If so, what settings would be desirable? I have a fill flash I could use as well." - not sure what you're asking. I would not take a group photo with such a large aperture. Keep in mind that just because f1.4 is the largest aperture you can get on the 50mm f1.4 you can use any other aperture in its range as well. Depending on how the group is posed I'd suggest shooting it at f5.6 or f8 which could mean using a tripod or some flash if you're in low light conditions.

    @tankhimo you have trouble getting the 50 f1.8 to focus in low light? I have not had the issue. I'd check what focus mode you are using and are you using a single focus spot or letting the camera select where to focus? Those settings could factor in as well.

    @Jared van Bergen nice shot, super crisp! Glad you liked the article

    @paul I thought about mentioning the reversal for macro thing but you can do that with other lenses too, same with using extension tubes. So it is not exclusive to the 50mm and I left it out. Thanks for adding it though!

    @Matt great photos from your travels keep up the good work

    @laura glad you found something that works for you. I agree the brand solution or the expensive zoom aren't always the only or best options. Look around, do your research - good example thanks.

    @nivil - I'd say the Nikon 50mm f1.8, not sure what you're asking actually.

    @Viswanath if you want a similar crop to the 50mm on a full frame sensor yes. But keep in mind as Laura pointed out you will still get more distortion from the 35mm than the 50.

    @moira on a cropped sensor the 85mm may be a bit tight for portraits, can you rent one and try it out first? I'd still prefer it for the perspective over the 50mm but it depends on how much room you have to back up. 85 on cropped sensor would be 1.5 or 1.6 times that so 128-136mm equivalent. I used to have a 135mm lens just for portraits in film days so that could work for you. But try one if you can before you buy.

    @Siw - just to be clear, you CAN use any lens for any subject, which one you might want to use depends on how you want your images to look. You certainly could use the 50mm for family photos.

    @vic the 50mm f1.8 is suitable for any camera.

    @sona you asked "Also one for beginners re: whether the l.8 or 2.8 lens can go smaller or is that fixed as well? Thank you" - the numbers on the lens just indicate the LARGEST aperture. They both have a full range of options that are smaller: f2, f2.8, f4, f5.6, f8, f11, f16 etc.

    @paul plak thanks for explaining that for the commenters!

    @sachin read some of the other comments and my answers that has been covered for you here.

  • Darlene April 30, 2013 07:17 am

    @johnson - you asked" If I have a Nikon DX camera, will a 50mm full-frame lens on the DX camera give the same focal length as a 35mm DX lens? I still have not fully grasped how a non-DX lens will look when mounted on a DX camera."

    There seems to be much confusion over what the DX on the Nikon lenses actually means. The focal length is the same on a 50mm DX as a 50mm FX lens - the ONLY thing the DX indicates that those lenses will only fit onto the cropped sensor cameras and NOT on full frame ones. But they are the same focal length.

    So a 35mm DX lens will give you approximately the same as a 50mm lens on a full frame sensor. But you can get a regular 35mm FX lens and it will be the same as the DX. Does that help?

  • Darlene April 30, 2013 05:07 am

    @Panagiotis my answer above for Helmar applies to you also. Get the 35mm if you want a wider more like normal lens. Get the 50mm if you want to do more people photography. Both are great choices.

    @greg there are so many factors to sharpness, hand holding is just one of them. You also might need to compare them both at all apertures, zooms tend to lose sharpness at the biggest and smallest ones. It also depends on the brand of lens, is it mounted corrected on the body or need alignment? See the issue? But in general, most primes are sharper than most zooms. It's a generalization or average.

    @Alex the 40mm f2.8 is a good option but still not as fast as the f1.8, you're losing over a stop and a half of light from 1.8 to 2.8. So where I might be shooting at f1.8 at a 1/60th to keep steady for camera shake - you'd need to be at f2.8 at around 1/20th so you could get more camera shake or need a higher ISO to compensate.

    @phil edwards - awesome and great shot of the dog!

  • Darlene April 30, 2013 04:57 am

    Wowzers - I go away for a weekend and the comments go crazy! I'll try and answer and comment on as many as possible.

    @Dwight, great show of your cat!

