The Beauty Of The 50 mm Lens

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Ricardo41

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I recently got back into photography. The first thing I did was to get rid of all the cheap ultra-slow zoom lenses I had acquired (or was given) over the years and to return shooting with nothing more than a Nikkor 50 mm AF lens (hoisted to a Nikon N 80).

I had completely forgotten how pleasurable and satisfying it is to shoot with a 50 mm lens. You actually have to think about composition and framing, rather than mindlessly zooming in on and out of objects. You have to move your body, use your legs, get down on the ground, etc. to get the image you want. Plus, I had also forgotten how much creativity in terms of using available light a fast lens will give you.

We might say that excessive use of zoom is akin to eating at McDonald's every day: a quick fix with little nourishment. A 50 mm lens gives you that slow-cooked feeling of getting a real meal. (Obviously, some photographic assignments require zoom lenses).

BTW, if anyone is interested, I posted a picture of how winters look up-close in upstate New York in the gallery section.
 

bjorke

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Zoom rings and feet are often mistaken for one another. Feet control perspective and how objects within the frame relate to one another. Zoom controls how those objects relate to the edges of the rectangle. They are different functions.

That said, I like my Zeiss primes -- even on the digi. Having a light, fast, pocketable and non-distorting 28mm on my Contax can't be beat.
 

Grady O

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I use all primes as well. I only own one lens for each camera I own. 35mm for the Leica, 80mm for the Hasselblad, and I can't remember whats on the crown graphic, but it's equal to a 50mm. It just makes things easier working in the field not worrying about what lens you are using.
 

mark

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The problem arises when you want to compress the fore and back grounds. That is where a zoom is most handy. I liked my prime lenses but it really got tedious going from a 24 to a 50 to an 80 to a 200 etc...With a 35-80 and an 80-200 I only have to carry three lenses. Nothing will replace the 24. Since I really don't need speed-rocks and trees are not hard to track with a camera-I do not miss the speed from the prime lenses.

You are right about legs being an over looked method of getting close to something.
 
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When I have a number of different lenses available to me, I tend to use all of them on a long enough time scale. But you know what? 95% of the time it's whatever focal length I have available that is closest to a "normal" focal length for a given format. A wide or long lens is handy sometimes and if I had the money I'd have a full complement of lenses for all my cameras. But for now, I'm content to stick to normal focal lengths. I have a 50/1.2 on my Nikon and I love it to death. I'll probably pick up a 105/1.8 eventually and maybe a 24/2, but even if I do I can guarantee I'll still mostly use the 50mm.

When I first got into photography, I used my father's gear and had a range of lenses from 28mm to 135mm, but right off the bat took to the 50mm lens. It just fit. It's as simple as that. And to this day, the 50mm just fits me more than anything else. I see no reason to change. There isn't much I've wanted to do that I've ever not been able to do with the 50mm.

Some people seem to have a grudge against the 50mm. I have a word for them - FOOLS! :smile:
 

pierre

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There's a place for everything, really. A 50mm is nice to have sometimes, but so is a 24, a 35, and an 85. A zoom is nice to have on the camera if you don't happen to want to carry separate lenses. I only had a 50mm lens for very a long time when I first started in 35mm photography 3 decades ago. Now, I appreciate having other focal lengths, but, if I could only have one lens, it might be a 35mm, or it might be a 50, not sure.
 

wiltw

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echoing what bjorke posted...
If you do not move your feet, the FL of the lens DOES NOT MATTER for changing the relative size and position of your subject vs. what is in the background. What is framed does change, but the relative relationship of things -- 'perspective' -- does not.
This is well illustrated in this post

If you move your feet, the relationship of your subject vs. background does change.

As for what different folks like to use to shoot, as their 'favorite FL', that is a very subjective thing.
  • Lots of photojournalists of old liked 35mm FL rather than 50mm
  • The 'normal FL' used on 135 format has varied between about 40mm and 58mm, sometimes from a single manfuacturer they might have offered three or four different Fl as the 'normal' on different models of cameras all offered at the same time.
For me, I have fiound that putting on a 24mm on 135 format camera, I can shoot with little desire for a different FL...I once did that before going to Europe and I found little desire for a different lens. Perhaps the fact that the lens was Perspective Control might have contributed to that feeling, but it was a bold test to have attempted that.
 
