Is the 50mm Lens the Test of a Good Photographer?

The 50mm lens is one of the most common lenses out there, and yet, it can be a weirdly challenging one to use. Why is it so difficult to master, and how can you create better photos with one? This excellent video takes a look at the 50mm lens, why it is tough to work with, and what you can do to improve your shots. 

Coming to you from The Monochrome Memoirs, this awesome video discusses 50mm lenses, why they are difficult to work with, and how to improve your work with them. I will be the first to admit that I have never felt particularly creatively inspired with a 50mm lens and find them a bit tricky. I think the issue stems from the fact that 50mm is an extremely neutral focal length, and as such, it looks quite similar to our normal vision. This means that we can't rely on the unique rendering of a more unusual focal length to do the heavy lifting in the look of an image. If you want to work on your compositions, try working with a 50mm lens or leaving your zoom lens set there for an afternoon. Check out the video above for the full rundown. 

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9 Comments
Deleted Account's picture

Is that a thing, where people think a standard lens is hard to work with?

Tell me a fisheye is difficult to work with, and I get it, but there's nothing challenging about using a standard.

I suspect I need to think about this, it seems a strange sentiment.

Edit: having watched the video, I get it.

I've been shooting for a long time and barely need to think about it. I shoot a 50 more than any other.

Bryce Carithers's picture

I rarely use my 50, and it is one of the best in the world (50 f2 Zf.2 Milvus Makro)

Scott McDonald's picture

I find 50ish lenses (40-58mm) to be my most preferred. I use the 35mm and 90mm every now and then but the standard lenses tend to get my attention most often. You can get the same effects as the longer portrait lenses with a 50 if you open up that aperture and get closer to your subject. I also tend to use vintage lenses more often than modern ones so the size of those 50mm lenses is also something that attracts me to them.

Charles Mercier's picture

I think much of it has to do with what type of photography one does. I mostly don't do people (I'm not a professional) and find wide angle my preference.

Przemek Lodej's picture

My go to portrait lens is my all time absolute favorite Canon 85mm f/1.2 L. I shoot it about 80% of the time, the rest with either 135mm or 70-200mm. 50mm not so much.

john ferguson's picture

I’ve been shooting for 70 years. In the fifties and early sixties it was my Leica 3A and the 50mm 3.5 Elmar. I added a 25mm Schneider but still it was mostly the 50. Thousands of shots mostly Kodachrome. I had no idea that the 50 might be limiting but I did like the 25 better for landscape.

Now with my 3 Sonys and the several lenses I doubt if many shots are 50mm but maybe some via the zoom. I have the 16-35 zoom and lazy person that I am most shots are probably at wide end. Hard to take an uninteresting photo with 16

Troy Phillips's picture

I find 40-50 mm the hardest focal lengths for me to just feel good about . Sometimes the 35mm fov too.
Hit 55 and up like a car on the interstate they feel just fine . I got a 65mm Sigma I series contemporary lens and it didn’t feel right . I took it out one day and forced myself to shoot and frame . After just a short time I was hooked .
I has the Sigma Art 50mm and just couldn’t get the hang of it . I was just keeping it on trying to get a feel for it and was starting to get and sold it to get the Sigma Art 40mm f/1.4 . 50 was always just a bit tight . Well I got the 40 and it oddly felt too wide . Lol
I was shooting a Nikkor O 35mm f/2.0 and it felt just right and I love it . I have a Sony 35mm f/1.4 G master and cannot get it . Then I also bought a Nikkor 55mm f/1.2 and it feels like a dream .
Is it I’m loving the lenses character and image rendering quality or the fov?
I have lenses from 11mm through 28mm and they all are just so easy to get the hang of . Except for my Nikkor UD 20mm f/3.5 . And I have a Sony 20mm f/1.8 G that feels like it should be on my camera indefinitely.
I can put on anything 55mm and up to 600mm and they all feel right for what I need them for . But 40 and 50mm I struggle with. I use my 40mil Sigma Art a lot. I was shooting an interview in a small room I had a Sigma Art 28mm on one camera and a Sigma Art 40mil on the other . Everything felt just right but that feeling with that lens has been far and few shoots between.
Almost all focal lengths feel good to me . I adapt as I “see” the focal length in my mind . I walk around and visualize shots and when I hit spots I just know the right fov.
50mm is the one I struggle with the most .
Normal just ain’t normal to me

J G's picture

First and only wedding I ever shot: I used someone else's camera. Found out at the last second the zoom lense was dirty and I couldn't clean it well enough fast enough. So I shot the entire wedding and reception with a 35mm (this was APSC so like a 50) f2.8 prime.

You can breathe. I'm just a hobbyist and was doing this for free for a friend. The bride seemed to love the photos I was able to produce for them. To bad I couldn't stand far enough away to not be in the video (my phone on a tripod for video). So I really like the 50mm field of view but I would definitely use a zoom next time for any wedding.