Have the 17-55mm - is the 50mm 1.8 worth getting too?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by damian_rees, Dec 26, 2010.

  1. I have the 17-55mm 2.8 and I love it. Before getting it I had read so many positives about the 50mm 1.8 that I was determined to get it afterwards. But I'm wondering if it really will offer me much more than I already have with the 17-55. Obviously there is a weight and potability difference, but aside from that will it offer me anything significantly different from my current lens?
  2. "will it offer me anything significantly different from my current lens" ... the 50/1.8 will give you a 1 1/3 stop wider aperture. Both lenses are good and in practical terms, any difference in image quality is negligible.
  3. Depends on what and how you shoot, Damian. Weight, portability and 1 stop can make all the difference. If someone's depending on me, I carry all my lenses: 17-55; 28, 50 & 85 1.8s; and long zooms, for multiple backup. When I'm club hopping, I take the primes for weight and low light capability. For walkabout, the 17-55 usually does me, with the 85 tucked in a pocket. There have been times when having each lens has come in handy, and times when I missed having one lens or the other. It's pretty much up to you.
  4. With the aperture set to f1.8 you have the opportunity to render portraits with shallower depth of field and smoother out-of-focus areas. A 50/1.4 lens takes this ability even further.
    For general photography at typical apertures of f5.6 to f11 you will see little difference between the lenses that you mention.
    For about $100 USD the 50/1.8 makes a nice little portrait lens.
  5. Obviously there is a weight and potability difference, but aside from that will it offer me anything significantly different from my current lens?​
    But you're really hamstringing responses with the above: compactness is a big factor with 50mm primes. Also, you're asking for debate over purchase of a sub $100 lens. Common, at least allow comment on any of the 50mm's ;)
  6. This doesn't answer your question directly. I was just noticing last night, as I went through the past year's shots in LR3, that every shot that was compellingly crisp and sharp enough to make me look at the EXIF was shot with the 50/1.4. You know, the "Wow. This is incredibly sharp. What lens was that?" I also have the 17-55/2.8, which is mounted most often as my walk around lens, and replaced the 50/1.8 with the 50/1.4 less than a year ago. Both are exceptional also, but neither have that same wow-factor quite so often. (I also shoot the TS-E 24, 100/2.8, 70-200/2.8 IS II. I know sharp when I see sharp.) Maybe skip the 50/1.8 since it doesn't wound like you need it immediately, and get the 50/1.4 when you can afford it. I used to recommend the 50/1.8 as the obvious, no-brainer, under $100 must-have.
  7. If you are considering getting this lens because... so many people tell you to get this lens... the answer is most likely that you do not need it. When it comes to your current EFS 17-55mm lens, what problems are you having with your photography or what about it is unsatisfying for you? If you have a concrete answer to those questions and a 50mm f/1.8 prime provides what you aren't getting from the current lens, consider it. Otherwise, no. (There is little that the prime can do that your excellent EFS 17-55mm f/2.8 IS cannot do just as well. And the zoom can do a number of things better than this prime.)
    What does this lens have going for it? It is cheap. It is a pretty decent performer, considering its low price. (But you could say that for your current lens, too.) It has a larger maximum aperture than your current lens at 50mm.
    Given that the positives of the lens are so modest for most people, why do we see the purchase recommendation so often?
    • Some people hang on to the notion that you should start with a prime lens. For all kinds of reasons that I won't go into here - though I will touch on some of them below - this advice is not very useful today, and it is actually a perversion of advice that sort of made sense several decades ago.
    • Back in those days, it was common advice to start with a 50mm prime lens and to shoot with that for a while before adding other lenses. But you already have another lens that covers this focal length, and it does so with quite decent quality.
    • Even if we accept the dated "start with a 50mm prime" advice, the equivalent lens for your camera, in angle-of-view terms, would have a focal length of about 30mm, not 50mm. (The 50mm focal length provides a short telephoto "portrait" lens on your camera.)
