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Breaking the MMA Lens: Reasons 50mm is prime

Which lens is the best? Who knows?

We all have our favorites. I love the 50mm prime. What is a prime? Well, it’s not a zoom. With a zoom, you can move closer or further away (in or out) from the subject while standing in one spot. You simply twist the zoom control on the lens and it magnifies the subject or pushes it away for you.

With a prime lens, you can’t do that. It doesn’t go in and out. So, for example, a 50mm prime is just that – 50mm. No zooming. Your zoom is your feet.

Some reasons I love the 50mm prime:

  • It’s small and light. Lenses don’t get much lighter. So it’s easy to carry, hold and maneuver. It fits almost anywhere. So you don’t complain about the heavy gear you’re carrying around.
  • It makes you think about your shots. No zoom to lean on. YOU have to get the shot yourself. Trust me, if you force yourself to use just a 50mm (or even a 35mm) for a while, you will become a better photographer. You will see things differently. You have to move and frame the shot yourself. You can’t be lazy and just zoom for it.
  • It is fairly close to what our eyes see. Not too big, not too small. Now, on a crop sensor lens, which is what most people have, it is a bit bigger than what we see. It is still fairly close though.
  • It just looks right. Not too wide – there’s no distortion. Not too close – with a long lens the background starts to compress and the photo can look flat.
  • It’s fast. In other words most 50mm will open very wide (f1.4 or 1.8). It lets lots of light in so you can have lower ISO, faster shutters speeds and a clearer photo.
  • The word bokeh essentially means blurriness in the background. The lower the f stop number, the more bokeh (blurriness) you get. A prime will usually open wider than a zoom, therefore more bokeh. With a 50mm the bokeh is very nice. It’s there, but not too much. Your subject stands out more and the background is creamier, but still identifiable.

In future columns, we’ll talk about reasons to use other lenses and differences in telephoto and wide angle lenses.


Joe LoBianco
Joe LoBianco
Joe LoBianco writes the photography column Breaking the MMA Lens for MMA Crossfire. New columns on the 1st and 15th of each month.

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