20 Jan 2011

The 50mm f1.8 as a portrait lens

On a crop sensor camera a 50mm lens gives an equivalent focal length of about 75mm for Nikon and 80mm for Canon. This gives a greater distance between camera and subject, and crops out part of the image from the lens, and therefore two things happen:
1.) Distortion from being too close to your subject with a 50mm lens is eliminated because you have to stand further back to get the same framing. This pushes it a little closer to being a standard "portrait" lens, especially on a Canon.
2.) The weakest part of the cheaper 50mm lenses are the edges where fringing, aberrations etc. occur. But because the sensor is smaller these weaker areas are effectively cropped out all together and we are left with only the best part of the image! Oh yeah!

At the ridiculously low price of the "standard" 50mm f1.8 lens this means that it makes perfect sense to invest a small bit of cash to get near "pro" results! To get the same quality from a zoom you will be spending a LOT more money, and it will be larger and heavier to boot.

More "pros" than will care to admit it carry the nifty fifty in their bags, just ask them for a peek in their bags, it will be there somewhere. Ask Chase Jarvis, he has one in his bag too.

And if you are an "oldie" photographer and like the 50mm focal length because that was your favourite back when you still used a film camera (remember film?) then consider the Nikkor AF-S 35mm 1:1.8G DX  for a crop sensor Nikon cameras as it gets closer to what is considered a "normal" focal length which in this case equates to 52mm. I also hear good things about the Sigma 30mm f1.4 DC HSM for most brands of crop sensor cameras. These are both great for half body, full length or environmental portraits and also for small group shots, giving superb performance for a low cost, although I from what I hear the Sigma might not be as cheap as the Nikkor.

So if you have examples of portraits with the "nifty fifty" then please post a link to them below for the benefit of us all!


  1. Excelente.
    Me encant├│ esa mirada.
    Un abrazo.

  2. I love portraits and I love my "nifty fifty"!!! Along with my crop sensor, it makes a tremendous portrait lens - I use it exclusively for portraits!

    Here's a link to just one of my many 50mm portrait shots on my photo blog:
    OJ Photography

  3. ¡Muchas gracias!
    Thank you so much!

  4. Nifty fifty? :D Consider those are portraits, maybe not as close, but still - portraits ;)

    great Canon 50mm f1.4 USM:

    plastic Canon 50mm f1.8:

    old cheap russian Helios 58mm f2 manual only:

    aannnnddd.... marvelous Nikkor 50mm f1.4 manual - used with Canon body ;)))

    I love bright optics - it's good to have one ;)

  5. Btw Sigma 30/1.4 is not so cheap. I've heard a lot about Sigmas focusing issues, I wouldn't risk third-party lens while I can have similar lens from my own lens producer for same cash :)

  6. Great examples, thanks!
    And yes, I also heard about the problems with the Sigma, but some people still like it. I also prefer sticking to my cameras brand lenses.

  7. Hi,great portrait.I invite you to my blog.There are photos made with PORST 50mm f1,7 lens.

  8. This first portrait is a beauty.

    You know, I do carry the Canon equivalent, the 70$ (expensive...) f/1.8 50 mm. Both have flaws IMHO, but when used in the proper conditions (not wide open, but f/5.6 and up), results can be pretty good.


  9. The Nikon equivalent starts fairly ok at f1.8 and is beautifully sharp from f2.8 through to f16. For the price it's hard to beat!

  10. Love using the 50 for portraits

  11. What do you think of a 50mm f1.8 for landscapes, city views ?

    1. Used on a crop sensor camera it would do well for isolating slightly smaller parts of a land or city scape which is good for showing details that may not be possible with a super wide angle. On a full-frame sensor it would be more of a "normal" focal length and then it makes a nice landscape lens as shown here: http://thephotophile.blogspot.se/2012/06/normal-focal-length-prime-lens-as.html

      Really any lens is good for just about any application, it just depends on your own vision, imagination and skill.

    2. what about stitching more shots for panoramas? (as an emergency method, when no other lens is available and you must catch some extraordinary landscape, by all means)

      I think the geometrical distortions are minimal at closed apertures on nikkor 50/1.8 for example...

    3. It is an excellent lens for stitching, you are quite right. :-)

  12. Here's a couple of images taken with my D7000 and 50mm 1.8 lens. Feel free to comment :)

    1. Some great examples there Adam! Just reinforces my point that the nifty 50mm is a wonderful portrait lens on a crop frame camera.

  13. what was your camera that took that portrait?

    1. That would be my Nikon D90. Any crop frame camera with a 50mm f1.8 attached will give the same result.

      Have a great day!