    @lisacng @ expandng.com those are nice portraits, well done. On the T1i that makes a nice portrait lens for sure

    @jessica - yup good choice, and good idea shooting with what you have and learning before buying more expensive lenses you may or may not need.

    @Jai Catalano fun shot of your daughter. Did you add the lens flare in post, or get it in camera? I think it adds to the mood

    @Giovanni yes the Sigma f1.4 is another great option, very sharp, great reviews. I don't have one personally but have considered it.

    @derek yes another good choice of the 35 f1.4 on cropped censor. But I wouldn't throw away the 50mm just yet. It's still great for people shots as I'd find the other one a bit too short, not as flattering as the 50.

    @Kim what a neat idea, I often recommend that to my students as limiting yourself can increase creativity. A group is a good idea.

    @Jerry Schneir - LOL I'll just enjoy a chuckle over your comment. "Horrible" is pretty harsh. I'm assuming you mean this image? https://digital-photography-school.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/DandC-Feb2013-0094-600px.jpg - First: this was done at a Drink and click (photo walk sort of event) where the assignment was to photograph a stranger in a bar. If you had read the comment underneath this image is demonstrating how important having the large aperture is in that type of situation. This was NOT a portrait, nor was I attempting to make a portrait. #2: I actually won second place in the contest for that event group so obviously they didn't think it was that bad. #3 there ISN'T a plain wall in the place. But honestly I really don't care if you like it - was a candid, done in fun, used to demonstrate my point about the lens. BTW the image of my cat is actually the first image.

    @jack I did mention that I use a full frame sensor in the summary and the issue with using the 35mm on cropped sensors instead is that you cannot get one in for that same price range. So I still stand by my suggestion of getting the 50mm f1.8 regardless of your camera, and if you want a "normal" then by all means get the 35mm.

    @helmar - either is great the 35mm f1.8 or the 50mm f1.8. Everything I said in the article applies to both. Having a fixed lens; having a large aperture, have a nice small light weight lens which is portable. The only difference may be price but all else applies the same. If you want a "normal" lens which is closest to what the eye sees then get the 35mm, if you want one a bit longer get the 50mm for people shots.

    @Greg Nelson nice shots, great bokeh example in the last one!

  • Jenny April 29, 2013 12:01 am

    I've seen a lot of people using one lately in my journey around the interwebs, but I can't afford one. Would love to have one, but the money will never be there.

  • Bob April 28, 2013 11:26 pm

    Thanks for the affermation of getting back in touch with "real" photography...
    I recently bought a Pentax DSLR that came with two "kit" zooms... for the first week, I used them exclusively and marveled at the new quality...
    I dropped 35mm film about 8 years ago when I started using digital point and shoots... (talk about getting lazy...!)
    Anyway, after a couple of weeks, I dug out my old (yes... 33 year old!!!) Pentax prime lenses (28mm f2.8, 50mm f1.2 and 100mm f4)... set the camera to manual... Just like in the old days (30 years ago old days!!!) and headed out on my personal safari...
    What a wonderful new (old) world I had re-discovered...!!! And, I now need to rethink nearly every shot, all over again... (Composition is still the primary objective...) But, film made me conservative... digital made me lazy and loose with my shooting... and now, Digital with fixed focal and manual apurture setting is bringing me back to being creative, once again!

    Great lesson...!

  • Paul Plak April 28, 2013 09:52 pm

    Just bought myself a Nikkor 50 mm 1.8 G, Nikon is giving 10% away during the beginning of May, so I now have autofocus as well. It's great to have the extra light and the shallow depth of field. Plus it's real lightweigh compared to my 24-120 mm all-round lens.

  • idb April 28, 2013 02:38 pm

    @ Darlene Hildebrandt - thanks for a great article.

