The one lens that will give you the best ROI of any piece of photography equipment you can buy has to be the 50mm f/1.8 lens. It's also known as a “normal” lens because it's the closest you can get to the perspective of the human eye.* The awesome thing is these days they are quite inexpensive—you can buy a good one for around $100. They're also super versatile, lightweight, and available for pretty much any DSLR camera body.
A 50mm lens is also called “fixed” or “prime,” meaning there's no zoom. If you want the subject to appear closer, you have to walk closer to it. Typically, however, to get a head-to-toe shot, you'll be walking further away. You'll need to stand about 10 to 15 feet away to get everything from hat to shoes. It can be a small drawback to using the lens, especially if you're in a crowded area and have to dodge passersby. But the benefits greatly outweigh the negatives:
You tend to get much sharper images because the lens has fewer moving parts that can affect image clarity. For perfect focus in outfit photos, try setting your auto-focus point (refer to your camera’s manual for instructions) to the exact center and aim at the subject’s chest.
Depth of Field Control
A typical 50mm lens has an aperture (or f-stop) of of 1.8, which is very fast. That means the foreground and background can be slightly blurred, with crisp focus on the subject. That creates warmth, depth and you can use it to guide your readers' attention to what you want them to look at. Or, you can try minimizing depth of field to showcase the environment, making it part of your image.
The f/1.8 takes fantastic photos inside or out when there's good light. However, you can get an even faster f/1.4 lens, which is great in darker situations because the aperture is more open and allows more light in. It's also more expensive ($300-400), and probably isn't necessary unless you are consistently shooting in low-light situations or really need the extra versatility.
With any 50mm, you'll have the ability to take excellent photos in lots of different lighting. Experiment, and use lighting to your advantage. If something isn't working, move, turn around, point up or down. Find a way to get the lighting you want without a flash and you'll be rewarded.
Without a zoom, you have to really think about how to frame your shot. It might take an extra 5 seconds to think about, but that often forces you to be more creative, and your results will be better for it. So use the limitation as an advantage. Never just shoot an image and be done—compose a photograph.
Lastly, make sure the lens you buy is compatible with your camera. Older DLSRs may not be able to power an auto-focus lens, and not all older lenses had autofocus abilities. Most newer cameras will do great with the lenses listed below. If you're unsure, Amazon's “Questions & Answers” typically list which body the lens will work with.
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens
- Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF Nikkor Lens for Nikon Digital SLR Cameras
- Sony 50mm f/1.8 SAM DT Lens for Sony Alpha Digital SLR Cameras
- Pentax DA 50mm f1.8 lens for Pentax DSLR Cameras
Do you have experience with a 50mm lens? Tell us about it in the comments!
*Update: We note above that this lens is considered a normal lens, however,that ’s iff you’re using a full size sensor camera body. If you’re using a more consumer level DLSR it will end up being a bit more zoomed and will be more like an 80mm (as per Magi’s comment below). While she’s definitely correct, we still stand by the recommendation that for around $100 this is a great lens to have for most people who don’t already have a quiver of lenses available to them. And if you’re only using the kit lens that came with your camera, you’ll *really* enjoy this lens. As with everything, buying lenses can get complicated and expensive the more demanding you are of your equipment. For professionals, we don’t need to tell you what lens you’ll want. However, for many of us, this 50mm lens is a huge asset and a huge step forward as your first “second” lens.
A 50mm lens perspective is only similar to our sight if you use a full format camera like a CANON 5D. Full format are pretty expensive usually so most bloggers have DSLRs with a cropped chip (APS-C) which scales the sight to a perspective near 80mm (calculating with a factor of 1.6) and is quite a zoom.
The downside is that wider lenses create a slight fish eye effect. Never the less you can correct it with a software but have enough distance to the camera is not possible anytime.
I use a 50mm macro lens that I purchased for my cropped lens camera a few years ago (after reading a wrong recommendation like yours and was pretty disappointed – I bought 35mm for a 50mm view later but kept the 50mm) but I upgraded to a full format the same year so I kept the 50mm. I really like it for product pictures and videos. I ordered the $100 50mm at the same time but returned it because it was to loud and the plastic was so cheap but if you are on a budget it takes great images.
I totally agrees. I see this often, people going for the 50 mm lenses because they read about them everywhere but because they are not familiar with the difference in camera sensors, crop factors, and because this is not explained to them.
Luckily, I went for the 35 mm & I would totally recommend the Nikon DX 35 mm 1.8 as a lens for Nikons with an APS-C sensor, great value for its money.
