We’ve heard the story before, wealthy upper class girl meets poor, male villager and a chance encounter leads them to fall in love and live happily ever after. It’s a very common tale, but life doesn’t always work like the fairy tales.
How, then, does it happen that no matter how expensive and expansive my camera bag (the girl) becomes, my cheapest lens (the guy) is the one that I return to most often? I’m talking, of course, about my 50mm f/1.8 lens, often referred to as the “nifty fifty”.
The 50mm prime comes in a variety of different sizes, prices, and f-numbers, all of which can be described with one word: small. My 50mm f/1.8 cost me $99 no-frills on Amazon, it’s roughly 1.5″ long with no lens cap or filter attached.
As for the reason the 50mm prime is vital to every photographer’s camera bag, I can think of a few reasons.
First, the simplicity. The 50mm, along with other prime lenses, offers the most simple zoom mechanic possible, walking. Too close? Take a few steps back. It’s difficult to get used to if you’ve shot with zoom lenses your whole life but you’ll get the hang of it rather quickly.
Next, the field of view. Not to wide, but not too narrow. 50mm allows you to capture a portrait shot close up or a scenic vista all the same. Just about the only thing it can’t do is anything wide-angle. I have a 24mm and 8mm fisheye lens for these scenarios.
Finally, the bokeh. Bokeh is the blurry background effect you get in crisp images. Typically bokeh comes as the result of a wide aperture and long focal length. The 50mm has a focal length long enough to produce noticeably more blurry backgrounds.
Additionally, due to their mechanical simplicity and lack of zoom mechanisms, the 50mm and other prime lenses have apertures that open far further than most other lenses on the market. Mine, again opens to f/1.8, and I’ve since found refurbished f/1.4 for less than I paid for mine. Not only is this great for low-light shooting, but it also allows you to get really creamy backgrounds to help your subject(s) pop.
To get a better feel for the topics I’ve mentioned above, check out the photo gallery below taken at and around my favorite coffee shop, Greyhouse Coffee & Supply Co.