  • idb April 28, 2013 02:33 pm

    @Laura - your point that an APS-C sensor doesn’t change the focal length of the lens is excellent and not mentioned often enough in discussions like this about focal lengths and sensor sizes. thanks. (This is one of the reasons why I long for a full frame dslr before my old 35 mm film cameras all wear out or it becomes impossible to get film and developing)

  • idb April 28, 2013 02:26 pm

    @Jack - I also have the Sigma 30/1.4 (on a Pentax crop sensor). I like the perspective better than my 50/1.4 as my new "normal" lens. I also have a 35 2.8 but its too slow. However the Sigma 30mm 1.4 is anything but nifty - its pretty hefty. ;-)

  • Sachin Pradhan April 28, 2013 09:47 am


    I have a D300s and i have 11-16 2.8 lens as well as 18-200 standard Kit lens, I have been thinking of getting a fixed focal length with 1.4/ 1.8 F. I am confused between 50 MM and 28mm. My question would be what would be ideal if person like me is using a lens which is DX camera and not FX camera.


  • JohnK April 27, 2013 11:02 pm

    Great article and I enjoyed reading it. Every time I get the urge to purchase one of the "Super-Zooms", I break out my 50mm prime lens and go on a field trip. When I return and view the results, that urge is gone. I now get that urge less and less.

  • Angela April 27, 2013 08:13 am

    I LOVE my 50mm 1.8. $100 lens and gets the amazing shots I want! I call her my precious.

  • Paul Plak April 27, 2013 07:54 am

    to sona (and others asking the same) : on DSLR's, sensors come in two families of sizes.

    Full frame or 24x36 mm will only be available om the most expensive ones (Nikon D4, D3S, D700, D800)

    If you don't know for sure if you have a full frame sensor in your camera, chances are you have a smaller sensor (APS-C) or other.

    50 mm is the focal length that will give a "natural" perspective (like the angle you see when you look around without moving your head or eyes) if coupled with a full frame sensor.

    On smaller sensors, it will give you a short tele look, (1,5 crop 75 mm look, 11.6 crop factor 80 mm) which are great for portaits but not wide enough for "normal" day to day photography on these cropped sensors.

    If you want a lens for general use on a DSLR with cropped sensor, go for the 35 mm 1.8.

    While and 1.2, 1.4, 1.8, 2.0, 2.8 when mentioned on the lens name are the widest aperture your lens can do (fully open) you can of course always use a smaller aperture when needed or desired, most lenses do not have a fixed size aperture but offer a range between fully open and let's say 16 or 22.

  • sona April 27, 2013 04:53 am

    I have so much to learn. Can someone point me to article/s re the cropped sensor?

    Also one for beginners re: whether the l.8 or 2.8 lens can go smaller or is that fixed as well? Thank you

  • Sean April 27, 2013 02:05 am

    I totally agree. I think that the last one is arguably the most important.

    Seeing the difference in apertures as you play with it wide open is worth 10hours of reading about photography tips online. The difference in light and DoF gives you the freedom to adjust and learn the way a kit lens just can't do.
    The same can be said with composing and the limitations of not zooming. A slight change of thinking from "get the subject in the photo" to "where do I want my subject in the photo" opens up all kinds of creative doors.

    Great article!

  • Courtney April 27, 2013 01:06 am

    I totally agree with you, my 50mm is my favorite!

  • Tony April 26, 2013 11:42 pm

    The 40mm f2.8 is the way to go. Ultralight, very sharp and permanently on my 5D Mark III day-to-day!

  • Phil April 26, 2013 10:23 pm

    Great article! I recently purchased the Canon 50mm 1.2 and simply love this lens, I had the 1.8 for a few years and great fun with it and have since passed it along to my brother in law to see what he can produce with it. A sample from this awesome lens at:


  • Vic April 26, 2013 09:42 pm

    Just purchased my first DSLR, Canon 1100D. Is a 50mm f1/8 suitable for that camera, if not what the best in it's place.

  • Siw April 26, 2013 08:44 pm

    Can I use a 50mm for family photography? or is it certain subjects that goes better with this lens?
    Thank you :)

  • Calin April 26, 2013 07:57 pm

    Yes, very good points and very good article.
    I tested some 50mm lenses, even the EF 50mm 1.8

    Here is a photo with an Industar 50mm 3.5

  • David Mattock April 26, 2013 06:26 pm

    Great article, bought my nifty about 3 years ago and really don't use it enough but I think this article will encourage me to get out there and use it more.
    The image below was taken using a nifty fifty and is being in used in one of my firms publications so I am very pleased with the results.


