You're only 50mm Away from Becoming a Better Photographer

You’re only 50mm Away from Becoming a Better Photographer


Today Matthew Luttmer shares his experience of buying his first prime lens – a 50mm (sometimes known as a ‘nifty 50’).

41wx0ebndXL._SL500_AA280_.jpgIt’s true. There is only 50mm separating you from the photos you always wanted to take. Of course it is a 50mm prime lens that is between you and your goal. All the happy owners of this wonderful lens will testify on its behalf as to how their skill where strengthened by this marvel.

I got a 50mm prime lens this summer (a Nikon 50mm 1.8D AF), wanting a lens that was sharp and cheap. Little did I know how much I would improve as a photographer for it. Excited with my purchase, I immediately rushed to try it out.

“Wow this thing is weird!”. “I have to move to compose my shot?”. Not to sure how I was going to like this new lens. I moved forward and back, side to side and “Gasp” all the way around my subject to get a composition that wasn’t going to make my eyes bleed, on viewing the LCD. Click. Wow that’s better than a stick in the eye. Lets try another. Compose, move, compose, move again. On and on this dance went until I saw that certain something that made my subject compelling. I let the shutter fall like the guillotine it is, shaving off a piece of time an tucking it away to devour later at my computer.

After firing off my 21 exposure salute to the day. I sat on a bench and began to thumb my way through the fodder I thought I was taking. Hey! Wait a minute. These aren’t my usual boilerplate shots. There is something different about them. There is more contrast, the composition could make a diamond out of coal, they look almost 3d. Just about every image was holding my attention and my eye was not falling out of the picture like I tend to fall out of bed in the morning (groaning and complain). I… took… good pictures!!!!

Well it wasn’t like I became better over night. I had taken some pretty good shots in the past with the lenses I had before. The difference was, just about all the shots I had taken that day where not just better than pedestrian, they where ahead of the curve!

I realize now why I find this lens to be so magical. Its not because Gandalf blesses them as they roll down the line at the factory. It is because it forced me to compose each and every shot by moving and recomposing. The result was better composition. Great composition is what makes great photos. You can take a photo of the most uninteresting thing and it will burn through the viewers eyes with good composition. The 50mm prime helped me get off my ass and showed me a better way to take a photo. It was not easier, in fact it was much harder. In this day of making our lives easier the camera companies have tied our hands to the chain of mediocrity. The zoom.

Point, zoom, click. There is no faster way to take a bad shot. Now I’m not saying that you can’t take amazing photos with zooms. On the contrary. I’m saying you will take better photos with zooms, if you know how to compose your shots.

Compose, move, compose again, maybe rinse, lather, repeat. That’s the stuff that turns out masterpieces.

I have since purchased a 35mm prime as well (a Nikon 35mm 1.8G AF-S). I use this lens more and more because it achieves the same outcome as my 50mm. Brilliant photos.

In the end, what this all boils down to is this; Prime lenses force you to compose better photos. You can’t just zoom in and out from the safety of your own home. You have to move closer to your subject and get down on your knees or climb a fence, jump up and down while patting your head and rubbing you tummy to get that shot.

So don’t just take photos, make them!

Matthew Luttmer is an amateur photographer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

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Some Older Comments

  • Samantha Roosevelt January 11, 2011 06:45 pm

    Can I just say what a relief to find someone who actually knows what theyre talking about on the blog. You really know how to bring an issue to light and make it important. Lots of only citizen need to be informed on this and know this side of the story. I cant imagine you're not more famous because you actually have the talent.

  • Chris Charlton June 18, 2010 09:26 pm

    I acquired a Canon 50mm F1.4 and the results are amazing ..used on a smaller size APSC sensor it becomes a lovely 85mm portrait lens with fine contrast and bokeh and on my full frame it offers all the advantages discussed above ... and let's be honest not all of us can afford to keep paying £ ooo's for L series glassware ... the habit of moving my feet and body is also a good one to adopt - Chris

  • Timo October 21, 2009 09:41 am

    Great article!
    I've been using prime lenses for quite some time now. The feeling that it "forces" you to do things in a certain way is only at the beginning, when you are used to zoom lenses.
    But pretty soon you realize all the advantages you get - good compositions and in most cases a better quality due to better optical characteristics compared with zoom lenses in the same price range.
    I'd say that I take about 60 - 70% of my pictures with a 50mm prime lens.

  • Liam October 20, 2009 06:49 pm

    About two years ago i set myself a project with a 50mm lens, i'd shoot anything and everything around me with my 50mm lens but at f1.8. There were many reasons i set this project up, one was to keep taking photos of all the little things around me and give them a purpose. I chose to use a 50mm lens because i believe it's the most creative lens i own, i wanted to only shoot at f1.8 because it's fantastic to experiement with DOF.

    You can check it out here

  • project10-50 October 16, 2009 02:54 pm

    Hi there Matthew,
    Couldn't agree more! And that's part of why we started project10-50: photographing one year (2010) with 50mm prime lenses only. No matter what brand: anyone can join, as long as they use a 50mm prime.
    Check us out and maybe you too would like to join?

  • Joe October 15, 2009 05:30 am

    Is the author talking about the focal length of 50mm or a 50mm lens? I was confused reading this and everyone's comments about the quality of this lens (or focal length).

    I am currently using a Nikon D40 with 35mm prime (equivalent of 52mm) and love it. The low light capability is incredible and I used the lens almost exclusively on a trip overseas. Now using a 50mm prime on the cropped D40 would put me somewhere in the 70(ish)mm range which to me would be a short telephoto.

    Is the author referring more to the lens or focal length (assuming both options would be a prime lens)


  • Alex October 13, 2009 12:21 am

    What a great post!

    I haven't used my 50mm for a long time but I though this was a good oppertunity to put it on the camera. I will definitly use it for a period now!

  • Pam October 9, 2009 09:53 pm

    I let my daughter, who is an aspiring photog, use my 50mm 1.8. She absolutely fell in love with it. So, knowing she doesn't have the money right now. I went out and bought myself the 50mm 1.4. Now we both enjoy photography more.

