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A Nifty Fifty Lens (Why You Need to Have This Prime Lens)

Last updated: January 22, 2024 - 7 min read
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Our article explains what a “nifty fifty lens” is and why it’s important. We also list some of our favorite nifty fifty lenses. You may have already heard about them. If not, we are here to tell you a nifty fifty is essential to your camera gear. Trust us, it’s something you want in your camera bag!

A person holding a nifty fifty lens
A nifty fifty lens. Photo by Miguel A Amutio (Unsplash)
 

What Is a Nifty Fifty?

A nifty fifty is a 50mm prime lens. The “nifty” part refers to the fast, wide f/1.8 aperture. The “fifty” refers to the lens’s 50mm focal length.

A 50mm lens is the closest you can get to the perspective of a human eye. This means low amounts of distortion and a similar field of view. These lenses are also on the cheaper end of the spectrum.

The Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM, Nikon Z 50mm F/1.8 S, and Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG DN are perfect examples of a nifty fifty. The APO-Summicron-M 50mm F/2 ASP is the best Leica nifty fifty but has a hefty price tag.

Now that we know what a nifty fifty lens is, let’s look at what makes them great.

Our Top 4 Choices for the Best Nifty Fifty Lenses
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG DN | A for Sony E
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG DN | A for Sony E
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG DN | A for Sony E
Leica APO-SUMMICRON-M 50mm F/2 ASPH.
Leica APO-SUMMICRON-M 50mm F/2 ASPH.
Leica APO-SUMMICRON-M 50mm F/2 ASPH.
 

Why Is a Nifty Fifty Lens Important?

When you see a scene you want to shoot, a 50mm captures it as similar to your vision as possible. A wider lens or telephoto gives you a different viewpoint, fitting more or less into the frame than the 50mm. There are several other reasons why a nifty fifty is important:

  1. It trains your photographic eye
  2. It’s versatile
  3. It has a shallow depth of field
  4. It’s small and light
  5. There are affordable options

1. Trains Your Photographic Eye

Photographers are always looking to improve their ability to photograph their subjects. The nifty fifty is great for this. As it is a prime lens rather than a zoom lens, you need to move to get closer or farther away from your subject.

There is no cheating here. You need to move. And every time you do, you learn more about framing, the best distance to your subject, and a workable image. You spend more time thinking about each shot. And it gets you to recompose photos by walking around more.

Black-and-white image of a person taking a selfie in a car mirror with a nifty fifty lens
A Canon 70D with a Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM lens. Photo by Kurt Mullins (Unsplash)
 

2. A Nifty Fifty Is Versatile

You may wonder, “What is a nifty fifty lens good for?” A 50mm is an excellent all-round lens. It’s a fantastic lens to shoot portraits, landscapes, and street photos. Few other lens types have this wide variety of uses. This is another reason it’s a fantastic lens for a beginner photographer.

A wide-angle lens is perfect for landscape photography but not for close-ups or still life. Wide-angle lenses have more distortion and create strange effects when used at close range.

A telephoto lens is perfect for portraits but not great for street photography. Telephoto lenses are enormous and draw attention to yourself. Below are examples of a portrait, landscape, and street photo shot with a nifty fifty.

Triptych of a portrait, landscape, and street photo all shot with a nifty fifty lens
Photos (left to right) by Behzad Hajiabadi, Soliman Cifuentes, and Andre Portolesi (Unsplash)
 

3. It Has a Shallow Depth of Field

Nifty fifty lenses offer wide aperture values, ranging from f/1.8 to f/1.2. The aperture is important in your photography as an element of the exposure triangle. The wider the aperture, the brighter the image.

Apart from exposure, the aperture also impacts the depth of field. Depth of field is created by combining the focal length and the aperture value of the lens.

50mm primes generally have a shallow depth of field because they feature a wide aperture. This makes them perfect for shooting live music or indoor events. Shallow depth of field also creates a bokeh effect, which is fantastic for portraits.

A photo with a shallow depth of field of a person holding up a nifty fifty lens
Shot with a wide aperture and shallow depth of field. Photo by Jonas Svidras (Pexels)
 

4. A Nifty Fifty Is Small and Light

A nifty fifty lens is built to be easily portable and lightweight. It fits into your camera bag much more easily than those larger lenses. It’s an ideal lens for street photography or for on-the-go photographers who travel.

A zoom lens can be heavy due to its motors and extra glass. Wide-angle lenses also have heavier glass. They are also more vulnerable. Ergonomics are essential to photographers. This becomes more important when you carry photography gear for longer periods.

5. It Won’t Break the Bank

The majority of 50mm lenses are affordable. It is another reason why a nifty fifty is a good first lens for photographers. The Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM is one of the cheapest autofocus prime lenses you can buy.