  • Moira April 26, 2013 05:45 pm

    You mention your next favourite lens is the 85mm but on a cropped sensor it would be similar to a 50mm.
    I have a cropped sensor so am wondering whether I should buy an 85mm as I'm developing my portrait photography at the moment - would this be wise if I have a cropped sensor (not sure what this would mean?!)

  • ramel April 26, 2013 05:10 pm

    i love the 50mm. very sharp. here is one of my delicious shot....http://www.flickr.com/photos/rrifani/8639594880/

  • Viswanath April 26, 2013 03:21 pm

    Instead of 50 1.8, would a 35 1.8 be equal to the task of making good photos like you have mentioned in the article?

  • mike h April 26, 2013 03:12 pm

    @JS: you shouldn't be so easily distracted from good information. Read the article, you know you want to :)

  • Rob April 26, 2013 03:06 pm

    While I agree the 50 is a lovely optic, like others above me, I prefer the 35 on the "C" sensor. I had a 50 for a while and found it just too long for indoor work. Bought the 35 1.8 and have never looked back. Just as sharp, just as fast and is now my lense of choice.

  • Nivil April 26, 2013 02:06 pm

    Very helpful ! I have Nikon D3100. Can someone suggest a good model for me? I am not so sure whether the normal 50mm model would be sufficient for D3100.

  • Laura April 26, 2013 12:42 pm

    In reading some of the previous comments about crop factor I think people forget that having an APS-C sensor doesn't change the focal length of the lens. It may give the photo the appearance of a longer focal length because it is "cropping" the photo. While a 50mm will give you beautiful portraits (I love my 50mm) it does not do some of the flattering things a slightly telephoto lens, such as and 85mm, does, regardless of sensor size. For example de-emphasizing the nose, which makes a more flattering photo.

  • Alisha H April 26, 2013 12:26 pm

    Thanks for all the comments, I'm a beginner and I have a D5100 so it's good to know these things from the more experienced photogs :)

  • laura April 26, 2013 12:22 pm

    I have been looking for a prime 85mm f/1.4 for my Sony. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot sacrifice my first born for the Sony branded one and even though the Sigma is around half that price it is still a little much. Since I have an APS-C sensor and not a full frame I made the decision to go with a Minolta 50mm f1.7 and at $70 on e-bay it was definitly the right price. I love this lens. I cannot believe how much sharper it is than my zooms and so much faster and the bokeh is stunning. It has made me a better photographer for the reasons you said. I don't want to lose the sharpness I get with it so I tend to move around a lot more.

  • Bill Charnley April 26, 2013 12:05 pm

    You lot have inspired me with all this positivity.Ive been just using my cannon kit lens which is I thought was doing a decent enough job, I was even getting away with it with some portrature but these shots with their lovely soft depths of fields are what was missing so Ill get meself one soon ,Great article.

  • Ken Weber April 26, 2013 11:36 am

    I've been using a manual 50mm 1.4 and a manual 135mm 2.5 on my K5. Really makes you think about what you are doing.

  • Matt Hahnewald April 26, 2013 10:01 am

    I am a perpetual traveller and I bought a Nikon 3100 with a 50 mm lens one year ago. Needless to say, that I fully agree with Darlene in all her points. I just want to add another one: my 50 mm lens has become a great educator and for me! It has taught me to notice subtle distinctions, to focus on priorities and to delete irrelevant stuff. With the help of this little friend, I have discovered that details (e.g. faces) and symbols (e.g. logos) are important when it comes to take pictures of countries and cultures. Have a look at my travel blog in order to see what I am trying to express with words: Konni & Matt.

  • Paul Plak April 26, 2013 09:21 am

    50 mm has always been on my outfit. First one was the Nikkor 2.0 that came on my FM. When my photo gear got stolen, I played around with a zoom lens for a while as a replacement. It did not last long as I didn't like the results and it was soon replaced with a 50 mm 1.4 Nikkor, that's still with me 20 years later.

    One advantage Darlene could also have mentioned is the ability to use the 50 mm as a macro lens on a bellow or extension tube. You can also reverse the lens (back to front) for even better macro capabilities, getting real close to the suject (less than 50 mm distance) and get 1:1 size.

