One of the biggest problems travelling these days is the amount of devices we own that need charging; laptops, phones, camera batteries, drones, toothbrushes, shoes... ok maybe not shoes... not yet anyway. I own bluetooth running shoes and I’m not sure what powers them.Read More
If you have one of the following problems it’s probably time for you to think about buying a camera. The exposure is not right or you can’t play with it to make the shot as dark or as bright as you’d like. The background is not nicely out of focus. The image quality is ok for sharing online but when you try to print a photo or view it on a large computer screen you were not happy with the quality. The handling of the phone makes it awkward sometimes to get a good shot. You wish you had something more ergonomic to hold onto, something a little more fun to use. You just want to improve your photography.Read More
I often get asked for advice on what camera to buy my first questions is “What camera do you have?” It’s usually a pretty good camera and the desire to improve one’s photography will rarely be with a new camera. Almost any camera bought in the last five years is going to take high quality photos. However most people still have the kit lens that came with the camera attached and therein lies the problem.
Stop right there! Don’t scroll to the next article! I’m not going to persuade you to invest your children’s college fund in gear acquisition. It turns out for portraits and general photography one of the best lenses you can buy is also the cheapest - the ubiquitous 50mm f/1.8 lens. And every camera brand produces one.
Historically it was the standard lens on film cameras so 50mm lenses have been produced for so long they are very high quality and inexpensive. 50mm is the closest to how the human eye sees (it’s precisely 42mm if you love acuracy) and this gives photos a very real and natural feeling. There is no wide angel distortion or telephoto compression for effect, very useful for portraits.
Why is f/1.8 Useful?
For portraits the person in the frame is always your main subject. F/1.8 gives you a blurred background allowing you to isolate your subject from any busy environment while still allowing the atmosphere to form part of the image. It’s useful when shooting in modern busy locations that we often find ourselves and our families in. F/4.5 or even f/5.6 which is typical of kit or cheap zoom lenses will give you a very sharp and distracting background that will take attention away from your subject.
The wide aperture is also very useful for shooting in dark environments such as indoors or at night. Again a frequent feature for family snaps and day trips. This will allow for cleaner and sharper photos with less noise which kills skin tones.
It’s A Great Carry Around Lens.
50mm lenses are small and light which makes them great to carry around all day long on holidays or weekends. They turn a cumbersome DSLR and heavy zoom into something that you don’t dread taking with you or even have to think twice about. It can fit in a small bag and not strain you shoulder garter a full day of carrying about. I almost always have this in my bag unless I’m planning something special.
Does this lens do everything?
Well of course not. While it’s a great versatile lens it has it limitations. You won’t be able to shoot wide vistas or zoom in to far away to catch details. And where portraits are concerned the distance you need to focus from the subject may prevent you from getting a tight head shot. But you can always crop the subject later. Some lenses do offer macro ability allowing you to get very close. But it still remains the most versatile lens for photographing people on the go. And what’s more important is that you will carry it with you far more often and therefore shoot more. And that’s what matters most.
Every camera brand offers a cheap 50mm f/1.8 (or equivalent*) lens for their system. They will also offer f/1.4 or even f/1.2 versions but they are far more expensive and heavier.
*If you own a full frame camera then you should buy a 50mm f/1.8. If you own a camera with an APS-C size sensor then you should look for around a 35mm focal length to get the same view. And if you have a Micro 4/3 camera such as an Olympus or Panasonic then you should buy around a 25mm lens.
It’s impractical to build a full database for this article of all the lenses currently available so if you’re not sure then just leave a comment below and I’ll get back to you with suggestions.