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5 Reasons a 50mm Prime Should Be Your First Camera Lens

Creative Market March 31, 2021 · 4 min read
The biggest equipment decision that a photographer must make, second to choosing a camera, is which lens to buy. You want a lens that takes quality shots, and you also want the best bang for the buck. You can stop fretting over that first lens choice because we have the answer: a 50mm prime lens. This too-often-overlooked fixed focal length lens is affordable and versatile enough for starters and pros alike. It’s a lens that will become a long-term piece of equipment that you will use throughout your career. Need a little more convincing? Take a look at these top five reasons why the 50mm prime should be your first camera lens.

1. Price

The 50mm prime is a super-affordable lens, and let’s face it, photography isn’t cheap so an inexpensive lens is definitely a good thing. You can buy a 50mm f/1.8 lens that will enable you to get professional quality photos for less than $150. If you have the budget, you can splurge on the f/1.4 or f/1.2 versions.

2. Low Light

One of the best qualities of a 50mm prime is its ability to shoot in lowlight conditions. For example, a 50mm prime f/1.8 lens gives you three stops more aperture (eight times more light) than the average fixed lens f5.6 max aperture. The wide aperture on these lenses means you can shoot using higher shutter speeds in low light conditions, meaning no more shaky pictures. You also won’t have to increase the camera ISO, meaning you will get clearer, higher-quality pictures with less noise.

3. Bokeh

Bokeh refers to the quality of the blur in the out-of-focus portion in a photograph. Blurry backgrounds can help give your photos that professional feel that set your photos apart from something taken with a cell phone. 50mm lenses are fast, allowing you to easily get shallow depth of field shots with great looking bokeh. Sure, you can get these shots with zoom lenses, but it’s going to be a lot harder and the results may not be as good. The 50mm prime is your best bet.

4. Super Sharp Focus

The 50mm prime almost always takes sharper shots than a zoom lens. There are a couple of reasons why. First, a prime lens contains less optical elements than a zoom lens, which provides a clearer view between the camera sensor (or film frame) and the image. Second, a prime lens has a more dynamic focus ring than a telephoto lens has, meaning that it’s more sensitive, allowing you to fine tune the focus to get a super-sharp shot.

5. Easy Composition

A 50mm prime lens has roughly the same point of view as the human eye. This means the image will look the same way as you see it with your eyes. This is convenient when to come to composing a good shot. Since there’s no zooming in and out with a prime lens, there’s no guesswork. If the shot doesn’t look right to your eyes, you need to move the camera. If you need a closer view, for example, move the camera closer to the subject. When it looks right to your eyes, it will look right on the camera. It’s as simple as that.

Always Consider Your Purpose

For most new photographers that ask about a good first lens, I recommend a 50mm prime without hesitating. That being said, I always make it a point to ask what the person hopes to shoot with the lens, because this is critical. A 50mm prime is a great, general purpose lens that’s good for lots of different types of shooting: portraits, night shots, etc. That being said, if you have a very specific goal in mind, it might not always be your best bet. Wide angle landscapes, macro photography, sports photography from the bleachers, all of these are poor uses of a 50mm prime and could be better performed with a lens specifically designed for them. Tip: All of the photos above were taken with a 50mm lens!

Do You Love Your Nifty Fifty?

