A Fifty for Creativity

Even just a few hours ago, I was once again asked by a reader what lenses do I use most for my wedding photography. The answer is and always has been the same for my wedding, family or general photography needs – a classic fifty. I am sure hardly anyone will find this at all surprising, because fast 50mm fixed focal length lenses have become a legend of sorts. Ask any photographer and he will tell you – that is one of the two most versatile fixed focal length lenses you can buy (the other being a 35mm lens). It is time we back up that claim with actual photographs, and plenty of them. Is there a single reason for it being so versatile? No. Rather, it is a combination of various characteristics and generally pleasing manner of “drawing” the photograph that, even today with all the amazing zoom lenses, makes it such a sought-after lens.

A Fifty for Creativity

Naturally, the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4G is not the only lens I own and use, but I really do feel this particular focal length deserves a separate article just to show how truly special it is. I adore it. More than that, my warm feelings towards such a lens are not dictated by raw technical characteristics, rather how much it resonates with the way I previsualize my work. And that is why, instead of boring you to death with technicalities, I will gladly let photographs do most of the talking for a change.

A side note: all of the photographs in this article were made with a 50mm lens mounted on a full-frame camera. While my lens is a Nikkor, all of these images could have been taken more or less just as successfully with any 50mm f/1.4-1.8 class lens on any full-frame camera (you’d need a ~35mm lens on APS-C sensor camera for similar versatility). Thus, forget the technical stuff. It does not matter. Focal length and maximum aperture is enough to give a good idea on how great such a lens is.

Small, Light, Cheap and Utterly Brilliant

If you set your mind to it, working around the creative limitations of a fixed focal length lens can be very easy and lead to some great composition and other sorts of discoveries. Whenever I photograph and object or a subject with a 50mm optic that would, at first glance, require a different kind of lens, I feel as if I learned something new. Maybe that is what they mean by saying focal length limitations force you to be creative? Anyway, let’s start with some detail shots.

50mm Lens Sample (25)

A sufficiently wide 50mm focal length is great for indoors, as it more often than not leaves enough room should you need to take a few steps back and frame a bigger object. Even for someone like me who prefers to leave lots of negative space or contextual background in the frame, it rarely proves to be too long. At the same time, it makes it easy to capture the same scene very differently. In the photograph shown above I admired the natural window light touching the gown and the sense of simplicity and lightness created by the delicate, graphical chandelier. The following photograph was taken in the same room only minutes apart, but is very, very different.

50mm Lens Sample (24)

Naturally, for such an image I could have used a wide-angle lens. However, it wouldn’t have been quite so static and thus calm with a very natural look to it. Too much compression or too wide angle of view would have rid the photograph of that feeling that it has been captured through a gap by a person just passing by, glimpsing. And, as a photographer, that is what I did as I quietly wandered around the house of the bride, observing. It is very neutral, this photograph, and mirrors the calm mood of the day very well. But can we get a little closer? Oh yes.

50mm Lens Sample (17)

50mm Lens Sample (16)

If the previous photographs were quite static, this next capture has a little more “movement” to it. Not in the true sense of the word, of course, but the choice of object placement (V shape), light and the angle at which the image was taken makes it mildly, but sufficiently different dynamically than the dress photographs above. In this case, focusing close caused a slight amount of distortion to appear, while the placement of one of the shoes slightly at the front of another further emphasized the effect. It almost looks as if the photograph was captured with a wider lens, doesn’t it? In other words, you can make sure photographs captured with a single 50mm lens are still different enough so as to not look boring when viewed together.

50mm Lens Sample (13)

Just as importantly, the usual minimum focus distance of 50mm lenses (around 45-50cm from the focal plane) is enough to capture much smaller objects, too.

50mm Lens Sample (12)

Rings more often than not require macro lenses and, sure enough, that is what I used for the “safe” capture. Once that was done, however, I mounted my trusty 50mm lens and tried to find a way to use it creatively even for such tiny objects. The result is no masterpiece, but I like it. More than that I like the fact that it has pushed me creatively – I know I could come up with a great ring shot should I ever get stranded on a wedding day without a true macro. That fifty would save my day and allow me to instantly get back to photographing people should such an opportunity arise.

50mm Lens Sample (15)

The photograph is also quite dynamic thanks to the lines and angle of capture, despite being taken with what you may think is a somewhat boring focal length.

That covers the detail shots, from large objects all the way to the smallest ones. But we are only just starting. The lens is also great for portraits and general photography. You didn’t think I was only going to show you a couple of gowns and a pair of high-heeled shoes, did you? And since once can easily shoot a wedding dress with a 50mm lens and come up with results restrained only by his own ability to use the gear creatively, it stands to reason photographing people indoors should not be a problem, either.

50mm Lens Sample (3)

In this image, I used obstacles – the door and wall that were concealing the room from me – to my creative advantage. The following photograph was taken in the same room with the same lens, but now, unlike with the best man earlier, I deliberately framed the groom much more tightly. The two photographs are very different despite having been taken with the exact same lens and camera combination.

50mm Lens Sample (4)

Very similarly, a classic fifty is suitable when shooting in most churches that I’ve come across. On one hand, it allows you to capture the groom at the altar waiting for his bride, but at the same time, after snapping that photograph, I can quickly change my position and photograph him from up close.

