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Canon 50mm f1.8 and 5D cameraWhen you start to get serious about photography you start looking at lenses to extend your photographic abilities. The internet is a great place to view lenses of all different types and qualities. You’ll soon find they range from the cheap and down right dodgy to the  amazingly fantastic and shockingly expensive.

But there’s one lens that breaks the mould. Where image quality is sublime yet the cost makes you think they must have it priced it incorrectly.

The trusty little 50mm lens is affectionately known as the “Nifty Fifty“. A prime lens (meaning a fixed focal length rather than zoom) that offers an image scale comparable to the human eye.

The Mighty Robin!
The Mighty Robin – Matt Preston

Less is more

Prime lenses always offer superior image quality to that of their zoomable cousins. Less elements within the lens means less distortion as light passes through each one. It also means the lens is much smaller. Both of these factors mean lower manufacturing costs and much less development so the price to the consumer is much lower.

Depth of Field

One great thing about a prime lens is it’s aperture. It’s much easier to produce “fast” prime lenses where the aperture can be as high as F1.4. Canon do a couple of great 50mm prime lenses at f1.8 and f1.4. This creates fantastic depth of field that you really notice. This coupled with the high quality of the image really is noticable. Here’s a great example of a very narrow depth of field in a wide shot.

My beach
My Beach – Matt Preston

Sounds great but…?

So it’s small, high aperture range, light and has amazing image quality? Surely it can’t be THAT cheap? Well think again. In the UK the Canon 50mm 1.8 is a bargain at just £80 from some retailers. I bought my 50m f1.8 from Amazon here. The latest version (Mark II) is slightly better build quality and has autofocus. Just remember you’re not paying much so expect a plastic feel that won’t stand up to too much abuse compared to £1000 lenses. Still it’s so cheap you can always buy a new one!

Hanging in there
Hanging in there – Matt Preston

If you’re a Nikon user it’s a little bit more expensive but still a decent price at around £105. Amazon link.

Best uses for a 50mm

The nifty fifty really lends itself to Portrait photography. Narrow depth of fields close up coupled with a nice Bokeh effect (the circular blurs in the background). It also works well for landscape shots as the perspective distance between objects closely resembles the human eye.

My nifty experience

I’ve really enjoyed using this lens. You instantly realise that you don’t have to zoom to get the right composition. You can actually move yourself! The quality of my photographs with this lens have blown me away at times. Having such a narrow depth of field at f1.8 creates a whole new effect that my other lenses can’t come close to. The build quality isn’t particularly great, it’s not waterproof and i don’t expect it to last a lifetime but I think everyone should have a 50mm in their camera bag.

If you’ve got a 50mm why not post your photos here and any comments you can add for people thinking of purchasing.

And if you’ve got any questions about the 50mm feel free to ask.


  1. Would you recommend saving up money and buying a f1.4?

    • It’s always worth saving up and getting the best you can afford. if that means waiting another month then go for it. The F1.4 does have a slightly different aperture construction so the Bokeh differs slightly but is still gorgeously creamy. You’ll be happy with either lens i promise you that.

        • B.S
        • Posted May 9, 2010 at 1:58 am
        • Permalink

        I actually got the f1.8 for my birthday, it’s my first prime lens so I’m still testing with it, getting fantastic results all my other lenses (55-250, 18-55, 70-300) all are not nearly as fast as this. I am finding that it is not very solidly built and my focus is not achieved very well in AF mode. I more or less will use Manuel focus, I can get a better focus plane.

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