Making photographs, not just taking them – Dundee, Tayside, Scotland

Canon 50mm f/1.8 “Nifty Fifty” lens

Ok I’ve had this lens for a few months now and to be honest it’s the lens that stays on my Canon 450D body all the time.  It’s only every swapped out to either my Canon 18-55mm kit lens if I need more wide-angle or my Canon 50-250mm kit lens if I need zoom – and most of the time I would choose to move myself and the camera back rather than swap to the rubbish 18-55mm kit lens.  That alone tells you how this review is going to go.

A very plain and simple looking little lens

The lens itself is nicknamed the “nifty fifty” and it certainly lives up to it’s name.  This lens, although plastic in construction (so doesn’t feel all that solid) and does appear small when attached to any camera body, is very impressive not in terms of how it looks or feels but in what it can do.  The images it can capture are very sharp and when wide open (f/1.8) you can easily freeze moving objects or have a very shallow Depth of Field to really make the subject stand out.

Nice sharp images can be captured (@ f/8 1Sec ISO100)

Can easy freeze movement and these little guys were fast (@ f/1.8 1/1000Sec ISO100)

The wide aperture creates very shallow Depth of Field making subject stand out (@ f/1.8 1/200Sec ISO100)

In fact I have found that using this lens on a bright sunny day outside I simply can’t shoot with it wide open (f/1.8) as my body (Canon 450D) shutter speed only goes up to 1/4000th of a second which still isn’t fast enough to cut the light getting to the sensor.  I have had to move the aperture up a couple of stops to get around this and compromised with a greater Depth of Field than I really wanted.  This isn’t a big deal in wide open spaces as the background will still be outside the Depth of Field so blurred out but if the shot includes other objects reasonably close to the subject then they may appear more in focus that intended so dramatically altering the feeling of the photo.  Another way around this issue would be to use Neutral Density filters but I didn’t have any on the days I was shooting outside on sunny days.

I never really understood the term ‘fast glass’ even after reading several articles but this lens certainly opened my eyes.  As I already stated when the aperture is fully open the only limiting factor is how fast a shutter speed you can get or using one of the ways to get around this if you can’t get it fast enough.  The other side to this is that the lens can be used in low light conditions without the need for lighting or a flash.  Again the amount of light it can let in means at low light simply open up the aperture and all you need to worry about is keeping the subject(s) within the shallow Depth of Field you will have.  In low light the issue very much becomes about how much Depth of Field you can get or need.

Taken in a room with no light except the tiny torch inside the treehouse (@ f/1.8 1/2Sec ISO1600)

One thing that is always pointed out in other reviews of this lens is the focusing being noisy.  I would have to agree with this as it is much noisier than my kit Canon lenses but this would only really be an issue if your taking photos in very quiet environments like at conferences or trying to capture wildlife shots but to be honest this isn’t the lens you would realistically want to use for these scenarios.

Another issue I was aware of before I ordered this lens is the fact that it won’t actually act like it’s a 50mm lens on my camera body.  And by this I mean that the 50mm will only be a true 50mm  when it is attached to a camera body with a full sized sensor, as my 450D is a cropped sensor everything is multiplied by 1.6.  This means that it acts like it’s an 80mm focus which means any photos take indoors need to be taken at a fair distance to get the full subject(s) in.  This is very true and I have found myself  having to step all the way back into the very corner of a room in order to take some photos and just given up a few times at being able to get everyone I want in one shot.  But again this is the something that I have learned to accept as a trade off with this lens.  Afterall to get an equivelant 35mm prime lens would cost 2 or 3 times the price I forked out for this one.

All in all for the price this lens often comes up at (£70-80 when on offer rather than the more standard £90-100) it is definitely worth it even if it is simply used as an introduction to fast glass and to truly highlight what that means.  The problem I have now is that it’s really made me realise I need to replace my Canon 18-55mm kit lens and there is no cheap option for that, I’d better start saving now.


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