The first SLR I ever had a chance to use regularly was kitted out with one and only one lens: a 50mm 1.8 lens. And for every camera body I have owned since then, I also picked up a 50mm lens to go with it, even after mere mortals could afford zoom lenses. Before we all could afford a zoom lens, the only zoom control you had was your feet. Feet still work well, by the way.
Now I own bigger, heavier, more expensive glass, but I always have my 50mm in my bag. Why? When I was in NZ, I dropped my camera lens-down onto a rock. Ouch. The UV filter on my 24-105 do-it-all zoom shattered; the lens itself survived, although I had to buy a pair of needle-nosed pliers to get the glass out of the filter mount and unscrew it. But before we left the States, I had bought the 50mm as an insurance policy, and I was able to make pictures while we hunted down a hardware store in the Coramandel. Superstitious, or cautious, I still count on it as a light-weight back-up.
I like to focus on a single technique or concept for each Photowalk. Last Saturday, I decided to go back to my roots and shoot only with the 50mm 1.8. I left everything else at home. I did miss a few shots that I wanted, but was unwilling to climb in the shrubbery to get. Instead, I pushed myself to look at what I could do with this lens, like an artist painting with a restricted palette of only a few colors.
I shot almost everything wide open, which I never dared to do when I borrowed that first camera–everything back then was f16 so I had some hope of getting a sharp picture. Come to think of it, there was no autofocus on that camera either, and I was extremely near-sighted… Anyway, I thought the bokeh (the shape of the smeared-out defocused highlights in the background, is very pleasing in this image.
The best news of all: only $135 today at Pictureline in the Nikon range. Canon has a similar lens at a similar price. I now strongly believe that it is the first lens beginning photographers with a kit lens should buy, once they are ready to expand their optic arsenals. On the entry-level DSLRs with their smaller sensors, this lens functions as a 75-80mm lens. That’s a length which is perfect for portraits. Old-school film photographers paid tons more for a comparable lens (and you will too when you move up to a full-frame sensor). They weigh less than a 1/2 empty can of soda, which counts for a lot, and they are so little that camera-shy folks find them a little less intimidating.
To use another art metaphor, sometimes it’s worth it to me to play some scales, to go back to some fundamentals and see what I can do with them now. Photowalks are a great opportunity to do that, and share what we discover along the way. Can’t wait to see everyone at the next outing.