The Nifty Fifty. The Fast Fifty. Whatever you call it, a 50mm prime lens is the cheapest new addition you can add to your SLR lens collection. Available for under £100, fifty mm f1.8's give you a flattering focal length, creamy smooth background blur, and the ability to shoot in very low light without flash. Great stuff.
As you well know, early on a Sunday morning Suzanne and I spend a couple of hours walking around our local car-boot sales, and a couple of weeks ago I picked up a Canon 50mm f/1.8. I've owned two of the nifty fiftys before, and had to sell them both, so I could hardly believe my luck when I saw a stall with an old Canon film camera in a tatty bag, and tucked in the corner of the bag was a lens.
When the seller said they wanted £4 for the lot I had a fiver in their hand before they knew it, and when I realised that the lens had the metal mount and distance scale of the Mk.1 I was over the moon. Canon changed the earlier design of the lens to the current "plastic fantastic" design, loosing that metal EF mount and the scale, the glass is probably as good but the build quality isn't. The Mk.1 50's go for a premium on eBay, normally over a hundred notes, so that made this find even better.
The proof is in the pudding as they say, so until I got the lens home and fixed it onto my 350d I didn't know it would work. Thankfully it did, and a prime piece of glass was added to my small collection. Sweet! I had been planning to ask for the Mk. II 50mm for Christmas, so this means that I can ask for something else...!
Whether you get your hands on the MK.1 or Mk.2 versions of the lens, you'll have a specialist piece of kit. The f/1.8 maximum aperture means that the lens can nicely blur the background in any portrait, and shoot in poor lighting conditions where normally you'd have to use a flash. On a crop-sensor body like my 350d the 50mm acts more like a 75mm, so wide sweeping landscapes are a no-no, but flattering portraits and a more intimate view of the world around you are.
It's worth remembering that at f/1.8 if you're close to your subject your depth of field (how much of the scene is in focus) will be very small, so you're better off opening up to f/3.5, 5.6 or f/8. You might then well ask what's the point of using this glass over your kit zoom, but the fact that this is a prime lens, so it will be sharper at any particular focal length, with a bit more contrast too. (Check out this article for a discussion about depth of field.)
I've been playing with this lens for a few weeks now, and I'm suitably impressed. I wouldn't buy a Mk.1 for the inflated prices they go for second hand, I think you're better off buying a new Mk. 2 with a years guarantee, but if you track down a cheap Metal Mount, go for it, just remember that it will have quite a bit of wear and tear, so try and check it before you buy. (Unlike me!)
The fifty won't be replacing my kit lenses, the 18-55 and 55-250, it's not wide enough for the type of architecture shots I like, but the Canon 50mm will find it's way onto the front of my camera when I want to take beautiful portraits, simple macros, still lifes or naturally lit indoor photographs.