50mm is a medium focal length widely used in many photography niches; reflecting into the uniqueness of a 50mm focal length either a 50mm prime lens or 50mm in a zoom lens, is the fact that this is the only focal length where your photographs will be likely to be what you see with your own eyes – The elements won’t look either farther nor closer than they actually are.
But between a 50mm prime and a 50mm in a zoom lens, which lens is better? In general, people favour to have a 50mm prime lens over a zoom lens with a 50mm focal length because of the wide apertures they own, and the ability to easier capture handheld scenes with difficult lighting conditions.
Before we move on, we have to understand the fact that there is no such thing as a 50mm zoom lens but lenses which include a 50mm focal length such as 18-55mm, 24-70mm, where a 50mm prime lens is a lens with a single focal length.
50mm prime vs 50mm in a zoom lens – understanding the basics.
In general, a 50mm focal length is widely used on the market due to the fact that most of the basic DSLR’s come with a stock 18-55mm zoom lens, which more or less, includes this focal length.
These lenses are not something you can excel in photography with, but it is something to help you get started to learn photography. Most of the people cannot afford from the very beginning to invest in expensive lenses, therefore, you may often see a higher number of photographers using only the stock lenses.
Overall, my opinion is that they are not that bad, neither the best, but something you can work with. Now, what about a 50mm prime lens?
50mm prime lenses are one of the cheapest and still sharpest lenses you can find them on the market. With prices in general affordable by most photographers even those who just start in photography, a 50mm prime lens is probably one of the most used prime lenses on the market.
But when you get started using prime lenses, as the 50mm in this case, you reach areas of photography unavailable to reach with a zoom lens with the 50mm focal length.
As an instance, besides the high sharpness and good quality of a relatively cheap 50mm prime lens, those come with wide apertures, as the most used one is a 50mm f/1.8.
Considering an f/1.8 aperture from a prime lens over a standard f/4-5.6 aperture atop of a zoom lens with this focal length, you are able to capture better handheld photographs during the evening or nights, you are able to take amazing pictures with a very shallow depth of field and even with outstanding bokeh.
All these will come with a bit of price to pay: acquiring a new lens.
When to choose a 50mm prime lens over 50mm zoom
When we focus on a specific area of photography where a 50mm focal length excels, a 50mm prime lens would more than sure do the job. Keep in mind that to obtain a 50mm focal length you need your 50mm prime lens mounted on an FX (full-frame) camera, where on a DX you will need a 35mm lens. If you have a 50mm fx prime lens on a crop-sensor camera, you are more likely to have a 75mm focal length.
But we may widely want to choose a 50mm prime lens in special if our main aim is to take pictures handheld during the evening or night, we want to capture sceneries or subjects with a shallow depth of field or, we want to do portrait photography, which, it appears to be a 50mm focal length would be the best choice in this case.
Moreover, I personally found out that on many street events, a 50mm lens works fantastically, where taking panoramic cityscapes or landscapes with a 50mm lens would put the scene in the perspective of a wide lens advantaging the high-resolution.
In most of the cases, you will be more advantageous using a 50mm prime lens over a zoom lens with this focal length.
When to choose a zoom lens with a 50mm focal length over 50mm prime lens.
There could be many cases where you can benefit from the advantage of having a zoom lens such as the basic 18-55mm and the first advantage is NOT investing in another lens as your camera may come with this stock lens.
Many people who love to travel buy basic DSLRs with the stock 18-55mm lens which appear to be quite good in travel photography, benefiting the whole range of focal lengths.
Keep in mind that during the last few years, most of the 18-55mm basic lenses now come with a VR (vibrance reduction) which allows you to stabilise the image, amazing at capturing sceneries where the lighting is inadequate and the shutter speed can drop to even 1/4sec and still take a sharp image (it matters mostly your own stability to be able to do that).
The advantages and disadvantages of both lenses
Both a 50mm prime lens or a zoom lens with the 50mm focal length can have advantages and disadvantages and may be used in totally different scenarios. Furthermore, I want to share with you the advantages of disadvantages of both lenses and focal lengths.
