The 50mm lens for 35mm SLR's

By: altie 6242 days ago

Any opinions on the use of a 'standard' 50mm lens for general photography? Your comments will be appreciated.

By: johnriley 6242 days ago
If I could only have one lens, it would be the humble 50mm. You can get away with using it for most subjects, it responds well to use on bellows, reversing, in fact generally abusing its optical design. It is one of the sharpest lenses you will find. On digital it turns into a very nice 75mm-equivalent portrait lens as well.

The f1.7 versions are usually the most versatile. The quality will be the best and they have a flatter field than the others so work well in close up.

The f2 versions are often budget lenses, but can nontheless be excellent. The Nikon f2 is as good as any other though.

The f1.4 versions are not as good close up because of field curvature, but they are ideal for low light and reportage work.

The f1.2 versions are are, heavy and expensive, but generally excellent. Not for close up work. Superb for low light photography.

The f1 version is in a league of its own, although I do actually know someone who has one.

The f0.95 Canon for rangefinder is old, huge, and dreadful by modern standards. But it was called the Canon Dream. Yes, there was a time when the worst lens was highly sought after!

Hope that quick tour of the 50mm helps!

By: altie 6241 days ago
Hello John,

thanks for your response. It certainly helps alot.

By: BigAl 6217 days ago
I bought a Canon 350D, with the kit zoom lens, 17-55mm. My favourite subject is steam trains running on british rail main line, which for some reason always seem to follow a cloud. You cannot pick the time to shoot, the time picks the photographer. It was on my second trip out that I had doubts about this lens, my 3rd trip comfirmed that it wasn't for me. So after looking at the reviews of zoom lenses I decided no to bother but to go for a Cannon 50mm f1.8 and was pleased. I had the old FD version and thought how sharp it was. The 50mm becomes 80mm with the cropping factor which renders a better 'perspective' for railway pictures, and portraiture. However still looking at reviews I could not help buying and trying out a CONTAX CARL ZEISS PLANAR f1.4 (plus an adaptor) and ---- WOW --- what a difference. Detail in the shadows, detail in the highlights. The Canon fell off (sharpness) below f4, the Contax was as good at f2, it was very useable at f1.4, the Canon could not be used at f1.8.
Also important for me, as the subject is not there but merely passes by at speed, is the focussing, at infinity everything over 25 feet is in focus. Not only that, the slight stiff-ness of the focusing ring keeps it in place.

I sold the Canon and bought another Planar just to have a spare.

One of my friends still uses the Canon as for some reason he cannot get to infinity with his 30D when using my spare Planar. So I still can compare the two lenses in actuall situations, not merely on test panels. Still WOW what a difference.

Also while I was buying lenses, testing and re-selling, I kept a Jupiter 50mm, just for portraits, the Planar is biting sharp. The Jupiter has a wonderful bokeh below f4 and at give away prices these go for, it's worth putting one in the cupboard.

I have several lenses but if I was to have just one it would be the Planar f1.4.

By: williamkaz 6216 days ago
I would agree that the 50mm has always been the most useful for me. I had the Nikon 50mm F1.2 and the 50mm F1.8 MF versions. There was less flare with the F1.8 versions.
Now I use the 50mm F1.4 AF Nikon. I am getting some flare in heavy backlight so I am wondering how the 50mm 1.8 AF would do in similar situations.
By: markk 6196 days ago
I have just bought a 50/1.4 from Sony. With many standard zoom lenses available, the standard 50mm lens for me has become 50/2.8 macro. This works perfectly with my Minolta/Sony SLRs and I also got one for my 50/2.5 for my Canon SLRs. The loss of two stops from 1.4 version gives me convenience of macro photography, not to mention razor sharpness of the final images

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