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RalphLambrecht

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I recently got back into photography. The first thing I did was to get rid of all the cheap ultra-slow zoom lenses I had acquired (or was given) over the years and to return shooting with nothing more than a Nikkor 50 mm AF lens (hoisted to a Nikon N 80).

I had completely forgotten how pleasurable and satisfying it is to shoot with a 50 mm lens. You actually have to think about composition and framing, rather than mindlessly zooming in on and out of objects. You have to move your body, use your legs, get down on the ground, etc. to get the image you want. Plus, I had also forgotten how much creativity in terms of using available light a fast lens will give you.

We might say that excessive use of zoom is akin to eating at McDonald's every day: a quick fix with little nourishment. A 50 mm lens gives you that slow-cooked feeling of getting a real meal. (Obviously, some photographic assignments require zoom lenses).

BTW, if anyone is interested, I posted a picture of how winters look up-close in upstate New York in the gallery section.

I can't agree more.
 

Arthurwg

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I've shied away from "normal" lenses for years, generally preferring wide angle and a short telephoto when necessary. These days, however, I've been wanting an 80mm for my Hasselblad, in part because I could use the the F2.8 aperture.
 

Sirius Glass

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While the zoom lens offers capabilities that were only dreamed about in the 1950's and 1960's, taking time to walk around with the normal lens [50mm for 35mm and 80mm for 6x6] is a good way to see subjects in a useful and photographically productive way. Like many things in life, doing things that same way all the time, limits thought and creativity.
 

RalphLambrecht

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When I have a number of different lenses available to me, I tend to use all of them on a long enough time scale. But you know what? 95% of the time it's whatever focal length I have available that is closest to a "normal" focal length for a given format. A wide or long lens is handy sometimes and if I had the money I'd have a full complement of lenses for all my cameras. But for now, I'm content to stick to normal focal lengths. I have a 50/1.2 on my Nikon and I love it to death. I'll probably pick up a 105/1.8 eventually and maybe a 24/2, but even if I do I can guarantee I'll still mostly use the 50mm.

When I first got into photography, I used my father's gear and had a range of lenses from 28mm to 135mm, but right off the bat took to the 50mm lens. It just fit. It's as simple as that. And to this day, the 50mm just fits me more than anything else. I see no reason to change. There isn't much I've wanted to do that I've ever not been able to do with the 50mm.

Some people seem to have a grudge against the 50mm. I have a word for them - FOOLS! :smile:

I've made an effort to obtain at least three lenses for every format I own: 'normal', half that and double that. This method covers every situation and is still manageable as well as affordable.
 

Moose22

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I've made an effort to obtain at least three lenses for every format I own: 'normal', half that and double that. This method covers every situation and is still manageable as well as affordable.

This is a great way to think about it. And it isn't too far off what works for me.

For 35mm I've always shot Nikon. Digital and before. The 50mm 1.8 is an absolute miracle combination of cheap and super good image quality. The 1.4s are nice, too, though a touch more expensive if still pretty cheap.

I tend to always have a 50mm (1.4 for low light, but i have 1.8s too).

I have a 105dc for long. The 105 is a favorite lens for portraits.

For short I have a 28mm.

So 28 / 50 / 105... half / normal / double.

It's just a good formula. If I'm walkin' around I grab the 28, but have the 50 in my bag. if I'm going to be shooting people I have the 105, but have a 50 in my bag. For just general photography I always have a 50 on. Anything longer or shorter tends to be a specialty thing.

Don't get me wrong, I like 35mm, just like 28 better. I OWN an 85 that's a wonderful lens and I use it a bunch when I don't want to deal with the weight and size of my 105. But as I am thinking about what I do most, half / normal / double really is the core of my kit.
 

markjwyatt

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One of my favorite lenses for 135 is my Voigtlander SC Skopar 21mm f4. I love the look and perspective of a 50mm, but I often feel it is a little narrow (though I use them a lot). I agree about using your legs, but what happens with a 50mm sometimes is when I use my legs to move back to capture a scene, a lot of intervening stuff shows up in the foreground and often ruins the shot (of course with digital, and even film I guess, you can just "Photoshop it out", but I do not do that). With the 21mm I step right into a scene and photograph it. I am thinking a 35mm might be a better all around lens for 135 in that sense (the 21mm can be too wide in a lot of situations). Each lens perspective can force you to rethink how to approach a scene.
 

momus

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I used a zoom for many years. Mostly a Nikon 2.8 28 200, and I loved the zoom part of it, it was wonderful for getting a great composition. At 200mm and zoomed in, you got a compressed and tight shot, and there's times when you can't get the shot without a zoom too. I didn't like the size and weight though.
 

