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What 50mm Lens Should you Get?

By Anthony Thurston on August 18th 2013


50mm lenses are probably one of the first non-kit lenses that most photographers get, or at least one of the first prime lenses that most people get. But there are many options out there, Canon for example has three different versions themselves for you to choose from. So it begs the question, which 50mm lens should you get?

The guys over at DigitalRev recently released a great video on their YouTube channel on this very subject which I have embedded below for your reference. In the video they give you their reason, But to me it basically comes down to a few simple questions:

a. Your Budget – The number one thing that you need to take into consideration when you are looking at a 50mm lens is your budget. There is no point of looking into a 50mm f/1.2 is you only have the budget for a 50mm f/1.4 or f/1.8.

b. Build Quality – What sort of build quality are you willing to accept? Do you want your gear to be able to take hit or are you ok with having to be extra careful with some plastic crap?

Share your thoughts below, leave a comment and let us know what you think.

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Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Angus

    I think the two major points that aren’t really brought up is *why* everybody raves about 50mm. Traditionally, it’s the “walkabout” lens, just about the way you perceive your surroundings, not really noticing the peripherals. But now with the prevalence of crop factors on all but the most expensive bodies, 35mm (on a Nikon 1.5 or Canon 1.6 crop factor) is much more accurate to what a full frame would look like.

    Also, I thought that autofocus usually can’t get much more accurate than f/2.8 anyway, so, at the end of the day, manual focus is really the only way to achieve tack-sharp images. I have shot with a Rokinon T/1.5 85mm film lens on my Canon 60D (crop factor: 1.6) and I love the solid but not excessive smooth pressure on the focus ring, as well as the increased range of motion to get it “just right” and dig the manual aperture ring, especially for video tricks, although I do miss being able to see my aperture setting from my viewfinder.

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  2. Jacob

    Of the 3 this is how I’d rate them: 1. 50L, 2. 50 1.8, 3. 50 1.4. Personally I hate Canon’s 50 1.4 as the quality of the bokeh is horrid – far to busy for my liking. This comparison should have definitely included the Sigma 50 1.4.. I’ve owned the 50mm f/1.2L about 3 times now, and while it is a fantastic lens that I wouldn’t hesitate to own again if I have the money, the Sigma can’t be beat for it’s price. Yes there’s the issue it may not focus properly but QC has greatly improved and if you have MA in your camera it shouldn’t be too big of an issue.

    Bokeh on Sigma’s 50mm surprises me every time I use it and the lens is actually incredibly sharp when stopped down beyond f/1.8, but f/1.4 is very useable.

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  3. Robynn

    I got the Canon 1.4 and it lasted less than a year before I had issues with the focusing ring. I replaced it with a Zeiss 1.4 and even though I had to relearn manual focus and not be lazy, it’s worth every penny. I discovered if you want build quality you better be willing to pay dearly for it, either with L glass or a lens like Zeiss; buying mid grade Canon is no better than buying a kit lens.

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  4. symbiotek

    The old fuji x-mount 50/1.2 is by far my favorite ( I have 15 ). very slightly soft at f1.2 and tac sharp by f1.4
    Other great legacy 50`s are the helios 44m-7 and the minolta MD 50 1.4 from f 2.8 on it is unstoppable.

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  5. KylePBrady

    The “plastic crap” i use (50mm 1.8) is by far my best lens i own. Even after a 5 ft fall that broke the lens into two pieces (saving my body) , i was able to snap it back into place and continue to shoot with it, working flawlessly to this day. Your budget always matters when buying lenses, But when we’re talking 50mm lenses, use the 1.8 until canon releases a 50mm with stabalization. (Soon to come ;)

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  6. alan browning

    I just picked up a Helios 58mm f2.0 (not quite 50mm) from eBay for a staggering $54. This 30 year old russian made lens is pin sharp and has the most amazing bokeh I’ve every seen on a lens, almost swirly.
    My advise is to buy an adaptor and tap into the world of cheap M42 lens out there… my next purchase will be that Minolta 50 f1.2 M42…

    link to example…

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    • Jaime Montano

      I totally agree! Im very happy with my smc takumar 50 1.4, just for $60!
      Very sharp even wide open and a beautiful bokeh. I just got an Helios 44m-7 but I dont test it yet.
      M42 lenses and adapters are a huge discovery for me!

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    • Ryan

      I also have a Helios that I love. Which one did you get? Mine is a 44-4. Also what brand of adapter are you using to get that sharpness? The adapter that came with mine considerably softens the image quality that the lens produces. Almost in the realm of unusable. I only really use the lens when I am trying to create a soft effect.