Looking at prices, a nifty fifty lens is one of the most cost-effective prime lenses. But sometimes, owning only prime lenses with different focal lengths can cost the same amount as a premium travel range zoom lens.

For instance, the NIKKOR Z 24-70mm F/2.8 S telephoto lens costs more than twice as much as the Z 50mm F/1.8 S nifty fifty. But buying a zoom instead of several primes might make more sense if you consider a zoom’s range of focal lengths.

Ultimately, it all comes down to a photographer’s preference and budget.

The Best Nifty Fifty Budget Lenses
Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM
Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM
Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm F/1.8G
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm F/1.8G
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm F/1.8G
Sony FE 50mm F/1.8 SEL50F18F
Sony FE 50mm F/1.8 SEL50F18F
Sony FE 50mm F/1.8 SEL50F18F
 

What Are the Best Nifty Fifty Lenses?

Whether you use a DSLR, a mirrorless camera, or a Micro Four Thirds system, there is a range of nifty fifties.

We recommend the Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM or Nikon AF-S 50mm F/1.8G for DSLRs. They are cheap and cheerful lenses with a wide aperture for great depth of field and quality.

If you want faster and higher-quality 50mm lenses, Canon EF 50mm F/1.4 USM and Sigma 50mm F/1.4 Art DG HSM for Nikon are great choices.

We recommend the f/1.8 over the f/1.4 and the f/1.2 for beginners because they’re cheaper. Although there is a slight difference in the depth of field, the effects are negligible.

Best Performing Nifty Fifty Lenses for DSLRS
Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM
Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM
Canon EF 50mm F/1.8 STM
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art DG HSM Prime Lens for Nikon F-Mount
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art DG HSM Prime Lens for Nikon F-Mount
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art DG HSM Prime Lens for Nikon F-Mount
HD Pentax-FA 50mm F/1.4
HD Pentax-FA 50mm F/1.4
HD Pentax-FA 50mm F/1.4

For mirrorless cameras, we recommend Canon RF, Nikon Z, and Sony FE nifty fifties. The RF 50mm F/1.2L USM, Z 50mm F/1.8 S, and FE 50mm F/1.8 are among the best.

Best Nifty Fifty Lenses for Mirrorless Cameras
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Sony FE 50mm F/1.8 SEL50F18F
Sony FE 50mm F/1.8 SEL50F18F
Sony FE 50mm F/1.8 SEL50F18F

If you buy a nifty fifty lens for a camera that isn’t full frame, there’s an important detail. Due to crop factors, a 50mm lens is like a 75mm on an APS-C (crop-sensor) camera and 100mm on a Micro Four Thirds camera. So, you must look for the equivalent focal lengths if you want a “50mm.”

When used with an APS-C camera, a Canon 32mm lens acts like a 51.2mm. When used with a cropped sensor, Nikon, Sony, and Fujifilm 35 mm lenses give an equivalent focal length of 52.5mm.

You can’t go wrong with the Fujifilm 35mm F/2 R WR or Olympus 25mm F/1.8. A lens like the Olympus 25mm becomes a 50mm equivalent because it works on a Micro Four Thirds cropped sensor.

Best Nifty Fifty Equivalent Lenses for APS-C Mirrorless Cameras
Canon EF-M 32mm F/1.4 STM
Canon EF-M 32mm F/1.4 STM
Canon EF-M 32mm F/1.4 STM
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm F/1.8G
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm F/1.8G
Nikon AF-S DX NIKKOR 35mm F/1.8G
Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony A
Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony A
Sigma 35mm F/1.4 DG HSM | A for Sony A
Fujifilm FUJINON XF 35mm F/2 R WR
Fujifilm FUJINON XF 35mm F/2 R WR
Fujifilm FUJINON XF 35mm F/2 R WR
Olympus ED 25mm F/1.8
Olympus ED 25mm F/1.8
Olympus ED 25mm F/1.8
 

Conclusion: A Nifty Fifty Lens

Getting a nifty fifty lens as your first prime lens has many advantages. The 50mm focal length is versatile for several niches of photography. It also offers a fast aperture, accurate autofocus, and portability while being affordable.

Are you using a “nifty fifty” for portraits? Check out our Profit from Portraits course for the fastest way to launch a highly profitable business. Or look at one of our creative portrait courses or eBooks like Fairytale Portraits or Creative Portrait Concepts!

The Best Performing Nifty Fifty Lenses
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Canon RF 50mm F/1.2L USM
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Nikon NIKKOR Z 50mm F/1.8 S
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG DN | A for Sony E
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG DN | A for Sony E
Sigma 50mm F/1.4 DG DN | A for Sony E
Leica APO-SUMMICRON-M 50mm F/2 ASPH.
Leica APO-SUMMICRON-M 50mm F/2 ASPH.
Leica APO-SUMMICRON-M 50mm F/2 ASPH.