50mm Lens Sample (14)

50mm Lens Sample (26)

When it comes to group portraits outdoors, not only does a 50mm lens offer just the perfect angle of view, but it is also small and inconspicuous enough so as to not make your subjects nervous. Not once did any of the people I photographed feel intimidated by such a small, simple-looking lens, and that has helped them remain at ease without me saying so much as a couple of words of encouragement.

50mm Lens Sample (21) 50mm Lens Sample (22)

The same fact comes rather useful for street photography, by the way.

50mm Lens Sample (29)

50mm Lens Sample (9)

But let us get back to the weddings and, more specifically, photographic the bride and groom. After all, the 50mm classic is a lens that stays on my camera for most of the day, and, had I no choice, I could go through a whole 12 hour wedding with it and not feel too restrained creatively. Now, being neither wide nor long, but rather slotting somewhere in between, a 50mm lens is great for environmental captures with lots of context and detail:

50mm Lens Sample (27)

As soon as you want to, however, you can move in much closer without fear of losing that nice aesthetic. Surprisingly enough, you can move in quite close to your subjects and frame sufficiently tightly without distorting their figures too much as you would with a wider lens.

50mm Lens Sample (19)

If anything, the slight distortion actually draws the viewer in more than a telephoto would, makes one feel as if he is in the scene rather than observing it from far away.

50mm Lens Sample (20)50mm Lens Sample (6)

A classic fifty is a staggeringly capable environmental portrait lens. As I enjoy loose framing, perhaps that is why it suits me so damn well.

50mm Lens Sample (28)

50mm Lens Sample (18)

Mind you, while, as I mentioned, you can frame reasonably tight with it should such a need arise, it is no 85mm or 135mm portrait classic. Get too close and it will distort the faces of your subjects somewhat, and it does not suit everyone. You might pull it off with proper care when framing, a subject on whom the look is not unflattering, as well as good light and overall composition. Still, for novices it is tough, you really need to know what you are doing and why. In this following photograph, you can see how the hands of the bride got emphasized as she was fixing her hair because of the focal length used, light and me standing quite close to her. I think it works in this particular case, but then a 35mm or even 24mm lens might have been an even better choice.

50mm Lens Sample (1)

Mixing Work and Personal Photography

They say work and personal life should not mix, but that does not include photography. So far, I’ve only mostly shown you photographs from weddings that I’ve been to which might lead you to believe that is the only time when I actually use my trusty fifty. Far from it! See that first minimalistic photograph at the very beginning of this article? I took it back in October as I was taking a midday walk just to clear my mind after a night of hard work. Before leaving home, I noticed there was a thick fog everywhere I looked. I was not sure if I’d find anything to photograph, but still decided to take my camera as any photographer would in my place. You probably already know which lens I decided to take with me. Just the one, too.

50mm Lens Sample (7)

It might be that I’m having it easy when photographic kids, because the boy that you see above – he’s learned how to pose when he was a year and a half old. I hardly ever need to chase him around with a camera just to take a photograph (plenty chasing around when I don’t want to take a picture of him, though). Having said that, I still find a 50mm class lens to often be very suitable for both indoor and outdoor family photography. After all, it is not all that different from the way I shoot weddings, is it?

Finally, we reach a point that is more important than anything I’ve said thus far. Yes. You can use a 50mm lens to photograph pets. Everyone photographs pets, right? So it passes that test, too.

50mm Cat Test

Nothing’s Perfect

There are plenty of situations where a 50mm lens, despite all its versatility, just won’t cut it for the task at hand. If you need a true macro lens, well, you need a true macro lens. And there is no way around that. It is one thing to try and push your creativity by using just one lens and an entirely different thing to try and make it what it’s not. For this reason, while I can shoot a whole wedding with a fifty, I’d never voluntarily pack just the one lens, no way. I will have a macro with me, I will have something to cover wide-angle for those rare occasions when I need it, I will have my 85mm f/1.4 lens for when I need tighter portraits or more compression.

50mm Lens Sample (23)

A classic 50mm lens can handle landscapes, travel photography and all the other tasks you throw at it, as long as it provides you with the desired look and suits your vision for that particular photograph. It is one of Lola’s favorite focal lengths, too – she will gladly use her AF-S 50mm f/1.8G lens for food and wedding photography. But for some photographic applications, it is just not the best option. It can be, but only sometimes (not to mention that prime lenses can be tricky to use in general). Someone other than me might find a 24mm lens the more versatile choice for his work, and in that case a 24mm lens is what he needs. Don’t go trying to force the fifty on yourself just because someone else finds it to be all they need. Simple as that.

50mm Lens Sample (30)

Final Words

I have and will use other lenses than the fifty, of course. I actually believe that, after the last few years, I might enjoy a 35mm f/1.4-2 class lens even more. But, whatever the other lens may be, it is like a vacation. It is fun and exciting, but you always want to come back home eventually, don’t you? It never felt as if I was forced to use the fifty instead of some other lens I would otherwise have chosen. I wanted to use that lens, it was a very deliberate choice. And that is why it has never really been a compromise for me, not something that works, but only so so. No. As long as you do not try to force it to be something that it’s not and embrace it, it just works. It just makes sense. The most important point is, though, that even such a basic lens requires a great deal of practice. You have to know it, learn it, realize when it works at its best and when it doesn’t. Yes, you can shoot a portrait with it, but not the way you would shoot one with a 135mm lens. You can photograph wedding rings with it, but not the way you would with a macro lens. Me, I have been using it for several years now and still haven’t quite nailed it. I’ve messed up using it just as many times as I have been surprised and amazed. There is much more for me to learn and I am definitely planning to do just that.

