The Lens That Never Lets Me Down

The Lens That Never Lets Me Down

Do you have a lens in your kit that delivers results every time? Is it your go-to lens or is it one that you don't use as much as you should?

I have a confession to make: I absolutely love my 50mm f/1.8 lens. It never lets me down and delivers strong results every time I shoot with it. The lens is adorably compact, as lightweight as I could want a lens to be, and is consistently sharp from frame to frame. What more could a person ask for? All things considered, this 50mm lens is one of my absolute favorite pieces of gear, and I understand and agree when people say that everyone should have one in their bag.

Now full disclosure, if all things were equal, I would actually prefer to shoot with my 85mm lens, as I generally prefer the look and feel of that focal length in my work. With that being said, though, I can think of multiple scenarios in which the 85mm isn't an ideal choice for the scene. First, the Sigma 85mm is ludicrously heavy, so if I'm not on a tripod, I can forget about dropping the shutter speed if I want to avoid camera shake. Second, depending on where you're shooting, the space may not allow for that kind of focal length. In these shots, for example, if I had been using my 85mm I would have had to wade much farther out into the water for some of the shots, so far that I wouldn't have been comfortable holding my camera with chest-high water levels and waves around me. 

The 50mm f/1.8 is lightweight, which allows me to drop my shutter speed while still remaining steady enough for hand-holding my camera (or at least drop my shutter speed much lower than I could holding my 85mm). It's a focal length with a look that I like for portraits, as it looks great for both full-length and three-quarter shots. The bottom line is this is one of those reliable lenses that delivers magic when you're shooting with it.

Leave a comment about your experience shooting at 50mm. Is it one that you shoot often? Do you use it for multiple types of photography? Not to mention that you can get a great lens for under $250, it's hard to make a case against owning one of these. I know that I have shot mine for landscapes in addition to portraits and have had great success. If I find myself in a scene where I'm questioning my 85mm, I am definitely going straight to my 50mm. 

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Marius Pettersen's picture

I guess my EF 85mm f/1.2 is still the favorite, but I've grown to appreciate my EF 35mm f/2 IS more and more. To the extent that I believe my kit would work with only those two.
My 50mm (1.4) do get some love too, but the old design is really tearing on my enjoyment of it. I hope Canon will do a redesign of it soon - at the same size and price.

Joshua Kolsky's picture

Same. Id like to see them do a 50mm version of that 35 f/2. That would make me very happy.

Marius Pettersen's picture

Yes, that would be nice.

Robert Nurse's picture

There have been rumors of a 50mm f/1.4 upgrade from Canon in the wind. Supposedly with IS. I was considering the offering from Sigma. I've rented it and it's nice. But, it weighs a ton and has no IS.

Mark Davidson's picture

The Canon 50 1.4 upgrade, when it comes will not be budget priced. They know that lenses deemed fast for their FL can be premium priced and speed freaks will find the funds to feed their habit.

Darren Loveland's picture

Agreed, the 24-70II f/2.8 paired with a 5D Mark IV is an incredible combo. The 24-70II seems to thrive at it's wide open aperture of f/2.8. The weight and size of the lens balances the 5d Mark IV body well. The zoom range is ideal for a wide variety of commercial work, even portraits at 70mm f/2.8 are spot on with this setup. This is my go-to for lots of gigs.

Andy Day's picture

So funny - if I'd not been ill for the last week, I'd be writing an article right now about how much I love my brand new 50mm Yongnuo f/1.8 - my first ever 50mm prime. $50 very well spent. 😊

Aaron B.'s picture

Really Yongnuo? I'd love to see your review of them. I've been debating their 35mm f/2

Andy Day's picture

Ha! It's not really a review, more an effusion of appreciation for a fun piece of plastic. Should be online on Tuesday. (Spoiler: it's everything you'd expect when you spend $50 on a lens.)

Aaron B.'s picture

Duly noted. Thank you in advance!

Stefano Ugliano's picture

those 35mm... I still haven't made up my mind on them.

ettore chiereguini's picture

I love my 300mm f/4. carried this with me through ice and sand, got fungus, cleaned it (damn it was expensive), and it's still strong. I wish I could use it more often.

Tony Clark's picture

I've never been disappointed in my 50L, I know where it's sweet spot is and I love the images it produces. The 85/1.4L would probably rival the 50L but I don't use it nearly as much.

Daniel Medley's picture

For what I generally shoot, I'm always switching back and forth between my 85 and 50; both Nikon 1.8gs The more that I shoot, the more I feel I don't need to open them up any more than, say, 2.8. Most of the time, when shooting outdoors, I'm between 2.8, and 5.6.

Both lenses are quite good for the money.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

My go to is my Sigma 35 f1.4. Though, it's not quite light. :)

Evan Kane's picture

For sure, the Sigma line isn't exactly making a name for themselves in the "doesn't-feel-like-a-brick" department :P

Shinwa Kinoko's picture

Definitely the Voigtlander 35 1.4. Super small, generally a useable fov, sharp enough, and fast when you don't really care too much about perfect sharpness.

