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Why a 50mm lens will make you a better photographer

No matter if you’re a beginner or a seasoned professional, no camera kit is complete without a 50mm lens.

Not only that, but a 50mm lens will make you a better photographer.

I know that seems like a pretty bold statement, but I wouldn’t be saying it if I truly didn’t believe it. It’s been true for me and it’s be true for many photographers in my circle, so I know that this little lens will help you become better too.

And this might be over-generalizing a bit, but the 50mm lens is the ONE lens that every photographer should be carrying around in their bag for a few reasons.

For starts, a 50mm lens is kind of like the king of lenses.

It’s the most accurate focal length in terms of what we see with our human eyes when we place it on a full frame camera.

The 50mm length doesn’t zoom, crop, or widen the scene. It simply captures what’s right in front of you the way that you view it yourself.

Secondly, it’s the most cost effective lens that there is in terms of quality AND price. Pretty good news, right?

50mm lens of kid photos

50mm lenses are cost effective

The one amazing thing about a 50mm lens is that you can pick up a good quality lens for under $150. For a lens that takes sharp & fast photos; this is almost unheard of.

Yes, there are 50mm lenses on the market that are in the 4 figure range (or my personal favorite), but you don’t need an expensive model to take great photos.

The 50mm 1.8 lens can give you amazing results, even at such a lower price point.

And if you’re used to using a kit lens, then you will also be amazed at what a nifty fifty can do for you too.

If you’re a kit lens user, you’ll be amazed by the lens quality of a 50mm

I remember the first time that I ever tried out my nifty fifty lens – it was eye-opening (and I am not just talking about my own eyes, but the eye of the aperture).

Not only was this lens much faster than I was used to, the bokeh and quality was out of this world.

My images immediately looked more professional because of the way the backgrounds blurred into the distance.

Sure, it did have a learning curve to shooting at such small apertures, but once I got the hang of it, my photos took on a new look.

50 mm lens example of girl portrait

50mm lenses will make you work for the shot

This is essentially why  50mm lens will help you become a better photographer: it’s not a zoom.

Sorry zoom lovers, I’ve got some tough love coming your way.

When your lens is limited to one focal length, then you will have to work for the shot by moving your feet.

Instead of relying on your hands to do all of the cropping and zooming, you will have to move your body for the perfect shot. This is what you call “zooming with your feet.”

How does this make you a better photographer?

Simple. You are now forced to work for different crops and angles. You have to start moving to find different views and this leads to more opportunity for creativity.

It’s easy to become a lazy shooter when you use a zoom lens. But, when you use a prime lens like a 50mm, then you will have to step out of your comfort zone and try something new.

This is what helped me become a photographer. That and a few other things.

But, just as they are great, there are a few things that you should know before buying your first 50mm lens.

50mm lens of kid photo

50mm lenses will appear longer on a DX sensor

What I mean by appear longer is that the focal length of a 50mm lens will be longer on a DX camera. When you have a camera with a smaller sensor, the the focal length of the lens will become magnified and the length will be longer.

Unless you buy a DX lens for your DX camera body, there will be some magnification. In simple terms, it will make your photos more “zoomed in.”

What does DX mean?

DX relates to your camera’s sensor size. Generally speaking, less expensive DSLR cameras are DX because the digital sensor is smaller than a full-sized sensor.

Because of the smaller size, all standard lenses will be magnified when placed on the camera.

So, if you are using a standard 50mm lens on a cropped (DX) sensor, the photos that you take will have less room. It will appear more like a longer lens than the standard length of a 50mm.

If you need a further explanation, this guide can help explain how and why this works even more.

Nifty fifties aren’t perfect for all photography niches

While 50mms are great, they aren’t a perfect fit for all photography genres and niches.

As a portrait photographer, they are wonderful and very useful for many instances. But, if you’re a landscape, sports, or wildlife photographer, then you probably won’t get as much use out of a 50mm lens.

You should always choose a lens that is appropriate for the job at hand – and sometimes the job won’t require a 50mm.

50mm lenses don’t zoom

Like mentioned above, a 50mm lens is a single focal length prime lens.

This means one thing about the focal length: it cannot zoom in and out to change the lens length.

While this might seem like a downfall and a reason to not add a 50mm lens to your bag, it can actually be a good thing for a few reasons

What’s the big deal about prime lenses?

You might be scratching your head wondering what’s so great about prime lenses if they only take photos at one length.

I used to wonder the same thing.

But, because they are designed for one length, they also have the capability to shoot at wider f-stops (f1.4, f1.8, etc.). This comes in handy when you are shooting in lower light situations or when you want to blur your backgrounds.

This especially comes in handy when you’re shooting at certain times of the day such as golden hour and need more range for wider apertures. Or, when you’re shooting indoors for a lifestyle newborn session. These are just a few real life examples of why apertures of f1.4 and f1.8 can come in handy.

In addition to being able to shoot in low light situations, prime lenses are generally sharper and faster than zoom lenses in the same price range.

Because they are attuned for ONE specific length, they are really good and sharp for that length – unlike zoom lenses.

So, there you have it.

All of the reasons why a 50mm lens will help you become a better photographer.

While I do believe that what makes a photographer good is their technique and experience, quality gear does come in handy to create better photos.

All of the photos shown in this post were taken with the Sigma ART 50mm 1.4 lens.

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  1. Nicole Waddell says:

    Yes! I love my 50!

  2. Nita Wright says:

    OMG, I have the canon version (which I LOVE and is great in it’s own right) but by far your images appear cleaner and crisper. I can see the difference myself! I have the Sigma 35art and it’s mind blowing. I think you may have just persuaded me to switch.

    • Heather Ford says:

      I cannot say enough good things about the Sigma ART lenses. The 50 is just so clean and crisp

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