Last Updated on 01/15/2019 by Mark Beckenbach
If you want to improve your photography in 2019, 50mm prime lenses should be on your radar.
If you were lucky enough to get your hands on a new camera over the holidays, congratulations. Chances are your new camera came with a kit lens. While kit lenses are much better today than they were in the past, your still going to want to upgrade to better lenses as soon as you can. One of the keys to better images is better glass, and there is no better starting place than with 50mm prime lenses. After the break we’ll take a look why 50mm prime lenses are so great, and we’ll show you a few that are affordable and capable of producing incredible images.
50mm prime lenses have a field of view that’s incredibly close to what the eyes see naturally, and due to fewer moving parts, fixed focal length lenses are much sharper than their zoom lens siblings. Because you’ll have to use your feet to zoom in and zoom out, prime lenses make you think about your composition much more too, which in turn will make you a better photographer. Not being able to rely on your lens to recompose will make your think about your images in a completely new way.
While they may take a little while to get used to, prime lenses are one of the best ways to up your photography game. Primes have much faster apertures than kit lenses too, so you’ll be able to experiment with depth of field more, and you’ll be treated to lots of gorgeous bokeh. You’ll find that this focal range is great for street photography, portraits, events, photo journalism, and documentary work too. These lenses are incredibly versatile which make them a great choice for a photographer’s first prime lens.
Lets take a look at a few 50mm prime lenses that are super sharp, fast, won’t break the bank, and will help you grow as a photographer. Add one of these lenses to you collection and you’ll never look back.
Canon 50mm F1.8 STM
The Canon 50mm f1.8 is a lens that pops up on our lists all the time, and there’s a good reason for that. When it comes to affordable 50mm prime lenses that are great performers, this little beauty from Canon cannot be ignored. This nifty fifty is lightweight, has an incredibly small footprint, and has a maximum aperture of f1.8. We could suggest the f1.4 version of this lens which is twice the price, but this $125 lens is sharper and easier to use. It’s an absolute gem.
In our review we said:
“Canon’s 50mm f1.8 STM is a great lens for the beginner, hobbyist, enthusiast, or even the professional who likes to rough and tumble their equipment.”
This 50mm f1.8 lens is all the proof you need to show you that you don’t need to spend crazy amounts of money to get a great lens. Inside the plastic body of the Canon 50mm f1.8 you’ll find six elements in five groups, and seven rounded aperture blades. This lens may not look like much, but it can produce sharp images, colors that have nice natural tones, and bokeh that’s pleasing to the eye. Make no mistake about it: you’re going to get some truly amazing results.
You’re also going to find that autofocus performance is exceptional too thanks to the STM motor used in this lens. Good light, low light, and everything in-between will yield fast autofocus performance.
Build quality overall is good. You’re not going to get getting a premium feeling lens for $125, but the plastic housing is as tough as nails, and it will survive anything you can throw at it. Bump it, bash it, bang it while it’s on your camera; it’ll be no problem. The only downside is that there’s no weather sealing, so keep that in mind and don’t head out into a downpour with it.
The Canon 50mm f1.8 is a truly marvelous lens. It’s small enough to put on your camera and walk around all day with (it weighs just 0.35lbs). It produces sharp images with nice natural colors, and the autofocus performance is great. If you’re a Canon shooter and want a lens that really will help you improve as a photographer, the Canon 50mm f1.8 STM is for you. It will be the best $125 you’ll ever spend.
Buy now ($125): Amazon
Canon 50mm F1.8 STM Image Samples
Pro Tip: Lens not weather sealed? No problem. Carry a few of these camera and lens weatherproof covers on your person or in your camera bag and you’ll be able to shoot for hours on end out in the elements.
Rokinon 50mm F1.4 AF FE
If you’re a Sony shooter and looking for a solid 50mm lens that produces incredibly sharp images, gorgeous colors, and smooth, creamy bokeh for under $600, this lens is for you. Given it’s price to performance ratio, this autofocus lens from Rokinon is incredibly hard to beat.