  • Tony April 26, 2013 08:18 am

    @Jerry Schneir

    Care to contribute something positive? No? I didn't think so.

    The author has written a great article with a lot of valid points.

    It's lucky you didn't waste your time reading the post, an 'expert' such as yourself clearly knows it all already.

  • Tod April 26, 2013 07:41 am

    I purchased the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM for my crop sensor 600D, It is a really nice focal length for street photography. In my mind the 50mm may be a bit tight on the crop sensor. The only drawback for the 40mm is that it would be nice if it could do f1.8

  • Jared van Bergen April 26, 2013 06:50 am

    Lovely article Darlene, lots of useful information here! I too recently purchased a 50mm lens, a 1979 Nikon 50mm f/1.8 Series E, and could not have been happier! It is a wonderful little lens, tack sharp and super small... And I just love the added challenge of having no autofocus or vibration reduction to aid you in getting that super sharp shot!

    Here is a recent photo I took with the lens: http://vbphotographs.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/dsc_0378-edit-1.jpg, best to view it at 100% after it has loaded...;)

  • Kees B April 26, 2013 06:19 am

    What a coincidence; just got myself a 50mm 1.4 AF.
    Not as sharp on the D80 as expected and I am going back to manual focus.
    I still find the results from 50mm 1.2 Nikon Ai the best but I don't see it as a portrait lens.
    Nice one is to have a 90 degrees mirror before the "nifty-fifty" to take unexpected profiles from whoever on your side.

    I believe that the 50mm is the best lens for group/person photo's because the perspective does not get curved and it is easy to keep steady.
    My favorite prime is still the 35mm 1.4; it's light and cover a more practical angle to document travels etc.
    Its light and can handle little light; its just the best and I fully agree that you have to search more around the subject before shooting.

  • Dave A April 26, 2013 05:45 am

    When I teach my photography classes to beginners I recommend the 50mm as their next lens for all these reasons mentioned. And if you pick up a good used one, you have a gem! I shoot Pentax and picked up a 50mm f1.7 (non auto focus) with auto aperture for $25! Even if I dropped it into a canyon, I haven't wasted my money. And yes, it is a great little portrait lens, but also works nicely with an extension tube or bellows for macro work!

  • tankhimo April 26, 2013 05:35 am

    If only it could focus in low light... I use 28mm f/1.8 for normal on my 60D and 85mm for portraits and candid shots.

  • Andy Keeble April 26, 2013 05:27 am

    I use the Sigma 50 mm 1.4 and it's an excellent lens. From f5.6 on its tack sharp from edge to edge and I agree with the others who say that a 50 mm really makes you think about how to compose an image.

  • Kenny April 26, 2013 05:23 am

    Totally agree with above statements about DX sensors; the 35mm f1.8 is my 'nifty'. I found the 50mm to be too much zoom inside a room and for landscape. Picked up the 35mm (similar full-frame with a 50mm viewing angle) and fell in love!

  • Tom April 26, 2013 05:01 am

    @ Jerry -the first photo is of a cat. Great shot showing how the eyes have it and the shallow depth of field works beautifully. If you'd stopped a moment to pat the cat, then you'd have purred your way all through the remainder of the article.

  • Theresa April 26, 2013 04:39 am

    I am wondering if anyone has attempted a group shot of four people with the 50 mm 1.4? If so, what settings would be desirable? I have a fill flash I could use as well.

  • John B. April 26, 2013 04:30 am

    @ Jerry Schneir: I'd rather look at the "horrible" photo than your mean comments. If that photo was so bad that you had to ignore the rest of the article, it must be very hard for you to read anything at all if it includes a photo. And, personally, I liked the first picture! Darlene made her point quite well with it.

  • Phil Edwards April 26, 2013 04:01 am

    I recently engineered an FD 50mm 1.8 to fit my Canon DSLR. I just can't leave it alone. Using a manua,l fixed focal length has made me think far more about my photography. http://www.flickr.com/photos/carbonkrazy/8552985144/in/set-72157632978788813/

  • Kimberly April 26, 2013 04:00 am

    I have a d5000 Nikon. I went ahead and bought the 35mm fixed lens. Love it. I find that I have to get too far back with 50-55mm.