Hi Magi! Thank you for your comment. We added an update to the end of the post to address your concerns. Thanks again for mentioning this!
Do you recommend 50mm 1.8 for Nikon D3200?
Thank you so much. I need a sharp focus on jewelry and lifestyle photos.
Thanks in advance
Dang – wish people would specify when they are reviewing a lens! I have a cropped sensor camera and have finally realized I need to upgrade for the 50 mm to really do it’s thing. Thanks for making this point!
I completely agree. I have this lens and use it more than any other lens I own. The only downside for me is I shoot outfit photos on my balcony (haven’t overcome the awkwardness of shooting yourself in public) so I have to get a full body shot using the 35mm, and then the 50mm for the other shots. Every once in a while I’ll shoot shoe details with the 85mm, but it’s so bulky that a 50mm gets the job done.
I’m still ironing out the kinks with my 50mm lens. I love the blurry background but a lot of times my face is out of focus as well. Anyone else have this problem and/or know how to fix it?
I assume you are shooting yourself on a tripod. The reason (I assume) you are not getting yourself sharp is that the same thing that makes the background go out of focus beautifully when wide open means there is what we call a shallow depth of field. If the camera is not precisely focused on your face (especially on your eye) it too will be not quite in focus. This will require that you precisely align the focus point which is hard to do shooting yourself. But it can be done. If you like email me a photo and I will take a look at it and let you know if that is the cause. Leave the EXIF data in. denton at speakeasy dot net
Nifty fifty <3
Yes like Magi said your camera sensor will depend on the mileage you get for this!
Most consumer-grade DSLRs have a crop sensor which means the shot will “zoomed in” by a factor of 1.6 compared to DSLRs with full-frame sensors. This makes indoor shots and tight spaces really hard to shoot unless you fork out the money for a full-frame camera. But it’s still a good bargain lens to have!
I couldn’t agree more! The first lens I bought is actually a 50mm f/1.8 and it works wonders to my photo’s! It’s less bulky & very easy to shoot with. And as a photographer by profession, this really is a good lens for bloggers as well!
I have the 50 mm f/1.8 and I LOVE IT!!! I use it to photograph all of my makeup looks and to shoot a lot of my YouTube videos. The amount of blur it gives the background is awesome and it is VERY affordable.
This is a super useful post and it might have just made me want to buy one of those 50 mm all the kids are using these days…
P.S: I’m a kid too!
I have a 45mm, which is a little odd. I got it to complement my 18-55mm, which is what I use most of the time.
But the 45mm definitely takes better photos, and it’s more a of a learning curve when it comes to really setting up the shot before you snap away.
I’m really into the Fujifilm x-t10 right now, when you see the photographs that it takes you’ll never want another camera/lens again!
That’s so cool! I’ve never used OR seen a 45 mm before… Uh oh…
love steph x
While I have a Sigma Art 50mm 1.4, which is the sharpest autofocus 50mm on the planet, I also recently bought the new Canon 50mm 1.8 STM. It is a GREAT lens and what I carry around while doing street style and blogger shoots. Light as a feather and very sharp at about 2.5 and up, and quite acceptable at 1.8.
I agree 100%!!!!!!!
It really is the best lens to start out with and has amazing results. If you have a Rebel, it is a great lens to help you grow into a more complex camera! <3
I’m so glad this blog post popped into my e-mail inbox! I just bought the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens, and I was so unsure whether it would be good enough for fashion photography etc. for by blog. I know very little of lenses and I just knew I’d like a lens good for portraits and blurry backgrounds. Now I know I made the right purchase 🙂
Hi Juliana I had a look at your photos they are great 🙂 what camera do you use ?
Justine – aren’t the Fujifilm mirrorless cameras great?! We opted for the Fujifilm x-t1 camera, simply because it’s so much smaller and lighter than other cameras of the same quality images (my husband is the one who chose the camera, because he is the one who carries it around haha). We have the 56mm F 1.2 lens with it, which is my favorite for the blog. The pictures are SO high quality, and produces the blurry background. We also have a wide angle lens for taking landscape pictures, or when I take “from where I stand” pictures of myself.
This was a really helpful post! I appreciate sharing this because sharp photos truly do make a world of a difference. 🙂 http://www.bauchlefashion.com
I’ve been looking into new camera options lately, and I’ll definitely keep this piece of advice in mind for photos! Thanks for sharing your insights and use of camera lens.
I absolutely love this lens, it’s my go-to for outfit shoots!
