If you were a good boy or girl last year, Santa may have brought you a new DSLR. Chances are that it came with a 17-55mm standard kit lens, or if you were *really* good, you might've gotten some 70-300mm telephoto lens thrown into the bargain too. Now don't get me wrong, they're not bad lens, they're just a bit basic. You've probably seen that already. Sure, you think to yourself, "I've gotten all that zoom and yes, I've more control over the camera, but things aren't looking that much better than my old camera - especially taking into account the price and bulk of this thing".
I was in the same boat until I saw the light. Here are two of my earliest photos form my flickrstream, both shot on the now defunct Nikon D80 and taken about a year apart - one with the kit lens, one with the 'nifty fifty'.
I mean sure, the horizon isn't straight on the last one, but otherwise it kinda blows the first one out of the water in terms of quality. It just looks 'more professional'. It's ridiculously sharp, it's a smaller lens and it's way more fun. You're sure as hell not going to get that quality with your camera-phone or kit lens. And did you know how much a 50mm lens costs? Just over €100. So here are the five reasons you should buy a 50mm today.
1. Brighter Pictures in Darker Situations
50mm lenses are built to let in more light. Their aperture is wider than that of a kit lens, i.e. they have a bigger hole to let light pass through. This is denoted by the smaller 'f number'. A standard kit lens has an aperture of f3.5, whereas a 50mm can have an f number of f1.8 or 1.4 - remember the smaller the number the bigger the hole (it's in fractions of), so obviously the 50mm can allow more light to hit the sensor and therefore give brighter resulting pictures!
As you can see from the above, the wider aperture will allow in more light in darker situations. This is great for concert photography or shooting in bars, where there is no natural light - and what light there is, might not be the brightest.
2. It'll give you those lovely 'depth of field' shots
One of the consequences of using a wide aperture is that it'll reduce your depth of field. This is where the 50mm really excites beginners (and me still!). You'll be able to 'blur the background' as it's often said, or make your subject pop out from the background. And it'll be pretty simple to do too. Put your camera into Manual or Aperture Mode, set the dial to a low f-number like say f/2, focus on your subject and boom - let the magic happen.
Prime lenses are tack sharp. They require less technical wizardry to put together and with less moving pieces they can be made to be sharper. That's not to say that all prime lenses are sharper than all prime lenses, but comparing at a price level, you'll do well to find something as sharp as a prime.
For the f/1.8 model, you can pick up a third party 50mm prime lens for as little as €67 including delivery these days, or about €150 for the Canon Original and roughly €160 for the Nikon. There are umbrellas and softboxes out there that cost more than that. Seriously, you couldn't even buy Enya's full back catalogue for those prices - and with this lens, you'll probably not want to pull your toes off and stuff them in your ears.
5. Fixed Focal Length
Some people think - especially when they're starting off - that you need a zoom lens. I sold cameras for a year and the most asked question was 'how long is the zoom on it', like the zoom was the only important factor when buying a camera. Fixed focal lengths make you concentrate on what you're seeing and physically moving to get that shot. Zooms have their benefits, no doubt, but when you can't adjust your zoom you're forced to think about a shot. This may not be ideal if you're shooting events or weddings, but if you're getting used to your new camera, a prime lens will really help you understand the visual side to this piece of technology.
So there you have it, five reasons to splash out and grab that second lens, the 50mm prime. If you're looking for more examples of photos taken with a prime lens other than the one of Rebecca above, go through my portfolio of portraits here and here - currently over 75% of them are shot with my trusty 50mm. Honestly, it's a beauty.
For further reading I suggest checking out A Beginner's Guide to Aperture over on PhotographyTalk.com, which will expand on all we've looked at here - and help you get the most out of that nifty fifty.
If you've any questions, ask in the comments!