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What Is a ‘Nifty Fifty Lens’ And Why You Need One

So you just got a DSLR camera and the ‘kit lens’ out of the box and wondering where to go from there? Well there is no beating a ‘Nifty Fifty lens’ in terms of price to performance. Read on to find out all the benefits to picking up this versatile lens.

For the sake of simplicity the Nifty Fifty lens that I talk about in this article is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 since it is the exact one that I own and personally use.

Benefits of a Nifty Fifty Lens

So what exactly is a Nifty Fifty lens? Well it describes 50mm lenses in general. Almost every camera manufacturer makes a multiple 50mm lens and it is one of the most essential pieces of equipment that any photographer or videographer can have.

Nifty Fifty are useful for a few reasons, the first of which being they are a prime lens. This means that they are perfect for beginners who are already overwhelmed by all the manual settings and don’t need another setting to worry about getting wrong.

Another reason to get a nifty fifty lens is that they are as close to ‘real life’ as a lens can get. Below is a gif of different focal lengths and if you watch carefully then you can tell that 50mm is the lifelike. Lower than 50mm and the subject looks skinny and misshapen, higher and their face is wider than normal. 50mm is the perfect middle ground.

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Most Nifty Fifty lenses have an aperture of f/1.8 or faster which means two things, extreme depth of field and great low light performance. Depth of field helps to bring attention to certain aspects of an image, and this can be taken advantage of in film making to change the focus between two actors exchanging dialogue. Below you can find a gif of how depth of field changes as you change your aperture.

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The best benefit of all though is the pricing. Almost every camera manufacturer makes a version of the 50mm lens so they can be had for as low as $50 for a third party version, and $125 for a first party variant. That’s the most affordable lens besides the kit lens, and it offers much better performance than any kit lens.

Sample Pictures

I don’t want to bore you with the million and a half reasons why you should get a nifty fifty lens, so why not show you. All pictures were shot with a Lumix GH-4 with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 and a speed booster, bringing the effective f-stop to 1.4. Just to show how effective this lens is I haven’t edited any image, except for reducing the size for embedding. If you want to see the full quality pictures then click on them and it will open in a new window.

Nifty Fifty Lens Sample - Felicity Close Up - PA To Pro
Obligatory dog picture. The peak of focus is the base of her snout. As you can tell focus with such a fast lens creates a very nice bokeh, which you can see even better in the other images. Shot at f/1.8 (with speed booster it is effectively an f/1.4) ISO 200 Shutter Speed 1,000
Nifty Fifty Lens Sample - Orchid Close Up - PA To Pro
This is an even better example of the bokeh created with this lens. The orchid is about a foot away from the camera and the counter in the background is about five feet away from the orchid. This is about the minimal focal distance for the lens that I have. Shot at f/1.8 (with speed booster it is effectively an f/1.4) ISO 200 Shutter Speed 30
Nifty Fifty Lens Sample - Banana Tree Wide - PA To Pro
A banana tree from my backyard. I included this since the bunch of bananas is in the shade, so you can see the contrast between low light and day light performance. Shot at f/1.8 (with speed booster it is effectively an f/1.4) ISO 200 Shutter Speed 320
Nifty Fifty Lens Sample - Banana Tree Cropped - PA To Pro
A 100% crop to the last image so that you can see the fine detail and how sharp this lens is. Shot at f/1.8 (with speed booster it is effectively an f/1.4) ISO 200 Shutter Speed 320
Nifty Fifty Lens Sample - Shrubs 1 - PA To Pro
This last series of photos is all shot back to back and the only thing that changes is the focus. The peak of the focus is on the orange leaf on the far right. Shot at f/1.8 (with speed booster it is effectively an f/1.4) ISO 200 Shutter Speed 4,000
Nifty Fifty Lens Sample - Shrubs 2 - PA To Pro
The peak focus is the group of leaves on the bottom right. Shot at f/1.8 (with speed booster it is effectively an f/1.4) ISO 200 Shutter Speed 4,000
Nifty Fifty Lens Sample - Shrubs 3 - PA To Pro
The peak of focus is on the large branch on the right on the picture. Shot at f/1.8 (with speed booster it is effectively an f/1.4) ISO 200 Shutter Speed 4,000

Nifty Fifty Lens Options

So you want to get yourself a Nifty Fifty lens, but don’t know what to get? Well the first thing you have to do is figure out what mount you have, which is usually written on the front of the lens already on the camera. If you still don’t know what lens mount you have, tweet @PA2Pro and we’ll help you out.

Canon EF Mounts

If you have bought a recent Canon camera, like the Rebel T5i, it is most likely a Canon EF mount. If you are using a micro four thirds camera I would recommend buying an EF mount Nifty Fifty lens which means you have to keep in mind the price of an adapter as well which can range from $15 for a simple one all the way up to $675 for a metabones adapter.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 – $125

This is the standard. I have it. Well really I have my dad’s old version from his old film camera, because it has been the standard for so long. I have nothing but good things to say about this lens. All of the sample pictures were taken with this Nifty Fifty lens, so you can see the results for yourself.

Third Party Canon EF Mount 50mm f/1.8 – $50

If $125 is just a little too steep and you don’t want to buy used then there are third party options available. If you are planning on going this route keep in mind that some features, like autofocus, are going to be slower than the native made Canon lens. If you are like me and don’t use autofocus except in very rare circumstances then this is no big deal.

Canon Ef 50mm f/1.4 – $325

This is the next step up from the 50mm f/1.8 lens. It will allow you to have even better low light performance. If you are using these lenses on a micro four thirds mount and use a speed booster, like this one, then you are essentially turning your 50mm f/1.8 lens into this.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 – $1350

I’m going to drop a link to the ‘Support Us’ page because if you have four figures to drop on this ultra-fast Nifty Fifty lens, then odds are you have money to spare. In all seriousness though this will give you the best depth of field of the bunch as well as the fastest and quietest autofocus of the bunch.

Nikon F Mount

Even though I don’t personally use Nikon lenses, since that would mean a whole new batch of adapters, it is a very popular mount type since it is the mount of their current cameras, like the D3300.

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8 – $130

There is also an AF-S variant available for $215 that will have fast focus than the AF version. The AF-S version also has the silent wave motor which allows for near silent operation.

Nikon AF 50mm f/1.4 – $330

This has very similar performance to the Canon version in terms of performance. The AF-S version with improved autofocus and tracking is available for $450.

Nikon AI-S 50mm f/1.2 – $700

This is a little older of a lens, but it is still an F mount lens that is ultra-fast. The one drawback to this lens is that it is a manual focus only lens.

If you have any questions about a Nifty Fifty Lens ask away in the comment section, or tweet at me @Peter_VanLoo.

Learn all about 50mm lenses in @Peter_VanLoo's article for @PA2Pro Click To Tweet

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Peter VanLoo

Writer at PA To Pro
I am a bit of a gear geek. I shoot a variety of videos, but mostly movie reviews on my YouTube channel. If you want my opinion on movies, TV shows, and comic books head over to
Peter VanLoo
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