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.
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.
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.
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?