  • Max October 8, 2009 01:13 am

    I recently did a photo essay using just my new Nikon 50mm lens, although I had zoom lenses in my backpack too and had not used a prime before. It was hard because I had to take a photojournalistic approach in this project, meaning capturing at fast pace, before the emotion or action slips by; and plus taking a 'good' picture with good composition or aesthetics at the same time - not easy.

    It pulled the ground beneath my feet! I found myself moving back and forth, left and right, to take the pictures! And best and worst of all, getting closer to a unpredictable subjects! And the greatest experience was taking their portraits.. i had to keep talking and make my subject trust me.. plus capture their genuine emotions and expressions in split seconds!

    I received an applause for this project when it was screened - even though i am just a beginner. This lens has instilled courage and confidence in me as a photographer. Great article.. Get Nikon 50mm or 'nifty 50' as the call it - asap! :)

  • ms September 29, 2009 05:45 am

    I bought the Canon 50mm F1.8 lens earlier in 2009 and saw a major difference in photographic quality. Very sharp and it really did make the images pop and you are right about forcing a compose, very nice lens.

  • Brian Young September 28, 2009 09:19 am

    Wow, I thought I stumbled on to the 50mm then 35mm due to my lack of knowledge. The change in how you photograph is amazing, I agree. You work harder and the results pay off.

  • Rick September 28, 2009 06:57 am

    Preach the truth. I bought my 50mm 1.4 a month or so ago, and have had some growing pains with it. Now, however, I'm learning to work around it's little quirks and take some nice shots.

  • Mark September 28, 2009 04:52 am

    Prime advantages:
    1) can have limited DOF. This alone can really improve many images enormously.
    2) can be extremely sharp and may be able to shoot with faster shutter speed which also helps.
    3) colors and contrast may be improved unless you have the most expensive zoom glass.
    4) forces you to move around. Too often amateurs lift the camera to their eyes, zoom compose and shoot. Instead you have to move your butt with a prime and that forces you to think about how it is composed.
    5) When you shoot with a zoom, frequently you may find yourself shooting at the two extremes - why not have two light primes instead and only one mounted as you need it?
    6) much lighter that a zoom offering comparable quality.

    Prime disadvantages:
    1) less convenient for events where you need to switch quickly.
    2) more likely to get dust on the digital sensor with frequent changes.
    3) If you buy lots of primes, well, maybe you should buy instead an expensive 2.8 zoom lens.

    For a cropped sensor a 35mm prime lens is most useful. 50mm on a cropped sensor is not that useful. For example the tiny canon 35mm f2 lens is a gem. For full-frame, the 35mm is still great although the 50mm f1.4 is terrific.

  • XposurePro - Photography Tips September 26, 2009 01:03 pm

    No matter how many expensive lenses I have bought over the years my old cheap 50 has always been my favorite.

  • Galina September 25, 2009 03:05 am

    Love my 50mm 1.4, have used it on my Rebel XTi and I LOVE IT!! Recently bought a 5D and I can't wait to test it out! This lens has really improved my photography skills and has motivated and inspired me to be a better photographer!!

  • Andy Miller September 24, 2009 11:30 pm

    Versitility is in the eye (or in your case the hands of the beholder). A point and shoot zoom - Tameron 24-300mm is highly versatile in normal lighting conditions, but not so good in low light. A large aperture lense like the f1.8 you have or its "faster" 1:1.4 or 1:1.2 are more versatile in low light conditions - but you spend your time running around framing your shot by moving yourself.

    However, it is worth understanding that there are "standard lenses", "wide-angle lenses" and "telephoto lenses " and what that means given the sensor size of your camera. A "standard lens" is a lens that makes the image in a photo appear in perspective similar to the original scene. It has a focal length approximately equal to the diagonal of the film format with which it is used (e.g. 50mm with 35mm cameras). Also known as a normal lens. Most colleges who teach photography try to make their students to use a standard lense first.

    Prime lenses come in a range of sizes 24mm, 35mm, 50mm or 85mm are normal - longer than this and we all agree these are telephoto lenses and shorter we are clearly in the wide angle territory. Shorter focal length simply allows you to take phots with "more image" (in the sense of more content) in them without walking further away, but this is at the expense of detail if your interest is in cropping into part of the photo.

    In a DX format camera like the D80, because this has a smaller sensor than 35mm you need to multply the focal length by 1.5 to compare with an FX (or full frame or 35mm) digital camera - So your 50mm lense is behaving like a 75mm telephoto (meaning that it magnifies by to 143%). If you want to come down to what is know as a standard (ie 100%) lense - then a 35mm lense is what you need for your DX camera because this will behave like a 52.5mm or standard lense on a DX digital sensor. Whereas a 24mm prime lense would behave like a 35mm on an DX - an is considered the start of the "wide angle" (70%) lenses.

    Clearly, there are fixed focal lengthlenses outside of this range - 10.5mm or even 6mm to 600mm - but the key questions are always - what do you want to take pictures of, how close or how far can you comfortably (or safely) stand from the image, are there pleasing or displeasing implications of moving away from a standard lense, is the appature going to be large enough in longer the focal length lenses you can afford/are available given subject and the light conditions in which you wish to shot. etc...........

  • RHS September 24, 2009 10:08 pm

    i love my 50mm f/1.8, it works well with my d80. but i do wonder if there's a wide-angle lens or something more versatile that's as good as the 50mm...or better?

  • Rafie September 24, 2009 06:37 pm

    i wonder if there's a wide-angle zoom lens that's as awesome as the 50mm f/1.8...or better?

  • Moose September 24, 2009 12:55 pm

    My 50 was the first legitimate glass I bought after purchasing my D90. (I got a kit lens) It really made a huge difference when it came to the photos I took. I practiced with the 50 doing portraits of my Dog, my baby, and random stuff around the house. I have been tossing the idea around about the 35.

