Nifty Fifty Is Not the Most Overrated Lens

DECEMBER 19, 2022
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Nifty Fifty Is Not the Most Overrated Lens

I recently read an article that stated the 50mm prime lens (or the nifty-fifty) is the most overrated lens. I understand what the writer is trying to say, but I really have to disagree with his points. 50mm lens is, as everyone who owns it might say, a worth-to-have lens in your photography arsenal. All these articles also reinforce the fact.

I would like to reiterate the points mentioned in the article mentioned above and then discuss them from a different point of view.

All the photos in this article were taken with a nifty-fifty.

Nifty Fifty Made Me a Worse Photographer

If you think a lens can make you a better or a worse photographer, then think again.

It is true that, at the end of the day, having a perfect lens on the job could make a massive difference in the results. But fundamentally, a lens is just a tool to express our vision. A craftsman should not blame his tool when he produces a poor creation, nor a photographer when he takes a bland photo.

Beyond the gear, there are many other factors in photography that influence the end result, namely understanding of light, composition, framing, color choice, and so on. There’s an endless list of concepts that a good photographer should comprehend in order to create a meaningful photo. A lens is just a small, contributing factor to the whole story.

If you have a nifty-fifty lens, then you should use it as it’s intended to be: to be the middleman of every focal length. It’s not a coincidence that in the olden days, camera bodies were always sold paired with a 50mm lens. Because most of the time it’s all you need for your everyday photos, although this might not hold true for today’s standard.

Should you wish to use a 50mm lens for a portrait, then you should use it. Should you want to use it for landscapes, you can also do it. The result will depend on how you see the overall scene and how you capture only what you need.

Most of the time though, you will end up being better by using a prime lens like 50mm since it does force you to think more before shooting by limiting your scope.

Nifty Fifty is Not a Versatile All-around Lens That Every Beginner Should Own

There’s a little bit of truth behind this statement. Nifty fifty is not a versatile all-around lens, simply because nowadays that honor goes to the zoom lens often referred to as the kit lens bundled with a new camera purchase.

But I think every beginner should own a nifty fifty.

One of the perks of owning a nifty-fifty is that it often paves the way to a new world of depth of field (DoF). We’re talking about apertures beyond a mere f1.8, something akin to f1.4, f1.1, or even f0.95. Razor-thin depth of field with delicious bokeh.

For those who just started photography, this is something refreshing and worth experimenting with. Granted, you don’t have to always capture your subject with a blurred background for every occasion. But when it’s used sparingly, it delivers wonders.

The large aperture of a nifty fifty also enables you to shoot in low-light situations. Of course, you can crank up the ISO and brighten the scene digitally, but having a fast lens helps to minimize the noise introduced by high ISO. The caveat of opening wide open is, of course, the aforementioned thin depth of field.

Another reason is the ease of use. People said that 50mm is approximately what our eyes see (very relatively speaking) so it’s simpler to compose the scene using that focal length. Though many are on the fence about this statement, I believe it is the easiest to use.

It does not have strong distortion like a wider focal length nor the compression effect found in longer focal lengths. Thus what you see is usually what you get. It might not make your photo special from a technical perspective, so your skills will make or break the photo itself.

Additionally, most of the nifty fifty lenses do not break the bank due to their economical price tag. And they are usually quite small in size due to physics. These two points are beneficial for even seasoned photographers, especially the size. When you have to lug a lot of gears for hours, you will appreciate a lightweight lens more in the long run.

Closing Remarks

I may have come across as a harsh critic when I decided to disagree with the article written in Fstoppers, but I just had to voice my opinions. I personally think the writer had the good intention to convey a different take on a popular topic. Unfortunately, he was coasting at nifty fifty lenses from an especially narrow field of fashion and portrait photography and did not attempt to expand beyond his specialty, which is a wasted opportunity.

I have been using nifty fifty a lot of times probably more than any other focal lengths, particularly for street photography and on film. I have even used it on portraits, so I can offer a more diverse insight. Without any hesitation, I could say how essential the focal length is in my photographic process. And even then I’m still finding a lot of new ways to utilize the nifty fifty every time.

In the end, though, there is no hard rule in photography written in stone never to be broken. You can skip using a 50mm and straight go for lenses that suit your style if you think that way you would make awesome shots. Listen to what other people say, but ultimately follow your intuition. That’s how you grow as a photographer.

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About the Author

Jerfareza Daviano | Photographer in Sendai, Japan
Jerfareza Daviano

Jerfareza is a freelance photographer from Indonesia currently based in Sendai, Japan, offering wide range of photography service especially profile portraits, couple or family photos, and wedding photography. Should you wish to hire him you can check here for more details.

Visit his website for articles about travel in Japan especially Tohoku area and interesting bits about photography.

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