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Posts Tagged ‘lens’

Jakey’s Gloves and Jacket

I recently recommended an inexpensive but excellent lens to Becky over at Moontree Arts:  the Canon 50mm f/1.4.  Becky’s just getting into the art of photography and it’s a superb starter lens.  But after talking with her, I realized I haven’t used my own 50mm lens since I bought the Canon 85mm f/1.2L (mmm, mmm good) in July 2006! So I put the 50mm back to work to rediscover its charms.

If you’ve sold your soul (and waistline) to zooms and wide angles over the years, or if you’re on a budget, a 50mm lens is worth thinking about. If you need a nudge, consider that Henri Cartier-Bresson used only his 50mm lens for everything from portraits to landscapes.  I think I understand why: the 50mm offers a highly personal view of what’s being photographed.

The great color photographer Ernst Haas said, “The best zoom lens is your legs.”  Why?  Because a fixed focal length lens like the 50mm gets you immediately involved:  you must be entirely conscious of your place and your angle because you can only zoom with your legs.  You must think about your composition with your mind and your body.  The result has a delicious and natural subjectivity, further enhanced at 50mm because that’s the focal length most similar to what we observe with our own eyes.  

A 50mm shot is a personal, physical view — the very voice of a photographer.  That seems like reason enough to use a 50mm lens, but its natural look gives the observer a direct experience as well, as if he or she was there when the image was taken.

Most 50mm lenses are pretty fast (f/1.4 – f/1.8) and relatively cheap.  The ability to shoot in low light with a gorgeous, addictive bokeh and a price tag under $300 make most 50mm lenses a great value for the money.

I should mention that if you’re shooting with a typical DSLR (the Canon Digital Rebel XT, for example) you’ll need a 35mm lens to get the effect of a 50mm lens because of the digital sensor’s 1.5x crop.  Using a 50mm on the Rebel will get you a 75mm view, which is the ideal focal length for portraits.

By the way, here’s a landscape and a dog portrait I shot with the 50mm on my Canon 5D last Sunday.  And the shot of Jakey’s gloves that accompanies this article was shot yesterday with the 50mm on the 5D.

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