Why I Love my 50mm f/1.8 lens

I’ve been using my “nifty fifty” (aka “plastic fantastic”) Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens almost exclusively since I got it a couple months ago. It was cheap, at $100, and it’s been a blast to use. The wide aperture means I can take shots without needing the flash, with a strong bokeh (blurred background with foreground in sharp focus). It really hit me just how awesome this lens is, when I dragged the camera out trick-or-treating with Evan last night. Lots of other parents brought cameras – it’s a natural thing to do. Many even had DSLRs with fancy schmancy lenses. But they ALL were firing the flash. Completely blowing away the spooky halloween ambiance, replacing it with brightly lit subjects with harsh shadows. Ick.

Here’s a shot I took just down the street, at a neighbour’s house that was tricked out as a haunted house.

Halloween 2007 - 7

The flash would have completely killed the effect, destroying the shadows and blowing away the colours in the background.

Halloween 2007 - 9 Halloween 2007 - 5

All of these shots were taken hand-held, with no tripod, monopod, or additional lighting.

The fixed 50mm focal length takes some getting used to, since you have to zoom with your feet, but I find it makes me more mindful of the shot I want to take because I have to think ahead. And, most of the time, the longer-than-normal 50mm gets me a much nicer and closer shot, and compresses distance nicely (something that gets exaggerated with a zoom lens and shorter focal lengths).

Anyway, just a quick rave about the awesome 50mm f/1.8 lens. If you have a DSLR (any make, any model), run out and get one. It’s by FAR the best bang for the buck, and the fast f/1.8 aperture is awesome and addictive.

19 thoughts on “Why I Love my 50mm f/1.8 lens”

  1. a 30 or 35mm prime would be nice with my XT’s crop factor, but they’re much more expensive, and the 50mm is fine once you get used to it. Sure, it’s a bit long for use inside a small room, but a little legwork makes it usable just about every place else…

  2. Yeah, I think I’d prefer a 35mm with an entry-level reduced-size-sensor DSLR, but a 50mm f/1.8 would be terrific for a full-frame DSLR or film SLR, and a steal for flash-free photography on any camera at $100. 🙂 Nice pics, BTW. 🙂

  3. Wow, those are fab shots! I’ve been having so much fun with my little PowerShot I’ve not used my Rebel in a while. You may be tinkering my interest– where did you find a cheap fast 50mm lens?

  4. Those are some great shots, indeed.

    There were (traditionally) two arguments for a 50mm prime lens. Three if you include the (usually) low price.

    The first (second?) is the speed. The fastest lens I have is 2.8. I can get around that, though, by boosting ISO. 1600 on most prosumer Canons look amazing, with very little noise. All of my concert pics are on a slow (4.5) lens at 1600. You can’t beat natural light.

    Still, fast lens PLUS high ISO is unbeatable, and I agree that there is much benefit to banning the flash.

    The second (third?) was the quality of a prime lens. I think that the L series Canon zoom lenses these days are better than any prime lens from back in the day. And I grew up shooting Nikor glass on an FE body.

    The argument back then was that “shooting with a 50 make you more spatially aware”. Perhaps if you’re an absolute beginner. Otherwise, the 50 just constrains. Especially if I’m in back country Africa somewhere.

    My 2 pence worth.

  5. @alan: no trick in finding the cheap lens. that’s just what they cost. walk into the nearest Best Buy or other big electronics/photography store and they’ll have it for about $100.

    @teddy: I agree that the 50mm can be constraining, and I’m not saying it’s perfect for all uses. It’s not, by a long shot. I still use my kit 18-55mm lens when I want to go wider (although I really do need a 10-20mm Sigma to do wide angle justice…). I use my 70-300mm where warranted, and for a trip to the back country of Africa, an even wider lens would be ideal (like, say, the new Canon 800mm? 😉

    The 50mm is a pretty decent every-day lens, though. good for walkabouts, portraits, and even landscapes. But it’s not ideal for all uses.

    One thing I find with the prime lens, and “zooming with my feet” is that physical zooming has a pretty strong effect on parallax and composition, as opposed to zooming with the lens, which is essentially just cropping the shot. And shots taken with my 50mm feel pretty close to “normal” – I remember the scene being pretty close to what’s captured.

  6. @teddy: almost forgot! I absolutely agree about the high ISO + fast lens! The halloween shots were taken at night, with only christmas lights and a street light a few houses down. There’s no way to get that with a kit lens at f/3.5. Imagine if I had one of the new models, with ISO 3200. mmm… could take shots in pitch black darkness with that setup… but focus could be a problem. 😉

  7. That first picture rules D’Arcy. Wow, that is very, very impressive. Can I put it on my band’s next album cover if I had a band?

  8. Those are certainly nice shots and I agree, the 50 is a great lens. I really like how the street lights give that orange glow to everything, Great for Halloween.

    Now that I have my 200, the last lens I am lusting for now is the 10-22 if I can find it cheap, Otherwise I’ll be stitching for a while yet.

  9. Yeah. the 10-22mm is my next lens. I want to find a cheap one, though (maybe used?) since I can’t justify 700 clams on a lens right now…

  10. I adore my 10-22, I will bring it along to northern voice just in case you haven’t snapped one up yourself before then 🙂

  11. Thanks, D’Arcy. I put this on my Christmas wish list and am now experiencing more subtle color distinctions, artful depth of field, and a new world of lower-light photography as you mentioned.

    – Richard

  12. I love my 50 1.8. I have a nice 35 1.4 that I use for night time pictures of local bands and a few zooms. I’m surprised how good that fantastic plastic 50 feels every time I throw it on. It really is my favorite choice.

  13. Just ran out an got me a 50mm, will use it for many things as I do a lot in low level light that my 3.5-5.6 was not getting, will try it at a concert tomorrow. Great pics here!

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