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    • Paul Monaghan

      I picked up two of these for around £6 (for both) great little lens.

      My fave 50 is my pentax auto 110 f2.8, its so small and seems to have a great rendering and bokeh on my m4/3 camera’s but its stuck wide open.

      I also like my pentax FA 50mm f1.7 (manual focus) on my k5 but I tend not to use it so often due to my 16-50 and 50-135 mostly being on my body.

      I would love to get a hold of the da* 55 f1.4 though and apparently samyang is making a 50mm f1.2? which could be intresting.

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  7. Tamar

    Canon also have a great 50mm f/2.5 macro. It’s a great lens and I wonder why it is hardly ever mentioned.

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    • Spencer

      how does it hold up next to the 100mm 2.8 macro?

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    • Jennifer

      I totally agree. I LOVE my little 50 f/2.5 macro, despite the age of the design and the lack of USM. It’s superbly sharper than my 50 f/1.4!

      @Spencer, you can’t really compare them. The 100 f/2.8 is a true macro (1:1) and the 50 f/2.5 is a 0.5x magnification. Sure, the 100mm is an L lens and all, but as far as the 50mm focal length goes, the 50 f/2.5 is a great little lens.

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  8. Black Z Eddie

    I’m really likin’ my Minolta 50 f1.4 AF. It’s my favorite 50 ’cause it’s my only 50. :)

    Ever since I finally got the AF Micro Adjust nailed, I really enjoy shooting with this thing. It’s small and so sharp.

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    • shamb

      You forgot to rave about Minolta color :)
      Beats everything else hands down, especially when you consider the price.
      Just don’t shoot wide open into the sun, because it also has 1980 levels of CA.

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  9. Spencer

    We do weddings and we shoot the 5Dii with with 50mm 1.2 pretty much all day.. portraits, getting ready, ceremony, groups, formals, even details here and there… you name it, this piece of glass is the go to for AMAZING IMAGES.

    This lens is simply unmatched. There is no other lens in the canon L series that can produce the images that the 50mm 1.2 USM L produces. I’ve shot with 24-70 2.8 L, 16-35 2.8 L, 70-200 2.8 L ii, 100mm 2.8 macro, ect. and hands down the 50mm 1.2 is the most useful lens in my bag. For weary buyers IT IS WELL WORTH THE PLUNG. DONT CHEAP OUT AND GET THE 50mm 1.4… you will not get the results or the build quality

    I also have a theory that the 50mm 1.2 is sharper at f/1.4 than the 50mm 1.4. My theory is that the 50mm 1.4 although it is advertised as a 1.4 lens it actually should be used no wider than 1.8 and although the 50mm 1.2 L is advertised as a 1.2 lens it should actually be used no wider than 1.4… but hey! this is just my theory

    Something else I’ve noticed.. our 70-200 2.8 L ii is just as sharp at 70mm f/3.5 as my 50mm 1.2 when shooting at f/3.5. In this regard the 70-200 2.8 L ii is a great portrait lens

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    • Michael

      I agree with you Spencer. I also shoot weddings and the 1.2 hardly leaves my camera all day. So glad I spent the extra money on this amazing piece of glass.

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  10. Eric D

    Can I have two? My favorite would be my first. Pentax M50 F1.7 then the Pentax F50 F1.7. I recommend no matter what system you are using to get a all manual 50mm lens to start with. You will appreciate and learn so much from it.

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    • Ryan

      Why? Not to create conflict or anything, but I am just curious as to why you will appreciate and learn so much from it?

      I have a 50mm Helios from the 80s which I love because of the quality of it’s Bokeh but I certainly don’t see any benefit in it being fully manual. In fact it is a hindrance. Having to spin an aperture ring instead of an aperture dial doesn’t change much other than making it hard to focus (as I have to focus at whatever aperture I am shooting at which almost always darker than wide open) and making it so I can’t tell what aperture I am set to at a glance when looking through the viewfinder.

      I understand the benefits of learning to use a camera on manual rather than aperture or shutter priority but I just don’t see the benefits of a manual lens over one that can be controlled by the camera’s interface.

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    • antonio

      50mm lenses are great, but getting manual focus versions is pointless.

      All you will “learn” from that is that sinking feeling of looking at the photos from a shoot on your large computer monitor and realizing that you blew the focus on EVERY SINGLE SHOT, even though they looked sharp on your camera’s LCD.

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