If you possess or tried multiple prime lenses, the first thing you notice is that there is a great diversity in focal lengths, and the topic of today would be comparing a 50mm lens and a 105mm lens, trying to figure out which one is better overall. It happens for me to own and main them both, therefore the question is:
Which is better, a 50mm lens or 105mm lens? This reflects into the niche you are using the lenses, a 50mm lens is better for portrait photography, events, low-light and night photography where a 105mm is great to capture closer wildlife photographs, macro photography and more distant scenes or objects.
In general, it would be ruthless to directly consider that one lens is better than the other one because of the major differences in focal lengths, therefore, in this post, I am going to share with you everything I know about both focal lengths and I will use as a comparison a Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 manual focus lens and a Sigma 105mm f/2.8 Macro lens. Keep in mind that a macro lens can be widely used not only for macro.
The focal lengths of 50mm lens vs 105mm lens.
First, to understand, either having a 50mm lens or 105mm lens, there is a difference of focal lengths, and in some cases, this difference can be greater or smaller than it actually looks. But first, let’s take it one by one.
On an FX camera, a 50mm lens would have the 50mm focal length, as same as a 105mm lens would have the 105mm focal length, because of the crop ratio factor of 1.0x
On a DX or crop sensor camera with a crop ratio of 1.5x, a 50mm lens would have a 75mm focal length, where a 105mm lens would have a focal length of 157.5mm.
Where there is a smaller difference of focal lengths when both lenses are mounted on a full-frame camera, the difference becomes smaller, if the 50mm lens is mounted on a DX camera and the 105mm on an FX, where the total difference being of 30mm focal length.
But as the things can go the opposite way, with a 50mm lens mounted on an FX camera and 105mm on a DX camera, we will have a total difference of 107.5mm of focal length. Sure does, like this, I can compare the main way I am using both of my lenses, the 50mm lens on my Nikon D750 full-frame where my 105mm is mounted on my Nikon D500 crop-sensor.
I wanted to mention and underline the differences of focal lengths when comparing two total different lenses, where, in most of the cases, this can contribute either positively or negatively in capturing some specific scenes or using them in the same niche. As an instance, would be difficult to capture the night sky with a 105mm lens on DX where is much easier with a 50mm lens on a full-frame camera.
The advantages of a 50mm lens over a 105mm lens
In general, a 50mm lens is a more portable lens, smaller in size and weight and because of the medium format lens, it has a great advantage in capturing a low-light scene.
If we aim at taking night photographs handheld, in general, you can use a shutter speed of 1/50sec – 1/60sec with a 50mm lens, depending on your steadiness. Moreover, a 50mm lens has a very wide aperture of f/1.8, f/1.4 or even f/1.2, which allows plenty of light to fall into the camera sensor, making these 50mm lenses to be preferable for many night photographers.
The worst part is capturing low light or night photographs with a 105mm lens, where you may require to have a shutter speed of 1/100sec. To obtain this shutter speed, you will have to sacrifice and increases a lot the ISO. Not to mention, in general. A 105mm lens has an aperture of f/2.8 or beyond. But this does have an advantage overall, more information on the next subtopic.
Another advantage of a 50mm lens over 105mm is the wider aperture, as mentioned above. This would help not only for low-light photography but in general for obtaining a shallow depth of field or bokeh.
The advantages of a 105mm lens over a 50mm lens.
When we aim to pick a 105mm lens over a 50mm we have to look at possible advantages, where there are a few, to mention:
A 105mm lens such as the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro is great at … macro! Yes, you will be able to capture outstanding macro photography which will be pretty much impossible or hard to get with a 50mm lens.
Moreover, a 105mm lens mounted on a fast DX camera is great at capturing fast-moving close actions such as motorbikes races, relatively good at capturing airshows etc.
The last but not least, most of the 105mm lenses have an image stabilisation, which is great not only for capturing scenes with a slow shutter speed, where you can obtain a crystal clear image to even 1/4sec.
There are many niches a 105mm lens could be victorious over a 50mm lens, wherein some other niches is the other way around. More information will follow.
Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 manual focus lens vs Sigma 105mm f/2.8 macro lens.
Those are two lenses I own and I feel that I need to share my experiences with both of the lenses shortly. A full-post will follow.
My 50mm Nikkor lens has one great advantage and one disadvantage: The advantage is that this lens has an aperture of f/1.2 which is considered to be quite rare among the lenses, but the disadvantage is that is fully manual focus and manual aperture.
With my 50mm lens, I can capture and create art on a level where I am not able to do with the 105mm not only because of the very wide aperture but of the focal length as well.
On the other side, with my Sigma 105mm I was able to do macro photography, attend to multiple bikes runs during the past years where this lens excelled in speed focus and sharpness when combined with my Nikon D500 camera.
