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Gear

March 31, 2021

5 Reasons Why You Need a 50mm Lens

Written By
Joel Fuller

Gear

March 31, 2021

5 Reasons Why You Need a 50mm Lens

Written By
Joel Fuller

Students often ask our instructors the question: what lens should I buy? The answer isn’t always straightforward, with so many variables like what lenses you already own, your style of photography, the subjects you shoot, and your budget. However, one lens that is easily justified for all photographers is a 50mm prime (often referred to as a “fixed lens”). In fact, you should own one, and you should most definitely be using it. For instructor Finn Beales, he considers it his “desert island lens,” and recommends swapping it in for any kit lens, if you’re just starting out. 

 “Learn to love the constraints associated with shooting a fixed focal length. It will make you a better photographer. Fact.” – Finn Beales


Before we jump into reasoning — a reminder that different sized sensors produce different fields of view while using the same focal length. For example, to get the same field of view using a 50mm focal length lens on a standard 35mm film or full-frame camera using an APS-C size sensor camera, you would need to use a 35mm focal length lens to create the same field of view (a crop factor of 1.6x is applied, further explanation here).

Often referred to as the “nifty-fifty”, here are five reasons why a 50mm lens is a must-have:

Image by Pete O'Hara

1. Size & Weight

A 50mm lens is small, light, and easy to carry. This allows you to have a very compact, but powerful setup with your camera. Because they’re often so small, there is no reason not to bring it with you on a shoot, or to always keep it in your main camera bag.

For example, here is the new and very reasonably priced Canon RF50mm F1.8 STM that weighs a mere 160g (0.35 lbs).

2. Versatility

A 50mm lens is a great addition to your kit because of its versatility. It’s perfectly capable of capturing detail shots, environmental portraits, landscapes, street photography, travel alike. If you had to, you could build an entire portfolio with this focal length (though not our first recommendation). Using a prime lens forces you to be creative and move with your subject to achieve the best composition. As the field of view most similar to that of the human eye, the 50mm lens is often considered the “normal” focal length. Romanticizing that idea further, you can imagine that there is some sort of innate connection between this focal length and the way we, as humans feel about the images it produces.

Images by Joel Fuller

3. Aperture, Light & Optics

Almost every 50mm lens has a large aperture, commonly ranging from f/1.4 to f/1.8. This is perfect for creating a shallow depth of field and shooting in low-light situations, such as blue hour. Not that we’re big pixel peepers here at Wildist, but when it comes to sharpness, chromatic aberration, and distortion, prime lenses are advantageous to their zoom counterparts. This is due to their simple construction, allowing for sharper and clearer images.

“In most cases a $500, 50mm prime lens is as sharp or sharper than a $3000 zoom lens covering the same focal length.” - Community Lead, Joel Fuller
Image by Pete O'Hara
Image by Pete O'Hara

4. 50 & Stitch

As discussed before, the 50mm lens has a “normal” focal length that sits perfectly between wide-angle (<35mm) and telephoto (>60mm). Wide angle lenses such as a 24mm tend to distort subjects as you get too close to them and do not have the ability to compress the background to the foreground. Because of these two things, the 50mm lens is the perfect companion for stitching images together. 

The 50 & Stitch technique creates wide shots that bring the background closer to the foreground with little or no distortion. It mimics the look of large format film photography, marked by a visual compression of distance. If you shoot the panorama with a large aperture, you effectively throw the background out of focus. This results in a unique look that makes your subject pop, compared to the flattening effect of a wide-angle lens. 

Image by Pete O'Hara
Image by Finn Beales


This technique is a staple used by instructor Finn Beales. He shoots multiple images of a scene while panning his camera, then in post, he stitches the images together to create a panorama. By merging so many images together, you effectively create a very high-resolution image prints well and crops without losing image quality.

5. Cost

Because of their simple construction compared to that of bigger primes and zoom lenses, the 50mm lens is relatively inexpensive and well within reach for most photographers' budgets, especially if you look to buy used. A $500, 50mm prime can stand toe-to-toe with a brand new 24-70 F2.8 zoom in almost every regard, while costing a fourth of the price. Below is a buying guide for 50mm prime lenses, broken down by brand and cost.

Buying Guide

Canon

  1. Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM $125.00 - 160 g (5.6 oz)
  2. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM $125.00 - 160 g (5.64 oz)
  3. Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM $2,299.00 - 950 g (2.09 lb)

Nikon

  1. Nikon Z 50mm f1.8 S $596.95 - 415 g (14.64 oz)
  2. Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G $216.95 - 185 g (6.53 oz)
  3. Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G $446.95 - 280 g (9.88 oz)
  4. Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens $2096.95 - 1090 g (2.4 lb)

Sony

  1. Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens $198.00 - 186 g (6.56 oz)
  2. Sony Sonnar FE 55mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss $898.00 - 281 g (9.91 oz)

Sigma

  1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART $949.00 - 815 g (1.79 lb) Available in Nikon F, Canon EF, or Sony E Mount.

Fujifilm

  1. FUJIFILM XF 35mm f2 R WR $399.00 - 170 g (6 oz)
  2. FUJIFILM XF 35mm f1.4 R $599.00 - 187 g (6.6 oz)
Image by Pete O'Hara

If you want to improve your photography both technically and creatively, the 50mm primes is a must-have. They’re small, versatile, have great optics with low-light capability, and handy for stitching larger panoramic images. To top it off, they’re available at a reasonable price, even for beginners.

See first hand the power and usefulness of the 50mm lens in Finn’s Storytelling Workshop.


