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Nifty Fifty: A great portrait lens on a budget

March 19, 2012

What is the best lens to buy for taking pictures of your kids?  A very common way to go is the 50/1.8, also known as the “nifty fifty”.

The beauty of DSLR cameras is that the lenses detach, so you can use different lenses for different purposes.  Lenses vary greatly in price and quality.  A DSLR and the 50mm f/1.8 lens is an awesome combo that will help you take better photos.

The 50/1.8 is a very common first lens upgrade for a number of reasons:
1) it is very affordable. You can buy this lens for around $120-$140 which is a very reasonable price
2) the focal length of 50 mm is nice for portraits
3) the wide maximum aperture of f/1.8 allows in a lot of light, which means you can take pictures in lower light situations
4) the wide maximum aperture of f/1.8 means that you can get some really nice bokeh (blurry background)

The "Nifty Fifty" 50/1.8 lens

Some things to note:
1) the 50/1.8 is a fixed focal length lens, also known as a prime lens. This means that you can NOT zoom the lens in and out. When I first heard about that, I thought that it would be so limiting.  But really, you just get good at “zooming with your feet.” Just change your position, and you change your framing.
2) the 50 mm focal length can sometimes be tricky in small spaces, because your subject will really fill up the frame if you don’t have enough room to back up.  Therefore it’s great for taking photos of one or two people but is not as ideal for taking a photo of a group (especially indoors).

Here are some quick comparison pictures I took to show the differences between my Canon kit lens (18-55 f/3.5-5.6) and the Canon 50 f/1.8.  For all three of these next photos I was sitting in the same spot.

Here is the kit lens zoomed all the way out at 18mm. You can see a lot of the room even though I’m only sitting a few feet away from the chair. It’s really nice to be able to get a wide angle shot sometimes!

Here I zoomed all the way in with the kit lens:

Kit lens, ISO 3200, 55 mm, f/5.6, 1/100 second

The picture is decent , but you can see that I had to crank up my ISO really high (which if you look closely, created a lot of “noise”), and I had to slow down my shutter speed.  If she was moving, she may have been blurry.

Here I used my 50/1.8:

50/1.8, ISO 800, 50 mm, f/1.8, 1/160 second

With the 50/1.8 I was able to use a lower ISO (800) which creates a lot less grain than the previous example, and my shutter speed was fast enough that even though she may have been moving, there is no motion blur.  The background is creamier and brighter.  Also, the clarity is better.  We love this lens!  If you purchase just one lens for your camera we highly suggest the 50/1.8.  If you purchase, make sure you get the proper one for your camera, the Canon 50/1.8 or the Nikon 50/1.8, etc.

Since getting my 50/1.8, it stays on my camera around 95% of the time.  I only use my kit lens if I need a wider angle, like for a landscape or I simply want to be able to include more of the space in my image.

*Just a side-note.  Just because a lens opens up to f/1.8 doesn’t mean you should always shoot at 1.8!  If you always keep your aperture at f/1.8 you may end up with a lot of blurry photos.  Each lens seems to have a “sweet spot” that’s about 2 full stops up.  For example, even if your lens opens up to f/1.8, an aperture of  f/4 might be the clearest.  However.  I often use f/2.2-f/2.8 for  a nice balance between a really blurry background and a clear, sharp subject!  We hope this helps!

Posted by Sonja (MWAC host)

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Rachel permalink
    June 16, 2012 9:31 pm

    I have a Nikon D90, would i buy the 50mm f/1.8D or 50mm f/1.8G? Difference of $90 but i don’t really know what that is.

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