Canon 50 mm f/1.8: Great lens on a budget

I’ve seen two sales for Canon’s 50 mm f/1.8 lens on this past week, both great offers. It inspired me to do a brief review of my first prime lens and why you should add this to your DSLR kit.

First reason to look into this lens is price. The two sales I referred to list this lens at $90 and $80. Many will say you can buy it for about $99 (so not too much savings here), but two years ago I had a hard time finding it for less than $130. In fact, I spent about $160 on it, but that’s only because I supported a local camera shop instead of the online shopping. Even the $90 price is worth considering for this lens. It’s rare to find a lens for less than $200, most list closer to $500. If you’re looking to expand your kit, this is one of the first lenses you should look into.

The f/1.8 aperture is also why this is a must buy for the price. The kit 18-55 mm lens has a maximum (or minimum?) f-stop of 3.5 when zoomed to 18 mm or 5.6 at 55mm. The significantly lower f-stop means that much more light can enter the lens. You’ll be able to snap better exposures in darker environments. This isn’t a guarantee that night time photography will turn out, however. The low f-stop also means a shallower depth of field, which means a more exaggerated effect of the background/foreground being blurry while the subject is in focus. This is often viewed as an artistic style that stands out from standard pocket cameras, but is ultimately a matter of taste.

If you want to see examples of the great photos this lens is capable of, look to the gallery of The Nation’s CD Release Party – this lens was exclusively used during this shoot.

There are a few drawbacks, however. The lens doesn’t zoom and is forever fixed at 50 mm. This means that your view may be very close to the subject and can be closer than you plan to be. This is further exaggerated on crop-factor cameras. If you don’t mind the closeness, then you won’t be disappointed. You may want to twist your kit lens to 50 mm and try that out for a little bit to get an idea of what to expect. Additionally, the shallower depth of field can make focusing a little more challenging for beginners. The lens will still autofocus, but it may focus on objects that aren’t intended to be focused on. Since the foreground and background blur will be much more exaggerated at lower f-stops, it can take some getting used to.

If you do buy this lens, I’d recommend it for portraits, macro photography, or nightlife. It’s not ideal for landscapes or anything that requires a wide field of view. If you have this lens, let me know how you like it.

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