    • The lure of Buying Cool Stuff (aka, "lens lust") afflicts many owners of photographic equipment, and the 50mm prime can provide a cheap and quick fix.
    There is nothing wrong with this little lens. It really is fine for the very low cost. And someday you might develop an approach to photography that would make this lens worth having. But right now you are almost certainly fine with the lens you have. Focus on using it to make photographs. After you make a few thousand you may begin to see your interests and needs evolving in some specific direction(s) that suggest the purchase of additional lenses - or not.
    But for now... you almost certainly don't need this lens.
    Take care,
  8. You don't need it, as many say, but it does give you one thing - a low light lens. Otherwise, it is sharper than the kit zoom, especially stopped down, but not so it makes an enormous difference. The out-of-focus performance is better than the kit lens, but the nifty-fifty's bokeh is a little spikey compared to the f/1.4, for example.
  9. "is the 50mm 1.8 worth getting too?"
    Heck yes ! if you are a wedding or event photographer and you need a good low-light lens for -100 bucks you can't go wrong. Although if you have any extra money you should take a look at the 50mm f1.4.
  10. When I bought the 50/1.8, I was primarily shooting a 40D with the 17-55/2.8 as my walk-around. You definitely don't need it, but I found that it offered several options:
    1) it's light 2) the bokeh is a bit better than on the 17-55 3) shooting with primes forces you to frame your images differently because your legs are the zoom. I have found that I think about my shots more than I did when i just shot zooms. This is the cheapest prime you can buy, so you can figure out if this is a style/method that appeals to you with a relatively small investment.
    Whether any of these matter to you, it's also not without its faults... It's a bit long on a crop-sensor camera, so while good for portraits, I didn't find it a great focal length for a lot of candid, street shooting etc. You get what you pay for... It's about $100 (you can get it for even less as a refurb), but drop it once and it's probably shot... It is slow focusing.
    I rarely use my nifty fifty anymore. I shoot with a 7D and when I want a prime, I use a 35 due to the crop sensor. Some would argue a 24 is even better. Actually, when I want to use a 50 mm (and not my trusty 17-55), I find I turn to my Lensbaby... For a little bit more money, it will open up a world of creative opportunities at the 50 mm focal length.
    Good luck, whatever you decide!
  11. Weight and portability are a pretty big deal (at least for me). It is one of my main reasons why I use primes. But if you don't want a 50mm lens, you could also go for the EF 100mm f/2 or Sigma 30mm f/1.4 instead.
  12. About the only thing going in the 50/1.8's favor is its price. As well, the biggest detractors of that lens are its price. If you shoot a lot at 50mm and want that extra stop, there are other 50s out there that might perform more to your liking (including Canon's 1.4 and 1.2, Sigma's 1.4, Zeiss's 1.4, and Voigtlander's 58/1.4). If you needed to experiment to see if you'd like the 50mm focal length, sure, buy the 1.8… but you've already got a perfectly serviceable zoom for that. If you want a 50, save your clams and buy a good one.
    BTW, Sigma's primes at least, aren't particularly small or lightweight. But they are nice.
  13. Some people hang on to the notion that you should start with a prime lens. For all kinds of reasons that I won't go into here - though I will touch on some of them below - this advice is not very useful today​
    Please explain why this is not useful today. Nothing has really changes with the basics of photography over the last fifty years, and just because this is an old adage, doesn't make it irrelevant today. Whether you use a 50mm or a 35mm, the principle remains the same.
    Damian, the 1.8/50mm is more than twice as fast as the zoom lens you have. But more importantly, the lens is small, discreet, and light. This is the whole point of small format photography. Not only will it encourage you to take your camera with you more often, if you are shooting people, this unimposing lens could be the easiest way to improve the content of your images. I'm not familiar with the zoom lens you have, but you should also see an improvement in IQ at f2.8 or f4.
