Victor Wiebe

My Camera Bag: 50mm lenses

The 50mm prime lens. Common and widespread, 50mm prime lenses are ubiquitious is nearly every photographer’s camera bag. Not one to always shy too far away from convention, I happen to have two 50mm lenses in my kit.

(A picture of a 50mm lens, shot with a 50mm lens)

There have been a number of film sizes throughout the history of photography; 35mm and 60mm were the most popular in their respective times. For the most part, however, “35mm” became the standard and most widely used. During the heydey of 35mm film photography, it was the 50mm lens that was deemed to most precisely “fill” the entire 35mm negative. Ipso facto, the 50mm lens became synonymous with “human eye field of view”

(Two Boys Playing, shot through a 50mm lens)

Prime lenses have positives and negatives; prime lenses are typically less expensive than non-prime lenses because they have fewer moving parts. The 50mm prime, in particular, is common enough to be affordable for about anyone with an SLR or dSLR. The major disadvantage, however, is that it isn’t variable, and if you want to get closer to your subject, you need to physically get closer.

Where one sees a disadvantage, however, another sees a benefit: prime lenses force the photographer to think more creatively and to more carefully frame the shot.

Now here comes the rub. All of my dSLR cameras have been “consumer grade” Sony’s with APS-C sensors. These sensors are actually the size of about a 25mm negative, not a 35mm negative. What this means is that the focal length of a lens is actually longer on an APS-C sensor than it’s 35mm, or “full frame,” equivalent: a 50mm lens on a film camera is roughly equivalent to a 75mm lens on any of my cameras.

Why, you might ask? Because of technical details. Please just accept it. It’s true. Google it. Google agrees with me.

To get a 50mm lens equivalent on an APS-C camera, one must use a lens that is about 35mm in focal length. These two pictures were shot at a 35mm focal length, making them out to be roughly 50mm after conversion.

So why do I continue to have, and use, 50mm prime lenses, if they don’t actually come out to 50mm? Because I have them (I have two), because they’re good lenses, they’re lightweight, and they take really good pictures. They’re really good for portraits, both indoors and out.

My Camera Bag:

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