Why a 50mm Lens Could Save Your Photography Life

Ok, this is quite a bold statement and may not be entirely true, but it could do a lot for your photography and maybe even get you out of that slump you’re currently in.

Firstly, I want to just say that I love zooms. As a photographer, I’ve used them extensively both for photo and video. Although people will say that the loss in quality over a good quality prime is significant, this is an entirely subjective standpoint.

zoom lens

A zoom lens, today

I’ve taken great photos with that iffy zoom which is a tad soft in the corners and I’ve taken average photos with the super sharp red ringed beast. We have to agree, that if the subject is strong, then generally so will the image, regardless of MTF tables and resolving power.

So back to the title, what exactly is so good about a 50mm? Well, 50mm to me means 50mm on a full frame body, so on a crop sensor it would be (50mm x 1.6) which means you are using the equivalent of an 80mm lens.

nifty fifty lens

A 50mm lens, yesterday

You could equally go wider if you wish, and I would encourage it. Having a standard prime lens attached to your body allows you to get familiar with what it produces and its distinct characteristics.

While I can fill a head and shoulders within a frame the same with a 50mm as I can with a 28mm, they look different. Depth of field changes, distortion or lack of it becomes apparent. Lenses below 50mm have inherent characteristics that simply “zooming with your feet” can’t change, and understanding what these are, will allow you to understand photography and the impact it can create.


Which one was shot with the 28mm lens?

Certain photographers will only use an 85mm lens for their portraiture because they prefer the flatter profile it creates, whereas photographers like Bruce Gilden prefer to get within inches of someone’s face with a 28mm on the Leica because of the intimacy it creates.

black and white photography

Bruce Gilden, edging ever closer

So, Bruce Gilden with his 28mm, Cartier Bresson with his 50mm Sonnar—I often wondered why they used these specific lenses and stuck with them.

Was it because they couldn’t afford any others? No, it definitely wasn’t that.

Was it because they were lazy? Unlikely.

I think the camera became an extension of themselves, allowing them to immediately see a scene and know what it would look like frames within the frame lines of their rangefinder. This could have only been facilitated by spending a good deal of time with their chosen lens screwed onto their Leica.

What seemed like a limitation quickly gave way to a freeing vision of the world around them allowing them react without thinking of zooming or any other distractions that would take away from the scene they had composed in their minds.

50mm street photography

Cartier Bresson was a master with the 50mm

This is not an anti zoom post, and I hope it hasn’t come across like that. There isn’t a rule as to who should use them and when. Ultimately, we will choose whatever is more convenient for us, what look we want and probably the one that drives most purchases: the cost.

However, there is a lot to be said for becoming one with a prime lens, nurturing your vision and almost instinctively knowing how whatever you choose to photograph will look within those framelines.

About the Author
mpb.com offers a hassle-free and secure process for sellers and a retail experience that makes buying used photography equipment as simple and enjoyable as buying new.

Like This Article?

Don't Miss The Next One!

Join over 100,000 photographers of all experience levels who receive our free photography tips and articles to stay current:

5 responses to “Why a 50mm Lens Could Save Your Photography Life”

  1. claude B. says:

    Thanks to mention it to many photographers ”50mm on a full frame body, so it would be a 35mm on a crop sensor, or 25mm on M/43—anything that is called standard/normal.”

    For street pictures, my favorite lens on APS-C for Sony is Sigma 30mm f1.4 (or equivalent of 45mm)

  2. Kathy says:

    Great review! Thank you for showing the differences!

  3. roye stelzer says:

    Math is not my strongest discipline, but I believe on an APSC sensor, the value is increased 1.5 (Nikon)rather than reduced.

  4. Gordon Wales says:

    Great review but a confusing reference size of sensor ”50mm on a full frame body, so it would be a 35mm on a crop sensor, or 25mm on M/43in the remark – ! All photography reviews I’ve read say the 50mm on a crop sensor is actually equivalent to 80mm! How do you come by this? Love to know – otherwise I’m terribly confused.

  5. Kimbo says:

    I think you the articulate is referring to the equivalent lens to 50mm full frame on an a crop sensor camera. That would be a 35mm lens on a Canon 1200D for instance (35 x 1.6 = 56).

    Thus the maths is correct, you just have to start from the correct point.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

New! Want more photography tips? We now offer a free newsletter for photographers:

No, my photos are the best, close this forever