  14. My day kit has a 10-22/EF-s; the 24-105/4; the 50/1.8 and 85/1.8.
    The primes shoot in light where the zooms fear to tread. Or if I want really artsy shallow DOF results. Most of my shooting is with the zooms -> but I rarely travel without these particular primes.
  15. I have not used my 50mm f/1.8 lens since I acquired the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS. The 50mm f/1.8 is touted as having a 1 and 1/3 stop advantage over the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS but, in actuality the Nifty-Fifty (as well as the Mark-I which preceded it) doesn't have all that great IQ when shot wide open. It starts having very good IQ about f/2.5 or so. That is less than a third of a stop (if you want very good IQ). The Nifty Fifty also has some pretty poor auto-focus capability when shooting in low light levels.
    The IS capability of the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS lens allows shooting in quite low light. Many will tell you that IS doesn't stop action but, unless I have excellent IQ, I don't care if I stop action. I can also work around slower shutter speeds in many cases by shooting at peak action and shooting subjects advancing towards the camera which can be stopped with a slower shutter speed than subjects moving across the frame. Additionally shooting at an f/1.8 aperture often provides DOF too narrow to be of use.
    In fact, I will probably offer my 50mm f/1.8 Mark-I on the used market next month when I attend a used camera gear sale in Orange County, CA...
    Finally, I firmly believe that in many cases the creative use of flash will do a better job than trying to shoot by available light...
  16. I have two APS-C bodies and one 35mm-sensor. I also have the EF-S 17-85mm IS, but I still use the 50mm F/1.8 all the time.
    Eventually I'll get a 50mm f/1.4 when I find one for the right price, but only because I like the one I have in FD-mount so well. When I want really low-light shooting, my Nikkor-S 55mm f/1.2 is my beau ideal on both EOS digital and FD film cameras, even though it's totally manual (you don't have to worry about automatic diaphragm when you're shooting wide open [focus is also fairly easy with so shallow a DOF]).
    The EF 35mm f/2 is not so great a bargain as the 50mm f/1.8, but it is a very fine lens for the price. I also have to say that, while the 35mm does not have a reputation for fragility, my 35mm lens focusing broke in simple use while the older nifty-fifty is still going strong....
  17. I have the 50mm 1.8 and I love it. I stopped using it on my 40D when I bought my Ef 35mm L 1.4
    I then bought a 50 1.4 and took it back too the store a week later. The reason? Simple. After buying the lens, I soon realized that I was never going to use it compared to the 35. Your 17-55 is a fantastic lens and the 50 1.8 isn't going to outperform it. Having said that I am grateful that I kept my nifty-fifty because as I have gone to full frame, this lens works well for me until I decide what lens I will buy to take it's place.
  18. Please explain why this is not useful today.​
    I am not saying it is not useful, but I believe it is no longer a necesary part of learning the craft. At any level.
    Why did people recommend a prime in days of yore? Because zooms were (a) hellishly expensive and (b) qualty was generally nowhere near as good as a prime. Nowadays even affordable zooms can give results that will satisfy many starters.
    Why do the proponents of zooms recommend them now? Because they say that it is good to start with a prime and learn how to use depth of field and how to 'see' the way a lens acts under different conditions. Then what? You buy another prime of a different focal length and do it all again. And again. Then you 'progress' to a zoom. The answer to that one is simple - buy a zoom and use it only at one focal length and maybe (if you want to avoid temptation of using the zoom) gaffer tape it at a fixed length.
    The beauty of 'modern' digital (compared to film) is that you can, in one afternoon, take a whole series of shots at different combinations of focal lengths and aperture and that very evening look at all of them in one sitting. Months of 'learning with primes' condensed to a few days. Ah, bliss. And just think - in that time you also have the flexibility of a zoom if the situation demands.
    Of course, the primes offer two advantages: a very shallow depth of field compared tomost affordable zooms but I would consider f1.8 or f2.8 to be a 'specialised' line of photography in much the same way that true macro is and is one that a learner would develop into.
