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50 mm F1.8, The Magic Lens

What comes to our mind when thinking about professional photography?

Yes, the blurred backgrounds (shallow depth of field) with sharp subjects! And next thing that comes to our mind is how to get (achieve) it?

The answer is a DSLR and a wide aperture lens. There are plenty of options in market for both DSLRs and Lenses with wide apertures, but today we are here to talk about the 50mm f1.8 prime lens.

So coming to the lens of the day, I have had this lens for more than 3 years now. This lens is always in my backpacks whensoever I go out for photography sessions and some of my family/friends profile pics are credited to this lens. The 50mm f1.8 lens is a classic and has been widely appreciated around the world for its simplicity and  outstanding results. This lens is special largely because it is very cheap (inexpensive) coming at about 125 USD (Rs. 8,000.00 approx), but the same does not hold true for its image results as it produces really exquisite sharp images when handled properly.
Let us go in depth about the 50mm f1.8 lens (Canon make):

Technical specifications:

  • EF Mount Lens/Full-Frame Format
  • Aperture Range: f/1.8 to f/22
  • Micro Motor 
  • Manual Focus Override
  • Plastic Lens Mount
  • Rounded 5-Blade Diaphragm
  • Minimum Focus Distance: 17.72"
  • Lens type: Prime
Build quality:

This lens has a cheap plasticky feeling to it which is the only negative point for this package. Only controls available on this lens are auto to manual focussing switch and a manual focussing ring. The lens mount is made of metal. Made with an approach to reduce the cost, the lens is mostly plastic and hence extremely light weight (130 grams approx). It has 5 aperture blades which provide a good quality bokeh. Being EF mount, the lens will fit all canon DSLRs irrespective of the sensor size/format.


The highlight of this lens is its wide aperture. Since the aperture of lens is wide (f1.8) allowing plenty of light to fall on the sensor, it is a very fast lens. Moreover the wide aperture allows us to shoot in low light conditions.

The focal length of this lens is fixed at 50mm. Sitting at the middle of spectrum , 50mm focal length makes it kind of versatile to shoot all kind of scenes. However this lens is best for capturing portraits.

The wide aperture also provides amazing bokeh making the shots very graceful. This lens does not have an image stabilisation. With the combo of wide aperture and a focal length of 50 mm, image stabilisation is more of a desirable feature rather than basic requirement. Personally I do not use image stabilisation until I am going for long focal lengths above 100mm. The 35 mm equivalent of human eye is 50mm on full crop sensors. Hence to actually convey what we see in our daily life, the 50mm lens is all we need.

Image quality:

The 50mm f1.8 lens is a very good lens when referring to image quality as compared to its price point. It does have flaws which are natural when a company is cutting corners to get to a price point , but one can live with them happily. The images produced by the lens at full aperture (wide open) are sharp at the center but tend to be soft at the corners. But as we close the aperture (going from f 1.8 to f 3.5) the lens produces images which have sharpness in all areas. The lens suffers from chromatic aberration too when the aperture is wide open.

However the chromatic aberration reduces with closing the aperture (increasing f stop to 3.5). Distortion is very low in this lens and can be easily dealt with in post processing by using image editing softwares. 

Macro use:

This is the special tip for photography enthusiasts. There are reverse mount adaptor available in market which can be screwed to the front side of lens and then the lens can be reverse mounted on DSLR. And we have a macro lens at our disposal.

Of course, the lens will be exposed to dust and foreign particles which may cause some damage to the lens. Hence due care should be taken to protect the lens while using it in reverse mounting mode. Also, the automatic controls (including autofocus) of the camera get disabled since the lens is not mounted in actual position and hence the camera does not recognise the lens. The depth of field is also drastically reduced and alters heavily when aperture is changed making it very difficult to focus on the subject. The solution for this problem is using a tripod.

Of course, the results also may not be of professional grade, but it is a good work around to gather experience of macro photography without having to spend on a macro lens.

Final verdict:

The 50mm f1.8 lens (also knows as the nifty fifty in photography circles) is a great lens to have. Being inexpensive makes it even more appealing. There are minor issues with image quality but even lenses more than 5 times the cost of this lens have such issues. The bokeh effect of this lens is phenomenal. 

There is the predecessor of this lens in the market now referred as 50mm f1.8 STM which is further refined for better quality pictures (7 aperture blades, lens coatings etc.). One can get it easily online.

The 50mm f1.8 is the first lens to buy after gaining experience from the kit lens.


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