The Joy of a 50 mm Lens

August 3, 2011

Frankie the cat sleeping

Copyright 2011 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

Please allow a moment for a reflection on camera equipment.

I am an avid gear junkie trying hard to wean myself from this affliction.  For years I carried two camera bodies, an assortment of lenses, flash equipment, and a tripod.  The lenses varied, but usually consisted of a wide-angle zoom, a mid-range zoom, and a telephoto zoom.  Most often these were of professional grade, so they were quite large and heavy (not to mention expensive.)  Quite tiring for a day of shooting.

Television and trash in building alcove

Copyright 2011 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

It is also important to note that this was overkill for most of what I was doing at the time-natural history photography with 35mm SLRs.  As I was using smaller apertures (f/11-f/16) in order to maximize depth-of-field, using fast-aperture (f/2.8) zooms was ridiculous.  These lenses excel when there is a need for those apertures and the flexibility of multiple focal lengths in one lens-as in photojournalism.  The build quality is certainly unparalleled.  However, as I began to change my subject matter (inner city debris) and style of work (shallower depth-of-field to isolate said subject matter and sans tripod), these lenses became more of a liability due to their weight and size.

Oh, I also began to fly more and airline travel is decidedly not photographer-friendly when lugging large amounts of gear.

As a result, I no longer have any of those lenses.

Empty water bottle left in a downed tree

Copyright 2011 Kevin P. Mick Photography. All rights reserved.

And that brings me to the humble 50 mm lens.  When I first started taking (not making) pictures all those years ago, a 50 mm lens was what came with the camera body.  Usually these were the f/1.8 variety and so were small, light, and quite sharp.  More importantly, that f/1.8 aperture allowed for a great deal of control over depth-of-field.  That is precisely what is compromised with the 18-whatever f/3.5-4.5 zooms of today, which are yes, convenient.  However, it is harder to achieve that portrait-like separation of subject and background with the smaller apertures that accompany these lenses.

And so for the past year or so, I have been mainly carrying a small 20 mm f/3.5 prime lens and a 50 mm f/1.8 prime lens (which is the one used for the photographs included in this post) on most of my forays.  I still carry two bodies and using those lenses on my full-frame digital body gives me those focal lengths from which to choose.  On my sub-frame body, the lenses provide effectively 30 mm and 75 mm focal lengths.  This package is quite functional and much lighter in weight.  When I want to really pare down, I use the sub-frame body and the two lenses.  If I need more reach, I add an 85 mm to the mix.

I have not found this minimization of equipment to be a major hurdle for what I am currently photographing.  And it certainly is a lot easier to move around.

Take care.

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