Why shoot with a 50mm?

I mentioned briefly in my “Putting together a system” article that I will talk a little more about why I chose the 50mm as my standard walk-around lens & not a 24-105mm or the 24-70mm. So why did I choose the 50mm, skip perhaps 40-70mm standard range for a standard zoom lens for this fixed lens?

Well first of all, both the standard zooms I mentioned cost way too much. The 24-105mm is RM3.5k where else like I said before the 24-70mm is RM5.5k. Unless you’re going to pawn your mother’s underwear, no way many of us have that kind of disposable money lying around. Also they kinda overlap with the 17-40mm I already planned, so there was really no point to have 2 lenses that duplicate the range between 24mm & 40mm.

One thing to do while assembling a system is to avoid the extremes. You really only need one lens right around 35mm to 50mm. As lenses get shorter or on the other hand as they get longer, the less useful they become & they tend to get bigger, heavier & a lot more expensive. The moment you get to the very specialized fisheyes or the super-telephoto lenses, you probably need a second mortgage to afford them!

What’s so standard about a 50mm?

For you tech buffs out there, a normal lens is one whose focal length closely approximates the diagonal dimension of the picture frame. The picture frame of a ‘full frame’ camera is 24x36mm, the classic 35mm SLR frame. If you draw a line diagonally on the frame, the length is 43.2mm… which is pretty close to a 50mm focal length. Another definition is that its field of coverage, 40° horizontally & 46° diagonally is roughly the same as what the human eye can see with relative clarity. Are you confused yet? lol!

In simple terms, the 50mm standard lens will give you a viewing perspective which is relatively & faithfully close to how our eye sees.

Here are some of the reasons why I chose the 50mm as part of my system….

1. Because the 50mm sees what the human eye sees, a photographer will often be able to see with the mind’s eye when looking for a composition for a shot… even before he or she brings the camera to the eye.

Also being a fixed lens, the photographer will quickly get used to the focal length of the lens & quickly be able to form the image that is to be expressed.

2. It’s fast!

The difference between an entry-level f1.8 50mm & the telephoto end of the consumer zoom kit lens of f5.6 is approximately 3.5 stops! What does that mean exactly?

Well if you are using a consumer zoom kit lens & the lighting requires you to shoot at f/5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/8 sec, the same lighting conditions would allow your 50mm to shoot at f/1.8 with a shutter speed of 1/90 sec! The difference between the shutter speeds are phenomenal & would easily permit you to hand hold the shot in dim light! This extra speed will allow you to shoot candids in dim lighting without using the pop-up flash.

The more advanced versions of the 50mm can deliver f1.4 or even f1.2. Leica’s legendary Noctilux-M can go f1.0! Apparently now the new version of the Noctilux-M is going f/0.95! lol! It is nicknamed King of the Night. I’ll bet it lets in light from the sides! lol…

3. Superior optical performance

The 50mm design has been around since the 1930s… lens makers have since perfected the design over the years thus boasts being the most understood & highly corrected optical designs in history.

4. Small, compact & light

No consumer zoom can match the compactness & the lightweight design of a 50mm prime lens.

5. Low cost

The 50mm f/1.8 by either Nikon or Canon is by far the cheapest lens in both manufacturer’s arsenal. Even the f/1.4 versions are a fraction of the price of what you would normally pay for an f2.8 zoom lens.

So there you have it. With all the compelling reasons above, why would I want to get a 5 thousand dollar zoom??

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