A question posed to me recently, was what I considered to be an essential piece of camera gear. It is quite an interesting and subjective question. Over time I have ended up accumulating a fair bit of camera equipment including, but not restricted to, my Sony Alpha 7ii, 5 different lenses I use regularly plus 2 that turned out to be a bust and are used infrequently, a variety of filters, bags, a couple of different carry straps, cleaning products, tri/monopods and heads, lights/flashes…… You get the gist. So how to choose just one?
To be honest, for me the answer came without having to give it any long thought. Beyond my obvious needs of the camera body, battery and memory card, my favourite piece of camera gear is my 50mm prime lens. When I was told a few years ago to get a 50mm prime, my inexperienced brain wondered how it would benefit me any more than a decent mid-range zoom. I turned out to be very, very wrong. When the time came, I decided to sell my trusty Canon EOS 600d and upgrade to a mirrorless camera, and at the same time I decided to ask about a 50mm lens. As I already had an adapter to take Canon lenses, from my DSLR, on my Sony until I could upgrade to full frame lenses – a process I am still in the middle of – it was suggested I try a second hand Canon f/1.4 50mm. It’s a lightweight, short little lens, and even with the added length from my MC11 adapter, makes for a nice small camera to take out and about.
I knew different focal lengths corresponded to how wide and short, or long and narrow, your focal range would be. I didn’t know at the time, that whilst the optical range of the human eye is about 22mm, with an angle of view of 120 degrees. However, as human eyes usually come in pairs, the angle of overlap means the outer range is not clear, so as a result the eyes tend to not focus on it. The eyes see clearly at 40-60mm so, whilst there is more complex science at work to do with the shape of the eye versus a camera lens, and the correspondingly different shaped fields of view, what you see with your eyes is roughly mimicked by your 50mm prime lens. This gives a unique perspective to your photography. What you see when you look at a scene, is more or less what you capture.
This piece of information was a revelation to me and really impacted on how I used the lens to capture a scene. It made me take a step back and consider my angles, composition, and field of view, and apply it to using my camera more creatively. Some of my favourite shots have come from my stubby little Canon. It isn’t a perfect lens for all occasions by any means. Its not quite wide enough for sweeping vistas and not quite long enough for nature photography. But in fairness I could take it out on an all-day trip with no other lenses and know I would come home with some lovely photos. It’s unobtrusive enough for street and urban work, and some countryside views, nearby flora and fauna can be captured easily enough and I’ve even caught a nice shot of an obliging damselfly with it before now. I can happily use it for portraits and have done. The main draw of this lens is it’s pin sharpness. At extremely wide apertures below 2 it can get a bit fluffy, but beyond that it is incredible which makes it suitable for short telephoto work that I can subsequently crop without losing too much detail.
So, there you have it. You have been out and purchased your first camera, with a kit lens, bag, battery, and filter. You have probably even laid out for a spare battery, decent memory card and cleaning kit. But if you are looking to improve your photography, be more creative and thoughtful with your composition, and take sharp crisp images all day long, then the trusty 50mm lens is my recommendation for your next purchase. Even if you already know what genre you want to go into and what specialist equipment is in your Amazon shopping basket, you should have this little smasher in your arsenal.
But then again that’s only me. Why don’t you drop me a comment with your piece of essential kit.