As the Reviews Editor for The Phoblographer, I’m often solicited for lens recommendations from beginner photographers. Time and time again, I find myself recommending the 50mm. 50mm lenses make for great additions to every photographer’s arsenal. This is especially true for those just starting and wanting to graduate beyond their kit lenses. It’s a versatile focal length that bridges the gap between wide-angle and telephoto. 50mm lenses, particularly f1.8 versions, are very affordable as well. So versatile, in fact, that many photographers colloquially refer to their budget 50mm lens as a “Nifty Fifty.” On the fence about picking up a Nifty Fifty of your own? Head past the jump to see all you can achieve with the 50mm focal length.
Many photographers gravitate towards the longer end of things when it comes to shooting portraiture. While there are certainly merits to this, the 50mm focal length can be a hidden gem that’s often overlooked.
At 50mm, you’ve got a wider field of view than “traditional” portrait focal lengths like 85mm or 135mm. This allows you to capture a bit more of the scene surrounding your subject. Taking a step back will allow you to capture more of your subject as well, particularly handy when photographing 1/4th to 2/3rd portraits.
When it comes to photographing landscapes and cityscapes, going wide is usually the name of the game. The 50mm focal length is not typically associated with this genre. Conventional wisdom would lead you to believe that the 50mm focal length is simply too tight for landscape or cityscape work. Many photographers will typically reach for a 35mm or wider lens.
While this can certainly hold true if the subject is too big to fit into the frame, it’s not always the case. You run the risk of having to deal with excessive distortions when shooting wide. It also doesn’t always produce the most interesting results. We argue that you can create images that are just as if not more interesting and compelling by punching in. The 50mm focal length lets you to zoom in just enough to cut out extraneous elements in the frame, allowing you to emphasize your subject matter. Consider bringing a Nifty Fifty along on your next landscape/cityscape photography outing.
Street photography is often associated with the 50mm focal length. While some street shooters opt to go wider with a 35mm or even a 28mm lens, the 50mm focal length is often the sweet spot. The 50mm focal length is very close to our eye’s natural field of view. As a result, human subjects within your frame will appear natural, and have minimal distortions.
When shooting with a 50mm lens, what you see is what you get. This allows you to shoot spontaneously, capturing the image the second you spot something of interest. Decisive moments can appear and vanish in an instant. With street photography, this is often the difference between nailing and missing the shot. Shooting street with a 50mm also allows you to keep a bit of distance between you and your subject. This is worth considering as social distancing measures are critical to public health and safety during the novel coronavirus pandemic. Unless you’re the type of photographer who likes to get up close and personal, like Bruce Gilden. But you probably shouldn’t be doing that for the foreseeable future anyway.
These are just some examples of what you’re able to achieve using a 50mm lens. What do you like using your Nifty Fifty for? Share with us in the comments below!