50mm Lens Sample (8)

All Images Copyright ©Romanas Naryškin, All Rights Reserved. Copying or reproduction is not permitted without written permission from the author.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Alis
    November 18, 2013 at 11:28 am

    Beautiful pictures! Thank you!
    I recently purchased a D7100 and decided to go for 2 prime lenses 35mm/1.8G and 50mm/1.8G until I have the money for a good zoom. The image quality is stunning! Now I find that all the pictures I took the past 6 years with my Canon and a not very good lens aren’t sharp…

    Most of the time I take pictures of working dogs. A zoom would sometimes be better but I found out that with this kind of lens I can crop the picture and it is still very sharp. With the dogs I use the 50mm. For people and walking around 35mm.

    So, I agree it’s not always easy and I’m just getting started but I really LOVE these prime lenses.

    • 88
      ) fred
      November 29, 2013 at 6:51 pm

      Maybe the next lens to get is the 85mm f1.8 for even closer dog. It is rumored to be sharper than even the 50mm.

      • 94
        ) Peter G
        July 11, 2014 at 4:06 pm

        The 85 mm f1.8 is a nice lens.. I have one of the early ( 1989 ) models. Don’t use it much nowadays, but, it is a sharp lens . I don’t use my 50mm f1.4 either :-)

        I shoot either very wide ( Nikon 14-24 f2.8 ), or, very tight ( 135mm f2 AF-DC, 180 mm f2.8 AF , 300mm f2.8 AF-S etc. )

  2. 2
    ) Ricardo Vaz
    November 18, 2013 at 11:34 am

    Great article, I rather use the 35mm/85mm couple but if I have to go out with only one prime theres no better choice than a 50mm.

    • November 18, 2013 at 11:38 am

      Thank you, Ricardo! I will have a separate article on the 35mm/85mm combo soon, and if given the choice of shooting with two lenses, that’s what I’d pick, too. :)

  3. 4
    ) Steven Lawrence
    November 18, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    time to get the 50 1.4 out of storage…

  4. 5
    ) craig
    November 18, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Would it be safe to assume that you are doing these on a full frame camera? If so, that would make 35mm the most versatile on crop sensor cameras? I’ve read 50 mm on a crop cam can be an awkward length.

  5. 7
    ) Daniel Michael
    November 18, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Lovely article Romanas!

    The 50mm was the first lens I bought for personal use and I keep going back to it. That, and my Sigma 35mm 1.4. For some reason, I always feel more comfortable with primes. At the beginning of the year I was the last minute photographer at my brother-in-law’s wedding, I only had a D80 and the 50mm – needless to say, I didn’t really need much more than that!

    My D610 arrives tomorrow and I can’t wait to try them on that!

    Cheers

    • November 18, 2013 at 12:31 pm

      I also started with a D80 + 50mm combo, Daniel. And as soon as you put that 50mm and 35mm on your D610, it’ll be a revelation, you will like it very much. :)

  6. November 18, 2013 at 12:37 pm

    Nice to see an article or reply not discussing df v. whatever!

    • November 18, 2013 at 12:41 pm

      Michael,

      why would you mention it, then? :) lol I am only kidding. It really is nice, trust me when I say – we are all tired of it and will try to balance out the technical stuff better with other kinds of articles.

  7. 10
    ) Owen
    November 18, 2013 at 12:39 pm

    This is a well-written article backed up by some great photographs. It’s also an articulate recommendation for photographers to really think about composition, storytelling and so on when making images. I think it would be a good exercise for hobbyists like myself to use nothing but the nifty-fifty for a month and see how it changes the way we work with photography. In fact, you have inspired me to try it!
    Regards

  8. 12
    ) Cal
    November 18, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    Nice article and images Romanas! It took me quite a while to get my head round using a prime, but I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts. I’ve recently been using the Canon 40mm f2.8 STM and even though it’s only 10mm different, I don’t prefer it anywhere near as much as using a fifty… Odd, but true!

  9. 13
    ) jim
    November 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm

    I absolutly agree with your take on the 5o mm. I did own the nikon 50 1.4G.However,I found it to be a little soft wide open.To the contrary,I now have the 50 1.8G which is my favorite lens on D600….tack sharp and fast….I enjoy all of your postings..JIM I shoot a lot of after dark street scenes with this lens…A killer combo..

    • November 18, 2013 at 2:02 pm

      Jim,

      it’s not tack sharp, but plenty sharp for me and has never disappointed me in that particular regard. I am glad you found something that suits you better :)

  10. 16
    ) sugoto
    November 18, 2013 at 2:44 pm

    Great images!

    Are you using VSCO on these? Loving the processing on these…

  11. 17
    ) Fred
    November 18, 2013 at 2:55 pm

    Lovely.
    But if you hang the bride from the lampshade it’s no surprise if she drops out. (Perhaps this one looked better that way?)

