You’ve got a DSLR or mirrorless camera, and it probably came with a kit lens, something like a 18 – 55mm kit lens. The kit lens is great for learning how your camera works, however at some point you’ll probably want to invest in a higher-quality lens. One of the most common questions asked on my beginners photography courses is ‘what lens should I buy next’? My answer is nearly always the ‘nifty fifty’, also known as a 50mm prime lens.
What is a nifty fifty?
50mm lenses have a much wider maximum aperture than the kit lens. Your kit lens probably has a maximum aperture in the region of f4 – f5.6. The most basic 50mm lenses have a maximum aperture of f1.8. This makes it what we call a fast lens. The 50mm is a prime lens, meaning it has a fixed focal length and it does not zoom. The 50mm lens takes sharper, higher-contrast photos than a kit lens, and the quality of the photos taken using the 50mm lens can be as good as photos taken with much more expensive lenses.
You can buy 50mm lenses with a maximum aperture of f/1.8, f/1.4 or f/1.2. The wider the maximum aperture the more expensive the lens, and for most photographers the f/1.8 version is
Why should I consider a 50mm lens?
A 50mm lens has a much wider maximum aperture than a kit lens – even the cheapest f/1.8 50mm lens lets in significantly more light than a kit lens where the maximum aperture is f4. The wide maximum aperture means you can shoot in a much wider range of conditions, including in low light. All the light coming into the lens means it is possible to take photographers in darker situations without needing to use flash. As well as allowing more light into the camera, the wide maximum aperture on the 50mm lens means you can achieve a shallow depth of field with ease.
With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, more light will come into your camera allowing you to use a lower ISO or faster shutter speed than you would be able to with the kit lens. This means you are able to shoot handheld in lower light situations, with out the risk of camera shake. 50mm lens are small, light and easy to carry. A Canon 50mm f/1.8 is 4cm long and only weighs about 130g.
Camera lenses are not cheap to purchase, a professional-level lens can cost well in excess of £1000. At less that £100 new and £75 second hand for some camera, 50mm lenses offer tremendous value for money. 50mm lenses also work on full frame and crop cameras, so if you upgrade your camera in the future it is likely your lens would also work with your new camera.
Sounds Good! Are there any other reasons?
50mm lenses are prime lenses, so there are fewer moving elements and the optics can be designed with fewer compromises. The result is high quality images, which are noticeable sharper and clearer than images taken using a kit lens. The 50mm lens is great for creating nice portraits of people, especially when used on a crop-sensor camera. On a crop-sensor camera the focal length is closer to 80mm in real terms, a great length for portraits. On a full frame camera, the 50mm lens gives a viewpoint similar to what our eye sees.
And finally, because the 50mm is a prime lens, you have to think more creatively about how to frame your image. Combine this with the shallow depth of field and so many new possibilities open up to you.
I’m convinced, where do I buy a 50mm lens?
You need to make sure when buying any lens that you get one that fits your camera. I’ve linked below to where to buy a 50mm lenses for the most popular cameras. Don’t see your camera below or not sure which lens to get? Send me a message and I’m happy to help. All companies listed here selling used lenses are reputable companies that include a warranty with their used images.
Note: I may receive commissions when you click some of the links on this page and go on to make a purchase. This does not cost you anything, and it does not affect the reviews and advice I provide.