  • September 24, 2009 04:34 am

    Really don't won't to agree, but cannot help myself.
    After years of utility zooms -I now walk around with an Nikon AF-D 85mm (1:1.5) lense almost perminantly afixed to the front of my D3X. I used to walk around with a point and shoot zoom 24-300 tameron is awesome - BUT you get lazy with a zoom. Take a look at the photos of the Bentley I took at the 2009 goodwood revial this weekend - AWESOME !! (

  • alnxln September 24, 2009 12:59 am

    sharing with some of my shots using the nifty-fifty

    nifty-fifty w/ +10 Close-up filter

  • Katia September 23, 2009 01:44 pm

    i must admit i've been sitting on my ass lately, looking at a lot of photography sites, cruisin' flickr and nikon photo forums, and been thinking about going out and shooting. but i've been rather lazy. not sure if it's the weather turning bad, or just that summers over, as a fact.

    but, i have a 50mm prime too, and i'm gonna go out and use it tomorrow! you've inspired me!

  • Catherine V. September 23, 2009 05:10 am

    Great little post, and I heartily agree. Just got a 50mm f/1.4 AF-S and am exhausted from all the running around on a recent engagement photo session. ... But the pics are awesome.

  • Neill Shenton September 22, 2009 02:48 am

    I have been using my AI 50mm 1.8 on my Nikon FE since the mid 80ies and now use it on my D40 - it's different because it's the equiv of 75mm but it's still the best lens I have. I agree manual metering and focus both make me think about the shots more

  • Tom September 21, 2009 03:56 am

    Yes! this 50mm is AWESOME!

    I´ve got a D60 and despite the fact that it´s not AF-S ( it won´t Auto Focus ) I did learn A LOT! about manual focusing and to better compose my shots.

    It´s really really sharp, light it´s a must for everyone starting off in photography! It´s very cheap, considering other models and the shots speaks from themselves. It´s really cool!!!!!

    BUY IT!!



  • Bernadette Lester September 20, 2009 01:39 am

    I love this website, I just go from page to page to page!! I could be on here for hours, and sometimes I am! This author of this article has a masterful way with words!! It kept me interested and felt light-hearted, as if talking with a friend. A lot more personable, and a lot less cut-n-dry. Masterful writing techniques to go with his/her photography techniques!! I think this is the best written article I've read on this website to date! I am eager to purchase a Nikon 50mm lens, since I've had my first DSLR (Nikon D90) for about 3 months now and still only have the 18-105mm kit lens on it. I think I'll try shooting with the focal length set to 50mm and not move it. This article made me realize that I, too, am stagnate in my photo taking, relying a lot on the zoom to do the motion for me. I hope to get some wonderful new shots this way!!

  • Gordon McKinlay September 19, 2009 05:22 pm

    I love my Nikon f1.8 50mm prime lens. I bought it at the end of last year and now take more photos with it than anything else. The images are so crisp and clear. I think my photos have improved as a result of the move.

  • Charlie S. September 19, 2009 12:22 pm

    Purchased my 50-1.4 along with the D-90 and the 17-55, 2.8. I used the 50 for the first three months solely. It really shined at the Atlanta , Georgia Aquarium. I kicked my ISO up to 1600 and never blurred a shot in those low light conditions. Every one is correct, the first thing you have to do is MOVE. Oh how lazy zooms can make us. On the fence about the 35-1.8 to compensate for the DX form factor.

  • George Keller September 19, 2009 07:25 am

    I still haven't taken the plunge and bought a dSLR. Back when I shot film, I always bought a 50mm f/1.7-1.8 with the camera body. Of course, that was how they usually were sold. I would usually buy at least one zoom lens soon afterwards, generally something in the 28-90 mm range.

    After keeping track of the focal length I was using most with the zoom, I found that I was shooting at about 50mm anyway, but had lost the advantage in speed (and usually sharpness) that the prime lens offered. I learned that I see and shoot with a "normal" perspective, and would wind up using the 50mm prime at least 80% of the time.

    I am currently using a Canon A720IS compact with the CHDK firmware mod. I have it set up to show the 35mm equivalent focal length at the top of the screen; sure enough, I usually wind up using a focal length very close to 50mm.

    When I eventually spring for a dSLR, I think I'll get it with a fast 35mm prime lens and get the approximate equivalent focus length of a 55mm, as Heather pointed out earlier.

  • William September 19, 2009 06:34 am

    I started on film- on a Pentax Spotmatic, and so a 50mm manual focus is what I learned to work with, and frankly, it's my main lens... even now that I've gone digital and can use zooms... about 3/4 of what I shoot is with it. It's just more fun! (Of that last 1/4, about 1/2 of that is with a 200mm prime) Now I've got to get a "new" prime at some point... one with AF and camera-controlled aperture... the thing is so common that changing formats isn't even a concern to me- if they have a 50mm prime, I'm good to go.

  • Kurt Anderson September 19, 2009 03:27 am

    I recently upgraded to a 50mm f1.4 lens and gave my f1.8 to my daughter, Since then I've noticed that her pictures have improved tremendously, some look professional. Here's a couple examples:

  • Bull Rhino September 19, 2009 02:57 am

    I'm not the author of this excellent article, but if I may kick in my two cents worth I would suggest you get some kind of shorter lens. Having the 200 mm is great, but aren't there times you would like to get up close and personal with your subject whether it's a person or whatever it might be?. This article is for all those photographers who have never (well, hardly ever) taken their zoom lens off, but it doesn't say don't own a zoom. I would recommend get a zoom in the range of 28-135. Like the author tells how his 50mm prime changed his perspective, you might find a nice little zoom would change yours. Since you don't know my qualifications to even respond you can just click on "Bull Rhino" above and then go look at my profile if you're curios. Most importantly - Have fun with it!


  • Laura Higgins September 19, 2009 02:37 am

    Wonderful advise, and I agree about moving and crawling around to compose great photos.
    If I could bother you for some advise, I am an "amateur phtographer," and recently upgraded to a Canon EOS 50 D, I have a 200 mm lens and I am able to get rather close to my nature subjects, but was wondering if the 50 mm lens you are suggesting would make a big difference for my photos given I only have a 200 mm lens or do I wait and save my pennies for a 300 mm lens.

  • rick buch September 19, 2009 01:43 am

    After watching my daughter back into too many walls with her nifty-fifty I made my mind up the 35 1.8 or 1.4 would be a much better value even if a bit pricier.