Many people call the 50mm prime lens the “nifty fifty.” Looking at the five reasons in this list, it’s easy to see how the 50mm got its nickname. Shoot with it for a while and you may just find that the nifty fifty is your favorite lens. If you’ve tried a 50mm prime, tell us your thoughts about it in the comments. Do you agree that it’s a good starter lens or do you have a different recommendation? We’d love to hear it!
Header image created using 50mm Canon Lens
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  • My first lens was a EF-S 18-55mm. With stabilizer and AF/MF, this makes it easier to select the focal point and some decent shots. Not bad of a price for a hobbyist. 8 years ago
  • I have one of these lenses and I highly recommend it. Thanks for taking the time to put it in the spotlight! :) 8 years ago
  • Great article! I always tell people to get a 50mm lens as a first lens. The picture used as the header is actually the first lens I ever bought! 50mm f1.4. I feel honored you used my picture :) 8 years ago
  • Thanks much for this post, I've been seriously considering jumping down the rabbit hole of buying a decent DSLR camera, and learning more about all the details like lenses helps simplify the process a bit for me. =) 8 years ago
  • Great article! For me, though, creating the composition is actually quite a challenge: I mostly use a zoom lens, so when I'm using my 50mm, I constantly forget that I have to physically move further or closer to my object... Other than that- it's lightweight and a really fun lens! 8 years ago
  • Plastic Fantastic ;) 8 years ago
  • Technically, my first lens was an 18-55mm kit lens that came with the camera, but I always hated it. The first lens I intentionally purchased was a 50mm f/1.4 and I never looked back! These days I use mostly L glass, but I still pick up that 50mm when I'm too tired to lug around my 70-200 f/2.8 (usually near the end of an 8+ hour wedding shoot!). 8 years ago
  • I love my Canon 50mm f1.4 - I use it on a 70D so compared to full frame is more like 80mm, but I love the soft OOF highlights and when stopped down I have found the 1.8 and 1.4 versions to be amazingly sharp. They are super compact optics so very easy to take along when having to travel light! 8 years ago
  • @Josh Johnson Any off the top of your head suggestions for a versatile entry level DSLR? I'd like something can grow with me as I learn a bit more. 8 years ago
  • This was my first and still my favorite lens!! 8 years ago
  • To this day, I use my 50mm all the time. It doesn't weigh much, has excellent bokeh, and is fairly inexpensive. What more could you want? My other go-to lens is the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. I highly recommend ditching the 18-55mm kit lens for the Tamron; the sharpness is far superior. 8 years ago
  • @Matt Borchert Canon T4i or T5i is a great start. I started with a Canon T1i back in the day, then shot weddings with it until I earned enough to buy a second for my wife, then shot more weddings until we could afford two Canon 5D Mark II cameras (what we currently shoot with). Make the cheaper equipment buy the more expensive equipment, that's my motto! 8 years ago
  • Really insightful blog post. I've just ordered my lens off amazon. 8 years ago
  • I love my 50mm, it's the best lens I've used and it never fails with capturing great photos. 8 years ago
  • The 50mm is an essential in any camera bag, mine comes with me everywhere ! 8 years ago
  • It isn't always true since almost all lenses gives maximum sharpnes at an aperture of about f:4 -8. Wide open might not be the solution exept when you want short depth of sharpnes (bokeh). This is easier with a large sensor. ZOOM lenses wasn't an option when I bougth my first SLR camera 1968. and my first lens was a f:2.0 55mm. My current toolbox is a bit more stocked. I am lazy and use 50mm f:1.4 or 85 mm f:1.8 for special sessions. The 85 mm lens is one of the Sharpes lenses in Canon:s current lenses. 1972 ISO 800 was an extreme sensity acieved by overdeveloping Tri-X. The technical quality (resolution an grain) was miserable comnpared with simple cameras of today. The important question is if there is a need of short exposure times, low ISO rating or or isolating from background (short depth of sharpnes). Otherwis you will probably get nicer pictures using a ZOOM lens with optical stabilisation (I am a Canon user. I am lazy and use ZOOM lenses but the primes are still there. 8 years ago