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:11 pm

      Fred,

      the first sentence can pass as humor – just. The second remark is a little over-the-top, I think. Don’t you? Or were you trying to deliberately be.. mean?

      • 54
        ) Pat
        November 24, 2013 at 3:18 pm

        I can’t speak for Fred but if we had seen the bride and he wrote that, it would be over the top or even mean but, since we didn’t, I think it was harmless. He was teasing the shot, not the bride.

        • November 24, 2013 at 3:23 pm

          The bride is in a couple of the photographs, and teasing a photograph of a wedding dress like that seems… out of place. It is a photograph of a wedding dress and you could hardly mistake it for something else even if you tried. Thus, I do not see his comment as harmless, rather a little offensive. Still, I asked and hope I misunderstood him.

          • 67
            ) Pat
            November 24, 2013 at 3:38 pm

            I didn’t realize they were all from the same wedding. In that case, it would HAVE to be pure humor because she is obviously gorgeous! Still, I think he was making a joke about the shot and not the actual bride or any theoretical bride. Of course, I could be wrong and often am. Is it possible you’re a little defensive because it’s your photo? Just asking. I mean…you were going for a certain look and he made a joke out of it. I’ve made, what I thought were constructive, criticisms of people’s photography in the past and, even when they’re asked for, a whole lot of people don’t like it unless you say things like, “beautiful photos,” “great shots,” etc.

            • November 24, 2013 at 3:47 pm

              Pat,

              no, they are not all from the same wedding, but there are a couple of photographs with that same bride (this one, for example).

              As for me being defensive – no, I was not, even if I might have appeared to be at first. Working at PL has increased my level of tolerance towards opinions, one of the perks :) Also, I am one of those people who prefer constructive, well supported criticism over praise. In the case of that particular comment, I tried to see myself in the place of the bride. I would not be very happy to read such a comment. That is why I responded the way I have. And, again, I hope I am wrong in thinking he was deliberately trying to be offensive.

            • 81
              ) Fred
              November 25, 2013 at 2:25 am

              I’m sorry that anyone took the joke to be offensive; that was never intended. Certainly it is not for me to criticise your excellent photography.

              • November 25, 2013 at 4:00 am

                Fred,

                that is ok, good to know. It is not the photography that I was worried about, everyone is entitled to his opinion about that. I just thought you were being offensive towards the bride and I am glad that was not your intention.

                Thanks!

  12. 18
    ) Peter G
    November 18, 2013 at 3:47 pm

    Well, I must be doing something wrong :-)
    50mm lens…. Never use mine.. The mount is just about brand new since I purchased mine back in the 90’s

    I must look at the world differently… Either with my Nikon 14-24 , maybe my 135mm f2 AF-DC, and 300mm f2.8, 500mm f4 and 800mm f5.6 lenses

    • 21
      ) Wfp
      November 18, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      Yes I would agree. I almost never use my 50s. Every so often after reading an article like this I go back and try to get into it but for my professional work it’s almost always a 24-70 and 70-200 combo, or occasionally a 17-35/70-200 combo. It might be because the weddings we have in Asia are very fast moving compared to those I shoot in the west so the lens juggling between multiple primes gets old fast.

      • 22
        ) Peter G
        November 18, 2013 at 5:21 pm

        Nice that some-one agrees with me. I also have a 70-200mm f2.8, but, last time that I went overseas, I packed it, and had to take it out as my bag was so heavy, that it was impossible to lift.

        Thought about purchasing a 24-70 f2.8 once, but, realized I was covered with my old 35mm f2 and 50mm f1.4.

        Instead of taking my 70-200f2.8, I took my 180mm f2.8 ( 20 years old) instead . I was also carrying my 300mm f2.8 AF-S as well :-)

      • 32
        ) ATP
        November 18, 2013 at 10:24 pm

        It’s a very big difference. A wedding in Asia is much bigger, usually around 500-2000 guests, and in US is around 100 guests (at least those that i’ve shoot). In Asia, there are certain moments when the photographer just can’t get close enough to the couple. So a long zoom is required.

      • November 24, 2013 at 3:25 pm

        Wow, I’ve never been to such a huge wedding before!

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:24 pm

      Peter, you are not doing anything wrong. As I said, to each his own and you should not force yourself to use a lens you do not like just because someone else does. And, as you said, you see the world differently. Isn’t that part of the beauty of photography? :)

  13. November 18, 2013 at 4:11 pm

    Romanas,

    I always enjoy your articles. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and passion for photography.
    Your images are amazing and your writting is always clear and consise. Well done!
    I personally enjoy using my Nikkor 50mm f1.2 and f1.4 G.
    Thanks again!

    • 24
      ) Dave
      November 18, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      I took the liberty to look at your site and want to say I really like your photos. I have no doubt your clients do too.

  14. 20
    ) robt a goerss
    November 18, 2013 at 4:49 pm

    Nice comments and exchanges.

  15. 23
    ) Dave
    November 18, 2013 at 5:50 pm

    Very nice article, Romanas. It was very refreshing to read about your experience with the 50mm. I’ve read articles from others that say it’s boring and I have always, silently, disagreed. I have the 50mm f1.4 mounted on the D600 and used it recently at the hospital to photograph my granddaughter shortly after her birth. Lens selection was a no-brainer and I think it worked out very well. Like you said, it’s not the only lens I use but when I want to go out with one do-it-all lens this is the one I pick (or, truth be told, the 105mm f/2.8 macro works very well for me in that regards too). By the way, I really like the photos you put up – nice job.

