My nifty fifty


Every now and then I step out of my comfort zone and leave my lovely 24-104mm zoom lens at home. I take with me a random lens I normally don’t use (I don’t have zillions of them to choose from, sadly) and try to spend a whole day taking pictures just with this one lens – and nothing more.

Last weekend I did that with the Canon 50mm f1.8. And the past couple of days made me realise that in fact this is my favourite Canon lens so far.

50mmAfter years of using zoom lenses or cameras with zoom capabilities, the ‘plastic’ 50mm was my first prime lens. Mainly because I couldn’t afford anything else.

At (then) just under £60, the lens offered fantastic quality, great speed and opened a new world of prime lenses for me. I remember when I swapped my old zoom lens for this one – and initially couldn’t cope with its simplicity. What? No zoom? You actually need to step back/forward? No image stabilisation?

No, none of those things. But, unlike my previous f4.0 lenses, this one let so much light in that I quickly realised what I’d missed before: the ability to take portraits (as this is when this lens really shines) in low-lighting conditions.

It does take a few attempts to get used to this new reality, if you’ve never used a prime lens. But the rewards are fantastic: crisp, punchy images, fantastic depth of field and the ability to take great pictures in challenging lighting conditions.

50mm-3

So why do I love it so much? Here’s why:

  • It allows you to separate your subject from the background and makes it more prominent.
  • It challenges you to rethink, reframe, refocus. You can’t stand in one place and rely on your zoom. You have to move and make the effort to frame the image.
  • It’s absolutely indispensable for portrait shots. Whether it’s just one person on their own or a face in the crowd, you can focus on them and make their face – or a particular feature of it – a strong focal point of your image.
  • It’s incredibly fast. If your standard lens’s aperture is in the region of f3.5-4, then working with a lens which allows you to get crisp images at night with f1.8 makes all the difference. Combine it with a good DSLR, which is capable of producing images at ISO 1600+ without any visible noise and you can really enjoy an evening photo walk without a flash.
  • On a bright sunny day you can take images at extremely fast shutter speeds and either get really sharp images, or you can increase the exposure time and experiment with excessive light.
  • You learn a lot about depth of field by shooting with this lens in different circumstances.
  • It’s really small and light.
50mm-2

This list is probably not exhaustive.

I know its price has gone up in recent years, but it’s still incredibly cheap and I can’t wait to use it again.

Do you have a nifty fifty and – more importantly – do you give it as much attention as it deserves?

By Michal Dzierza


  • http://www.enoxisureka.com/photoblog enoxisureka

    My weapon of choice is my 50mm f1.4 and I gotta say, the world looks that much better through this lens…at least 0.4 times better. ;)

  • Michal

    Probably slightly better than that. One day…

  • http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/culture/author/kateday/ Kate Day

    Always nice to indulge in a little prime lovin’. I have Canon’s 50mm f1.8 and love it but even better is my Sigma 30mm f1.4 so maybe I’m with enoxisureka …. kinda ;)

    The Sigma is significantly heavier than the Canon but also that little bit faster and wider. But both are fantastic lenses and every time I shoot with either I remember why I love primes – speed, more flexibility with depth of field, that wonderful sense of making a photo, of thinking rather than just shooting…. I could go on but I think it’s bedtime

  • http://paulclarke.com Paul Clarke

    I could have written every word above – so true! An amazing piece of kit, and upgrading to the 1.4 as I now have… well, just makes me wonder if I will be heading for the 1.2 before long. Or is that just getting silly? :)

  • Michal

    Kate Day :

    Always nice to indulge in a little prime lovin’. I have Canon’s 50mm f1.8 and love it but even better is my Sigma 30mm f1.4 so maybe I’m with enoxisureka …. kinda ;)

    The Sigma is significantly heavier than the Canon but also that little bit faster and wider. But both are fantastic lenses and every time I shoot with either I remember why I love primes – speed, more flexibility with depth of field, that wonderful sense of making a photo, of thinking rather than just shooting…. I could go on but I think it’s bedtime

    Now, that 30mm is on my list too as is a nice fast 90mm lens. Time to invest in more prime lenses.

  • Michal

    @ Paul Clarke: Sounds tempting, depends how much faster the 1.2 really is.

  • Alex Allen

    i own several Canon L Lenses and they have the best quality. even better than Nikon.-;.

  • Mel

    Just came across your post when looking up how to use my new (just purchased it yesterday) 50mm! I had the exact same thoughts as you when I opened that tiny box. My first image turned out amazing! But, I was still completely frightened by it. Your post made me feel better about my purchase and now I cannot wait to spend all day shooting with my nifty fifty! Thanks for hte post!