Moreover, did you ever tried landscape photography with a 105mm lens? You gotta love it. I don’t say you are not able to obtain astonishing results with a 50mm lens in landscape photography, but somehow, a 105mm lens gives a unique perspective of a scene.
Both of the lenses are very different and would be hard for me to compare them, but I had one portrait photography session where I used both my DSLR’s, the Nikon D500 + Sigma 105mm and the Nikon D750 + Nikkor 50mm.
With the Nikon D750 full-frame and 50mm lens, I was able to capture more natural images due to the medium focal length, with a shallower depth of field and an artistic touch due to softening image and vignette at the aperture of f/1.2
More difficult than with the 105mm because I had to take an extra second to ensure the sharpness of the image due to the manual focus, therefore, a fewer number of total pictures has been taken in this case.
With the 105mm Sigma, I was able to capture very sharp images from the centre to the edges and still with a shallow depth of field due to the longer focal length. The images were not as artistic and natural as with the 50mm lens but I felt the lens did not let me down
Moreover, with the fast autofocus of the lens and camera, I was able to be 100% accurate on the focus point on daylight conditions, so to say, all the images I captured was perfectly sharp.
Oh, not to forget, because it was combined with the Nikon D500 dx camera, my real focal length was 157.5mm.
If you want to read more about each particular lens, please check the reviews I made linked below:
What niches are better to use one lens over the other?
In astrophotography, having a wider lens benefits from photographing the night sky as a whole with the Milky Way and amazing scenery. With a 50mm lens, you can rely on photographing parts of the night sky and constellations where with a 105mm you get more into photographing brighter Messier objects. Between those two, you will find out that a 50mm lens tends to be more useful than a 105mm lens.
You can check our other articles “is a 50mm lens good for astrophotography” and “7 tips to understand and improve your 50mm astrophotography” if you are interested.
I am inclining to say that a 105mm lens is better for candid photography as you will focus on photographing a subject from a relatively greater distance from you rather than a group of people.
Fine Art Photography
Hands down for a 50mm lens which appears to be my personal favourite focal length for fine-art photography and in general, a 50mm focal length wins the spot for fine-art photography
If you are interested you can check our other article “how to do fine-art photography using a 50mm lens“
Food Photography – If you want to photograph food, a 50mm lens is a golden tool for you in this case, no questioning. Unless you photograph “micro food”, where a 105mm can be useful.
I’ve done landscape photography with both 50mm and 105mm lenses, and indeed, between those two lenses and their focal lengths, a 50mm wins as you can focus on creating wide panoramic images.
But somehow, with my 105mm lens, I was able to capture quite a few nice scenes with a unique perspective, unable to do it with a 50mm lens.
But in the end, I would rather prefer to stick with my 50mm lens even in landscape photography.
Long Exposure Photography
Depending on your scenery, both of the lenses can win or lose in long exposure photography but you will often find to benefit more from a 50mm lens in photographing fireworks, light trails and capturing waterfalls than with a 105mm lens
There is no questioning that 105mm should be everyone’s choice for macro photography, in special if the lens is a “macro lens” as the one I covered above.
With a 50mm lens would be very difficult to capture any macro photographs.
In nature, you will benefit more from a 50mm lens than 105mm because you are able to arrange more elements in your frame and because the 50mm focal length is natural, therefore, it photographs more or less what you see with your own eyes.
Portrait / Family Photography – The portrait photography was greatly covered above, but shortly to re-mention it, a 50mm lens always wins in portraits.
Sports or Action Photography
In this case, a 105mm lens will be tens of times better than a 50mm lens because you don’t have to be very close to the sports subjects. But keep in mind that in many cases, a more telephoto lens would do better, therefore, even if you capture sports or action with a 105mm lens, I would recommend a DX camera or crop-sensor with good autofocus.
Many street photographers prefer either 35mm or 50mm lens for street photography, therefore, with no questioning, a 50mm lens wins here.
If you love 50mm photography and street photography as well, I strongly recommend you to do it.
I would prefer to travel with a 50mm lens every time over the 105mm. If you are interested you can check our other article “is a 50mm lens good for travel photography?”
You cannot do any wildlife with a 50mm lens but you will be able to do in some cases with 105mm lens on a DX camera. Already done and I can say it works pretty well. But please don’t buy a 105mm lens only for wildlife as you can invest in a 150-600mm lens which is the alpha of the lenses for wildlife photography.
Wherever you are going to chose, either 50mm lens or 105mm, try to stick with it because learning photography with a single focal length and mastering it would be the quickest way into mastering photography.
Although I don’t have many posts to cover the 105mm focal length (I will try to cover it in the future), I do have more than a few covering the 50mm focal length. You can follow our category if you are interested, HERE.
For now, I have to say thank you for remaining until the end of the post and I hope to see you around. Take care!
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