  16. 25
    ) Ronald D.
    November 18, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    Lovely, just lovely, I enjoyed every picture. I have a 50 1.8 AF-D – I know they certainly beat the zooms for sharpness. Thank you for posting such enjoyable images.

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:12 pm

      Ronald,

      while I rarely put sharpness as a priority, it is true that primes are generally better in this regard. :)

      • 85
        ) Ronald D.
        November 27, 2013 at 5:04 pm

        I am still enjoying your images and the ongoing conversation. Yes, “sharpness”…..I bought my first SLR around about 1975-76, it was a Praktica with a 50 mm Carl Zeiss Jena lens. I seem to remember it produced sharp pictures – a very simple and practical camera. Now I have a D7000, a stressful job and adopted children with health issues and no time for photography. Taking some time to admire your images actually gave me a few moments of ….. something like soul food.
        :)
        Ron

  17. 26
    ) Dan
    November 18, 2013 at 6:40 pm

    I began shooting professional wedding photography in 1980 with medium format film cameras. I was trained by a pro and studied under some of the great wedding photographers of that period (Bill Stockwell, Rocky Gunn, Monte Zucker, to name just a few). Nobody used zooms for medium format that I knew. We all used the medium format equivalent of the full frame 50 mm lens for the bulk of our work. The other two lenses that were used were the full frame equivalent of the 35mm and the 105 mm.

    When I first began working for the pro who trained me, I only used the equivalent of a 50mm lens for entire weddings. It was only later, when I went out on my own in wedding photography and could afford it, that I added the 35mm and 105 mm equivalent to my arsenal.

    For those not familiar with medium format, the lens equivalents for a full frame digital sensor are:

    50 mm digital = 75-80 mm Medium Format
    35 mm digital = 50-60 mm Medium Format
    105+ mm digital = approx. 150 mm Medium Format

    Zooms in the digital era are nice and convenient. They can also make the photographer a bit lazy. It’s nice to see an article praising the workhorse 50 mm. Your photos with it are beautiful. Everything you say about it from a creativity standpoint are spot on. Every photographer should try using only the 50 mm for a month or so and see how it forces them to see differently and more creatively.

    When I switched to digital several years back I started using zooms exclusively. I only recently purchased the trinity of Nikon primes (35 1.4, 50 1.4, 85 1.4). It was like reconnecting with old friends. This article has inspired me to put away my zooms for awhile and get reacquainted with the primes of my youth. The only zoom I am going to use is the 70-200 2.8, but I’m going to try to keep it on 200 mm exclusively so I can consider it just another prime. Thanks for a great article.

    Dan

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:15 pm

      Dan,

      thanks! On my Mamiya RZ67, I use a 110mm f/2.8 Sekor . It, too, is similar to a classic 50mm on a 35mm camera, although isn’t as wide horizontally due to different aspect ratio. I love that lens, though, and it is both small and light for 6×7.

  18. 27
    ) Jennifer
    November 18, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    Loved this article, and the beautiful images!! I’m on a crop using a 35mm and at first I couldn’t get used to it – I was much happier with my zoom. But, I decided to keep it on my camera for a month – and now I love it. It almost never comes off. But, I’m just a hobbyist and most definitely a beginner – so if you don’t mind, could I ask a question? As a beginner, I constantly have “shoot wide open” ingrained in me – but I know when I’m shooting my son and his friends (say 3 or 4 of them) I know that I do have to stop down a little – but is it just trial and error? Or is there is a guideline for what apperture you should use depending on how much (how many people) you are trying to get in focus? I am often guilty of 2 looking great and 1 or 2 – not so much. Again, thanks for the great article.

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:19 pm

      Jennifer,

      thank you! It is definitely a good idea to jump out of your comfort zone every now and then. Learn a few things. :)

      As for your question, well, there might be a few guidelines, but I do not know them personally. What I’ve learned came with practice. If I shoot people standing one next to another, I often manage to make sure each and every one of them is captured in the plane of focus even at f/1.4-2. But then, I mostly shoot at that aperture, so that is again practice. I’ve learned to position both myself and my subjects. If they are standing one behind the other, you will need to stop down significantly to make sure everyone is sharp, and also focus on the one that is not the furthest one away, but also not the closest to you. It all depends on how far they are standing, too. Perhaps you could show me an example?

  19. 28
    ) William
    November 18, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    Always loved the 50mm on full frame cameras and the 35 mm with the DX sensor cameras. Best at giving you the same perspective of being there in person. Love other lenses like the telephotos for singling objects out by blurring other parts of the photo but some of my all time favorite pictures I have taken came from the basic prime lenses.

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      William,

      pretty much the same here, although I do hope to learn some other focal lengths in a similar manner as I have the fifty that I own.

