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5 Reasons You Should Purchase a “Nifty Fifty” 50mm Lens

Jourdan Aldredge

Every filmmaker and videographer should have a “nifty fifty” 50mm lens at their disposal. Here are five reasons to add one to your toolkit.

Cover image by Wang An Qi.

Today’s digital filmmaking world is increasingly becoming point-and-shoot and run-and-gun. Zoom lenses have become the norm for those who feel that they don’t have time to change lenses often and set shots carefully.

However, if you know how to use one well, a “nifty fifty” 50mm lens can be a very powerful tool for capturing sharp, cinematic footage in any situation. It may even save your butt one day — and buying one won’t break the bank.

Here are the five main reasons you should own a “nifty fifty” 50mm lens.

1. The New Standard

5 Reasons You Should Purchase a "Nifty Fifty" 50mm Lens — New Standard
Image by mad_aurel.

In a great article over at The Atlantic, Allain Daigle recently argued that the 50mm has forever changed filmmaking, as it is often seen as “the most objective” and best approximation of human vision. I highly recommend reading the full article on the history of the 50mm through its production and mechanics, but needless to say, in theory, under the right circumstances, it absolutely communicates a perspective most closely tied with how we view the world around us.

2. Sharp and Fast

5 Reasons You Should Purchase a "Nifty Fifty" 50mm Lens — Sharp and Fast
Image by Mehaniq.

As a fixed lens (as opposed to a zoom, which can change focal lengths), nifty fifties are very fast and sharp alternatives to higher f-stop zoom options. You can usually find 50mm lenses starting at f/2.8 or lower, which is already a sharp, fast, and shallow option for cinematic footage in just about every situation.

3. Low Light Help

5 Reasons You Should Purchase a "Nifty Fifty" 50mm Lens — Low Light Help
Image by ASB63.

By the same token, when you’re shooting at a low f-stop, a wide-open lens can be surprisingly helpful for getting the most out of low light situations. That being said, you don’t always want to be razor thin with your depth of field, but if you’re in a pinch and need to capture quality information in low light, your nifty fifty can be a lifesaver.

4. Crop Friendly

5 Reasons You Should Purchase a "Nifty Fifty" 50mm Lens — Crop Friendly
Image by Mehaniq.

In today’s market, you very well could end up changing cameras pretty often (or working with other filmmakers using different cameras). While full frame is still the ideal for most filmmakers and videographers, working on crop sensor cameras can be common. However, with a 50mm (instead of, say, an 85mm prime), you’re not in a terrible bind when shooting on a 1.75x crop factor. It’ll be a tighter macro, but you can still position yourself better than other lens offerings.

5. Cost

5 Reasons You Should Purchase a "Nifty Fifty" 50mm Lens — Cost
Image by Sewoky.

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of a nifty fifty 50mm lens is the price. Fixed lenses are usually cheaper than their zoom counterparts due to fewer moving parts and mechanisms. However, many high-end prime lenses get pricey quickly.

However, due to their size (and depending on their speed), you can just about always find a nifty fifty for anywhere from a few hundred dollars to less than one hundred (used).

Shop around, look at some options at different f-stops, but rest assured that you’re going to get a powerful, fast, sharp, and helpful lens if you go with the nifty fifty.

For more camera and lens resources, check out these filmmaking articles.

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