The 50mm prime lens which is also called the Nifty Fifty Lens has been a staple of countless photographers since it was first introduced. I started with a Pentax ME Super that came with a Pentax-A 50mm F1.7 lens around two decades ago. Even to this day, the 50mm lens is still found in the camera bags of a majority of photographer of every genre. In my opinion, every photographer should have one or at least owned one in this lifetime.
So what makes the nifty fifty lens great? Why do we recommend it to most hobbyists starting out? Here are a few reasons why you should have it in your lens lineup.
It’s a matter of perspective
The perspective of the 50mm lens on a full frame camera is almost the same as what your eyes see. So when you see something that you like, you can just lift the camera to eye level and click. Basically, you can frame with your eyes and not spend most of your time looking through the viewfinder. Having the normal perspective, a photographer will spend more time looking for creative shots to take because you have minimal shift from what you see with just your eyes or through the viewfinder.
Many street photographers like the nifty fifty lens for its normal perspective. It represents almost accurately what the shooter sees. In the world of street photography, having the ability to just frame with your eyes and capture it exactly as you see it is very important.
The lens makes you think
The 50mm, being a fixed focal length lens, is a lens that makes you think. As with any prime lens, you don’t have the zoom ring so you have to move your feet when shooting. With the 50mm prime, you will be moving a lot. Using your feet will make you think of how to get good angles. You will walk, crouch or tiptoe just so you get to capture the scene you want.
If you compare shooting a 50mm to something like a 24-70mm, with the nifty fifty you will really work for your angles. With the zoom, you will be tempted to just stand where you are and fiddle with the zoom ring. I shoot with both primes and zoom lenses, and what I notice is that I really walk around a lot when I have a prime lens on.
The nifty fifty normally comes with wide apertures of f1.4 to f2; some even go to f0.95 which is absolutely insane. Having the capability to shoot wide open affords you some very creative shots. The depth of field of a 50mm lens is shallow enough to separate a person from the background but not too shallow that when you focus on the eyes, the nose is out of focus. This is particularly useful when shooting portraits.
If you are fan of “bokeh” or the out of focus bits, a 50mm prime will get you a lot of it. What I like about the bokeh on the 50mm is that it isn’t too blurred out like on longer telephoto prime lenses. It is also a good low light lens too because of the wide aperture.
It’s light weight…
The 50mm is a light weight lens with the Nikon and Canon versions being significantly lighter that lets say a 35mm or 85mm. With the 50mm, you won’t be complaining about the weight of the camera and lens. I can shoot longer with the 50mm since I won’t tire easily when carrying it around. You might not understand this if you haven’t done something like a wedding coverage or events that can last for hours.
One other thing is that the 50mm is a very compact lens. It does not look intimidation or catch the attention of people like the big zoom lenses or primes. You can be very inconspicuous with the fifty which is very handy when shooting in the streets.
It is very versatile
The nifty fifty lens can be a lens that you would use for portraits, landscape, events, group photos and many more. Heck, it can even be a macro lens if you mount it to a reverse ring. I personally use the 50mm for events, street photography and portraits. The main thing to its versatility is the normal perspective that I already mentioned. Once you get used to shooting the 50mm, you would have it on your camera for most shoots.
I started out with the nifty fifty lens and two decades after, I still prefer it over my other lenses. Something about the lens just feels right when shooting. If you still don’t own a fifty then I suggest you try out one. It is the best lens for the price which is also one of its best characteristics and something that I need to expound further.
It is affordable, versatile and easy to use, what more would you look for in a lens?