  • Matt Smith September 18, 2009 06:06 pm

    Like the majority here 50mm 1.8, best money ever spent. I love the fact I can keep shooting even in low light, I love the shallow depth of field, and I love the speed it will focus. Ok it cab a little long at times but when I win the lottery and by a full frame DSLR I'm good to go.

  • Vincentfong September 18, 2009 03:06 pm

    Im using the Cannon 50mm f/1.8 with 1000D to do all my portrait job, is a excellent tool if you know how to use it right. Maybe you will found it slow in focus if compare the high end lens, but this lens have same quality result with other high end lenses. It create nice bokeh on the subject and nice color and sharp too. What you have to do is, set you camera to center focus point, dun use the AF in camera setting cause it will make u hard to focus. 2ndly u just move back ward or move around your subject to get the best composition, and snap it! Whoala, you will get and great pic! Btw, if u try to take portrait, try to use f2.0, f2.5 or f2.8, you will get the sharp and more accurate result in you pic. All is just my won experience on this lens to share of. This lens really value for $$.

    To do portrait job, beside this lens, another 4 lenses are been recommended:-
    1. Tokina AT-X 165 PRO DX
    2. Canon EF 28-70 F2.8L USM
    3. Tamron SP AF 90mm F2.8 Di Macro 1:1
    4. Sigma 28mm F2.8 EX CG Apsherical Macro

  • Granger September 18, 2009 02:13 pm

    Yes, good photography needs thought and composition. If you really want to force yourself to think through your shots then use a tripod. That also helps get good sharp photos too.

  • Jonathan Tommy September 18, 2009 02:04 pm

    Yes indeed!!!!!
    I bought this lens a little over two months ago after reading all the magnificent things about it.
    And I have to agree, this is such a wonderful lens!!!! I haven't changed my lens since I bought it...
    Highly recommended!!!! :)

    Have a great day and Best wishes,
    Jonathan :)

  • Christopher September 18, 2009 11:27 am

    First off, the writer is great at grabbing attention, I love his style of writing.

    I never owned the 50mm f/1.8 myself, I went right to the Canon 50mm f/1.4 because I wanted the quality and better bokeh. This lens has been the worst thing I have ever purchased, focus was here or there and it wouldn't take anything even remotely sharp below f/2.8, it wasn't the thin DOF, it was that nothing was in focus.

    I sent it to Canon, wasn't much better, maybe a little. I ended up getting rid of it and replaced it with a 85mm f/1.8 and I am totally in love with it. I love the image quality of primes I just never had luck with the 50mm. The 85mm wide open shoots better than my 50mm f/1.4 did at f/4.

    Two things that get glaringly obvious after you use a prime for a while, #1 how much IS rocks and #2 how much quality lenses in the $1k range with super fast focus make a difference. My goto lenses are my 70-200 f/4 IS L and 17-55 f/2.8 IS and focus lock is like 100ms. The 50mm and the 85mm have a noticeable focus hunting.

    I do plan on shooting my 85mm a lot more now, I just got it a few weeks ago and haven't had a lot of time with it yet.

  • alnxln September 18, 2009 11:13 am

    my wife gave it as a gift 3 years ago and i just started using it after reading the article here about the "Small Wonder" since then its alraedy out of its box. the nifty-fifty is truely amazing!

  • rd September 18, 2009 09:53 am

    For a minute you scared me. to me photographs are ALL about composition, everything else follows. I use a 55-200 zoom. I still have to move around to get a good composition. I take a lot of pictures that there is no way to move around on, butterfly's & bees or wasps don't put up with closeness and squatting down in the ditch where the pickerel weed is growing carries it just a bit far. but - then there are a lot of pictures I can't take for that very same reason. Film cameras used to come with one. my digital DSLR didn't, it came with an 18 - 55. The biggest problem I have with the zoom is light - the flash spoils most photo's - I go out early - often before the sun rises so that I can be "there" when it does begin to color the sky. I walk in as much shade as I can - it is hot and muggy even an hour after the sun rises in Florida. I also don't carry a lot of baggage on my 8 to 10 mile hike, changing lenses is not usually an option either.

    Great article. but I don't think I'll run out and get one though. thanks. rd

  • Paul September 18, 2009 09:37 am

    Nice article, but you really need to re-read it afterwards. The typos and grammatical errors are really distracting when, otherwise, I really enjoyed what you were saying.

  • John September 18, 2009 09:21 am

    I shoot lots of flowers....many in low light situations like a cooler. That's primarily why I bought the Nikon 50 1.8. It is some fast. The big drawback for me is that I have a D40 which, of course, means no auto focus. In low light situations that can be a challenge but all in all, I'd buy it again.

  • Rob September 18, 2009 07:10 am

    I bought the canon 50mm f/1.8 not long after my 40D & loved it. I have since sold it and bought a Sigma 30mm f/1.4 which has pretty much owned my camera from the moment it arrived. I think i've taken it off only twice!

    I found the 50mm a bit too long on a 1.6 crop. The 30 is perfect. That sigma lens is unbelievably sharp even wide open, and the contrast is amazing!

  • Chris September 18, 2009 07:09 am

    I have the Canon equivalent and I was going to us the 18-55 Kit lens for my Sister in laws wedding. I decided at the last moment that I was only going to take the 50mm and no flash for the whole event. Wedding, photo shoot and reception/dance. I was very happy I did. I would recommend to new dslr owners that the nifty fifty be the first lens they "splurge" on. They would be very happy with this cheap investment.

  • Neil September 18, 2009 05:07 am

    I have the 50mm 1.8 on my D40, the thing that frustrates me with it is having to manually focus. When I get the shots in focus they look fantastic, but the hassle of it stops me from using it very often.

    It is pushing me towards upgrading to the D90 though :)

  • Richard September 18, 2009 04:57 am

    I don't really buy the argument that using a prime makes you necessarily a better photographer than using a zoom - ultimately the real lesson is being able to visualize an interesting image, and that is independent of what lens you looking through. Having a fixed length lens will force you - and not the zoom - to move around, and that might or might not be a good thing. Personally I use both, but the real strength of a prime (apart from a sharper image for the money) is the ability to reduce depth of field into ranges that zooms will not go.

