Until today I talked about cameras and film stocks, but never of one of the most deciding factors in making a picture: The lens more precisely the 50mm!
So today I would start with explaining why I think that the 50mm is the “perfect lens“, or at least comes really close to be it…
What you are going to read are my personal opinions and I invite you to take them as such; throughout this article I’ll show you pictures taken both on film and digital, the only requirement is being shot with a 50mm lens (or equivalent for the formats that aren’t full-frame/35mm) and they need to be untouched for what concern cropping the photogram.
What the lens has captured and “projected” onto film or a digital sensor, is what you are going to see in this article.
The 50mm is maybe the most used lens in general for photography; is usually the first lens that you buy if you want an upgrade from the kit-lens that came with your camera, the plastic fantastic or nifty fifty. If you shoot on film then, the SLR that you bought or inherited has probably came with a 50mm f1.8.
Besides being present in almost all photographers houses, it has been one of the most used lenses from the “big” photographers of the past, like Henri Cartier-Bresson, just to say one…
Another “historic” example is the famous Leica M3, considered by most the best 35mm film camera ever made; designed to be used mostly with a 50mm.
Field Of View
I thin that the “why“ of the 50mm fame has to be found in the nature of the lens itself: It is a “normal” (on full-frame) so it really comes close to what the human eye see.
I would even say that it captures what the human eye perceive, because our field of view is really wide but our attention falls on the center part of it, the same the 50mm covers.
This nature of its makes it a lens extremely easy to compose with,
makes you faster and efficient in almost every occasion.
Another fundamental pro of this lens is the low and some time inexistent distortion (this is the case with the Micro-Nikkor 55mm f3.5), because if we talk about digital photography, this isn’t an issue but if like me, you shoot with film, distortion becomes a factor to be considered.
In fact is really easy for vintage lenses to present some form of distortion and the more we look at wide angle lenses, the more distortion will be visible; while 50mm is the “sweet spot” where even older lenses starts to have less distortion in general.
Talking of 50mm I have to mention the beloved and increasingly sought after bokeh, or the out of focus area that helps with the separation of the subject from the background.
Personally, as you could have noticed by the lenses I use and by their maximum f-number (usually of f3.5), I’m not a “bokeh lover”, rather I found it distracting most of the time and I think that it is usually used to “cheat” removing distractions present in the background, rather than trying to compose differently the image, bypassing the problem.
But if you are in the search for this trait, the 50mm is maybe the lens for you: Usually is easy to find lenses with a low f-number at ok prices and the higher focal length (compared to a 35mm or wider) helps by itself to separate the subject from the background, still being easy to compose with, compared to a 85mm lens or longer.
The 50mm is surely the lens for me and could be the one for you too, who knows… It has all the characteristics that are important to form a personal style and the capacity to adapt to the majority of the situations.
It’s a focal length that lives attached to my cameras most of the time and is the one with I produce the most material. If you are stuck trying to decide what lens to buy, maybe because you want to start shooting film, I can’t recommend the 50mm enough!
Now that I’we told you the reasons for my appreciation of this lens, I invite you to visit my Instagram profile, to see some of my photos and my YouTube channel for videos about the topic of analog photography; will see each other in the next article!