  20. 29
    ) Confused
    November 18, 2013 at 9:25 pm

    I’m confused as to the point of your article. While I have, and occasionally use a 50mm prime, I’ve encountered very few photographers who would say it’s particularly versatile. While it’s a great lens to have in your pocket due to it’s speed, size and cost, I don’t use it that often. Perhaps it’s a difference in the work you’re ‘previsualizing’ compared to my own. And while quite a few responders like the photos you’ve posted, they don’t really demonstrate anything in particular. Maybe if I were a wedding photographer…

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      To each his own, my friend, to each his own. There is nothing to be confused about.

      • 69
        ) Confused
        November 24, 2013 at 3:45 pm

        My confusion comes from the title, “A Fifty for Creativity.” As a normal lens, it isn’t creative at all. It’s, well, normal. It is incapable of creativity in and of itself. Of course you can make creative photos with it but they wouldn’t be due, in any way, to the 50mm focal length. Just out of curiosity, in the language your name is, does “Nary” mean “thin?”

        • November 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm

          I am not stating the lens is somehow creative. :) I am talking about how it can be used creatively, for one’s creativity.

          And to answer your question, no, it does not really mean anything. It is just a family name (if you are curious – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Naryshkin). Although I am rather skinny. :)

  21. 30
    ) ATP
    November 18, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Thank you for the article Romanas! Can’t wait for the 35/85mm article! Last Saturday I shoot a wedding with Sigma 35mm f1.4 80% of the time (The other lens is 70-200mm VR II) I used to have 85mm f1.8d but sold it due to lack of use since the 70-200 does the job very well. For me, if i can only have one lens, it will be the 35mm. Maybe i should post a guest post…

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:28 pm

      Thank you :) You could try doing a guest post, and if it turns out suitable for our website, we will definitely publish it.

  22. 31
    ) Peter Trinidad
    November 18, 2013 at 10:13 pm

    Hello Romanas,

    I must give it to you and I am sure the others do too. Your posts do keep us amateurs in tune. I love the articles you and Nassim post. Thank You.

    One question if I may ask. I love my 50mm 1.4 Nikkor and so also the 85mm 1.8 Nikkor. Now I am planning on the much adored 35mm 1.4 Sigma. the question now – Do you use any filters on these? If so which?

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Peter,

      thank you for your compliments!

      I do have a filter on my fifty made by Hoya. I did not see any decrease in contrast or any other sort of performance, thus I have it on as additional protection (I do not use lens hood on my fifty most of the time because I like how small the lens is without it). I do not use a filter on my 85mm lens, though, because it has its hood on at all times, so the filter’s redundant.

      • 83
        ) Peter Trinidad
        November 26, 2013 at 5:15 am

        Thank You for the reply Romanas. I am an amateur enthusiast and not a Pro but like to learn anything the Pros like you who can advise on to improve my photography hobby. I was using the HD Multi-Coated Variable Range Neutral Density filter on my 50mm but is it a good option or would you advise something better like the one you are using? I don’t use a filter on the 85mm either so I am in tune here :) Appreciate your reply. Thanks.

  23. 33
    ) KnightPhoto
    November 18, 2013 at 10:47 pm

    Very good article and great examples. And your use of negative space is really thought provoking – well done!

  24. 34
    ) Keith
    November 19, 2013 at 1:18 am

    Lovely images Romanas.
    The nifty fifty is a great lens to own.
    As I use a D300s, I own both the Nikon 35mm F1.8 DX and the Nikon 50mm F1.8G and I am really pleased with both of them.
    The slight downside of the 35mm being less control of out of focus backgrounds/foregrounds against a 50mm on full frame, but I can live with that.
    I was hoping that some Exif data would be available on the above photos because I like to see what apertures are used to control the DoF in the images, but unfortunately there is none.

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Keith,

      thank you for your kind words and pardon the exclusion of EXIF – I usually set Lightroom to remove those and forgot to include. Most of these photographs are taken wide open at f/1.4, though some might have been stopped down to f/2 and further (those focused at a greater distance, like the last image).

  25. 35
    ) Kevin
    November 19, 2013 at 2:53 am

    Hi Romanas

    Very interesting article. I see a lot these days about Wedding Photographers using Wide and Telephoto zooms which I fail to understand. Maybe I’m old school as in the 1980’s I worked through an agency covering Weddings – they had 3 Golden Rules 1) Medium Format , 2) Standard lens ONLY and 3) Always use Fill In Flash. My kit was a Hasselblad ELM with 80mm Lens , two backs and a Metz 45 CT 1 .I usually shot around 8-10 rolls . The perception was that a ‘Blad or similar looked
    ” Professional” whereas a 35mm did not.

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:36 pm

      Kevin,

      I can understand both zoom lens users and prime lens users myself. I could even shoot both types of lenses myself. It is just a matter of preference, application and style, really. :) I would not much enjoy lugging a heavy 70-200mm lens on a wedding, although I’d easily find use for it.

  26. 36
    ) MartinG
    November 19, 2013 at 4:20 am

    Romanas,
    Your photos show what a great photographer you are. Your use of the 50 shows how much you understand your subject and how to use the 50mm lens really well. It is a must have focal length. It may not be expensive but a good 50mm is something every photographer should learn to use properly. Your article is an excellent place to start. Thank you for the post.

    I get a distinct feeling that you really enjoy taking shots which provide a sense of the person’s character.

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:37 pm

      Martin,

      nice to see you and thank you! You are right, I did enjoy taking these photographs very much. I took my time with them, didn’t rush it and tried to enjoy the moments as much as the resulting photographs.