Mike Glish's picture

Fujinon 16-55 f2.8

David Widder's picture

The majority of my photographic work is done with 50-55mm lenses. Its the most natural way I see in the creation of my art. The lens that stays on my a7 most of the time is an old 1969 Canon FL 55/1.2 from the film era. All I shoot with is adapted film lenses and this particular Canon has turned out to be a gem. Bokeh can be harsh, and I shoot it wide open a lot, but it is very sharp at 1.2...sharper then it has any right to be. And I bought it some time ago for only $160. Best lens purchase ever. Here are a few quick samples from the lens.

Mood Translator's picture

I like your work, where can I see more of your portraits?

David Widder's picture

Thank you. If you click on my avatar just go to my profile page and there is a link to my website, Photo Lumiere.

Robert Nurse's picture

Your eye is very compelling. Nice work!

David Widder's picture

Thank you very much Robert. :)

Stephen Yen Chong's picture

Fantastic shots mate

David Widder's picture

Thanks mate

Aaron B.'s picture

Wow. Great stuff!!

David Widder's picture

Glad you like them Aaron, thank you.

Mark Smith's picture

These are absolutely first rate shots ... fantastic work. Do you mind if I ask which adapter you used to go with the Sony camera?

David Widder's picture

Thanks for the compliment Mark, kind words. As for adapters I basically just use whatever the cheapies are on the auction site for Minolta, Yashica, etc. I just try to find a good copy that doesnt jiggle or have light leaks. The one exception to this is my Canon FD adapter. Most of these have a twisting ring on the adapter so you can activate the aperture lens on old FD or FL lenses. I hate that ring because it inevitably gets very loose over time. I was fortunate to stumble across an adapter manufacturer in Poland that makes very high quality products at fair prices. They are made to better specs then the run of the mill Chinese adapters and it uses a mounting method that does not need a ring, so no moving parts on the adapter itself. The seller is Ciecio7 on the auction site, and one of his Canon FD adapters stays permanently mounted to my old FL 55/1.2. Good stuff, highly recommended.

Mark Smith's picture

Much thanks!

Andy Day's picture

Thanks for sharing these. They're stunning. As someone who's just embarking on a 50mm prime adventure, these are inspirational.

David Widder's picture

Thank you Andy, and you are very welcome. It's such a satisfying feeling you get when you know you have been an inspiration to someone so I appreciate you for sharing that. I love the 50mm focal length for the honesty it projects onto a scene. Not wide, not telephoto, just very close to what we see naturally. I hope your 50mm prime adventure is a success and I would love to see what images you bring back from it.

Andy Day's picture

My 50mm article should be online next week - tuesday hopefully. Mostly portraits at this stage - an area where I have very little experience. :)

David Widder's picture

Well from what I see of your other work I dont think you are going to have any issues with portraiture. You create excellent images. Cant wait to see the article. :)

Andy Day's picture


Rifki Syahputra's picture

my all time favorite would be the Nikon serie-e 100/2.8.. it's small, light, optically superb and keeps me going back to it :)

John MacLean's picture

Even though I have eight prime lenses, my go to lenses are the 16-35 and 70-200. I could literally just have these two and be completely satisfied.

Kirk Darling's picture

John MacLean--Yep, same here.

Stephen Drover's picture

Me too!

Duren Williams's picture

My Sony 85mm f1.8

Kostas Fryganiotis's picture

I totally agree! I have 3 gears and i am stuck with my 50mm 1.8. It' s sharp, lightweight and almost suitable for every work i do.

Pedro Quintela's picture

My Canon EF 16-35 F/4 IS L is a joy to use. It´s always wide and sharp enough for a significant part of my work. Another I love is the EF 85 in both versions, 1.8 and 1.2.

Dave Hayford's picture

I have been shooting for nearly 40 - years and on those occasions that I want to travel light, its always been my 50mm lens. That said, I do have a love affair with my 85mm however, there has been to many times that it reduced my photo opportunities. For us outdoor photographers, I am reminded of the late Galen Rowell and all those great photographs taken by him, in locations all around the world, and his go to set up was his 24mm. And then there is those times I leave home armed with my 70 - 200, 2.8......another great lens and that opens a whole new conversation.

Spy Black's picture

You may be a candidate for the Tamron 45mm f/1.8, which is on sale for $400 right now, pretty close to ypur 50mm go-to, but with modern optics, weather sealing and fluorine coatings, and optical stabilization.

Robert Nurse's picture

I really enjoy outdoor portraits which leads me to 85mm f/1.4. In studio, it the 70-200 f/2.8. Those are my two most used lenses.

Evan Kane's picture

You use the 70-200 in studio? That's pretty interesting, do you have access to a lot of space or something?

Kirk Darling's picture

I use 70-200 pretty constantly in the studio for single-person portraits, even though I only have 25 feet of depth, front wall to back wall.

Robert Nurse's picture

Oh yeah, I rent a studio from time to time. It's large enough for a zoom.

J. R. Dailey's picture

Very nice pictures. Evan ! I shoot a 50mm 1.4 and often my 24-105 for walk around. I think a 50 is essential.
Thanks for sharing

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