If you love bokeh or shoot handheld after dark, a so-called Nifty Fifty lens is just what you need. Find out why as we explain the benefits of a 50mm f/1.8 lens.
A 50mm f/1.8 prime lens is affectionately known as the photography slang term ‘Nifty Fifty’ because, despite its tiny size, it lets you do things that most other lenses simply cannot do. A Nifty Fifty’s unbelievably wide maximum aperture of f/1.8 lets you get incredibly narrow depth of field, which is ideal for portraits or still life photography – allowing you to throw your background out of focus, getting great bokeh effects.
It is also about the most affordable lenses you can buy. A Nikon D-series version, for instance, costs about £110 ($130) – hence it is also known as a ‘Thrifty Fifty’.
On a full-frame DSLR, a Nifty Fifty is a good all-round lens which gives the same central field of vision as the human eye.
But on an APS-C-format DSLR, the effective focal length becomes 75mm, making this an ideal people lens for fashion shoots, for kids, posed portraits, and party pictures.
You don’t get the best optical quality from a Nifty Fifty lens at f/1.8, but if you want the lens to give you strikingly different-looking shots, this is the aperture you should use. Be warned, the limited depth of field means you need to focus on the key point of your subject precisely.
Back in the day, every DSLR was sold with a Nifty Fifty f/1.8 lens. Most people started out using one to take all their pictures. If you have one, try spending a day shooting with it, without using a wide-angle or telephoto lens, and making your eyes and feet work harder to find the picture.
How much more blur do you get at f/1.8
A traditional standard lens is three-and-a-third stops faster than a modern standard-issue kit zoom…
01 50mm at f/5.6
The standard zoom that came with our Nikon DSLR (the popular 18-55mm) offers a maximum aperture of f/5.6 when set at 50mm. It is not wide enough to blur the car in the background in this portrait.
02 50mm at f/2.8
You can get zooms with wide maximum apertures. The 24-70mm f/2.8 is a pro’s favourite and allows you to shoot at f/2.8 at 50mm; that’s two stops faster than shooting at f/5.6, and gives you nice blurred backgrounds and bokeh.
03 50mm at f/1.8
It seems a small step from f/2.8 to f/1.8, but using Nikon’s low-cost 50mm prime for this tutorial let us open up the aperture by another one-and-a-third stops. The depth of field when used wide open is noticeably narrower, which is great for portraits.
11 common lens errors (and how to avoid them)
DO or Di? Your lens markings explained
DSLR Lenses: 7 questions photographers must ask about their next piece of glass
10 reasons why your photos aren’t sharp (and how to fix them)