I hope I have encouraged you to make a start taking photographs with your camera, and maybe even improve your photos using some basic tools. This week I want to introduce you to a new piece of equipment – a 50mm Prime lens.
Aren’t new lenses expensive, you ask? The optics are complicated and some of the prices are impossibly steep.
Wait though! I have a lens to introduce to you that is inexpensive, lots of fun and which gives you a different perspective when photographing cats.
Meet the ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm lens
A quick rundown on some of the best features this cool piece of equipment gives you as a novice photographer:
- The lens has a fixed-focal-length, or unifocal lens which is small and lightweight
- It takes a good sharp picture
- Works well in lower light and,
- it gives a nice bokeh effect (the soft-focus behind your cat).
50 mm technical stuff
I will do my best to keep this section free of intimidating ‘photo speak’.
The short compact lens has a plastic body and a metal mount that fixes it easily to your camera. The (mostly) plastic construction makes the lens very light and you will find it much less obvious than your longer kit lens when you take photographs.
A prime lens is often of higher optical quality and has a wider maximum aperture (that’s a lower F-stop). These advantages come from a limited number of moving parts and optical elements (lenses). These are optimised for one particular focal length, not switching between different distances as your kit lens does.
How do you fix the new lens on to your camera?
Pick up your camera and look for the mark on the camera body and on your lens.
On a Canon 1300D (Rebel T6) the mark is a small red dot on the front of the camera body. There is a matching red dot on the lens and you can see this on the top lens in the picture below.
You carefully align the two dots then rotate the lens a quarter-turn clockwise until it clicks into place. Most camera brands will have similar marks to help you.
Wow, there is a tiny motor in the lens
This surprised me, especially as the lens is amongst the cheapest on the market.
The built-in STM (Stepping Motor Technology) lets you make fast and almost silent close up focus adjustments. Be prepared for the feel of vibration and buzzing adjustment as your new lens starts to focus for the first time. You will soon get used to the motor and stop noticing it.
- LENS TIP: Be careful when you change your lens. Do not allow dust to get into the camera body and affect your photographs.
This table gives you a quick idea, for beginners, of the difference between your kit lens and a 50mm lens.
18-55mm Kit Lens
The kit lens is the starter lens that comes with a basic DSLR.
Bulkier than the 50mm. Has manual and autofocus.
Ability to zoom quickly and unobtrusively on to a cat model. [Great for nervous kitties.]
The kit lens will be all you need to explore photography and gain confidence.
50 mm F1/8 STM
A great second step lens for cat photographers to explore.
Lightweight, small and unobtrusive.
A prime lens has a fixed focal length which means no zoom unless you use your feet.
High maximum aperture F 1/8 means great close-ups and sharp images for perfect cat portraits.
- NOTE: Do NOT confuse the 50 mm F-1.8 with the (much more expensive) F-1.2
My Experience With A 50mm Prime Lens
The weight of the camera
As I mentioned in the table above, a prime lens is lighter and you need to be prepared for this. As you practice with your original kit lens your body becomes used to the weight and the way you brace yourself and handle your equipment.
This changes with the stubby prime. Suddenly you don’t have so much weight to manoeuvre. This is really positive when you are working with cats and maybe getting them used to your DSLR. The hardware you are waving around is more compact and less intimidating.
The View Through the Lens
This is the most surprising thing from a new user’s point of view.
You will be used to seeing your subject from slightly farther away through the kit lens. The opposite happens with a 50mm prime. You seem to be almost on top of your subject and feel you need to move away. Everything seems to be so much closer and it fills your frame.
When I got my new lens, I decided that the only way to see if anything worked was to go out and use the lens. There is no substitute for trying a new lens like this out. Making mistakes allows you to judge how far away or close you need to be.
Another big bonus of using prime lenses is that they’re usually ‘faster’. This means they have a larger maximum aperture, which enables quicker shutter speeds.TechRadar
Things I Have Learned Using A 50mm lens
- F 1/8 really can be too close to your cat. You are focused on such a small area that anything beyond a nose tip may be artfully blurred, even if you don’t want it to be. Just because you can go up to F 1.8 doesn’t mean you have to!
- Lack of autofocus means I am taking time to actively compose shots more.
- Sometimes I just have to point the camera and hope but checking settings in a photo program afterwards will let me work out what I could try next time to improve.
- Judging how far away you need to be, this comes with practice. There is no magic formula or maths.
- I am getting used to triumphs and disasters as I experiment with F-stops. A change in F-number can mean I focus in so close that I lose everything except a whisker or two.
- F 5.6 is now my go-to starting point then I work up or down. I take several pictures from the same spot with different adjustment e.g. F-1.8 F-5.6, F-8.0 pushing to experiment and see what things start to break down.
- I got used to the STM focus motor really fast I hardly hear it now.
Don’t Make These Mistakes With Your 50mm lens
- Don’t get too close and focus with a very shallow depth of field (see my photo above. Only a small part of the cat is in focus. F 1.8 isn’t always your best option.
- Conversely, don’t stay far away from your cat model, they really will look as though they are 100 miles away.
- Don’t stick with one F-stop while you learn. You will never find out what does work.
- Don’t give up when things don’t seem to be working. It takes time to learn how a new lens works. Quality equipment needs the input of quality time from you.
Finally for your Prime Lens
Thankfully we live in the digital age and the delete button will allow you to focus on successful photographs not worry about your failed shots.
I now leave my prime lens on my Canon camera rather than my kit lens as I am having so much fun. Are you going to explore the nifty-fifty lens?
A detailed report on the Canon EF 50mm lens – Wikipedia
Kit Lens – A zoom lens, on the other hand, has a variable focal length. By turning the zoom ring, you move optical elements inside the lens to achieve a different angle of view. This means that you can make objects appear larger by turning the zoom ring in one direction or fit more objects into the frame by turning it in the opposite direction – Photopedia