My very first camera was a Minolta X-9, a fully manual film camera that forced me to learn how to expose correctly and choose the correct lens for what I was photographing. The lens on that camera is a 50mm prime lens and there was good reason why my mentor insisted on that lens. Our eyes and a 50mm lens “see” about the same. When you are standing and looking at a scene and then put a full frame camera with a 50mm lens in front of your eye, that lens is going to see that scene the same as your eyes do. There is no zooming in or out, what you see is what you are going to get in your camera.
Please note: I’m talking about these lenses on a full frame sensor camera. There are cropped sensor cameras also and if you are not buying a special lens for those cameras you get a zoom effect.
A 50mm prime lens has remained my all time favorite lens. What is prime? A prime lens is a fixed focal length lens that does not allow you to zoom in or out and has a fast aperture of around f/1.2 – f/2.8 which allows more light into the lens and also creates a beautiful shallow depth of field. The reason I love a 50mm is because I know that what my eyes see is what my lens will capture. I can react quickly to taking a photograph because I do not have to adjust a zoom lens or move myself back or forward. This is great for photographing kids! I also love the fast aperture of the f/1.4 my Canon 50mm has. It allows me to select what I want in focus by creating a small slice that is in focus and blurs out the rest. At f/1.4 more light can be let into the lens so it’s great for lower light situations. And the 50mm is typically not a huge lens making the camera lighter to carry and smaller to store.
I use a 50mm lens 99% of the time. I only use my 70mm macro and 28mm wide lens very rarely. I do not own a zoom lens at all! There are times when I would like to try a 35mm lens but I’m so use to and attached to my 50mm lens that I haven’t convinced myself yet to purchase one.