What Is a Nifty Fifty Lens and Why You Absolutely Need One

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If you’ve been involved in a photography community, you may have heard the term ‘nifty fifty lens’ thrown around. Nifty fifties are some of the most popular lenses out there, and for a good reason: They’re incredible lenses, and are a perfect option for photographers looking to move past a kit lens.

What Is a Nifty Fifty Lens and Why You Absolutely Need One

But what exactly is a nifty fifty lens? Why is it called a ‘nifty fifty’? And what, specifically, makes a nifty fifty such a good choice?

That’s what this article is all about.

So if you’re looking to find out more about nifty fifty lenses, read on.

What is a Nifty Fifty Lens?

First things first:

What does ‘nifty fifty’ refer to?

Well, nifty fifty lens is a prime lens with a focal length of 50mm and a wide aperture.

There are all sorts of nifty fifty lenses out there: the Canon 50mm f/1.8, the Canon 50mm f/1.2, and the Nikon 50mm f/1.8, to name a few.

Note that nifty fifties are prime lenses, which means they only offer a single focal length (50mm); there is no ability to zoom in or out for a larger or smaller field of view.

Why Is it Called a Nifty Fifty?

The term nifty fifty started as a term on the stock exchange to describe the 50 hot stocks. Someone though, in around the 60s or 70s, started using it to describe a 50mm lens and it stuck.

As you may have guessed, the ‘fifty’ comes from the focal length: 50mm.

But the ‘nifty’ comes from the lens’s usefulness; 50mm lenses are handy to have around in pretty much any situation. They’re great for shooting in low light, for portraits, for street photography, for landscape photography, and more.

In fact, it’s tough to go wrong with a nifty fifty lens. That’s why I recommend you get a nifty fifty as soon as you’re ready to expand beyond your kit lens. You can use a nifty fifty constantly and you’ll rarely be disappointed.

Young woman shot in California, Big Sur with Nifty Fifty lens
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 lens on Sony APS-C camera

Reasons to Use a Nifty Fifty Lens

What’s so wonderful about a nifty fifty lens?

Quite a few things, in fact! Starting with:

1. Nifty Fifties are a Perfect Focal Length

Nifty fifties are 50mm in length.

And this is perfect for most photography – because the 50mm perspective is just like human sight.

In other words, when you look through a nifty fifty lens, the scene will look completely normal, same as if you looked with the naked eye. There will no telephoto magnification and no wide-angle effect. You’ll see what you usually see.

This can be a relief for beginner photographers who find telephoto and wide-angle lenses a bit disorienting.

Plus, means that you can do lots of photography with the nifty fifty without really having to worry about focal length.

Which brings me to another great thing about nifty fifties:

2. Nifty Fifties are Extremely Versatile

With a nifty fifty, you can shoot pretty much anything.

You can do street photography, portrait photography, landscape photography, even a bit of close-up photography. Nifty fifty lenses can handle it all.

Urban landscape shot in Montreal (Lachine) with nifty fifty lens
Urban landscape shot with nifty fifty lens

The 50mm focal length is great for capturing honest shots of scenes. It portrays scenes as you, the photographer, see them. And that allows you to capture what you initially envisioned.

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I love using 50mm lenses for portrait photography. I sometimes use my nifty fifty for close-up shooting. And I also use a 50mm lens for street photography all the time.

Why?

It’s all in the next section:

3. Nifty Fifties Are Light and Compact

Nifty fifties tend to be amazingly lightweight and small. They add very little bulk to your camera setup.

That’s why nifty fifties are great walkaround lenses. You attach one to your camera, put the camera around your neck, and carry it all day–without even noticing it’s there.

You can also store them pretty easily in a camera bag or backpack.

Note that the unobtrusiveness of nifty fifty lenses make them ideal for street photography. If you’re photographing in public, you don’t want to draw attention to yourself, and a nifty fifty will make sure that people pay less attention to you.

4. Nifty Fifties Have a Fast Aperture

Here’s another great thing about nifty fifty lenses:

They have a wide maximum aperture, ranging from f/1.8 down to f/1.2 and beyond. This comes with a couple of advantages:

First, the wider the aperture, the more light the lens will let in, thus allowing you to increase your shutter speed and get better exposure. This is key in dark conditions when every bit of light counts.