    And portability: the 50 f1.8 is remarkably small compared to a Canon 17-55, but portability vs flexibility applies to all camera gear.
    So all told, there is almost no advantage to 'learing with primes', and buying a single zoom is way cheaper than getting two or three primes. So for those zillions of people on a tight budget a zoom is the logical choice while still getting very decent image quality.
  19. Mike, you make some good points there. Yes, gaffer's tape will do the same job as a prime lens, and I do think this is the best way to learn. I'd hardly call going from a prime to a zoom "progress", more like a compromise; speed, portability, IQ, footprint vs convenience. I've never had a customer say "nice print, I hope it was convenient to take this picture". I'm sitting at my computer now, editing images that I took five hours ago with my RB67. Whoever said that getting instant feedback was the best way to learn. Perhaps it's easy to make some quick adjustments without putting your brain into gear and trying to avoid the same problems in the future. Slow and steady I say.
    I would consider f1.8 or f2.8 to be a 'specialised' line of photography in much the same way that true macro is​
    I'd hardly call f2.8 as "specialised", I'd call that 'slow'. I agree that, if you're on a budget, use what you've got available; a Holga, an old manual prime, or a zoom. Just take your time to learn the craft before you go out and try to surpass HCB, it's not a race.
    Of course, the primes offer two advantages​
    It's not just the fact the primes are fast - an f1.4 prime should be better at f4 than an f2.8 at f4. And f1.4 doesn't mean super artsy shallow DOF, of course it depends an the distance between you and your subject. A 35mm at f1.4 @ 5 metres will give you a fair amount of DOF, without you having to crank up the ISO. But one big advantage of primes, one that is usually lost on DSLR users, is that their 'footprint'. They are far less intimidating to your subjects than big zooms, and that is where, you start to improve your image content.
    Of course, primes still trump zooms as far as image quality goes, and if you're not seeing a difference between your zooms and primes, then perhaps it's time to start looking to different brand.
  20. I originally wrote:
    Some people hang on to the notion that you should start with a prime lens. For all kinds of reasons that I won't go into here - though I will touch on some of them below - this advice is not very useful today
    Following which another poster replied:
    Please explain why this is not useful today. Nothing has really changes with the basics of photography over the last fifty years, and just because this is an old adage, doesn't make it irrelevant today. Whether you use a 50mm or a 35mm, the principle remains the same.
    A lot has changed:
    • The advice to start with a 50mm prime was not advice to get a prime instead of a zoom back in those days - though that is how it is perversely offered today. (I started in "those days" by the way.) The advice was essentially to start with what was then regarded as the most basic lens on a 35mm film SLR, a lens with a focal length of 50mm or thereabouts and to not rush out and buy more lenses before you learned the basics. (The accurate modern analog would be "use your kit zoom for a while until you learn the basics before you go out and buy a bunch of other lenses." And, by the way, this is pretty much precisely the advice I'm offering to our OP.)
    • The "more lenses" would have also been primes back in the day when this advice evolved. There were not good and affordable zoom lenses back then. Frankly, the advice to start with a 50mm lens had nothing at all to do with zoom lenses - they were not even a consideration.
    • The advice to get the 50mm focal length (though in reality the lens might well have had a focal length a bit shorter or longer than that) was based on an assumption that this was a useful "normal" focal length for 35mm SLRs if you had only a single lens. This was largely based on the angle-of-view it provided. If you, like our OP, have a Canon 1.6x cropped sensor camera and you want to get this coverage, the equivalent focal length is approximately 31mm, not 50mm. So, if you still accept the logic that led people to choose a 50mm prime on their 35mm SLRs... you want perhaps a 28mm-35mm lens.
    • For those like our OP who getting started on DSLR photography, it is unnecessary to have a 50mm f/1.8 prime when they already have a 17-55mm f/2.8 IS zoom. That is an excellent zoom that provides more than enough resolution for just about any use. With IS it can often work well in lower light than the f/1.8 prime. There are only two circumstances in which there could be IQ advantages: f/1.8 could provide a very slightly shallower DOF and it provides slightly more than one stop of low light coverage with moving subjects.