  • jmjstandin September 18, 2009 04:18 am

    It's truly astonishing that this piece of vulgar, semi-literate (the verb is "were" not "where") expostulation around some re-cycled photography cliches can be considered by so many to be a "great article". Very disappointing that DPS should allow this to be posted without at least a basic proof-reading.

  • Jason Brown September 18, 2009 04:11 am

    After borrowing a 50mm prime from a friend to use with my Nikon D80, I immediately went online and ordered the 35mm f/1.8. I'm still waiting on the lens as I just ordered it 2 weeks ago and it always seems to be on back order, but I cannot wait. The composition improvement is spot-on!! I thought about trading up to the Nikkor 18-85mm VR from my Nikkor 18-135 kit lens (which has awful distortion at 18mm and I love landscape photography so it's been kind of a deal breaker), but given the price and my lack of job at the moment, the $400 + saved is a worth it given the quality of the prime!

  • Canarybird (Sharon) September 18, 2009 04:05 am

    I agree and love the Canon 50mm f/1.4 on my 30D. It really is my favourite lens, next to the Canon 100mm f/2.8 macro.

  • Bull Rhino September 18, 2009 03:15 am

    Thanks for that. I have a 50mm macro prime that I've been carrying around and only pulling out when I needed macro. After reading this I'm definately going to take a day of using only that lens for all kinds of shots. I am just writing some basic photography posts on my blog where I talk about the virtues of zoom and this is a great reminder that zoom isn't always the best way to go. Thanks again - great article!

  • Webdevel September 18, 2009 02:14 am

    You will not be disappointed bee. I love my 50mm!

  • Anna September 18, 2009 01:56 am

    @ ray - I think you'll find you mean 'reflect' - grammar and spelling being two things, therefore plural. Perhaps get your own house in order first??

    ray says:
    September 15th, 2009 at 6:36 am

    Poor grammar and spelling throughout an entire article reflects badly on yourself and more importantly the DPS site as a whole. Learn to proofread. “IT’S” not that hard.

  • Major Bokeh September 18, 2009 01:46 am

    My first lens after the kit lens on my Rebel XT was the 50mm f/1.8. Loved it. Now I've traded up to a 5D Mark II and my 50mm is an L series f/1.2. Amazing glass.

  • Mustafa Sazak September 18, 2009 01:38 am

    I have a 50mm f1.8 lens, and it is perfect in a word. With f1.8, you have a peerfect DOF.

  • bee September 17, 2009 11:00 pm

    Just ordered exactly this lense two days ago and now really can't await to get it!!

  • Bali Wedding Photographer September 17, 2009 09:40 pm

    I like this posting and i plan to buy the nikon AF 50mm 1.8. Thank you.

  • Anita September 17, 2009 04:31 am

    Nicely written!

    I love my 50mm as well (Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM, only prime I own so far). It was my sweetheart from the minute I bought it until I tried my 24-70mm f/2.8L USM, at which point the sky opened and choirs of angels sang hymns to it. Or something to that effect.

    I agree with Bob, in that zooms don't take all the thought/effort out of composing. However, to me, primes are "liberators" in a way because they give you one less thing to worry about (i.e. no zoom), and let you divert that energy to thinking about the other things you get to play with, of which composition is one aspect.

  • Rob September 17, 2009 03:51 am

    I call mine my "fast fifty." For me its not about the fixed length so much as the flexibility it gives me with low light shooting or variable DoF shooting. I have used my zooms as "ghetto primes' for a long time by forcing myself to pic a length and leave it alone. My Pentax 50-200 has a sweet spot at 135mm/f/8 so I "fix" both and shoot away.
    I my next prime is going to be a 30 or 35mm and as fast as I can afford. After that a 70mm, again, as fast as I can afford. I want the speed, not the fixed length. If I could afford a 18-200 f/2, I would buy that instead!

  • Stephan(e) September 17, 2009 03:37 am

    It might not if using a say 28-70 or 18-55 because you'll tend to be in the same distance range as someone using a 50. But I doubt you can say the same of zoom covering focals starting from 70 to 200 or more. The First reflexe is to zoom in or out but not move around the subject or even get close or not. And it is easy to take that habit. And I do think that the change of perspective given just by zooming in and out have people satisfied to the point where they don't think moving around in and out of the photo brings something more. It does in some situations. It gives you the habit of doing that and add to composing possibilitites.
    So it's not different in tems of composing but certainly more complete into the moves you make to compose.

  • nix74 September 17, 2009 02:25 am

    After reading your post and all the comments, I personally agreed with you that prime lens give better photo quality then zoom lens.

    However for composition wise between a zoom lens and prime lens don't differ a lot. Zoom lens may make you lazy a bit to move but it does not affect so much on your composition.

    I believe what makes the picture difference and much more appealing is more on the build quality of the lens. Ask most professional photographer, they will tell you prime lens is still the best. Zoom lens on the other hand is much more on convenience and suitable for amateur.

    Prime lens on the other hand does get you to go into details while composing and I think a bit here and there that put the punch in your photo. Your post did help me to decide on my lens arsenal. Prime definitely will be on my top list.

  • Bob September 16, 2009 09:34 pm

    While I agree in principle that using a prime changes the way you see and shoot, I find the idea that composing is different to be not quite true. You write of how the prime has you moving all over to shoot the subject. How would that be different with a zoom? The zoom does not change the basic perspective on the subject...only the much of the subject is in the frame. Moving your body is still necessary to get a different perspective on the subject. Even the idea that with a prime you must "zoom with your feet" is only partly true because as you move back and forth that too changes the perspective, and thus the overall composition.

  • Joel September 16, 2009 06:44 pm

    I recently bought a Nikon AF-3 35mm f1.8 to be paired with my D60. I love it! You can read my review and see some sample pictures here:

    I totally agree that a prime lens forces the photographer to compose shots better. It worked for me.

