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Depth of field with a 50 mm lens.

Our photographers belong to, or take part in a few online forums dealing with photography. One common question from people that are just starting in the industry is; "What lens should I buy?" Many years back there were only prime lenses and you would need to swop a lens for the right moment. For those who don't know. A Prime Lens is one that has a fixed focal length and also normally has an aperture of between f1.2 and f2.8. I always say that 'magic happens' when you shoot from f 3.2 and wider.

A 50 mm lens is a must for every photographer. My favourite lens is the Nikon 24 to 70mm f2.8. What is so special about a 50mm lens?
50mm lens used for portrait photography

Apart from being a versatile focal length that's perfect for covering a range of subjects, it's also fast with wide apertures that allow you to shoot handheld in low light with a very shallow depth of field. Over the last few years the trend is to know how to shoot only with natural light. A wide F-stop is crucial for natural and low light pictures. If you shoot with a very shallow depth of field it forces you to think more about your subject and composition. The abundance of blur isolates the subject with a de-focused area like a vignette and this area, while blurry, accounts for the overall aesthetic look. This is called bokeh.

The lower your aperture is, the lower you can set your ISO to get better sharper pictures. With the 50mm at f1.4 you can easily shoot hand held at low light situations. A tripod could help, but I'm not a fan of a tripod. It can limit your movements. If you shoot with a shutter speed not lower than 1/100s then you will be safe in most situations. Working at f1.4 even the smallest movement can dramatically affect focus. Don't shoot a wedding and shoot everything at f1.4. You will not have a happy customer. Planning and experience will help you decide what F-stop will works best for your shooting style and also the situation you are in. Don't just start shooting. Observe your area and see where the best light is available and if you can't move your subject, make a plan to bring the light source to the subject. Indoor you can first start by open the curtains during the day.

Some photographers don't really understand words like depth of field and bokeh. Depth of field is the part of a scene that remains in acceptable focus when you take a photograph. The area outside of acceptable focus drops quickly away into absolute blur. That area is called bokeh. The quality of your lens will determine the quality of the bokeh. And really you get lenses that don't have a pleasant bokeh.

Depth of field is controlled 95% by aperture. Now you will ask me why 95%? It's just more or less a total because the distance between the camera and the 'in focus' subject also plays a role in your depth of field. The closer you get to the subject the less depth of field you will create.

The 50mm is a very cost effective lens created by Nikon, Canon etc. It is the right focal length not to create any optical problems like distortion? I put the "?" here because if you look at the 2 Nikon 50mm f1.8 lenses then you will notice that the G version has more distortion and that is the newer version. This can be automatically correct in Post processing. The end result of the Nikon 50 f 1.8G lens is better than the 1.8D.

Before you buy your 50mm lens you must first do your homework on it. There are a few 3rd party lens manufactures and sometimes their lenses are less expensive. If you only do photography as a hobby then you don't have to spend the extra R2000 on an original lens. However if you are a photographer making a living from your photography you don't look at prices. Only at the end will the results be apparent to your client. Quality sells and I believe in quality, not quantity.

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