Friends purchasing their first DSLR often ask me the same thing: what lens should they get? And my answer is always the same, regardless if they’re picking up a Canon or a Nikon. The 50mm f1.8. Both Nikon and Canon make a plastic 50mm f1.8 lens that not only is the cheapest lens they sell, but also one of their best performers. The focal length is fantastic for both portraits and landscape, and the aperture is wide enough to shoot well indoors at night without flash. It’s easily the best value in the land of SLR lenses, and puts more expensive (and much more ubiquitous) zoom lenses to absolute shame.
My first DSLR was the Nikon D40, a fun little camera that I still remember fondly. It came with 18-55mm and 55-200mm zooms, so the inexperienced little photographer I was thought I was covered as far as lenses went. I had every focal length, what more could a man want for? After an endless procession of blurry shots anytime I was in an environment slightly less bright than the surface of the sun, I quickly began to realize that I needed something better even though I didn’t have enough money to pay for an expensive lens. Then I discovered the religion of the 50mm.
Many years and camera bodies later, I still use the 50mm f1.8 as one of my main lenses. The Nikon 50mm f1.8 AF-D (as it is officially called) not only works perfectly on my D600, but just as well on my ancient Nikon F3 camera body as well. The little lens weighs nearly nothing, and is just about as small as an autofocus lens gets. The biggest downside is that it makes a hell of a lot of noise when its hunting for focus, as the focus ring slams back and forth from macro to infinity.
Even as I’ve upgraded to expensive wide angle and telephoto lenses, my ol’ trusty 50mm keeps its place. It’s optics are simply superior to any other Nikon 50mm I’ve used, and the autofocus makes it more practical than using an expensive Zeiss manual focus lens to replace it. Distortion is a big deal to me, and this little guy has almost none. Nikon recently refreshed the lens, making a quieter, slightly more expensive version, but I hear it has a bit more distortion and it doesn’t work with my 35mm cameras.
So here’s to you, all you cheap 50mm f1.8 lenses out there, don’t you ever change.