The 50mm prime lens is called the Nifty-Fifty and with good reason. If you ask any seasoned photographer what is a 50mm lens good for, you will get a long list of advantages that make this one of the most used lenses in photography. It is probably the most versatile lens in existence. It is certainly the most versatile prime lens that you can buy.
In the years that I have spent as a professional photographer, I have used my 50mm for more scenarios than I can count. From products to events, from portraits to travel, this lens can handle it all.
In this article, I will give you my top 10 reasons why you absolutely must get a 50mm lens to add to your photography kit.
Important: All the photos that you see in this article are shot with a 50mm prime lens!
1. Very Affordable
The 50mm prime, no matter what camera system you are on, has the best cost to quality ratio compared to any other lens. With the price range of around $100 to $200, plus options for buying used and renewed (refurbished) pieces, the barrier to entry couldn’t be lower.
This also means you can be rough with it and replace it easily if it becomes unusable. Good for experimentation in extreme situations.
2. Great Low Light Performance And Bokeh
This lens is very fast, with a maximum aperture of f/1.8 across all manufacturers. There’s also an f/1.2 version but that is very expensive.
However, f/1.8 is all you need for most low-light situations. The shallow depth of field also gives you a fantastic amount of bokeh or background blur.
If you are upgrading from a kit lens, most of which max out at f/3.5, you will be amazed at the difference.
3. Amazing for Portraits
The 50mm f/1.8 is probably the most used portrait lens. This is because of a few important factors. Not only is it cheap to buy, but it also gives amazing image quality.
Since it is a prime lens, there is hardly any distortion and any portrait subject looks great on this lens be it human or animal. The wide-open aperture makes it possible to have a beautifully blurred background, causing the subject to stand out effortlessly.
If you are just getting into portraits, you will marvel at how easy it is to get good results with this lens.
4. Flexible Focal Length for Street and Travel Compositions
The 50mm has been used by some of the most well-known and respected masters in street photography.
Henri Cartier Bresson consistently chose a 50mm over a 35mm for his photography and it is a perspective that has been celebrated over the decades that have followed. The 50mm frame is the ideal middle ground that is neither too wide nor too zoomed in.
It creates a blurred background without totally washing out the details such as what happens if you are shooting at longer lengths such as 85mm or 200mm.
It allows you to get close to your subject without making them aware of your presence. The large aperture allows you to shoot in a wide range of low-light conditions.
Combined with the small form factor and low price, it is the ideal travel lens for shooting one the go.
5. Small and Lightweight
The first thing that you will notice when you get this lens is how tiny and lightweight it is. Especially if you are used to a zoom lens.
The smaller footprint makes it less intimidating and thus allows you to get close to subjects who are not professional actors and models.
The weight and size also make it easier to balance this lens on a gimbal. It is very easy to move around and shoot all day when your lens is so light that you barely even feel it.
Need to get into a tight spot?
No problem, this is tiny enough to fit into most crowded spaces.
6. Creates Cinematic Video Footage
The image quality of the 50mm lens along with its wide aperture makes it a no-brainer for anyone shooting video. If you want to shoot crisp clear videos with nicely blurred-out backgrounds, this lens will serve you well.
Whether you want a wide frame or are getting up close and personal with a tight close-up, you will see the details pop.
The f/1.8 aperture makes it great to shoot with in low light conditions, something that all wedding and event video shooters will appreciate. It’s size and weight also make it easy to shoot handheld and unobtrusively.
As a prime lens that is normal to wide in its perspective, it can also help you get those cinematic frames.
This lens also makes everything look natural because the 50mm focal length is very similar to how the human eyes see. This is a great low cost investment for all video makers, beginners to professionals.
7. Versatile in Different Situations
By now I hope I have made it very clear that this is one of the most versatile, if not the most versatile lens, on the market.
You can just buy a camera body and the applicable 50mm prime and shoot pretty much every kind of photo you ever wanted.
With the advent of Photo Merge directly within Lightroom, you can even shoot multiple overlapping frames to create a huge medium format sized image or get a panoramic landscape image, all with this one lens.
With such a wide aperture, you can crank up the shutter speed to take high-speed shots. This is useful when you are shooting fast-moving action such as a game or a dance performance.
With a minimum focusing distance of about 1ft, you can get up close to your subject. You can also open the lens and flip it around to turn it into a macro lens, adjusting the focus by moving your body.
Just be careful about avoiding scratching the front glass and letting dust onto your sensor.
8. Perfect for Product and Food Photography
This is a great lens for shooting food and products.
With food, sometimes you just want to move in close and get all the details. When you are shooting tabletop products, getting up close to the object is often what is required to get the perfect shot.
The shallow depth of field capabilities of this lens allows you to get beautiful bokeh in the background, adding to the appeal of the image. The short minimum distance really comes in to play in these situations.
9. Less Distortion Gives You Better Quality
I want to highlight this point separately because it is an important distinction that beginners and even some intermediate photographers don’t take into consideration.
A zoom lens, which most kit lenses are, is a complicated piece of equipment. While all modern camera lenses utilize multiple elements (individual glass lenses), zoom lenses use a lot more than prime lenses to achieve the variable focal length.
There is always a trade-off in image quality when adding more glass elements because light is passing through more glass, and it is difficult to keep it from creating chromatic aberrations and distortions.
This is why high-quality zoom lenses tend to be as expensive as the camera body itself and often much more. Prime lenses have it easy in this regard. They can be made with a minimal number of elements making it easier to achieve good image quality.
In practice, this means your photographs look straighter and life like, a point to note if you are into shooting any kind of portrait. You will also have less chromatic aberrations to deal with, good news for all those details shot against a bright daytime sky or similar contrasting background. It also produces very sharp images with beautiful details.
10. Can Be Easier to Find a Composition
It is easy to get your composition out of whack when you have a zoom lens.
This is because the ability to zoom in and out often takes attention away from correctly composing a frame. With a prime lens like the 50mm, the limitation of working with a fixed focal length works in your favor because it is one less decision you have to make.
This frees you up to work on your composition, which is after all the most important aspect of photography. This is why master photographers have often worked with just one or two focal lengths.
They focused more on what they were shooting and less on how they were shooting it.
Go get the 50mm f/1.8 lens if you want to have the cheapest and the most versatile high quality prime lens.
A lens favoured by the masters.
This lens can shoot almost anything and is good for stills and video alike.
In my opinion, if you want to buy just one lens with your camera, drop the kit lens and buy this if you want better image quality. No matter what your genre and style of photography, you will be find great joy in using the 50mm prime.
So that’s it for my top 10 reasons why you need to get a 50mm lens. I hope I have inspired you enough to try out the 50mm if you haven’t already.
If you still have questions about what is a 50mm lens good for, feel free to drop a comment below or message me on Instagram.
I respond to all my messages, and I will try my best to answer your questions.
If you’re using a cropped sensor like APS-C then does the same suggestion hold true or do you need to take into account the 1.5? So, for APS-C does that mean you really need a 35mm F/1.8 that is “close-to” 50mm equivalent?
Hi Victor! Thanks for your question. You’re exactly right. You would need to take into account the crop factor of 1.5x so the best 50mm equivalent on an APSC sensor is around 35mm. If you can’t find a good 35mm that you like, you can also use a 30mm too.