- What is Focal Length? A Beginner Photographer's Guide
- What You Need to Know Before Buying a Camera Lens
One of my favorite lenses to use is a 50mm, otherwise known as a Nifty Fifty.
And I know a lot of other photographers that are in love with the Nifty Fifty as well.
But that got me wondering, are we looking at this lens through rose-colored glasses? Or is it really as good as we think it is?
Overrated or Underused?
If you ask me, 50mm lenses are certainly not overrated.
I'll get into the virtues of using a 50mm lens in a moment, but for now, let me address the second part of the question - are 50mm lenses underused?
If we're talking about enthusiast and professional photographers, no, I don't think Nifty Fifties are underused.
That's because people that have been behind the camera for a good, long while understand how valuable a 50mm lens can be.
Having said that, I do think that 50mm lenses are underused by the largest population of photographers - beginners.
I think this is the case for a couple of reasons.
First, some beginners simply don't know what lenses to buy and which ones to avoid.
And second, photography can be an expensive hobby, so buying additional lenses isn't always in the cards.
There's ways to get around the expense, though. More on that in a minute.
Editors Tip: Want to buy a new 50mm lens? Unload some lenses you aren't using. List your lenses for free, take the money you get from selling them, and invest into glass that you will use!
The Virtues of Nifty Fifties
Nifty Fifty lenses have been around for decades, and for good reason - they offer tons of advantages for photographers.
First and foremost, 50mm lenses are highly versatile and can be used for a host of photography pursuits.
It's a great focal length for portraiture whether you use a full frame camera or a crop sensor camera (which changes the effective focal length of the lens to about 80mm, depending on the camera).
A 50mm lens is also well-suited for landscape photography, again, regardless of whether you use a full frame or a crop sensor camera.
These lenses typically have very large apertures as well, somewhere in the range of f/1.2-f/2.8
With such large apertures, you can use a 50mm lens to do a couple of things that are difficult (if not impossible) to do with lesser lenses.
First, you can shoot in low-light situations without having to boost the ISO. That's advantageous for creating clean, crisp images with less digital noise.
Second, since a large aperture helps create a shallow depth of field, you can more easily blur the background of your images with a 50mm lens.
Nifty Fifty lenses are also small and lightweight, meaning you aren't bogged down with carrying a big, bulky lens.
That's a great feature for all kinds of photography, but particularly for something like street photography in which you want to be able to blend into the crowd.
With the small form factor of a 50mm lens, you can do that much more easily than you can if you're shooting with something like an 85mm lens or a 24-105mm zoom lens.
See a 50mm lens in action in the video below from Adorama TV.
A final feature that's great about 50mm lenses is the price.
Though models with a larger aperture, like f/1.2, can be quite spendy, others, like f/1.8 or f/2 models, can be found brand new for well under $200.
When it comes to lenses - especially ones that are as good as 50mm lenses - that's a fantastic price.
Why You Need a 50mm Lens
If my long list of virtues of the 50mm lens isn't enough to convince you that you need this little powerhouse in your camera bag, consider this...
A 50mm lens will simply make you a better photographer.
The fixed focal length means you can't rely on a zoom to frame your shots. Instead, you actually have to move around to get the image that you want.
That's excellent practice for brushing up your composition skills, no matter what kind of photography you undertake.
What's more, 50mm lenses can help you be more creative than you can with something like the kit lens that came with your camera.
For example, you can use a 50mm lens to get sharp, clear video.
You can also reverse mount a 50mm lens on your camera to use it for macro photography.
And with the large apertures I noted earlier, you can experiment with depth of field to give your photos an artistic flair.
In other words, a 50mm lens is one of the best investments that a photographer can make.
It'll do what you want, give you tons of flexibility, and help you develop your creative eye, all at the same time.
And since they can be found on the cheap, there's no excuse not to get one, as Peter McKinnon points out in the video above.
Editor's Tip: Strapped for cash but want to upgrade your lens? Search for quality pre-owned lenses here.