In our review we said:
“Wow, that’s really what I need to say first and foremost about the new Rokinon 50mm f1.4 AF FE. It’s sharp, contrasty, has gorgeous bokeh, no major aberrations, and is really gorgeous.
Inside the all metal body of the Rokinon 50mm f1.4 you’ll find nine elements in eight groups, and nine aperture. Rokinon has always produced optics that are are capable of producing gorgeous images, and this lens is no exception to that rule. The images from this lens will make your jaw hit the floor time and time again. You can expect very sharp images at f1.4, but stop it down a tiny amount and images become sharp enough to cut.
Color rendition is gorgeous. You’ll find beautiful saturated colors that are strikingly contrasty too. The bokeh the Rokinon 50mm f1.4 produces will take your breath away. It’s creamy and smooth, and lends itself to portraits very well. We didn’t notice any distortion or chromatic aberration either. The Rokinon 50mm f1.4 is also very quick when it comes to autofocusing speeds, even in low light conditions.
The Rokinon 50mm f1.4 also has outstanding build quality. The all-metal body feels really nice, and the large focusing ring provides a good place to rest your hand. This lens is not weather sealed so keep that in mind before you head out. The 50mm f1.4 is one of the larger prime lenses out there and weighs in at 1.29lbs, but the well thought-out design, and nice ergonomics make this lens a joy to use.
This is, without a doubt, one of the best 50mm prime lenses to step up to if you want to improve your photography. Its sharpness, color rendition, smooth creamy bokeh, and overall premium feel make this a no-brainer. Just go buy it.
Buy now ($548.98): Amazon
Rokinon 50mm AF FE f1.4 Image Samples
Pro Tip: Keep your new prime lenses in tip-top shape by carrying a simple lens cleaning kit with you at all times. These kits will make it easy to remove water spots, dirt, and grease from the front element.
Fujifilm 35mm F2 R WR
The Fujifilm 35mm (52.5mm equivalent) f2 is a great place to start with prime lenses, but this lens also performs well enough for seasoned pros who want a cheaper 50mm option. Fujifilm shooters have some great 50mm equivalent lenses to choose from. The Fujifilm 35mm f1.4 is another fantastic lens that’s under $600, but it’s $200 more expensive and doesn’t feature weather sealing like this little beauty does.
In our review we said:
“It is the fastest to focus Fujifilm lens to date and finally makes candid street photography with a Fujifilm camera really viable when it comes to using autofocus. For this reason alone, many photographers will greatly, greatly appreciate this lens and just how quickly it can perform.”
The Fujifilm 35mm f2 R WR represents outstanding value for money, especially when you consider the all-metal construction and the eight points of weather sealing. You can take this lens out into the wind, rain, and snow, and as long as you’re using it on a Fujifilm body that also has weather sealing you’ll be just fine. The Fujifilm 35mm f2 R WR’s small footprint and light weight (0.37lbs) make this a superb walk around lens.
In terms of optics this lens has nine elements in six groups, along with nine aperture blades. Images produced with this lens will exhibit great sharpness when shot wide open and by the time you’ve hit f5.6 this lens is razor sharp from corner to corner. You’re going to find that the 35mm f2 is capable of producing some really nice, creamy bokeh too. Sure, you’ll get nicer bokeh with the f1.4 version of this glass, but the f2 is nothing to sneeze at. Color reproduction is also fantastic. As with all Fujifilm lenses, the colors that you see will vary greatly depending on what film simulation you decide to use, but you’ll be happy with the colors regardless.
The Fujifilm 35mm f2 is perhaps the fastest focusing lens to date on the Fujifilm platform which makes this a great choice for candid street photography. Point, half press, and before you’ve even thought about it the lens will have acquired focus.
This lens is perfect for those who are considering buying one of their first 50mm prime lenses. The weather sealing makes this lens a bargain. Top it off with outstanding image quality and great autofocus performance and you’ll realize that this lens is a gem.