    • To the extent that "primes trump zooms as far as image quality goes," this is only true in certain situations. First of all, in order to see the IQ difference you would need to be making quite large prints - not looking at jpgs on your computer screen. Second, you would have to be shooting a composition that works perfectly at the focal length of your prime - e.g. no cropping needed. If you crop your prime image, any resolution advantage it has will be diminished or even reversed when compared to cropping in camera with the zoom. Third, if you are shooting hand held, there are a host of other issues that degrade sharpness that will make any difference between this zoom and this prime essentially moot.
    • Most who buy a first consumer DSLR system are not so-called "serious" photographers who are going to use a tripod, buy a bunch of high end lenses, work slowly and carefully, employ a sophisticated post-processing work flow, or make their own extremely large prints. The large majority will have great fun making photographs of their vacations, their families, and so forth. Most of them will be completely happy with the zoom kit lens - and they will have a great deal more pleasure and satisfaction from such a lens. We do such people a real disservice when we try to persuade them to start with our "serious photographer" approach.
    • The notion that people starting photography by restricting themselves to a prime is bizarre. This is not some ancient ritual, the rules of which must be followed if one hopes to be accepted into the priesthood. Photography should be, especially at first, fun! Telling them that they must only use a (boring) prime until they "master" the fundamentals of photography is absurd.
    • Some of the people I described in the previous paragraphs will end up becoming very passionate and very serious about their photography - from the fun experience of using their camera and their initial zoom lens. They will begin to develop preference for particular subjects and ways of shooting. It is possible, though not at all certain, that they might eventually seen the need for primes. It is perhaps even more likely that they will see a use for additional and different zooms. In any case, that is the time to start buying more lenses.
    • Focal length selection is among the important variable in composition. While you can create the same composition using the 50mm prime or using the zoom at 50mm, there are many creative things that you cannot do with the prime. Consider a shot with (back to basics!) foreground, background, subject. Move your 50mm prime (or your zoom at 50mm) into position to frame the subject just the way you want. There should be one "ideal" framing from any particular angle. With the zoom, you can step back and frame the primary subject exactly the same way... but now you can minimize the area of the background that is included and make it appear more OOF and you can include foreground subjects that might have been behind you before. Or move much closer, use a shorter focal length, frame the main subject the same way and exclude foreground that might have been distracting in the original composition and make the background recede and appear smaller relative to the main subject. (The fastest and most intuitive way to learn this stuff is to... use a zoom.)
    Also, do keep in mind that our OP's existing zoom is a very excellent lens... and the 50mm f/1.8, while an excellent value for those who need an inexpensive 50mm prime, is not exactly a high end performer.
    For the record, I shoot both primes and zooms. I'm most certainly not "anti prime." I am very much "anti start with a 50mm prime on your cropped sensor DSLR."
  21. well I bought a Hohner Special 20 harmonica at the start of the year, and I'll be buggered if I can play anywhere near as good as Bob Dylan. Guess I should have learned the basics first, but who wants to play basic blues riffs.......I want to play Man Of Constant Sorrow. Anyhow, I've given up, I don't seem to be improving.
  22. well I bought a Hohner Special 20 harmonica at the start of the year, and I'll be buggered if I can play anywhere near as good as Bob Dylan. Guess I should have learned the basics first, but who wants to play basic blues riffs.......I want to play Man Of Constant Sorrow. Anyhow, I've given up, I don't seem to be improving.​
    Uh, OK. But I think you meant to post that in the harmonica forum...
  23. OP, consider the 50mm macro, for its double purpose.
  24. No one's asked which body your using. If you're using a 5D MkII, for instance, you don't need a prime for speed, because you can shoot at ISO 6400 and get stunning results. Also, the IQ of your zoom approaches the proposed prime when you process properly in LR or DxO to correct for geometric errors and CA typical of these zooms.