      Again, thank you for your kind words! :)

  27. November 19, 2013 at 6:47 am

    I enjoyed your article very much. It took me back many years. I am old enough to have owned a leica IIIg and an M3 with 50mm summicron. At the time, I used to do a lot

    of b&w street photography and for many years relied solely on the 50mm. I was greatly inspired by the likes of H. Cartier-Bresson (a classic example of the street

    photographer with his unobtrusive leica/50mm combination) though never quite attaining his incredible knack for predicting the right moment.

    The coming of the digital age greatly changed the way we view things. For one thing, having immediate results encourages the photographer to experiment more with the

    treatment of the subject matter. In film photography unless you were working for a very generous employer you would be limited to the roll in your camera and were very

    little inclined to take chances. Thus conforming to the tried and true practices you had learned.

    Full frame DSLR’s are rather bulky, especially the pro bodies, and it might feel awkward to have such a light and short lens on a massive body. The entry level DSLR’s are now mostly sold with zoom kit lenses. As a result, those just starting in photography will find it normal (pardon the pun) to frame by zooming as opposed to moving towards or away from the subject. This is very convenient but tends to lead towards a standardized view of things which translates in many photographs. This is where the pros have an advantage which clearly shows in their work. The viewpoints tend to be unconventional and clearly set their photography apart.

    The idea you had to write this article is admirable as it shows that you spend a lot of time thinking photography and clearly opens the door for many of us to rethink

    our vision and shooting habits.

    And, by the way, for those anamorphic distortions in portraits shot too close there is excellent distortion and perspective correction software out there which are not going to break your piggy bank.

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      Christian,

      I, too, admire H. Cartier-Bresson, he was truly a master and a real artist. The way he used his equipment without seemingly thinking much about is something I hope to learn one day.

      Thank you for your comment, I really did enjoy reading it. As for fixing distortion, I have never found it necessary. Rather, I will exploit it when photographic idea demands it, and use a different lens when I’d prefer to avoid distorting my subject.

      Again, thank you!

  28. 38
    ) Brian Copeland
    November 19, 2013 at 10:30 am

    Great article. I too use my nifty-fifty (now, a nifty-fifty-eight) a very good majority of the time, especially when I’m only bringing one lens. I really enjoyed seeing what you can do with it. While I enjoy Nasim’s technical reviews of lenses at Photography Life, I rarely care how good a lens is after I’ve bought it (or its competitor). Instead, I prefer reading articles on what can be done with the equipment I own. Speaking of equipment I own, I purchased a Nikon 14-24 2.8 this past year. I’ve played around with it, but I know I’m not using this beautiful lens to its full potential. I would LOVE to see an article on what all can be done with a super side, normal perspective lens. Thanks for this great article in the meantime.

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:51 pm

      Brian,

      thank you! I would love to give the 14-24mm Nikkor a try for a longer period of time. Unfortunately, I do not own one, sorry.

  29. 39
    ) Richard
    November 19, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    Excellent article. My 50mm is my most used lens followed by a 105 macro. I hope you will try Nikon’s new 58mm and let us know how it statcks up against the 50 in both normal and low-light.

    • November 19, 2013 at 2:36 pm

      Thank you, Richard. Nasim is working on the 58mm lens. For me, I already know it would be a bit too long (as I’ve mentioned, I am leaning towards a 35mm slightly), but it is something I might get used to if I like the look of the photographs. Most of all I value character in a lens. It is not sharpness that aids my creativity.

  30. 41
    ) Neil
    November 19, 2013 at 6:04 pm

    I remember doing a survey on nikonians about 50mm lenses. The end result was less than 20% of the greater than 100 people actually use a 50 but almost half had one and well over that had one at some point. Some people see that perspective but I find it very uninteresting personally. I wish people would look at their own photography for what they are drawn to before spending money on a 50 that likely will never be used.

    • 42
      ) Well...
      November 19, 2013 at 9:29 pm

      Some of us have them for specific purposes. In my case, I use it for portraits in small areas or for low light situations where that focal length will work. It’s pretty good for close-ups, with an extension tube, as well. I don’t use it often but, when I do, nothing else will work.
      Personally, I don’t really care if anyone spends their money foolishly. It’s their money!

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:54 pm

      Neil,

      as someone has already kindly responded to your comment, 50mm lenses are often owned for a specific purpose. One of such purposes is back-up. A 50mm lens is cheap, small, lightweight and, as I’ve tried to show in the article, pretty damn versatile, which makes it a very good back-up lens for general photography in the place of a standard zoom or even a portrait prime, such as the 85mm class, for example. I would own one even if I didn’t use it, too, for this reason alone.

  31. 43
    ) Max
    November 20, 2013 at 3:47 am

    I agree the 50mm lens can be very nice (although I like a bit wideangle or a bit tele more in general).

    I dont know whether it was just my sample but I found the focus accuracy of my 24-70mm 2.8 lens was so much better than the accuracy of my 50mm 1.8-G lens (compared at 2.8 after fine tuning AF both lenses on my D800) that I decided to sell the 50mm.

    Would the 1.4 version be more accurate in terms of focus accuracy?