  • Johnston April 26, 2013 03:54 am

    If I have a Nikon DX camera, will a 50mm full-frame lens on the DX camera give the same focal length as a 35mm DX lens? I still have not fully grasped how a non-DX lens will look when mounted on a DX camera.

  • Greg April 26, 2013 03:44 am

    A lot of people say that prime lens like the 50mm are sharper then zoom lens, but I've found a typical zoom lens with Vibration Reduction creates a sharper images than a prime (with no VR). Obviously this is for handheld shooting,which is most of my shoots. Any thoughts?

  • Alex April 26, 2013 03:44 am

    @Darlene, I meant Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens and 1.6 as the crop factor. It equals to a 64 mm on a full frame camera. What do you think about this lens for a cropped censor cameras?

  • Greg April 26, 2013 03:41 am

    People always say that prime lens like the 50mm are sharper then zoom lens, but I've found a typical zoom lens with Vibration Reduction creates a sharper images than a prime (with no VR). Obviously this is for handheld shooting,which is most of my shoots. Thoughts?

  • Panagiotis April 26, 2013 03:38 am

    I hace thw nikon d5100 and i want to buy a new lens.I am between the 50mm 1.8 or the 35mm 1.8.Both of them are in great price but which one of these 2 do you suggest and why?Personally i prefer the 35mm because i want it for shoots in buildings...

  • Harvey Kane April 26, 2013 03:34 am

    For a few years I was a news photographer. Never used anything but a 50mm. It makes you get close and you develop a better feel for the subjects you are shooting.

  • Greg Nelson April 26, 2013 03:20 am

    I love my 50mm1.8. I've used it when walking in downtown Chicago as well as for flower shots and birthday parties. In fact, the only lens I have on my film camera is a nifty fifty.

    Chicago Tribune Building

    King Pig from an Angry Birds birthday cake

    A flower from a bush when I did my Project365

    A flower bud from the same bush

    My friend Jay

  • Helmar April 26, 2013 03:17 am

    Hello Darlene.... I use Nikon (APSC sensor)... So a 50mm for me is a 75mm.
    When you recommend a 50mm for beginners you do it because you think 75mm (or 80mm for Canon) would be a good choice for someone who starting or you consider 50mm is really the best Focal Length and ignore the crop factor (and let the newbies discover crop factor later)?
    I've bought a 35mm f/1.8 since with this lens I'll actually be taking photos at 52.5mm, which is the closest of 50mm I can get with a prime lens.

  • Jack April 26, 2013 02:43 am

    Another crop user here - I really think the crop factor ought to be emphasized in articles like this given their popularity amongst photo enthusiasts.

    For my part, I have the Sigma 30mm 1.4 lens, and it's my favorite and most-used lens in my bag!

  • Jerry Schneir April 26, 2013 02:30 am

    The first shot is HORRIBLE. Putting he subject's head against a busy background is pure beginner especially when you could have moved a foot or two to the side and had the subject's head over a blank wall. I recognize that the author of the article was trying to demonstrate a point but you don't do that by dropping all other considerations. I must admit that the first photo stopped me cold and I couldn't get into the rest of the article.

  • Frank Miller April 26, 2013 02:14 am

    I no longer use my 50mm since I got a 35mm from Sony. Due to the sensor conversion factor this is equivalent to the Pentax & Minolta 500mm I used for years.

  • Melaine April 26, 2013 02:11 am

    I totally agree with this article... I LOVEEEEE my 50mm. Now I started with 1.8 canon but I dropped it. It still sort of works but I upgraded to a 1.4. I have a Canon t2i and it's my go to lens. I use it when I am taking portraits, for intimate music venues, for landscapes; for just about everything. I know that if I used a 35mm it would be closer to a true 50mm being that I have a cropped sensor, but cest la vie... for $100 I don't mind if it's a true 50 or not...

  • Kim April 26, 2013 02:10 am

    I have been using my 50mm (equivalent) lens almost exclusively this year and love it. It really makes me think about composition. I'm planning a group experience around shooting with this lens for the month of May if anyone is interested in joining in.

  • Joshua Wilson April 26, 2013 02:09 am

    Glendon, my D800 wears a 50 1.4 almost 100% of the time! Such a fantastic lens.

