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It’s easy to love the 50mm f/1.4 lens. It’s a jack-of-all-trades. It’s that best friend that never lets you down. It’s the cowboy of all the lenses; it can pretty much do anything you ask it to do. If I was forced to only keep one lens, I’d have to choose this one. I’d even go as far as to say that most of you probably have this lens, and if you don’t, you should.
Sometimes the 50mm f/1.4 doesn’t get appreciated as much as it deserves to be. It’s unassuming. It doesn’t look intimidating and professional on your camera. It doesn’t cost you an arm and a leg or your first-born child. It’s definitely not showy, and not really a lens that you’re going to brag about to your photographer friends. But man, when you need a lens that’s got your back, this is the one.
Before I go on, I want to clarify that I’m talking about my Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens on a full frame body. If your camera is a cropped sensor, the 35mm f/1.4 lens will have similar results. You can also get the 50mm 1.8 lens for less money, but if you can spend a few extra dollars, get the sturdier, faster, 50mm f/1.4 (or even the 50mm f/1.2 if you’re a Canon user).
The 50mm f/1.4 is great to take just about anywhere when you want to capture life around you. If you don’t want to lug around a bunch of heavy equipment, throw this lightweight gem on your camera, and go. Sure, there will be some shots that won’t be perfect with the 50mm, but you’re going to be able to get most of what you want. If you’re a smaller person like I am (5’3″ if I’m on my tiptoes), a little less weight can make a big difference if you’ve got a lot of walking around to do. I’ll admit that my arm gets really tired with the bigger lenses sometimes.
The freedom of smaller and lighter weight will allow you to move around more, without the restriction of maneuvering a big long lens, or pulling out a tripod. You can get it in and out of your camera bag easily, and keep it close to you, which will lessen the chance of gear getting stolen or broken.
You’ll be able to get up close if you need to, if you’re in a public place, or you can pull back a bit and get the whole scene. Your 50mm sees about the same as how things look to your eye in real life. So if you see something you want to capture, you just put the camera up, and there it is, pretty much how you just saw it. You don’t have to worry about everything being closer or farther away than you expect.
If your 50mm is on your camera most of the time, you’re ready to capture the unexpected. You won’t be stuck with a lens that absolutely won’t work for the situation. There are few situations that the 50mm can’t at least do a decent job. Sometimes you don’t have time to change to a different lens, because deer don’t come knocking at your front door very often, and they don’t stay for tea and cookies!
I’m not saying that you can’t ever use another lens, but the 50mm is a great lens to have on-the-ready.
The 50mm lens is great to capture those details around you. Your feet make great zoomers, and you can easily move back to get more of the scene or closer to get those details in the shot. It feels like an extension of your eyes and brain, so taking photos becomes second nature.
The 50mm f/1.4 offers awesome depth-of-field options. You can have just one small part in focus with the rest of the photo dropping away into creamy bokeh. You can also open that aperture all the way up to f/1.4 when you don’t have much light to work with. Those extra couple of f-stops can make a huge difference when every bit of light counts. If you’ve never owned a faster lens like this one (for example, if you’ve only been using the kit lens that comes with your camera), this will open up a whole new world to you!
The 50mm can be a great portrait lens. Yes, there are lenses that might be better for portraits, but sometimes I really love the portraits I can make with my 50mm. You don’t have to get so close to your subject that you’re breathing on their face, but you don’t have to get so far away that you’re shouting instructions to them.
I find that sometimes the 50mm allows me to have the best connection to my subjects. I can touch their arm to move them into a better position, and talk to them and connect. Then I step back slightly and capture exactly what I just worked on, before I lose the connection and natural look we just achieved. Also, sometimes those big lenses can feel intimidating to your subject; the 50mm doesn’t look quite so scary.
You can also use your 50mm for other things besides people, of course (sometimes I do forget about that, because I’m kind of attached to photographing human beings). You can use the 50mm for still-life photos, scenery, and even some wildlife (especially if a deer comes right up to your house). There aren’t many things that the 50mm is useless for. It’s a great lens to have when you don’t know for sure what kind of photography you want to do, and you want to experiment for a little while.
The 50mm is almost essential if you want to shoot indoors. If you want to read more ideas on using this lens indoors with natural light, go check out Tips For Great Indoor Portraits Using Natural Light. I love that I can maneuver in almost any space, even small homes, and still get everything I want in the photo. It’s also great if you don’t have tons of natural light available indoors, and you don’t want to use additional lighting and flash equipment.
The 50mm f/1.4 is so versatile that you can capture a family with their beautiful surroundings, or you can capture the most intimate close-up detail. It’s so easy to carry around that you won’t dread taking it along with you on your adventures. It’s so intuitive that you will feel like your heart is making photos, and your brain doesn’t have to work as hard. It’s so inexpensive that most photographers can add it to their collection.
Are you in love with your 50mm lens? Share in the comments why or why not. I’d love to hear what you think.