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      Max,

      I would not expect such a cheap (-ish) prime lens to focus nearly as good as a 24-70mm f/2.8 class lens. The zoom will be both much faster and more accurate in some situations.

  32. 44
    ) Paul
    November 20, 2013 at 4:00 am

    Any prospective new hires to the Magnum picture agency were given a camera and a 50 only and told to go out and shoot. If they came back with good shots using just that lens, they were hired.

    Or so the story goes …

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:57 pm

      Paul,

      the reason for that was also because 50mm lenses were so cheap and had such wide apertures that they were suitable for a lot of different lighting scenarios, which was very important in the film days (because you couldn’t adjust ISO whenever you felt like it).

  33. 45
    ) André Duarte
    November 20, 2013 at 6:05 am

    Great article Romanas, congratulations. I could feel your passion while reading it. Also, it was a fresh breeze comparing with all those technical articles going on lately (not saying they are not useful), thanks for that.
    I have a 35mm 1.8G DX and it kind of pushes your creativity up. Plus, it makes me feel more part of the scenario, while I have to move myself to compose.
    Cheers and keep up!

  34. 46
    ) Samatra Johnson
    November 20, 2013 at 9:47 am

    I recently shot a wedding only using my 50 1.4. It wasn’t planned that way but I ended up easily being able to work around any limitations I had. It was refreshing and so much easier on my arms than my usual 70-200 2.8 and 24-70 2.8.

    • November 24, 2013 at 3:59 pm

      Sam,

      I can imagine the weight difference. I am glad the fifty worked for you so well, yet I hope you are never forced to use just one lens for weddings again. :)

      • 80
        ) Samatra Johnson
        November 24, 2013 at 9:33 pm

        To bad you wished so late. I always have at least one camera and lens with me. Today it was my 70-200 2.8. An acquaintance had a wedding but had to leave early for a cruise. Needless to say when I hit the call I didn’t have time to go home for my gear. Sui today I shot an white wedding with my 50D, 70-200 2.8 and a 580EX flash. I can honestly say I liked doing it with the 50 1.4 a lot better. I can say all this is really testing my creativity and hopefully making me a better photographer.

  35. 47
    ) Dave
    November 20, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    It might sound weird, but I am in love with my 40mm Nikon Macro on my D300. If I am doing the math right it makes for a crop factor of 60mm or so; I highly recommend it for folks wanting to try a versatile prime that can focus as close as 1 inch on the subject, but still blow out the background like nobody business! I must say that my knowledge of composition and control are compliments to me using primes. That was primarily due to the advice here on Mansurov/PL. Thanks for the article!

    Dave

    • 48
      ) KnightPhoto
      November 20, 2013 at 10:17 pm

      Interesting report Dave, would never have thought of the 40mm Macro for that type of use.

      I wonder, it might also make a decent macro for my V1 too, I’ll have to check it out next time I’m at my dealer.

    • November 24, 2013 at 4:00 pm

      Dave,

      actually it is not weird at all. I’ve been asked by beginner photographers about the 40mm micro vs 35mm f/1.8 quite a few times, each has its strengths against the other. :)

  36. 49
    ) gregorylent
    November 22, 2013 at 12:12 am

    my year old 50 1.4G is the least sharp lens i own .. it always stays on the shelf;;

    a lemon? maybe .. not buying another one in order to find out

  37. 87
    ) Jeff
    November 29, 2013 at 2:43 am

    Thanks, Romanas, for getting me to pull out my 50 1.4 again. I had forgotten how great it is, and really appreciate your giving me new ideas how to use it. Great writing, great site!

  38. 89
    ) Winston
    June 19, 2014 at 12:26 am

    I like your article. I am a beginner in photography. I am using a Nikon D200 and planning to buy soon a D610. I have one question. I have a Nikon 50mm f/1.4D and made in China. Is there a big difference between a China made, USA made or a Thailand made lens? Do I have to discard my existing made in China lens and buy a new Nikon 50mm f/1.4 made in USA? Thanks for your time and more power to you !

    • June 19, 2014 at 1:03 am

      Winston, the made in China bit is largely an old superstition – in this case, it makes no difference whatsoever.

      • 91
        ) Peter G
        June 19, 2014 at 3:06 am

        I have done lots of work in Japan , China and Thailand. Enormous progress in Thailand and China there since the 1990’s. I even lived in Japan from 1993 to 1997.

        Many Japanese firms have factories in Thailand as the labour there is quite cheap . Have even seen the Nikon factories ( from the road) in both China and Thailand.

        Nikon do not manufacture in USA .

  39. July 10, 2014 at 3:56 pm

    Thanks for that great article.

  40. 95
    ) Claude
    August 17, 2014 at 8:45 pm

    Never forget that you born with a zoom include in your body, we call that “feet” .
    Sometimes you need wide or tele, and zoom are convenient but very often a 50 mm prime + feet-zoom is enough.
    Actually in Bangkok for tourism, I use Fuji XT1 + 35mm 1.4 75%, zoom 18-55 2.8-4 5%, 56mm 1.2 20%
    Let Canon 5DMkIII + 24-70 2.8 & 135 2 at home – weight & size !! – (I have to admit I miss sometimes that fabulous 135 and wait Fujinon 90mm 2)
    Thank’s you all for your comments and feeling

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