  • I learnt photography using a Pentax spotmatic and a 50mm prime, and I still maintain that it was the best combination. Nowadays my 50mm is always on my DSLR, with a 12-24mm waiting in the wings for wider shots - for what I do they're all I need. I love the way the 50mm forces you to zoom with your feet and connect with your shot a bit more personally somehow, and the cheapo Canon 50mm is a steal! Such beautiful quality photos for so little money. 8 years ago
  • Primes is somewhat limited an not always useable. Maximun aperture for ZOOM-lenses are mostly f:2,8 but you get a f:1.4 50 mm far cheaper.. But the cheapest af all Canon lenses (50 mmf:1.8) is a very good lens and gives about the same sharpness as the more expensive onses steped down. I believe the optimum aperture is at 2.0 - 4.0. Stabilisation is good and compensates a lot "shaking hands". It's better with a sharp Picture with a reasonable amount of noise than a unsharp. I don't reject primes since I Always used a f:1.4 lens wit my Pentax Spotmatic. With my Canon 5D Mk II is my 24-105 f:4 IS lens mostly a better choiise. Sometimes are primes useable if tou need speed or less distortion. In those cases TS lenses or primes are otional. But dependin on camera there are some differences. We are talking about lenses giving an angle of view comparable of the 50 mm using an 24x36 mm sensor/film. To get the same result (depending on sensor size and "multiplication" factor) regarding Picture elements the normal lens has different focal lenghts. But there are also differences in sjarpnes and bokeh since depth of field is depending on focal lenght and not sensor size. Comparing a "full format sensor" and a "APS-C sensor" gives a difference of about 2 steps to get the same result regarding bokeh and noise (assuming the same resolution in pixels). It's odd :-;. But I am lazy and mostly use a ZOOM lens. 8 years ago
  • Great article! A fair amount of my photos for sale were shot with my "nifty fifty". 8 years ago
  • My Sigma 50mm 1.8 is definitely my go to lens :) 8 years ago
  • I can't wait to get my nifty 50mm perhaps the 1.4 version, that would be so awesome! 8 years ago
  • I recently learnt about this via a friend who is very good at photography. I am just saving a little now and will get that lens asap!!! Cannot wait! 8 years ago
  • Completely agree! 8 years ago
  • I love my 50mm prime. Thanks for using my photos! 8 years ago
  • Anonymous
    I love my Nikon 50mm 1.8G. Shoots amazing photos without much of a hassle or thinking. 8 years ago
  • Yes, my first one was a Takumar 50mm 1.4. Still one of my favourites. Also have the EF 50mm 1.8 and for my present NEX7 the Sony 50mm f1.8. The last one is so amazing and sharp wide open. I love the fact that I can keep both eyes open with the viewfinder showing the exact same size. 8 years ago
  • @Bernd Vonau Yup, that's the best thing of a 50mm Prime. You see through the lens exactly the same what your naked eyes see. :-) 8 years ago
  • I do agree also. I bought 50mm 1.8 and I don't regret. As mentioned it is not suitable for all photos you would like to shoot, but it really improves your work. Cheers! 8 years ago
  • Hi i have this lens and many of my items are taken from it. Nice article :) 8 years ago
  • It was my first lens and I agree. Do not hesitate, buy it, Plastic, fantastic! 8 years ago
  • I also love my 50mm and every photo in my shop was taken with it. ;) 8 years ago
  • I have my 50mm on for 8 years now. Wont leave home without it 8 years ago
  • Well, what can I say. It's a really good post and a lot of tips here. A few months ago, I've bought my first DSLR with 18-135 IS and at that moment it was a good choice and still is. But, after I wanted something more decent at a good price and I decided to buy a Canon 50mm 1.8. It's very cheap, good quality, but very fragile. You do not want to drop it down, seriously. And I advise you to not mess too much with the focus button. 8 years ago
  • I'd actually argue that the LENS should be first, then find a body. Lens will last you 20+ years, I want to change my body every few years, like a smart me they are disposable. For instance, Nikon 135 DC is still an INCREDIBLE lens, 25 years old, and is the best portrait lens I've ever used. I do like 50mm when I don't want to carry around a 24-70... it can just about get the shots that a 35 (not as wide, but better bokeh, less facial distortion) and 85(can be too long) can in one lens. I don't really like primes for an event though, way too limiting. 6 years ago