    If you're using a crop sensor, then the question of which body is still important because the high-ISO capacity varies quite a bit over the latest couple of Canon generation.
    BTW, anyone seeking to duplicate the look of the old primes on 35mm film should be shopping for a 28mm to 35mm to account for the crop factor. A 50mm is going to look like an 80mm did on film. That would make it better for portrait than for "normal" shooting, whatever that is.
    Unless you state a planned use for your prospective 50mm purchase, then I'd say it's likely wasted money. Still, go ahead, if you like. I think you'd be better off working with the lens that you have and saving for something like a 70-200mm f/4L IS.
  25. Wow, what started as a simple innocent question really has stirred a hornets nest eh? :)
    No one's asked which body your using​
    I'm using a 400D
    I guess I'm still drawn to the 50mm because of the portability aspect, but I am having second thoughts based on the advice offered here. Saving for another lens which offers me something different is a good idea but I think the Mrs will flip after spending so much on the 17-55mm. I have some cash left over which will just about cover the 50mm but funds run dry for a while after that.
    As I'm still in the early phases of my photography and I'm still very much learning and experimenting I wanted to use the cash to give me something else to experiment with but for that budget there's not much to consider apart from some filters or perhaps a close up attachment. While the 50 doesn't necessarily offer me anything different it may encourage me to take my camera places I wouldn't with the 17-55.
  26. There you go, portability is a good reason to consider this lens. Some people like a small lens for street photography and unobtrusiveness. Some people even go to range finder cameras for this reason. I'm thinking of buying a G12 to always have with me and to use in certain situations.
    Since you've got a crop-sensor, you might look at a 28 or 35mm to get the perspective of the old "standard" 50mm lenses on 35mm SLRs. A 50mm is really more of a "portrait" focal length on your body.
  27. All points are valid, since a lens can be used for many different purposes, situations and results. But in general, if to buy a particular lens is mostly depends on thickness of the wallet, since one thing for sure is that there is always another lens to be "needed". Even just for a 50mm, there are so many to chose from: F1.8, F1.4, F1.2, C/Z’s, Leica Summ-R’s and the new ZE. Each has its own characteristics and price/value ratio. To me, for a 400D, 18-55/2.8 is more than good enough in this case, and I would use the $ to buy some gold in stead. Just my $0.02.
    BTW I bought mine for $68 because it’s cheap, and use it only as a cheap macro with a reverse ring, since for me the 5D kit lens is good enough for most of my causal shooting.
    Happy New Year!
  28. Reversed 50mm/F1.8 “Macro"
  29. Don't buy the 50 now if you are doing so just because that is what you can afford at the moment - perhaps put that
    money away and start saving for a 35mm f/2 or a 28mm f1.8 or similar that might be more useful for you if your goal is to emulate the functionality of the 50mm prime on a 35mm film camera.

    If a 50mm prime is the thing you really NEED the most, then the money could be well spent. However, be a bit
    cautious about buying some lens because it is a lens that you might be able to afford right now.

    This leads to another thought. If you have long term plans to build up a more versatile system of lenses, it pays to
    develop a plan about what to get and in what order. You might just step back for a moment from focusing on "my next lens," and instead think about what a decent relatively comprehensive system for your photigraphy might look like. Consider the order in which you might acquire the components. Doing this before you start buying whatever lens you might have the cash for at the moment is a powerful antidote to Lens Lust, and in the end you'll have a better system and probably have it sooner.

    Take care,

  30. Thanks all for your wise advice. Think I'll hang on to my cash for a while and save for the 85mm 1.8 instead. It offers the portability with an additional aspect I don't already have with my 17-55 and by all accounts it looks like its a great performing lens for more than just portraits.
    Strategically as Dan suggests, this will give me more versatility to grow my collection before investing in a bigger zoom later down the line
    Thanks again for all the great advice
  31. The 85 is a wonderful lens that will let you do some things that you cannot do with the current lens. :)


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