  • Derek April 26, 2013 01:56 am

    I shoot with a Canon 7D, and just picked up the new Sigma 35mm 1.4. Honestly, I may never pick up my 50 1.4 again - it's that good - and the perspective at just over 50mm is perfect. YMMV.

  • Giovanni April 26, 2013 01:55 am

    The Canon 50mm is the best bag for your bucks if your cant get any high end lens. The only drawbacks are quality of construction is no the best. The lens feels like you can destroy it by grabbing it the wrong way and i it make a very annoying sound while AF is used. On the plus side the stills are WOW...for only $99 or even less.

    I wanted a step up from that one so I looked at the 1.4 version, It did not impress me at all. I would rather buy a 1.8 version every time i break it. I ran across another lens that grabbed by eye from Sigma, it is the best thing since sliced cheese. The Sigma 1.4/f 50mm EX is one of the best l've got. Build Quality is awesome and solid. Images are the best. I would put it beside the Canon 1.2 any day, I paid about $600 with tax included. It is the best investment I have made.

  • lh April 26, 2013 01:43 am

    Must agree 50mm (35mm on crop sensor) is simply a great companion whilst travelling. Nice an discreet and a treat to use when light levels are low.


  • Jai Catalano April 26, 2013 01:21 am

    The price is great and the quality of the shots are even GREATER.

    I took a wonderful shot of my 2 year old daughter on the swing in NYC.

    Gotta love the 50mm

  • Jessica Schley April 26, 2013 12:59 am

    Absolutely love my 50mm prime. It was the first lens I bought after my kit lens, on the recommendation of articles here at DPS! And I agree, it has made me a better photographer. I short for two years with just my kit lens and my 50mm so that I understood composition and the exposure triangle before starting to invest in other lenses.

  • lisacng @ expandng.com April 26, 2013 12:35 am

    I bought a 50mm f/1.8 about 6 mos after about a year shooting with my kit lens. I found it to be all the things you said above -- sharp, fast, and lightweight. I've been shooting with my 50mm solely for a year and think I am ready for a zoom with a wider focal length. Anyways, here's one of my favorite portrait set of shots taken with my 50mm in a studio http://www.flickr.com/photos/ylisachen/8467898843/in/photostream/

  • Tyler Ingram April 26, 2013 12:23 am

    I had the 50mm 1.8 for my Canon but since I have switched over to Nikon, I actually when with the 35mm f1.8 instead.

  • Dwight April 25, 2013 05:36 pm

    Here is a shot of our cat that I took with a 50mm on a cropsensor DSLR :)

  • oscar April 25, 2013 11:23 am

    Here is a portrait I took of our infant son https://picasaweb.google.com/m/zoom?uname=104259763574908799227&aid=5833495676305748369&id=5860619140040360386&viewportWidth=320&viewportHeight=416

  • Glendon April 25, 2013 10:38 am

    The first lens I purchased for my new Nikon D800 was a Nikkor 50mm 1.4 G. Love it.

  • Darlene Hildebrandt April 25, 2013 10:09 am

    @Alex depending on your crop factor (most are 1.5 or 1.6x) a 40mm is about a 60mm on a full frame.

    35mm gives you about the closest to "normal" as you can get on a cropped sensor. Good points!

  • gary April 25, 2013 06:59 am

    I use my nifty 28 1.8 on a crop sensor canon. Same idea and less disappoint for people who buy a 50 expecting a "normal" lens. Not all users realize the multiply factor.

  • Alex April 25, 2013 05:44 am

    How about 40 mm lens for a cropped sensor camera?

  • Darlene Hildebrandt April 25, 2013 05:23 am

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canon_EF_50mm_lens - scroll down or do a "find" for the word "nifty" and you'll see it's under the f1.8

  • Darlene Hildebrandt April 25, 2013 05:22 am

    @kris there are many versions of how the is interpreted but generally it's the f1.8 that's so nifty because of it's small size and low cost that makes it affordable for most people.

  • Kris April 25, 2013 04:36 am

    I believe "Nifty Fifty" refers to the f/1.4. "Thrifty Fifty" refers to the f/1.8.