5 Reasons to Own a 50mm Lens

We often get questions from newcomers to photography about which lenses we would recommend to them as they start building their camera systems. Of course everyone should choose lenses and other equipment that suit their particular interests, but there is one lens that I think everyone can benefit from and the good news is that it won’t break the bank. The 50mm lens belongs in every photographers bag.

an assortment of 50mm lenses from Nikon and Canon

Images made with a Nikon 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Before zoom lenses came on the scene, it used to be that new SLR cameras were sold with a 50mm standard lens. It’s versatility and relative low cost made it a perfect compliment to a new camera purchase. The simplicity of this fixed focal length “prime” lens made it very easy for photography students to get a handle on aperture settings and controlling exposure. In my opinion, the entry-level zoom lenses that come with many of todays cameras (often referred to as “kit lenses”) are a huge detriment to learning photography basics. This is primarily because of the fact that these lenses are “variable aperture zooms.” A variable aperture zoom is cheap because it doesn’t have much glass in it. Not a probem unless you want to shoot in low-light without flash or create shallow depth-of-field effects in your images. Most of our photography students want to do both! Who wouldn’t?

5 Reasons why you should own a 50mm lens:

  1. LOW LIGHT: It’s large maximum aperture will gather much more light than your zoom lens in those darker shooting situations (such as indoors), allowing you to make pictures without flash, and thereby preserving the atmosphere of the scene (and allowing you to remain inconspicuous).
  2. BLURRY BACKGROUNDS: That soft, blurry background that you’ve been hoping for in your pictures will finally be possible. Simply open up to the widest maximum aperture and let ‘er rip!
  3. IMPROVES YOUR PHOTOGRAPHY: The fixed focal length will force you to move your feet and use your brain, rather than letting you lazily twist your zoom ring. This fact alone will actually train you to be a better shooter. Zoom with your feet!
  4. LIGHT, CHEAP, COMPACT: It’s lightweight, inexpensive and compact. A 50mm 1.8 can be purchased for about CHF 150, and a 50mm 1.4 can be purchased for about CHF 350. Both are fine lenses. Any other lens with such a wide aperture will cost you closer to CHF 2000. This particular focal length (50mm) hits a particular sweetspot price wise. Take advantage!
  5. VERSATILE: This lens will work great on all cameras, regardless of whether you own a camera with a full-frame sensor or you shoot on a cropped format. It’s a great lens for general reportage, for travel, and for shooting people in a multitude of situations.