Writer’s Favorite Lens – the 50mm f/1.4 Lens

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1/400, f/4.0, ISO 320

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).

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1/400, f/3.5, ISO 400

Convenient and Lightweight

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.

Ready for Anything

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1/500, f/2.8, ISO 400

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.

Great at Capturing Details

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1/1250, f/1.8, ISO 400 // 1/640, f/2.5, ISO 400

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.

Expert at Depth of Field and Bokeh

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1/125, f/2.2, ISO 800

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!

Perfect for Portraits

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1/1250, f/1.8, ISO 400

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.

Best All-Around Lens

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1/320, f/2.0, ISO 800

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.

Essential for Indoor Shooting

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1/100, f/3.2, ISO 800

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.

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1/250, f/4.0, ISO 400

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.

More Favorite Lenses from our Writers

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

Melinda Smith

was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

  • Thank you so much, Walwit! That is one of my favorites. 🙂

  • greg

    It comes down to price for most people. You can get a really sharp 50mm 1.4 for a reasonable price. My preference however is the 24-70 Tamron Di with vibration compensation. Extra sharp lens! The 70-200mm is no slouch either. And their new 150-600mm is the best buy on the planet for the price and reach!

  • So you prefer the Nikon 50mm 1.4G over the newer 50mm 1.8G which is sharper and optically better?

  • lisa5295

    Isaac . I just agree… Francis `s comment is something… last friday I got a great new Porsche 911 since getting a check for $4103 this munth and even more than ten-grand last month . it’s certainly the best-job Ive ever had . I began this 4 months ago and pretty much straight away began to earn over $72, per-hr . hop over to here….>> -> internet paying jobs for home!!! <-

  • zo taylor

    I see it is very popular lens and create a lot of amazing photos. this will be the first lens i am going to experiment with , once i get the camera

  • Carter

    Correction: She took amazing photos, not the lens.

  • Great article Melinda. It was both encouraging and confirmation for me personally as I have been trying to settle on a one-camera/ one-lens kit finally and your article just confirmed to me what I already knew, but was resisting the urge to let go of my other gear in my effort to consolidate. You see, like many out there, I was in a creative slump. I had too much gear and instead of just grabbing my camera and go shooting, it became a frustrating decision process of “what lenses do I want to take? and a slew of mental what-if senarios going through my thoughts. This routinely sucked the enthusiasm away and the desire to simply photograph quickly faded. Of all the lenses I’ve used over the years, I kept going back to my trusty 50mm f/1.4 for the bulk of my photography (that was a recurring sign for me). From commercial family photography, to travel, street photos, etc. like you mentioned..there hasn’t been much the lens and I can’t handle. As a result, after reading your article, I finally off-loaded all the other gear and lenses to one DSLR body and was fortunate enough to upgrade to the Canon 50mm f/1.2L. I can’t tell you how liberating it feels to intentionally “limit” myself in this way again..(if you can call it that). It has re-ignited my creativity, enthusiasm and my eye again. Also that inspiration has come back, full force. Now I just grab my camera with my 50mm and have fun again making photographs. Thanks again!

    Greg Williams
    http://www.gregwilliams-photo.com
    Waterloo, Ontario
    Canada

  • Wonderful, Greg! I’m so glad that getting rid of the “clutter” has sparked your creativity again!

  • pedro boldt

    But DOF and Bokeh is not the same on 50 or 35 mm .
    I work with Canon FD 1.2/50mm or Samyang 1.4/85 on mFT PEN-E-5

  • Jim Wolff

    I recently purchased my Nikon F1.4, 50mm, AF-S prime for my Nikon D750 and I love it.

    I have to admit, I’m completely spoiled with my Tamron 28-75mm, 2.8 throughout, and it is my favorite lens, however, I did a recent shoot indoor using my new F1.4 50mm and was surprised by the clarity in my shots. And, I got really nice bokeh that I wasn’t expecting to turn out so nice.

    It took me a bit of adjustment to keep backing up to get everything I wanted in the pictures because I am so spoiled with my zoom lens, but after the shoot, I was so impressed with the results of my 50mm lens, that I will use it a lot more in the future.

  • Snatcher

    Another Muppet who brags about f1.4 and doesn’t show a single image shot at f1.4.

  • Panagiotis Giannakopoulos

    I love your presets! Which presets do you use most of the time?? ??

  • Thank you. 🙂 I mostly use a combination of Florabella, Michelle Kane, and my own. (Also, I use actions in photoshop, not presets. There are so many different ways to create your own workflow. 🙂

  • Panagiotis Giannakopoulos

    Thank you so much for your advice!! ???

  • Panagiotis Giannakopoulos

    It would be interesting also if you could write a tutorial about this process!! ?

  • RobertLehrer

    Valuable article, Melinda. But I’m a bit confused. I get that we “see” at close to 50mm. But if I place a 50mm lens on my Nikon D7000, it’s equivalent to approx. 70mm with a film camera. Wouldn’t I achieve more of the effects you’re referring to with a 35mm lens that would be equivalent to a 49mm lens on my camera?

  • Yes if you are using a crop sensor camera that is true to some degree. The optics aren’t exactly the same but it’s the rough idea.

  • RobertLehrer

    Thanks for your response, Darlene. I’m guessing that the vast majority of people reading this blog have crop sensor cameras. How many amateur or beginning photography buffs use full-frame DSLR’s? Very few…..

  • Yes and no. I teach classes and lead tours and sometimes my students and participants have full frame cameras. Just because they are beginner doesn’t mean they don’t have money to buy a high-end camera. I know a lady who had 4 full frame Nikon bodies when she was starting out. Not ONE – 4! Now she takes amazing photos and knows how to use them properly – but at the time it may have been more than she needed but she had worked hard her whole life and it was her one passion and she had no problem spending money on it. I have other students now that walk into my class with all L-series Canon lenses and full frame bodies and they love to shoot landscapes, travel, and flower – not a pro. So just FYI

    Experience and skill level – is not equal to – how much money they can and will spend on a camera/lens.

  • KC

    I don’t have a 1.4, but a 1.7 (it was a bargain!) but it’s an incredibly good lens, even wide open. A zoom may be versatile, but the slower speeds and added size weight sometimes come across as a compromise.

  • KC

    I wanted to see where you were going with this, Keith. You’re hitting two or three points with one question. Try a DOF (depth of field) app. It will give you a clearer understanding of what’s going to be in focus and acceptably sharp at a given distance. The hard part is few cameras/lenses show focusing distance. You can either use a traditional tape measure and (no surprise, really), there’s apps for that, too.

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