Canon 50mm 1.8 Review (& why I use this lens most)

NOTE: Even though in this article I’m talking specifically about my Canon lens, Nikon and other brands have similar lenses.

Photography isn’t exactly a low-cost pursuit. But it also doesn’t have to require that you spend big money, either.

Case in point: my favorite lens cost me only $90 (it now goes for about $125 – still a bargain!). That’s insanely cheap considering high-quality professional lenses will easily drain your wallet of over $1,000.

Fall foliage in New England (Photo: Kim Olson)

Fall foliage in New England. Shot with my Canon 50mm f/1.8

Finding Affordable Camera Gear

The reason I want to talk about my Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens in particular is because I don’t want the cost of equipment to be a deterrent for you in pursuing photography. I think it’s helpful to know that you absolutely can get high-quality gear without spending crazy money.

I’ve talked about whether you should spend more on lenses or camera bodies, but you don’t always have to choose one or the other.

Oh, 50mm Lens, why do I love thee?

Portrait of a dog taken with the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens. (Photo: Kim Olson)

Portrait of a dog taken with the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens.

When buying camera lenses, you usually have to sacrifice something. Either you pay a lot of money or you get lower-quality gear. But in this case I spent very little money and got an excellent lens.

Here are a few reasons why I love my Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens so darned much:

  • Great Optics – for such a cheap lens (and let’s be honest – a lens that’ll set you back around $125 is pretty frickin’ cheap) the optics are superb. You get sharp images that rival $2,000+ lenses.
  • Wide Aperture – you usually have to pay lots-o-money to get a lens with a maximum wide aperture of f/2.8 or larger. This one is f/1.8 and it’s beautiful. I can open it up and get such lovely shallow depth of field and dreamy photos.
  • Little & Light – my version of this lens (version II) has a plastic encasing that belies its ability to take awesome photos. It feels kinda cheap, but the lens creates gorgeous images and it’s so darn light and tiny you can take it with you anywhere. I can fit my 5D and 50mm lens in my purse easily (and lest you think, “Well sure she can fit it in her bag if she carries one of those huge-ass purses,” lemme assure you mine is quite small).

So if you think that you can’t afford to get all these things in one little package you may be pleasantly surprised to find your camera brand offers something similar.

Food stand during the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festivities in Tokyo, Japan.  (Photo: Kim Olson)

Food stand during the Sakura (Cherry Blossom) Festivities in Tokyo, Japan.

The Lens’ Shortcomings

Despite its many features, this little gem isn’t faultless.

What I don’t love about the f/1.8 50mm:

  • Bad Night Vision – While the 50mm can be great to have in low light conditions because of its wide max aperture (meaning the lens is faster and will let in more light), it tends to have trouble autofocusing (which can kind of negate its ability to take great photos when it’s dark).
  • Slow Focusing – In low-light environments, this lens may take forever to focus, or, worse, never focus at all. You may push the shutter down and only hear the autofocus going whirrr-whirrr-whirrr trying to lock in the focus but never finding it.
  • No Macro setting – The 50mm doesn’t do the best job at capturing macro-type photos since the closest it can focus to an object is about 1.5 feet. But I think it still does a decent job for some subjects like these cherry blossoms.
Cherry blossoms (sakura) in Japan (Photo: Kim Olson)

Cherry blossoms (sakura) in Japan


I initially thought that using prime lenses would be really restrictive and not allow for much creative freedom. But I’ve actually found that they’re quite versatile and I can shoot just about anything I want with my 50mm – landscapes, portraits, close-ups (to a degree).

Matsumoto Castle in Japan (Photo: Kim Olson)

Matsumoto Castle in Japan

The Moral of the Story

The funny thing is that I have two pretty pricey zoom lenses that are “professional” grade, but I often end up shooting with my “Nifty Fifty”, instead.

I can travel super light, be more incognito and get high-quality images all in this tiny package. It’s minimalism at its best.

So whether you’re just getting started or have been shooting a while, you may find that you gravitate towards a lens like this. Sure, you’ll have to move your feet a little bit more since there’s no zoom, but I think you may fall in love with the images it takes.

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