The idea of having a 50mm lens for travel photography sounds good as there are many nifty fifty lenses on the market on a relatively cheap price, therefore no much investment is needed. But the real question is:
Is a 50mm lens good for travel photography? Having a prime lens like a 50mm when travelling is a solid choice if you are an artistic photographer, you like fine-art photography or you often photograph during the night, where a zoom lens would be more beneficial for regular people who are aspiring to capture good photographs when they travel.
This being said, a 50mm can have its purpose in travel photography, therefore, in this post, I am going to put down everything I know about travelling with a 50mm lens (as I am doing myself).
Just remember, most of the references I am making about 50mm lens is using a prime lens with a fixed focal length of 50mm and not a zoom lens which covers the 50mm focal length (e.g. 18-55mm). Information about zoom lenses with this focal length will be also included in this post.
A 50mm lens and travel photography
Me, personally, I own and my favourite lens is a 50mm f/1.2 manual focus from Nikon. I often travell and all I take with me is my D750 camera and this lens. Speaking from my experience here is the positive and negative side of using a 50mm lens for travel photography:
Advantages of using a 50mm lens in travel photography
- Amazing in taking low-light photographs due to a wide aperture (f/1.8 or wider)
- Cheap price for some of the nifty fifty lenses
- Can create goddess bokeh
- Sharper than most of the zoom lenses when stepping down the aperture
- Easier to understand and learn a specific focal length (50mm in this case) compared to a zoom lens
- Your travel photography portfolio will look better due to using the same lens and not a variety of focal lengths
- A 50mm lens is small and light.
Disadvantages of using a 50mm lens in travel photography
- This will cover only the 50mm range because it’s a prime lens
- In travel photography, most of the time is better to have a zoom lens (e.g. 24-70mm) to be able to cover everything in the frame and zoom when necessary.
- You may find difficult to frame some bigger buildings and structures due to the medium range of the lens and not being a wider lens
- If this lens is a manual focus (as mine) you will need to master it to be able to take good photographs, where, with a good zoom and autofocus lens will be effortless to do it.
Indeed, you will find it difficult sometimes to frame everything in a 50mm focal length although the lens is mounted on a full-frame. 50mm is more or less what you see with your own eyes, so imagine framing an image in front of you, without this being distorted due to longer or shorter focal lengths. That’s what you will capture.
There is a difference between 50mm on DX (crop sensor) and FX (full-frame sensor) cameras. On a DX sensor, 50mm is multiplied on a factor of 1.5x, therefore, this focal length will be 75mm. In order to reach (the closest to) 50mm on a DX camera (e.g. Nikon D3400), you need a 35mm lens, where, you will have a real focal length of 52.5mm. If you need more information about this, you can check our other article 50mm on crop sensor vs full-frame sensor.
Zoom vs Prime lens when travelling
A zoom lens is more practical where a 50mm prime lens is related to the artistic and fine-art side of photography.
Although the expensive prices of zoom lenses which covers the 50mm focal length (this excludes some standard lenses which comes with a new camera such as 18-55mm) can benefit more from the regular people who like to take photographs when they travel. If there’s a large structure in front of you, zoom out. If there’s a phonebox across the street, zoom in. With a 50mm prime lens, you will have to move back and forth to frame the composition correctly with the right elements.
But remember, with a zoom lens, you will have an aperture of f/3.2, f/4, f/5.6 etc. which is considered to be alot narrower than a prime fast lens, therefore, if you intend to take street photographs, outdoor and indoor captures when travelling, during an evening or difficult lighting condition, a zoom lens will fail compared to a prime lens.
Due to wide aperture, although it’s a 50mm prime lens, you will find much easier to take photographs handheld in these difficult lighting situations, therefore, a prime lens will win here. Unless you travel with a tripod.
If you travel with a tripod and decide to take photographs during the evening or night on your travel, normally, it is up to you to decide if you would like multiple focal lengths or extra sharpness from a prime lens. As an instance, a good example is the picture above, as taken with my 50mm f/1.2 Nikon prime lens.
If you are interested more about what settings to use for 50mm night photography, check our other post.
Tips to improve your 50mm travel photography
- If a structure is too large, aim at creating a panorama or vertorama picture (vertorama is a vertical panorama).
- HDR photographs of some places you visit can boost the dynamic range of the images, therefore, in some situations where there’s a huge difference of dynamic range between light and shadow (e.g. photographing against the sun) the HDR images will look way much better than the standard ones.
- Aim on creating silhouettes of anything you capture if the environment and lighting allow you to do that.
- Respect the composition rules, but most important, break them and create something unique.
- Create bokeh (at night) and depth of field (during the day) because you (may) have a good prime nifty fifty with a wide aperture.
- You may want to know how to do portrait photography with a 50mm lens if you are not travelling alone
What can you capture with a 50mm lens in travel photography
There’s a lot you can capture with a 50mm lens in travel photography: from known structures and points of interest to events, street photography, fireworks and much more. You are limitless as much your imagination will take you.
In this case, I will try to cover a few points of the above.
- Street Photography
This will be probably one of the most used forms of photography when travelling but not always. It depends where you are going to travel, as an instance if you are walking through Rome or London, probably street photography rules will help you here a lot, but if your destination is somewhere more exotic with more sand and martinis and with fewer streets, you have to consider a different approach.
- Points of interest
This could be anything from Eifel Tower, Big Ben and one million other points of interest around the globe, where everyone is taking a picture. Being different will make the only difference between you and a million other photographers passing by every year.
- Local events & fireworks
A good example would be the bonfire events in the UK, toreador in Spain etc, where, shortly to call those events of interest will look as good as your photographs. Just remember, most of the events would be held during the evening therefore a good 50mm prime lens would be beneficial (with autofocus). Capturing as many photographs as possible would be ideal and the need of a tripod for fireworks show (if any)
- Landscape Photography
This is just one another type of photography you may often use when you are doing travelling photography, in special if you travel by your own car through amazing landscapes area. Knowing landscapes photography with a 50mm lens would be helping you to take stunning images, therefore, don’t forget your tripod at home. Because of the 50mm focal length, it is a good practice to create panoramic images like the ones above.
Here I would be answering directly to your question: is a 50mm lens good for travel photography? Yes and No
Yes, if you are an artistic photographer, you are interested to create bokeh and depth of field, you like fine art photography with a 50mm lens and/or you often photograph during the evening when you are travelling, a 50mm lens would be priceless in this situation.
No, if you are more like a regular person aspiring to take some good photographs during a holiday or travel, you want to simplify everything to a simple zoom lens to cover multiple focal lengths, a zoom lens (maybe covering 50mm) would be more beneficial for you.
With this said, thank you for remaining until the end of this post and I hope to see you around. Take care and give us a share to spread the love.
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