Is a 50mm my next purchase?

One of my photography students wrote: 

I’ve taken a couple classes from you and have enjoyed them both. I’m still very much a beginner and still learning about my camera.

I use a Nikon d5000 and my question is, if you were going to add a lens to my kit lens which I have, would it be a 50mm (nifty fifty)? I take pictures mainly of my 4 year old daughter and have been reading about different lenses.

Any suggestions on lenses or where to buy would be greatly appreciated.

M.W.

My answer:

It’s good to hear from you.  Personally, I’d buy the 70-300mm or 70-200mm before I’d buy  the 50mm.  

Shooting with the 50mm means your daughter has to be somewhat still and you have to be close to her to fill the frame.  Use the 70-300mm or the 70-210mm and she can be running around the playground while you’re sitting on a bench and photographing her.  There’s distance between you and the subject. You don’t have to be right in her face all the time.  

The 50mm is a great lens for studio work.  It’s not the greatest for outdoor or shooting in the living room.  I know a lot of people promote it on the internet but you can get the same results with the other lenses.

I have the 50mm and I always grab my 70-200mm first.  Here’s an example why:

Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
Here’s a photo of ornaments against a background with lights.  This was taken with a Canon 70-200mm lens at f/7.1.
Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
The above photo is enlarged to 100%.  Notice that both of the little ornaments are in focus.
Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
Same little ornament scene but this time photographed with a 50mm lens.  I had to move the camera closer to the scene with the camera and tripod.  The lights in the background have the great bokeh that makes people  want when they use the 50mm lens.
Holiday ornaments, Christmas, raccoons, christmas tree,
The above photo was enlarged to 100%.  I used a 50mm lens set at f/1.4.  Notice that both little raccoons are soft.  My focus point is the little raccoon on the left.  Its eyes are in focus but the soup can is soft.  The raccoon on the right is totally soft.  

Recapping, the 50mm f/1.4 lens gives a great bokeh or blown-out-background.  Yet, if you shoot it at f/1.4 the depth-of-field is super shallow.  The lens should be used at an f/stop appropriate for the subject.  You’ll also need to get closer to the subject than with the 70-200mm lens.

Hope that helps.  I’d let you borrow my 50mm if you used a Canon.  It doesn’t get much use.

Author: kathyadamsclark

Professional photographer leading workshops and tours.

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