Here at Dash Kitten, my aim is to encourage you as beginners and novice photographers to take photographs that you will be happy to print off as canvases, share online, and in social media posts. This week I am looking at an extra piece of equipment that might be your first purchase, a new lens.
How is the 50 mm lens different from your kit* lens? What kind of a difference will it make to your cat photos? Let me show you.
Meet the ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm lens
Meet a lens that will not break the bank, but which can transform your beginner’s photography. Here’s a quick rundown on some of the best features this cool lens gives you as a novice photographer:
- The lens has a fixed-focal-length, or unifocal lens which is small and lightweight (this means no moving parts).
- It takes a really sharp picture
- The lens 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 ensure this section is free of intimidating ‘photo speak’ and keep it real for the new photographer. If anything does confuse you, drop me an email.
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 a longer kit lens when you take photographs. It looks quite stubby but don’t let the smallness fool you into thinking it isn’t up to much.
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 work best at 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. This might be a red dot or a white square. 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 above.
You 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 too, especially as the lens is amongst the least expensive 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 as this will 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
Sharing My Experience With A 50mm Prime Lens
The weight of the camera
As I mention in the table above, a prime lens is light. Your camera will feel different. As you practice with your original kit lens your body becomes used to the weight and the way you handle your equipment.
Suddenly, with the smaller 50 mm lens 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 cats ignore it more quickly!
Your View Through a 50 mm Lens
This is the most surprising thing from a new user’s point of view.
When I got my new lens, I decided that the only way to see if anything worked was to go out and use it. There is no substitute for trying new equipment like this, and I encourage you to do the same. Making mistakes allows you to judge comfortable distance and the right settings that work for you.
You are used to seeing your subject from slightly farther away through your camera’s kit lens so you might be surprised that 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 looks much closer.
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. Learn the best setting for you by experimenting.
- 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 do next time to improve.
- Judging how far away you need to be 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. Focus with a shallow depth of field when taking cat photos. (That’s from F1.8 to F 5.6). You can see that only a small part of the cat photo above is in focus! So experiment and take photos at several different F-stops if you can.
- Conversely, don’t stay far away from your cat model, they 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 work’s so explore.
- Don’t give up when things don’t seem to be working. It takes time to make friends with a new lens. Quality equipment needs the input of quality time from you.
A First Project for Your Own 50mm Lens
Try out your 50mm with this fun and interesting project.
Try to shoot a black and white still life of a sleeping cat or a cat statuette. You can either use your camera’s ‘monochrome’ setting or use a black and white filter later. This project is something you can repeat, especially on a bright day that makes your shadows deeper and more interesting throughout the day.
- Make sure you have a strong light source so you capture more extreme contrasts of light and shade.
- Keep your backgroond simple so it doesn’t distract people from your chosen model.
- On a DSLR try a setting of f/11 an ISO of 400 and a shutter speed of about 1/125
- the experiment adjusting settings after taking a shot or two.
- Check here for extra black and white photo tips.
Finally for your 50 mm 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. Would you explore a 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
- One thing that’s worth being aware of is that a 50mm lens does not always produce the field of view of a 50mm lens, depending on the sensor size of the camera you’re using. Digital Photography
Marjorie is a motorbike riding blogger and award winning cat photographer who believes that everyone can shoot and edit wonderful pictures they love regardless of the camera they use.
She is a Professional member of the Cat Writers Association, Kuykendall Image Award winner and published photographer at the Guardian newspaper.