  • imelda September 16, 2009 11:14 am

    The Canon 50mm 1.8 was my first lens. I loved loved loved it but then thought I needed a zoom. Got a kinda slow zoom but just never really liked it. Since I have gotten 2 other prime lenses, the Canon 100mm macro 2.8 and a Tamron 30mm 1.4. I love love love prime lenses and keep the 30mm on most of the time now. Can't go wrong with Prime! Thanks for the article. for my Flickr Photo Stream.

  • Christian September 16, 2009 05:35 am

    Thanks for the article about the 50mm primes. I agree that they force you to compose differently, and that is a good thing. Since getting a Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, I have sold my canon nifty fifty. The Tamron covered the focal length,a nd was sharper at 2.8. I lost a little low light performance, but at f/1.8-2 the DOF is too thin most of the time anyway. I'm not looking back.

    As posted above, an example or two from your 50mm experiences would support your argument.
    You need to fix several typos in this article as well.

  • scottwgray September 16, 2009 04:37 am

    It's true. I've been learning a lot from friends who are far better photogs than I am, and again and again, the shots they took that I really liked were with the 50mm.

    When I picked up my own, I started getting closer to the shots I most wanted to take. Simple little lens, but I think it's deceptively simple.

    Good post!

  • Jonathan September 16, 2009 03:46 am

    I could not agree more. Great write up! I have actually finally saved up enought to get my f/1.4 prime! I can't wait!

  • cindy September 15, 2009 10:22 pm

    i use a very modest nikon d60 almost exclusively with a very nice 35mm lens and love it for all the reasons you mentioned. i also use a vintage yashica 35mm film camera, so the practice i get composing with the dslr really helps with the film photos.

  • Zack Jones September 15, 2009 09:11 pm

    Prime lenses rule! I have found one good use for a zoom lens though. Using the 17-85 on a 40D is helping me decided if I should be the 24mm or 35mm prime lens next :). I'm leaning towards the 24mm.

  • Ian September 15, 2009 09:11 pm

    Thanks for the great post. The Canon 50 mm f1.4 has got to be my favourite prime lens. It's great on the 50D giving me a superb portrait lens and my "thinking with my eyes" lens on the 5D MK II. It's also a lot lighter than any of my zoom optics.

  • Kasi Viswanath September 15, 2009 07:26 pm

    I think, it should be point, FOCUS and click rather than ZOOM! Great post though!

  • Richard MacCowan September 15, 2009 07:19 pm

    Nifty 50's are just brilliant. Yes you get funny looks from other with their telephoto lenses, but hey its not the size but what you do with it that counts!

    It doesn't work for everything, but my photography certainly took off once I had to think about what I was taking.

  • Scott Smith September 15, 2009 04:41 pm

    I have a Nikkor AF 50mm f1.8 lens, but it has a catch though. My camera (a Nikon D5000) doesn't have an auto-focus motor, and neither does the lens. This means I have to focus every shot manually.

    Instead of seeing this as a pain in the butt, I see it as a challenge, because it forces me to look harder at the subject I'm trying to shoot and makes me ask myself lots of questions about how the scene should be captured, what am I trying to communicate to the viewer, what am I trying to draw the viewer's attention to, etc.

    I haven't used the lens as much as I would like, but there are always opportunities to pull it out...

  • Bostjan B. September 15, 2009 03:28 pm

    For that matter, I own 50mm for a year and a half and started using it seriously only 5 months ago, when I bought full frame D700 camera. Before on my D80 I used my 18-200mm DX zoom, so 50mm never got quite useful (at least I didn't like the limitations of prime lens). But then, when my DX lenses were too narrow for FX sensor on my D700, I had to use it for it's full frame capabilities. At first it felt all clumsy and strange. But after a few months (I am a slow learner I suppose) it became the "nifty 50" for me as well. It is my primary lens now and it makes such a great photos. And all in all it equals 35mm on DX sensor.
    So, I love it and recommend it to anyone. But there's a word of caution to this: don't lose the will tocarry on if you find it too strange. You will get used to it eventually and then it'll grow to you.

  • Don September 15, 2009 12:22 pm

    30-40 years ago I only used a 50mm, along with a 28 and a 135, no zooms. But now being older with bad knees, and arthritis in my hands I use a 18-135 on my D90 and do as much as I can with cropping in the camera and PS.

  • Jonathan September 15, 2009 12:14 pm

    Great article! gave me a chuckle!

  • Jamie MacDonald September 15, 2009 11:40 am

    Great write up and I couldn't agree more! The "nifty 50" is a game changer when it comes to photography. Not only does it (more often than not) provide a sharp image, it also get you involved more with composition by making you "zoom with your feet". My 50 is my only prime so far and I am wondering if other fixed focal length primes offer the same joy as the 50's do?

  • michael September 15, 2009 11:34 am

    Yet another photographer graduates to intermediate level with the discovery of fixed focal length lenses. This is worth an article?

  • Tomasz Low September 15, 2009 11:07 am

    It's funny to find an article like that one today , because I just bought my Canon 50mm f1,8 yesterday (or was it the day before ?) . However , it's a GREAT lens . I got some pictures I couldn't image possible with my 18-55mm f3,5-5,6 , or my Tamron 70-300mm f4,0-5,6 ... I've got some examples here :
    The focus is outstanding , and the depth of field is gorgeous (with that lens) . I can't wait to take it to some shows and concerts ...

  • Mei Teng September 15, 2009 10:47 am

    "So don’t just take photos, make them!"

    I totally agree with this. I have a Canon 50mm f/1.8II and it's great lens. I use it mostly for food and product photography.

  • Matt Needham September 15, 2009 09:21 am

    Yeesh! One of my least favorite photography canards is that prime lenses improve composition. Other than rearranging the scene composition is controlled by perspective which is controlled by the location of the camera in relation to the scene. Both prime and zoom lenses allow you to position the camera anywhere you want (please don't blame the gear for your behavior). The difference is that with variable focal length (magnification) you can combine the perspective you want plus efficient in-camera cropping, while with a prime lens moving to crop closer results in changing the perspective/composition. Of course the photo can be cropped out-of-camera, but with small format it's usually cnsidered advantageous to get the most out of your sensor/film area.