Buy now ($399): Amazon
Fujifilm 35mm F2 Image Samples
Pro Tip: Being comfortable when out on a long photowalk or while on a long shoot is important. Use a padded camera sling to take the weight of your gear off of you neck. These slings disperse the weight of everything your carrying over your entire upper body.
Nikon 50mm F1.8 G
Nikon offers a very affordable way to break into the world of prime lenses too with their 50mm f1.8 G. Like the Canon mentioned above, this lens may be cheap, but that doesn’t mean low quality. The 50mm f.18 G is another firm fan favorite within the Nikon crowd thanks to its exceptional image quality and overall performance.
In our review we said:
“This lens is for the elder statesman photographer or the newbie. It can tackle pretty much every situation on any Nikon digital camera.”
For well under $600 you’re going to be getting a lens that can deliver some outstanding results. Inside this small plastic lens you’re going to find seven elements in six groups, with seven aperture blades. This lens may be a few years old now but it’s capable of producing great images. When shot wide open at f1.8 you’ll find images that are super sharp in the center with just a little drop off towards the edges. But stop this lens down a stop or two and you’ll get edge to edge sharpness.
The colors that are rendered are nice and natural, with skin tones being a particular highlight. The bokeh that’s produced is really quite nice. Sure, it’s not going to be the creamiest you’ll ever see, but for a sub $300 lens it’s really pleasing to the eye. Like most modern lenses, the Nikon 50mm f1.8 performed admirably when it comes to autofocus performance. We saw good performance in both good and bad lighting situations.
The 50mm f1.8 G is lightweight (0.41lbs), it’s made out of a tough plastic that will withstand constant daily use, and it feels nice in the hand. Like most cheaper lenses though, there’s no weather sealing, so just be careful with it in that regard.
This Nikon 50mm is a great way to get acquainted with prime lenses. You’ll notice a significant jump in image quality with this lens. If you shoot Nikon cameras this is a must have.
Buy now ($216.95): Amazon
Nikon 50mm F1.8 G Image Samples
Pro Tip: No matter what genre you’re shooting, you need to make sure that you have enough SD cards with you. These days SD cards are super cheap so it makes sense to stock up on them. Keep extras in your pockets, camera bag, or car, and be safe in the knowledge that you won’t run out of space.
Olympus 25mm F1.8
If you’re in the Micro Four Thirds camp you’ll be pleased to know that you have an affordable option when it comes to 50mm lenses too. Thanks to the 2x crop factor of Micro Four Thirds cameras, the Olympus 25mm f1.8 lens effectively becomes a 50mm, and it’s a stunner.
In our review we said:
“The 25mm f1.8 is one of the most affordable and bang for your buck lenses out there for the Micro Four Thirds system. In general, we’re quite impressed with the sharpness, bokeh, fast focusing speed (coupled with accuracy), small size, and the overall feel that it is the single lens that you may want to keep mated to your camera forever.”
The Olympus 25mm f1.8 lens is an absolute gem. Inside the plastic housing you’ll find nine elements in seven groups, and seven rounded aperture blades. The optics Olympus used produce images that are razor sharp from corner to corner from f1.8 and on. You’ll get bokeh so creamy you’ll swear you were shooting with a lens that cost two or three times as much, and the colors produced are as natural as you’ll come across. How Olympus sells this lens for so little is a mystery.
Overall build quality is good. Like most lenses in this price range your going to find plastic housing, but it doesn’t feel cheap. In fact it feels like a premium lens in many ways. The lens is as light as a feather too. Weighing in at just 0.29lbs you’ll forget that this glass is even on the front of your camera.
Focus speeds are fast in both good and not so great lighting conditions. The hit rate was the highest we’ve ever witnessed of any Olympus lens. If this lens misses focus it’s not the lens’ fault that’s for sure.
When it comes to 50mm prime lenses, the Olympus 25mm f1.8 should be a must-have for all Micro Four Thirds photographers. You simply won’t regret this purchase, and you’ll love it for years to come.
Buy now ($349): Amazon
Olympus 50mm F1.8 Image Samples