Second, wider apertures produce a shallow depth of field, which refers to the amount of the photo that’s in focus. A shallow depth of field gives a very artistic look–one that’s sought after by many photographers (especially portrait photographers). So you can use the wide aperture on a nifty fifty to get beautiful, artistic photos!

Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 on Fujifilm APS-C camera

5. Nifty Fifties are Inexpensive

One last great thing about 50mm lenses:

They’re cheap.

In fact, 50mm lenses tend to be some of the cheapest kit available. You can grab nifty fifties for around $100 USD. Less, if you’re willing to buy used.

So not only are they incredible performers, but they’ll also stop you from breaking the bank.

Nifty Fifty Lenses are Inexpensive
Abstract landscape shot with nifty fifty lens

Which Nifty Fifty Should You Choose?

There are a number of fantastic nifty fifties out there, and it’s hard to go wrong.

However, I do recommend that beginners stick with f/1.8 nifty fifties, assuming you’re looking to stay on a budget. Lenses that feature 50mm f/1.8 are less expensive than their f/1.4 or f/1.2 counterparts, but they’ll still deliver some great quality.

In fact, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is the most popular lens ever created. It really is phenomenal: about $100 USD, super lightweight, super compact, and produces beautiful images.

I thoroughly recommend it for any Canon shooters looking for a nifty fifty option.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
Filter Size: 49mm, Mount: EF, Weight: 5.6 oz /160 g, Dimensions: 2.72 x 1.54″ / 69.2 x 39.2 mm
Nikon FX NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G Lens
Filter Size: 58mm, Mount: Nikon F, Weight: 6.5 oz /180 g, Dimensions: 2.8 x 2.1″ / 72 x 52 mm
Sony FE 50mm F1.8
Filter Size: 49mm, Mount: Sony E, Weight: 6.5 oz /185 g, Dimensions: 2.7 x 2.3″ / 69 x 59 mm

Nifty Fifty and APS-C (Crop Sensor) Cameras

It’s important to note:

Nifty fifties give viewers a 50mm view on a full-frame camera.

But if you’re using an APS-C camera – that is, a camera with a smaller sensor – the image will be cropped, effectively magnifying the lens. You’ll end up with a focal length of around 75-80mm.

While this is still a great focal length for portraits, you can replicate the 50mm focal length of a nifty fifty with a 35mm lens. The 35mm lens will be magnified to 50mm, and you’ll have your standard focal length.

Fujifilm XT2 camera with Fujinon 35mm f/1.4 (nifty fifty)
My Fujifilm XT2 APS-C camera with Nifty Fifty lens (Fujinon 35mm f/1.4)
Nikon DX NIKKOR 35mm f/1.8G Lens
Filter Size: 52mm, Mount: Nikon F, Weight: 7oz /200g, Dimensions: 2.75 x 2.1″ / 70 x 52 mm
Sigma 30mm F1.4 Lens for Sony
Filter Size: 52mm, Mount: Sony E, Weight: 9.3oz /260g, Dimensions: 2.6 x 2.9″ / 65 x 73 mm
Sigma 30mm F1.4 Lens for Canon
Filter Size: 62mm, Mount: Canon EF, Weight: 15oz /430g, Dimensions: 3 x 2.5″ / 74 x 63 mm
Fujifilm 35mm F2
Filter Size: 43mm, Mount: Fujifilm X, Weight: 6oz /170g, Dimensions: 2.4 x 1.8″ / 60 x 46 mm

Conclusion

You should now know all about nifty fifty lenses: Why they’re called nifty fifties, why you should buy them, and more.

The next step?

Get a nifty fifty of your own.

And start taking some incredible shots!

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Jaymes Dempsey

Jaymes Dempsey is a photographer from Ann Arbor, Michigan. He’s obsessed with nature, and loves teaching people new photography tips and tricks. To see more of Jaymes’s work, check out his portfolio website (https://www.jaymesdempsey.com/) or his photography tutorial blog (https://www.jaymesdempsey.com/blog/).
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