    Prime lenses have many strengths such as that they are often faster, lighter, smaller, and cheaper than zooms. If cropping in-camera is important to you then zooms offer much more compositional control.

  • Steven September 15, 2009 08:44 am

    The 50mm is indispensable; it's an awesome lens to have for any occasion. After buying my 5D MKII body, I had just enough cash left over to by the 50mm f/1.8 to get started with it and become accustomed to the camera. I ended up using it a few weeks later to shoot an entire concert in a small venue, and I can honestly say that they rank among the best live performance photos I have ever taken.

  • Jaz September 15, 2009 08:23 am

    Amazingly I still haven't gone through the bag of photography kit my uncle gave me properly. As soon as I saw this I just knew there had to be a 50mm in there and lo and behold there was! An old analogue Pentax one, but it does take beautiful pictures! I will definitely be experimenting. Thanks for the tip!

  • Stephan(e) September 15, 2009 08:03 am

    I was just curious about the catch in the title and the fact that digital era new photographers are discovering the schhool that is the 50mm. it is no surprise knowing that the commercial and digital offers are always a kit including one to two zoom lenses but no 50 prime like it used to be...with film, maybe because of the sensor size. Who knows!
    It is the eye angle of view or almost in a full frame set-up that is and has been since the age of 35mm the benchmark for starting in photography. Looks like the legend lives on. So I'm glad and glad for you all.
    But if it is true that it will make you a better photographer it is by teaching you that the zoom caters you unlike the 50mm which you have to serve in order to get what you want. 50mm teaches you how to move inside and around your photography, to commit. Zoom is practical at best and also tend to have you becoming lazy or getting half of what you could get.

    What is definitely true is that if you do not have a vision and a clear understanding on how to carry it, you won't get near being a better photographer using either a 50mm, any prime lens or a zoom for that matter.

    And at some point you will just be able to carry and work with what you need to carry and capture your vision ,prime or zoom.

    Oh by the way. It's been ages since I've used a 50mm on a daily basis. I work with zooms mostly now.Practical with digital. Though heavy.
    So why did I bother!?
    Well, I still have one on a film camera( canon Ftb) that I use from time to time, and sure enough, if there were to be only one lens I'd want it to be a fifty.

  • Travis September 15, 2009 07:59 am

    You want epic 50mm. Go rent or snag the 1.2 50mm L from Canon. Now THAT is a lens that will knock your socks off.

  • Erbedo September 15, 2009 06:58 am

    I absolutely agree with this.

    I got a 50mm f/1.8 for my D80 and it force me to compose my shots too. Results: more learning, less photos, better result :)

  • Ray September 15, 2009 06:36 am


    Poor grammar and spelling throughout an entire article reflects badly on yourself and more importantly the DPS site as a whole. Learn to proofread. "IT'S" not that hard.

  • Luke September 15, 2009 06:18 am

    Good post. I just bought the Canon 50mm f/1.8 AF and am having fun playing around with it.

  • Noel Hurtley September 15, 2009 05:36 am

    I bought the new Nikon 50mm f/1.4G last month and I have to echo what others have said about 50mm primes. Shooting with this lens has made me a better photographer and I'm constantly amazed by the quality of the images it produces.

    I knew that professional glass was going to make a difference, but I guess I wasn't expecting such a dramatic upgrade from my kit lens. I guess the adage is true that you should invest in glass first and bodies second.

  • lukix September 15, 2009 05:11 am

    50mm is the "natural" eye view. Am I right?

  • scott September 15, 2009 05:05 am

    Only think I don't like about the cheap nifty-fifties are that they are, well, cheap. Sort of like using a paper mache lens. If there's any way you can wait and save up to get even a little better quality, I'd say it's worth the wait.

  • Celeste September 15, 2009 04:57 am

    This posts and comments chain has amused me. I just always assumed that manual SLR users started out with the 50mm 1.8/f or similar lens. It's the standard in any photography class I was in or assisted with, and I started photographing in 2003. Though I guess if you started with DSLR, the kits normally have a short zoom lens, rather than the 'normal lens' that you used to get with film SLRs. If you only have one lens, it's the one to have.

  • Danikaze September 15, 2009 04:47 am

    Well... it's true that you can take great images with a prime lense, and your mind will be opened, but I don't agree with you that the zoom is bad... maybe you were using it in a wrong way... because if you want certain composition, you will find it, if you know how ;)
    That's all...

    The good point of prime lenses are the sharp images they take, and the great luminosity (1.8, 1.4... you know), but the composition is all up to you, no matter if it's zoom or prime lense :)

  • Jen September 15, 2009 04:33 am

    I have the 35mm that you mentioned because it has autofocus for the D40 (the 50mm doesn't). I LOVE this lens and agree that I get some great shots using the prime lens.

  • scott e. detweiler September 15, 2009 04:29 am

    I love my "nifty-fifty". I am going to get the 35mm soon, as the D300 crop factor makes this a bit more than I want in a lot of situations.

  • Amy Jo September 15, 2009 04:21 am

    I could not agree with you more. I got a 50mm f/1.4 a few months ago and kept it on my camera exclusively until last week. When I put my 28-300mm back on, I almost couldn't function with it. After some careful consideration, though, I feel like I'm taking better shots with my old lens because of my new one.

  • Sheri Johnson September 15, 2009 04:00 am

    I had to read the entire article to see what you were getting at. It certainly makes sense. I started out with a 50mm lens on my first 35mm SLR camera in 1987. I honestly can't imagine not having that lens now because I can appreciate the speed of the lens. I will also have to agree if you are using it on a crop camera, it's not as useful as it would be on a full frame sensor. I may shoot with zoom lenses, but by no means am I lazy about it.

  • Kim September 15, 2009 03:53 am

    I bought the Canon 50 f/1.8 as well. It is an amazing lens. I took the day off last week for my birthday and shot with that lens all day. It definitely takes your composition to a new level. I love it. It's become my favorite lens.

