We are now at the 5th installment of the N00bism series. In case you are wondering, that 50 is not a typo. I just decided to number it that way because this post will cover exactly that — the number 50. More specifically, the 50mm lens.
Go to any forum and ask what lens to add to your kit lens and they would most likely unanimously suggest the 50mm. For several reasons: 1) they are cheap, 2) fast, 3) have very shallow depth of field, 4) 50 is the “standard” focal length, and so on. Some would even strongly suggest that if you want to buy your first DSLR and are on a budget then a cheap APS-C body and a 50/1.8 is the way to go.
This 50mm is the stuff of legends dude. Look at Henri Cartier-Bresson and other famous street photographers. Ditch your kit lens and shoot prime only. It will force you to learn how to compose.
Whew!!! Now where do I start?
Cheap. Yes, they are. But so is the infinitely more flexible kit lens that came almost free with your new DSLR.
Fast. You can get the 50/1.8 for less that $100. That’s fast and cheap. But wait a second, you want a fast lens so you can shoot in low light conditions such as interiors. The big problem is that a 50mm is very tight for shooting indoors even on a full frame DSLR. It’s almost like a tunnel when used on a crop APS-C sensor. You are better off with your kit lens and a tripod or simply bump the ISO. The important thing is for you to make the shot. Let the pixel peepers worry about noise.
Shallow depth of field. No doubt about that but this technique becomes very boring very quickly. And besides, a kit lens can accomplish the same effect if you know what you are doing. This snail was shot with the kit lens that came with my small sensor m4/3 Olympus:
It’s the standard focal length. They say that a 50mm closely resembles the human field of vision. I’m not too sure about that. What I’m sure though is that this “standard” refers to the 50mm as used on a full frame sensor. On an APS-C, a 35mm lens will give the same FoV.
It forces you to learn composition. Only those I-shoot-prime-only snobs will ever claim this. I learned to shoot using a single kit lens during my first 2 or 3 years of doing photography. Because of this, I learned about changing perspective and lens compression — something that prime shooters seldom appreciate or even understand.
If you think you need a 50mm prime lens, try shooting with your kit lens zoomed to 50mm. Tape the barrel so you can’t “cheat”. See if you really dig this focal length. You would probably find it too restrictive especially when shooting indoors. If the light is too dim, bump the ISO. If you do like the results then go ahead buy the best 50mm you can afford. Those who shoot mostly portraiture will find this lens ideal for crop sensors because it works like a midrange telephoto. I use this is as a portrait lens for my full frame D700 even if it’s a bit short.
The whole point is, understand your needs and your style. Learn to shoot first. Just because a lens has a cult of followers does not mean it will work for you.