The advantages of a 50mm prime lens
- Very wide apertures, f/1.8, f/1.4 or even f/1.2 as compared to zoom lenses
- Amazing in capturing scenes or subjects in difficult lighting conditions (this also reflects on the quality of your DSLR)
- Very cheap prices
- High sharpness even for the cheaper models
- Fast autofocus in many prime lenses
- Great at obtaining a shallow depth of field or bokeh
- A good way to get started into fine-art photography.
The disadvantages of a 50mm prime lens
- It is a single focal length, therefore, you cannot zoom at all.
- Sometimes, you may need a wider lens to capture some sceneries or group of people indoors, which won’t work well with a 50mm prime lens
- Some photographers may consider it boring to stick to a single focal length, where, if you need multiple focal lengths with prime lenses, you have to invest in more lenses though.
- The widest apertures may slightly suffer from the lack of sharpness
The advantages of a zoom lens with a 50mm focal length
- It covers multiple focal lengths, good for travelling (such as 18-55mm, 24-70mm etc)
- Because of the zoom function, you can break the barrier of 50mm focal length and properly frame the elements into the composition without for you, as a photographer, to change your position.
- It may have VR (vibrance reduction) where a 50mm prime lens would not. This would help you better stabilise the image and capture at slower shutter speeds.
- It may come as a stock lens for your new camera.
The disadvantages of a zoom lens with a 50mm focal length
- It can suffer from sharpness as compared with a 50mm prime lens
- Narrow apertures, as narrow as f/5.6.
- You won’t be able to create beautiful bokeh or shallow depth of field
- Dust can gather inside the lens like a magnet due to the vacuum created when you use the zoom ring.
What are the main niches the 50mm focal length works well with?
- Well, I did mention in the first place that in portrait photography, a 50mm prime lens would be one of the best choices and many photographers do prefer this focal length not only because of the naturalness but also due to the fact that, as a prime lens, you are able to create a shallow depth of field.
I have covered a full topic if you want to read more “how to use a 50mm lens for portrait photography”.
- Also, above I mentioned the fact that I’ve attended more than a few events with my 50mm prime lens which appeared to excel my expectations. It is a lens I would recommend in special if the “street events” are held during the evenings where lighting may be difficult.
- Many photographers prefer to use a 50mm lens for street photography, which appears to be the second most used lens in… street photography
- When we reflect fine-art photography, we reflect the ability of the photographer to create art when photographing a scene, subject or elements with an own vision in their minds of creating something different than what they see in reality. As a passionate for 50mm fine-art photography, I found no lens better than a 50mm to get started with. A 50mm prime lens with a shallow depth of field.
Of course, you can mostly do fine-art photography with any focal length, but in this case, a 50mm focal length is indeed a golden tool for a fine-art photographer.
As my personal and professional point as a photographer who owned 3x 50mm prime lenses, 2x 18-55mm zoom lenses and 1x Tamron 24-70mm zoom lens, both with the focal length of a 50mm, I came to the next conclusion:
When you first start in photography and you get your first DSLR kit with the stock lens 18-55mm, it is good to keep it and learn to photograph around the 50mm focal length before investing into something different. You can use it around not only to get initiated into photography but to overcome the basics of it.
Many times you can have the option to acquire your first DSLR without a stock lens at a cheaper price. I would do recommend in this case to get your DSLR with a 50mm prime lens, where, the price won’t be much above a kit DSLR. You can not only get initiated but advance into photography easily with a 50mm prime lens and there are many ways you can use it.
If you are willing to invest more and you won’t mind for the price to skyrocket a bit, you travel a lot and you are not too much into prime lenses, my first recommendation, in this case, would be a nice 24-70mm zoom lens with VR, like the Tamron I had. You can do a lot more than you can think with that or a similar lens and there are many niches you can benefit from it.
Anything you pick and you like, stick with it and enjoy the process of photography rather than to focus too much on the technical side and acquiring new gear. For now, I shall say thank you for remaining until the end of this post and I hope to see you around. Take care!
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