Deleted member 88956

There is nothing wrong with using zoom, nor primes for that matter. There are a number of high quality zooms that most certainly do not stand in the way of taking a great photograph. At times and places there is nothing but a zoom only will do.

High quality zooms are usually of very limited range, which gets them quite close to what a prime sees, yet make a hell of difference. Canon's 24-35 L comes to mind (I wish I had the 20-35 at times)

However, using zoom can remove that one component of composition learning i how all within a scene relate from a "3D" evaluation. It's just too easy to stand in one spot and zoom to crop, versus walk to or away to not only crop but change detail relations.
 

guangong

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Over almost 6 decades I have accumulated a range of lenses from 14mm Voigtlander to 300mm Olympic Sonnar and a lot in between. I have 21mm and 28mm Leitz lenses for M cameras. The only time I really used them was when in North Korea, I ran a cable release through jacket sleeve, cultivated a nervous tick with camera when around handlers and took pictures without raising camera to my eye. Lately have a 25 mm Voigt Snapshot lens on a IIIa. Last time I used this was as a “don’t point but shoot” lens in Japan.
Everybody has their own way of working, as revealed by the contributors to this thread. With a variety of focal lengths. Good for them. What about cameras with non interchangeable lenses, usually hovering around 50mm, such as Retina, Contessa, Rollei 35, etc.,or MF folders around 80 mm. I frequently use these cameras.
One advantage of ultra wides is the ability to appear as if taking a picture of something else while actually including the subject. One of my ongoing projects is obesity, but don’t want to embarrass anyone. You know, the fattest girl in my high school class 70 yrs ago was not as big as the typical high-school girl today.
 

Don Heisz

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I'd say 70% of the photos I take on 35mm are using a 50mm and 25% are using a 28mm - 5% left for something else. I was surprised a couple of days ago when I wanted to quickly take a picture and picked up an SLR - it had a 28mm lens on it and I immediately thought "I don't want to see this much". I guess I normally think in terms of 50mm perspective.
 

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I’d say about half my 35mm are taken on a Kowa SLR with a 50mm lens in a leaf shutter that amazingly still works. The rest are on Nikons with 35mm. Zooms are for digisnappers.
 

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I’d say about half my 35mm are taken on a Kowa SLR with a 50mm lens in a leaf shutter that amazingly still works. The rest are on Nikons with 35mm. Zooms are for digisnappers.
Really? Try one first..
 

Sirius Glass

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I’d say about half my 35mm are taken on a Kowa SLR with a 50mm lens in a leaf shutter that amazingly still works. The rest are on Nikons with 35mm. Zooms are for digisnappers.

I take exception to that. I was using zoom lenses way before digisnappers existed.
 

MattKing

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I love how photographic enthusiasts consider the choice of lens focal length to be an issue of Ethics or Philosophy :D.
(note the sub-forum we are in).
 

Sirius Glass

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I love how photographic enthusiasts consider the choice of lens focal length to be an issue of Ethics or Philosophy :D.
(note the sub-forum we are in).

Matt it does not belong in Ethics and Philosophy however the way the fori and subfori are set up, anything about lenses ends up in the film domain.
 

Moose22

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I love how photographic enthusiasts consider the choice of lens focal length to be an issue of Ethics or Philosophy :D.
(note the sub-forum we are in).

heh -- I didn't realize that. It's not ethics. I use primes when I need faster and (usually) less distortion. I don't have any zooms that go to f/2 or wider and the ones I have often want an extra stop down from their wide open before they get as sharp as a 50mm prime at f/2. I also use them because they are smaller and lighter (usually) and for other personal reasons. But I have a crapload if zoom lenses, and they're great when they're great.

The core premise from the thread title -- that 50mm is great -- I guess that's philosophical. Yes, a 50mm prime is awesome, let me count the ways...
 
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