Students often ask our instructors the question: what lens should I buy? The answer isn’t always straightforward, with so many variables like what lenses you already own, your style of photography, the subjects you shoot, and your budget. However, one lens that is easily justified for all photographers is a 50mm prime (often referred to as a “fixed lens”). In fact, you should own one, and you should most definitely be using it. For instructor Finn Beales, he considers it his “desert island lens,” and recommends swapping it in for any kit lens, if you’re just starting out. 

 “Learn to love the constraints associated with shooting a fixed focal length. It will make you a better photographer. Fact.” – Finn Beales


Before we jump into reasoning — a reminder that different sized sensors produce different fields of view while using the same focal length. For example, to get the same field of view using a 50mm focal length lens on a standard 35mm film or full-frame camera using an APS-C size sensor camera, you would need to use a 35mm focal length lens to create the same field of view (a crop factor of 1.6x is applied, further explanation here).

Often referred to as the “nifty-fifty”, here are five reasons why a 50mm lens is a must-have:

Image by Pete O'Hara

1. Size & Weight

A 50mm lens is small, light, and easy to carry. This allows you to have a very compact, but powerful setup with your camera. Because they’re often so small, there is no reason not to bring it with you on a shoot, or to always keep it in your main camera bag.

For example, here is the new and very reasonably priced Canon RF50mm F1.8 STM that weighs a mere 160g (0.35 lbs).

2. Versatility

A 50mm lens is a great addition to your kit because of its versatility. It’s perfectly capable of capturing detail shots, environmental portraits, landscapes, street photography, travel alike. If you had to, you could build an entire portfolio with this focal length (though not our first recommendation). Using a prime lens forces you to be creative and move with your subject to achieve the best composition. As the field of view most similar to that of the human eye, the 50mm lens is often considered the “normal” focal length. Romanticizing that idea further, you can imagine that there is some sort of innate connection between this focal length and the way we, as humans feel about the images it produces.

Images by Joel Fuller

3. Aperture, Light & Optics

Almost every 50mm lens has a large aperture, commonly ranging from f/1.4 to f/1.8. This is perfect for creating a shallow depth of field and shooting in low-light situations, such as blue hour. Not that we’re big pixel peepers here at Wildist, but when it comes to sharpness, chromatic aberration, and distortion, prime lenses are advantageous to their zoom counterparts. This is due to their simple construction, allowing for sharper and clearer images.

“In most cases a $500, 50mm prime lens is as sharp or sharper than a $3000 zoom lens covering the same focal length.” - Community Lead, Joel Fuller
Image by Pete O'Hara
Image by Pete O'Hara

4. 50 & Stitch

As discussed before, the 50mm lens has a “normal” focal length that sits perfectly between wide-angle (<35mm) and telephoto (>60mm). Wide angle lenses such as a 24mm tend to distort subjects as you get too close to them and do not have the ability to compress the background to the foreground. Because of these two things, the 50mm lens is the perfect companion for stitching images together. 

The 50 & Stitch technique creates wide shots that bring the background closer to the foreground with little or no distortion. It mimics the look of large format film photography, marked by a visual compression of distance. If you shoot the panorama with a large aperture, you effectively throw the background out of focus. This results in a unique look that makes your subject pop, compared to the flattening effect of a wide-angle lens. 

Image by Pete O'Hara
Image by Finn Beales


This technique is a staple used by instructor Finn Beales. He shoots multiple images of a scene while panning his camera, then in post, he stitches the images together to create a panorama. By merging so many images together, you effectively create a very high-resolution image prints well and crops without losing image quality.

5. Cost

Because of their simple construction compared to that of bigger primes and zoom lenses, the 50mm lens is relatively inexpensive and well within reach for most photographers' budgets, especially if you look to buy used. A $500, 50mm prime can stand toe-to-toe with a brand new 24-70 F2.8 zoom in almost every regard, while costing a fourth of the price. Below is a buying guide for 50mm prime lenses, broken down by brand and cost.

Buying Guide

Canon

  1. Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM $125.00 - 160 g (5.6 oz)
  2. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM $125.00 - 160 g (5.64 oz)
  3. Canon RF 50mm f/1.2L USM $2,299.00 - 950 g (2.09 lb)

Nikon

  1. Nikon Z 50mm f1.8 S $596.95 - 415 g (14.64 oz)
  2. Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G $216.95 - 185 g (6.53 oz)
  3. Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G $446.95 - 280 g (9.88 oz)
  4. Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm f/1.2 S Lens $2096.95 - 1090 g (2.4 lb)

Sony

  1. Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 Lens $198.00 - 186 g (6.56 oz)
  2. Sony Sonnar FE 55mm f/1.8 Carl Zeiss $898.00 - 281 g (9.91 oz)

Sigma

  1. Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM ART $949.00 - 815 g (1.79 lb) Available in Nikon F, Canon EF, or Sony E Mount.

Fujifilm

  1. FUJIFILM XF 35mm f2 R WR $399.00 - 170 g (6 oz)
  2. FUJIFILM XF 35mm f1.4 R $599.00 - 187 g (6.6 oz)
Image by Pete O'Hara

If you want to improve your photography both technically and creatively, the 50mm primes is a must-have. They’re small, versatile, have great optics with low-light capability, and handy for stitching larger panoramic images. To top it off, they’re available at a reasonable price, even for beginners.

See first hand the power and usefulness of the 50mm lens in Finn’s Storytelling Workshop.


The Ultimate Photo Storytelling Workshop

Finn has spent years creating story-driven images for clients across the globe including Apple, Burberry, and Google. In this workshop, learn how to shape an impactful narrative and create work that stands out.

Explore Workshop