4 Critical Reasons the 50mm Lens is NOT the ONLY Lens You’ll Ever Need

50 mm lens

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Just google “50mm lens” and you’ll be flooded with blog posts on how the great and wonderful nifty fifty is the only lens you’ll ever need. Believing the hype I bought one, and immediately noticed the weaknesses no one ever talks about. Don’t get me wrong, the nifty fifty is truly a great entry-level lens: it’s lightweight, has a wide aperture, and is affordable. It’s the first lens I recommend to new photographers, but there a few critical reasons it’s not the ONLY lens you’ll ever need.

Lenses excel at their specific purposes and there is no one lens to rule them all. I would describe the 50mm lens as the jack of all trades, master of none. There are pros and cons to the 50mm lens; it does a pretty good job in a variety of settings, but here are 4 reasons the 50mm lens is not the best lens for all of your photography needs.

1. It’s Not A Wide Angle Lens

My Canon 50mm 1.8 prime lens had arrived just in time for my trip to Sedona and Page, AZ. Imagine my disappointment when the lens focal length was not wide enough to capture all of Horseshoe Bend. Landscapes are vast and wide and you need a lens that has the flexibility to capture it all, therefore a 50mm prime lens is not ideal for landscape photography

Unable to capture all of Horseshoe Bend using a 50 mm lens
This photo was taken with a 50mm lens and was all we could capture of Horseshoe Bend in one shot. The only way to get all of the Horseshoe Bend with a 50mm lens is to do a panorama.
Horseshoe Bend Wide Angle
This photo was taken with a 12 mm lens and captures the entire scene. Photo by Des Récits on Unsplash

2. Large Minimum Focusing Distance

The minimum focusing distance is how close you can get to a subject and still be able to focus. The 50mm lens’s focusing distance is 0.46 m, which translates to about 18 inches. In comparison, the Sigma 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art Lens has a focusing distance of almost half that at 0.26 m (or 10 inches). In addition to smaller focusing distances, lenses designed for macro photography will have magnification which gives the appearance of being even more close. Notice in the two photos below how much closer I can get to the subject with a shorter focusing distance.

Purple pincushion flowers used to show the closest macro shot possible with the 50 mm lens
Purple pincushion flower used as an example of a Sigma Macro Lens

3. Poor Image Quality

Images are softer and pick up on less detail than other more expensive lenses. Depending on the photo this may not be noticeable, but if you’re trying to capture the fine detail of a subject you may be left with something to be desired. Let’s zoom in to the images from above and compare how much detail is preserved.

zoomed in 50 mm to show flaws in the nifty fifty lens
Notice the halo around the edges of the petals and how much detail is lost in the center
Sigma Macro Lens zoomed in to show the improved image detail from the 50 mm lens
By comparison, everything is still sharp. The details are so fine you can even see the ant's legs.

4. It’s A Prime Lens

There are many situations in which you cannot physically get closer to your subject and instead need to zoom in on the subject, but prime lenses only have one focal length. With this lens, you would not be able to zoom in at a concert, wildlife, or a sporting event.

These two example photos were taken with a Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III zoom lens. I was able to go from a wide shot to close up in a matter of seconds. The 50mm lens would have been even wider than the photo on the left and I wouldn’t have been able to zoom in for the closeup.

Giraffe eating hay at a 75 mm focal length 
Giraffe eating hay at a 300 mm focal length 

I still think the 50mm lens is a great lens, it just may not meet all of your needs. Don’t be surprised when you start looking for other lenses to complete your photography bag.

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Delaney is a project manager by day and a travel and wildlife photographer by night who is using her skills for translating complex technical language into easy to understand concepts to make photography achievable at all skill levels. You have questions; she has answers.

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