Without a doubt, I am a 50mm freak. Give me just one lens for the rest of my life, and it would surely be a fast 50.
So let’s take look at several great 50mm lenses on the market today. Whether you need an f-stop of 1.2, 1.4, or 1.8, have a budget of $100 or $1,000, L or non-L or G or…you can find a good 50mm lens here. Canon, Nikon, Sigma, Zuiko, and more.
Best Budget 50mm
Canon 50mm 1.8 (and Nikon 50mm 1.8)
Many photographers are advised to start out with one of these, and indeed, the Canon 50mm 1.8 was my first lens. One popular blogger raved about it in a recent review. Paired with an APS-C sensor, it actually has field of view equivalent to an 80mm lens. But nonetheless it has remained a mainstay in my lens lineup over the years. Sure, it’s built cheaply, but when stopped down, it’s as sharp as any L zoom. And despite a drop to the pavement which left it in two halves, it was stitched back together and continues to be a solid performer. All this for under a hundred bucks – how can you go wrong?
Best New 50mm
This long awaited new kid on the block addresses many concerns held by owners of the previous 50mm – improving on center sharpness at low apertures, reduced vignetting, yielding higher quality bokeh (out of focus parts of the image), and silent focusing (though slightly slower AF than its predecessor) This lens can be seen not only as a step forward from the old model but also an answer to the new Sigma 50mm 1.4, which finally pushed the 50mm boundaries. In many respects, it bests the Nikon, but it’s also heavier and more expensive. We’re waiting on Canon to catch up. In the meantime, the folks at DPReview have claimed this lens to be “perhaps the best-balanced full-frame fast 50mm autofocus prime we’ve yet seen”.
Best Professional 50mm
If you want the best of the best, look no further than Canon’s f/1.2 beast of a prime. It may focus more slowly than the f/1.4 version with it’s sluggish front focusing mechanism, but it delivers the most creamy and smooth bokeh you’ve ever seen, along with incredible sharpness while stopped down. And for most photographers shooting wide open, those two things are exactly what they’re looking for. Not to mention it’s an L, so it’s built like a tank, gives excellent color and contrast, and controls flare well to boot. If you need proof in the pudding, look no further than these images.
Best “50mm” for APS-C
This lens is your only option if you want to shoot an 50mm equivalent with an aperture of 1.4 on your cropcamera. Neither Canon or Nikon have a f/1.4 version of this lens, yet. It’s heavier than other alternatives (even many 50mm 1.4’s) but it’s sharp, gives good color, and is built well. We came close to giving this award to the new Nikon 35 1.8, but since it’s only in the Nikon mount and only goes down to f/1.8, we chose the Sigma instead. Sony has also just released a new 35mm 1.8. Canon remains the odd man out in this field.
Best “50mm” for Mirrorless
Panasonic has shown commitment to the micro-4/3 line up with it’s 50mm equivalent – the Leica Summilux 25mm f/1.4. They already had a good standard lens in the 20mm 1.7, but this one goes even further and faster, making for the creamiest bokeh of the bunch. Sure, it’s only gives the bokeh results of an f/2.8 when you factor in the crop factor, but it’s still fast, and by reports is pretty sharp even wide open. If I were shooting micro 4/3, you can be sure I’d be rocking one fo these. A good in-depth review can be found here.
There are plenty of other good 50mm lenses on the market, including but not limited to:
For the APS-C crowd: