Are your pictures distorted? Considered a 50mm?

Patterns - Winchester Cathedral taken with a 50mm lens

Patterns – Winchester Cathedral taken with a 50mm lens. The lens sees a very close approximation to the way the human eye sees the world.
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There is a very good reason why the 50mm is so popular.

The 50mm may seem a plain and simple lens. Believe me it is actually a great addition to any camera bag. When you need to see with clarity – it’s the best.

As lenses go the very best of them are found in your eye. The human eye is an incredible organic machine. It does more than any mechanical device can do in terms of seeing. But then, the eye has been in development for the last 350 million years (give or take). Humans have been making quality lenses for about 350 years. So there is a little way to catch up. However, jokes aside, the 50mm comes close to the best that we can do with lenses. Not because of the quality, but because the 50mm represents most closely what the human eye sees.

All lenses have their own unique signature in terms of what they actually display. A wide angle lens distorts the image sideways. A long-telephoto takes you into a scene and flattens the depth of the shot. A fish-eye exaggerates the importance of the centre ground and elongates the scene around it. All these things and more affect the way any particular lens sees a scene.

The 50mm lens is special. Its signature view of the world is about as close to that of the human eye as any standard lens. The distortion that the lens creates approximates the same view as our eye. This makes it a very special vessel for conveying human perspective.

Of course, you argue. You have a lens with 50mm in its range. True I answer. But the telephoto plane will foreshorten the shot. It is not a true foreshortening. It is a metaphysical one. You have to get the shot – but you don’t get it like the eye does. Instead of walking to take the 50mm position, you will take the shot where you stand on one of an infinite range of shot positions. Lets say, between 24 and 200mm. In addition, a lens is made to cope with a range of conditions across all its focal lengths. Inevitably some of the purity of the fixed, or prime, 50mm lens is lost in that accommodation. Your telephoto makes you see differently and it actually sees differently too.

Experienced photographers will tell you that the 50mm prime (fixed focal length) lens is unique in its vision. If you want to make sure you get the shot the way the eye would see it then there is no substitute for using one. You do a lot more walking to get the shot. But you also get much more realism. Prime lenses like the 50mm often have a very wide aperture. They are therefore very fast lenses. The wide aperture also gives wonderful control of ‘depth to field’ too. 50mm lenses are much prized by wedding photographers because they often have a very wide aperture compared to many other lenses. The shot above was taken using a Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens. It was hand-held in the early evening with no flash – brilliant. Wedding photographers love the wide aperture because the lens is perfect in churches and the party afterwards – both are low-light situations.

You can buy 50mm lenses quite cheaply without compromising quality. They are so popular that the manufacturers can keep the prices low. The majority of photographers will want to go for this flexible and reasonably priced 50mm lens. Lenses in this range are certainly among the most popular available.

The fast Canon 50mm F1.4 lens is photographically versatile and technically excellent. It is at a very reasonable price too…

The Canon EF 50mm – f/1.4 USM Lens

It is a top quality lens. Great for portrait work, great with landscapes and excellent for urban candid shots it is a wonderful all-round lens. As an EF lens, it’s compatible with a full-frame camera and it’s on special offer at present [Oct 2012]. It is a very fast lens with excellent control of depth of field. This is definitely the most flexible and reasonably priced 50mm on the market for Canon cameras. It has top reviews all over the internet.

The very fast 50mm that comes for the Nikon range is equally versatile. A stunning lens in an affordable price range…

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.4G Lens

The Nikon F1.4 50mm is an excellent performer. It provides the fast, wide aperture, and exhibits has superb control of focus. The sharpness of this lens is outstanding and, as expected, the low-light performance nothing short of excellent. As another great all-rounder this lens is well reviewed and the price is reasonable. A great buy for Nikon owners. Not to be missed!

It is possible to get a very fast professional level Canon EF50mm. And what a wonderful piece of equipment it is….

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens

As one reviewer on Amazon says, this lens is “A very special piece of optics”. I agree. The control, depth of field and colour reproduction is excellent and the sharpness is brilliant. It is a professional lens and is premium priced, but you cannot beat its quality. There is nothing on the market to beat it in low light situations.

By Damon Guy (author and Photokonnexion editor)

Damon Guy - Netkonnexion

Damon Guy (Netkonnexion)

Damon is a writer-photog and editor of this site. He has run some major websites, a computing department and a digital image library. He started out as a trained teacher and now runs training for digital photogs.
See also: Editors ‘Bio’.
By Damon Guy see his profile on Google+.

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