Which camera do you use @Dolce? 🙂
which is better 50mm f/1.8 or 50mm f/1.4
the 1.4 is better but does cost more. Honestly I was using the lens that came standard with my camera and if you have good lighting, a steady hand and know your camera, you can get awesome photos, I think my blog is proof of that.
I felt like I spent forever looking for the perfect lens and I actually ended up settling on this one. It really is the best, and so inexpensive!
I actually just bought one of these lenses and I’m in LOVE. It’s been hard to get those dreamy blurry backgrounds with a crisp focal point with any other lens, but this makes it soo easy. The zoom is kinda crazy but it’s easy to fix by running away from the camera and shooting from afar. Totally worth the money and I can’t believe I didn’t buy one sooner! I was able to find one for my camera on Amazon for roughly $200. Thanks for giving me the push I needed to finally make this purchase, heartIFB 🙂
I’ll be honest, I knew pretty much nothing when I decided on my camera a few years ago while I was prego (wanting to capture progress pics every couple weeks) and then have a great camera for taking pics of my baby girl. I bought the Canon T4i which was part of a kit. It came with the 18-55mm lens as well as the 75mm lens. I now know after the fact that is NOT the way to go. Lenses should be purchased separately and it’s more about which lens is used vs. the specific camera model. These lenses take okay pics (each for a different purpose) but not anywhere near what I’d like. Does anyone have this camera and what lens specifically do you recommend for it for clear, crisp shots. My blog covers a variety of topics but I’m starting to take outfit photos and lighting is a big issue right now. Sometimes when I take product photos it’s a challenge but that may just be due to the fact that I need to use a lightbox and the lighting in our home is not the greatest. My husband take the photos and he’s not a photographer by any means (shoots in automatic mostly. I experiment a bit with manual settings but end up doing most in auto too. Any advice provided would be helpful. I eventually plan to take a photography class. Thank you in advance!
Hi Karla 🙂 I bought my first DLSR in Nov 2015 and mine is Canon T3i which is pretty similar to yours I think. And so far I only have the kit lens that came in the set (18-55mm). I am at a point where I want to improve the quality of my pictures. I have been using also Samsung NX Mini. For both cameras I use remote control in order to take pictures of myself & by myself 🙂 The Canon is 18mp and the Samsung is 20mp… and yes to me the difference is quite viable… So the way I see it now I have two options – 1. To try getting a lens for my Canon (since the lenses for the samsung don’t seem to be available any more) so yes I can try getting a prime lens with a higher f stop and try that to see if the images can get sharper this way. I am thinking of either getting a 35mm or 50mm. Option 2. would be saving money for a camera with a higher resolution like the Canon T6s or T6i – I am in love with both of them but they are pretty expensive… I think that first I will try the cheaper option – getting a prime lens. Whatever happens there most definitely will be an update on my blog 🙂
I meant to say 75-300mm lens for the second one.
Thanks for this post! I’m pretty new to blogging, and super new to using a real camera, which isn’t a phone :P. I’m using my basic kit lens at the moment. I’ve been toying with the next lens I should buy, and this has helped a lot!
I really want to invest in one this is helpful
I have the Nikon 50mm/1.4 and I can’t live without it! I use it for all purposes even those that should make me change it, but I always manage a way to keep using the 50mm/1.4! Love it! And you are right 1.8 is more than enough. I almost never go under 1.8 because with 1.4 you only get the nose sharp! Everything else (like my eyes which are close enough) will be blurred. 1.8 I great for fashion blogging.
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Thank you! I’ll try.
Thanks for the awesome article! I have a Canon T5i and bought the 50mm when i couldn’t upgrade my lens more to improve my Flat Lays. But I’m concerned (or I just don’t understand yet), since I have a crop-sensor camera, is the 50mm still a good buy?
I agree. The camera is excellent. My boyfriend has a sports blog and uses model the same like yours. The pictures are awesome!
Great tips, DSLR’s are the way to go!
Thank you, I have recently been looking for information about this subject for
ages and yours is the best I have discovered so far.
However, what concerning the conclusion? Are you certain in regards to the supply?
Dear Kristen, great information. Thanks for this post. I have never tried a 50mm. I will surely give it a try.
Thank you for the great guidance!
I agree that you should not compromise with your camera lens – especially, if you want to become pro.
For your personal use, it depends on you and your requirements for the quality.
I have a f/1.4 lens because I mostly shoot in the dark settings. So it is necessary for me.
Found your post interesting to read. I cant wait to see your post soon. Good Luck for the upcoming update.
This article is really very interesting and effective.