In praise of fixed focal length lenses

From the headline you can tell this post is going to be a bit geeky. And if you’re not interested in photography, it could be boring as well. Be warned.

A few weeks ago I purchased my first ever fixed focal length lens. It was a AF Nikkor 50mm 1.8D which is a lens Nikon have been making for the best part of 10 years in one guise or another.

It cost me the princely sum of $85 as it was second hand but in “near new” condition. The previous owner had his Nikon camera stolen a week after buying the lens. He didn’t replace the camera so the lens had been used only once. (No seriously, I believe what people write about stuff on Trade Me.)

Up until now I’ve always been a zoom lens guy. I love the flexibility of a good zoom lens and the ability to frame things as I like without having to rush towards or away from the subject. In fact I didn’t really see the need for a fixed length lens at all.

Recently I was watching the excellent video blog The Art of Photography and the host was extolling the sharpness of prime lenses and the discipline required to use them. The need to move around to frame the subject – sometimes to get in close and sometimes to back off.

And now after a few weeks with the 50mm lense I’m sold. The sharpness of this cheap little lens is amazing. The ability to accurately control depth of field is amazing and the 1.8 f-stop means photos can be taken in low light without any risk of the dreaded camera shake or resorting to flash.

If you don’t have a prime 50mm or 35mm lens in your camera bag, trust me, get one.