A humble review of the Canon 50mm, the perfect portrait photography lens.

I was asked recently why I brag so much about the Canon 50mm f/1.8 prime lens and there is no simple one line answer. Please allow a few moments so I can list the great benefits many photographers experience while using this cheap, I mean, inexpensive lens.

First, to mix it up a bit, let’s start with the cons. It feels like it’s cheaply made and it really is. It’s very light in weight (which could be a con) and every square inch, right down to the camera mount, is made of plastic. I’ve read reports of these lenses falling apart although I have not experienced this and I’m quite rough on my photography equipment.

Now that we have the cons out of the way, let’s highlight a few reasons why this makes a perfect portrait lens.

  1. Price – I had to start with cost since that is the question I am asked most often. We purchased this portrait lens from Schiller’s in St. Louis for around $90. I’ve seen it online as cheap as $65 but I prefer to support local St. Louis businesses whenever possible.To give you an accurate perspective, I have another portrait lens, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens that I purchased for around $1300. So price point is a major factor
  2. Low light for photography indoors – At aperture 1.8 it’s tough to match the shutter speed of this great lens. If you’re not familiar with aperture, here is a great wikipedia entry to get you started. In short aperture “is a hole or an opening through which light is admitted”. At 1.8 the opening is very large and let’s a great deal of light into the lens. This makes it possible to shoot in a room without the need for a flash. That comes in handy when you’re photographing a wedding ceremony and don’t want to fire off your flash. It has also proved to be very useful in our Animal and Pet Photography sessions where the dogs are not concerned with standing still for a sharp photo. This fast lens stops motion like no other and has produced many great animal photos for us.
  3. Great Bokeh – Time to throw another term at you. Wikipedia describes has this to say about bokeh: “. . . the out-of-focus areas in an image produced by a camera lens. The aesthetic qualities of the bokehs produced by various lenses are open to dispute, but it is generally conceded that an out-of-focus background image can at the very least reduce distractions and emphasize the primary subject.” View the full definition here.This goes hand in hand with the 1.8 aperture because photographing at aperture 1.8 gives you a great out of focus background.
  4. Super Sharp Portrait Lens – This may be one of the most important features of this inexpensive portrait lens. Sarah has photographed many events with this lens and often people are not posing for the photo but they are talking amongst themselves. Because they are moving it would be hard to capture great detail using any other lens. But again because of the fast lens it produces a very sharp image. I’ve read reports that say the sharpness compares to the 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens I mentioned above, wow!
  5. Fixed Zoom – You’ll often hear this lens referred to as a “prime lens” which simply means that the focal length is fixed. There is no zooming in and out. At 50mm this lens has the perfect range for portrait photography. It allows you to sit back without getting right in the subjects face which often makes people feel uncomfortable.

In closing, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens makes the perfect portrait photography lens for any shooter from novice to pro. It has a strong contrast, good color rendition and produces a very sharp image even when shooting wide open. We have photographed many events and weddings in low light situations and this lens has saved the day every time. It’s a great all around lens to have in your bag and I will highly recommend it to anyone, as I just did!

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