  • Ed V. September 15, 2009 03:43 am

    My first lens was the Canon 50 f/1.8 not by choice, but it was all I could afford at the time ($50 used). Now that I also have a 70-200 f/2.8L (among others), I'm still stunned by the image quality of the plastic fantastic. I also have the 35 f/2 and would highly recommend either lens to anyone.

  • arefel September 15, 2009 03:34 am

    Good timing! I am just considering to buy the exact same Nikkor 50mm f/1.8. I have been reading reviews and looking at Flickr. Your post simply confirms what everybody is saying. This is a MUST HAVE lens!


  • geoff September 15, 2009 03:29 am

    When we were expecting our first baby about 7 years ago, we bought a Nikon N80 film slr, and before we could buy it with the kit lens, the guy behind the counter said, "no", buy the 50mm f/1.4 instead (which was close in cost to the camera body at the time). Best advice I've ever been given.

    To this day, everyone that sees photos from this lens (now on my D300) still is amazed, asking how its done.
    Easy I say, just get a 50mm and open it up.

    Besides, with a $9 reversal ring, I can use it for macro too.

    Now, if Nikon would only release a pro level 35mm f/1.4 so I could get the film equivalent of a 50mm, I'd be ecstatic.

  • Kelly September 15, 2009 03:17 am

    When I first got my D80 a little less than a year ago, I borrowed my boss's 50mm 1.4 to see if I'd want one for myself. It's an incredible lens - super sharp, super fast. But because of the crop factor, I had to be half way across the room to get anything other than a head shot if I was taking snapshots of family get togethers and the like. Then the 35mm 1.8 came out and I knew that would be my solution. After figuring the crop factor, it's 52mm film equivalent, it's much handier for multiple uses. It's not a sharp as the 50mm, but close. I'm very happy with it and love using prime lenses.

  • Aaron September 15, 2009 03:15 am

    I bought my 50mm because of the f/1.8 aperture..... I use it 95% of the time now, and the only time I don't use it is when its pretty much a physical impossibility to get the shot otherwise. It is hands down my favorite lens and I will ALWAYS have it with me.

  • Nathan September 15, 2009 03:04 am

    I picked up a 50mm (the one pictured, actually) as my second lens awhile ago... I will say that it was great in every aspect except quality. I loved the low aperture and prime lenses definitely force you to move and recompose... unfortunately, i put my camera down a little harder than it could handle, apparently, because the lens kind of fell apart. I was able to put it back together, but when it tries to focus toward its minimum distance, it gets stuck... and needs a little coaxing.

    So, recently, I picked up Canon's 60mm 2.8, and I absolutely LOVE it. It's a 1:1 macro (which sparks creativity for me right there), it's internally focused, so CPL's only require you to adjust to where you want it once, and it has Full Time Manual focus! Tack sharp, too!

    I'd say that I miss the additional stops, but honestly, 1.8 was a bit too shallow for most of my subjects.

    All that being said, I'll also note that I have a 70-300mm that I find indispensable for portraits, as well (which is my main subject).

  • Rick020200 September 15, 2009 02:57 am

    Where's the eye candy? This is an article about taking great pictures on a photography website and you don't give us one example?

  • Khürt Williams September 15, 2009 02:55 am

    Great timing on this post. I place an order for the Nikkor 35mm AF-S f/1.8 on Friday. It's on the way from (via Crutchfield). Here's hoping that this lens (and DPS of course) will teach me something.

  • Carolyn September 15, 2009 02:52 am

    I bought my Nikon 50mm 1.8 in the Summer as well - yet to be taken off the camera! Best lens for it's value.

  • Heather September 15, 2009 02:46 am

    What an excellent article. Thank you! I've shared it.

    Having a crop factor sensor throws a slight spanner in the works. My 400D is a 1.6x crop, so a nifty fifty is really 80mm. Not a major problem, but enough that I purposely went out to buy a lens that would give me a closer 50mm equivalent. I now own a 35mm f/2 prime, which is my main lens, giving me roughly 55mm focal length. The 50mm f/1.8 comes out when I need good low light performance.

    And when I finally get the 5D MkII I want, I've got a mild wide angle prime, and can revert to the 50mm for every day use.

  • 50mm lens fan September 15, 2009 02:38 am

    Using a 50mm lens for the first time is real eye-opener. Makes you wonder if Canon, Nikon, Sony etc should offer kits with a 50mm lens instead of generic 18-55mm lens...

  • Anthony Brothers September 15, 2009 02:33 am

    I really want to get the nikon 35mm 1.8, but no one has them in stock, and those who do are asking over retail for them. I'm shooting a 50mm right now, but I have no auto focus, and it's really hard to use when in a hurry or trying to shoot kids. they just wont stay still long enough for a good focus!

  • David September 15, 2009 02:30 am

    I love my 50mm prime lens. It cost less than £80 from Amazon and is brilliant in low light. I love it for portraits but am still learning the ropes. I took this quick summer snap using it and it sort of sums up our summer, sort of feels a bit 70s. If you don't have this lens it is definitely worth adding to the kit bag.

  • Dallas September 15, 2009 02:22 am

    Great post! After much prodding from my mother (who is also a photographer) I finally tried out my 50mm lens this weekend, in an outdoor portrait session. The results were amazing, and so different from my usual work. I even climbed a fence, as you mentioned, to get the right angle.

  • Greg T September 15, 2009 01:37 am

    I find the 50mm on a 1.6 crop camera to be a little too tele for me. Since I wanted a little more versatile, I bought 17-55 2.8 IS - that's a beautiful lens. It's also 10 times more expensive than the nifty 50 though :-(

  • Brandon Oelling September 15, 2009 01:34 am

    If I had it my way, I would weld my 50mm onto my Canon 50D ;-)

    GREAT post!

  • caroline September 15, 2009 01:34 am

    I definitely use my prime lens more than anything now. I have a 60mm (on a DX crop, though). Now I'm wondering if I should get the 50 or the 35. I wonder if I'll really notice that much difference with the 50 (although it is a few stops faster), or if I should get one a bit wider.

  • Greg Easton September 15, 2009 01:31 am

    I bought the 50 f/1.8 and I didn't take it off the camera for months. Until I bought my 35mm f/1.8 Greatest lenses Nikon makes.