Nikon 50mm 1.8G Prime Lens: A Review of the Unlimited Photographic Opportunities it Offers

By Sheen Watkins / August 31, 2014

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You can never forget your first lens, it holds a special place in your photographic journey. For many, it may have been the lens of a point and shoot camera while for others, it may be have been the kit lens that came with your first camera. How clearly I remember the day when my first ‘surprise' camera with a Nikon 55-300mm telephoto lens arrived. As someone whose primary subject was going be birds and wildlife, I seriously thought this was the only lens I'd ever need.

My passion for birding stirred my interest in photography. Over time, the interest for birds has not changed. Instead, a passion for photography grew which expanded my horizons into macro, landscape and greater distance telephoto lenses. Along the way I listened with curiosity to photographers talk about how they enjoyed ‘walk around' prime lenses. A completely different concept than toting cameras, lenses, tripod and other gear.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm F/1.8G
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm F/1.8G. Photo by Toshihiro Gamo

Recently, I received another ‘surprise' gift. A Nikon 50mm 1.8G lens – a big “hello” to world of exploring things outside of macro, telephoto and landscape. The 50mm world is quite versatile, and simply fun! The 50mm 1.8G is a fast, lightweight, sharp, prime lens (fixed focal length) with a beautiful bokeh.

So what can you do with a 50mm? Read on for walk-around lens ideas along with setting and composition considerations.

“Leaving on a Jet Plane” – Airport Photography

How many times have you been to the airport and had to wait for your flight? With the 50mm, the airport seats, windows, phone booths and interesting architecture (in some airports) make fantastic travel subjects. Playing with the depth of field, lighting, empty chairs invoked a sense of emptiness as the travel day was just getting started.

The image below was taken at Detroit Metropolitan Airport early in the morning. A brightly lit airport with sun on both sides, there were several lighting options to choose from. I searched out an unused gate area and worked with a variety of big apertures (small f/stop number). The f/4 using an ISO of 250 and a shutter speed of 1/80 created the soft effect needed to contrast with the black vinyl and chrome.

“Night Moves” – Street Photography

The 50mm 1.8 tolerates low light conditions allowing for a fast enough shutter speed so that a tripod is not required. On a full frame camera, effectively combining adjustments of ISO and Aperture makes the 50mm a terrific night partner. Street photography at night can be mysterious, lively or calm. The large, granite decorative balls below reflected the lights from multiple directions against a bokeh background of multiple colors.

The Night Moves image was taken in my hometown around ten at night. Using a big aperture (f/1.8), a higher ISO of 2500, the shallow depth of field, bokeh and desired sharpness all came together. Neither a flash or tripod was used.

Late Night Ball by ©Sheen's Nature Photography
Photo by Sheen Watkins

“Secret Garden” – Flowers

Macro enthusiasts, leave that macro lens behind just once. Otherwise you might be tempted to switch from your 50mm when that really cool flower pops out. The 50mm in a garden delights in the ability to capture color, clarity and an overall setting.

The flowers below would have been only a close up with my 105mm Macro. I intentionally left it at home because it would have been faster to switch to the macro. With the 50mm combined with a B+W Circular Polarizing filter, the composition brought in more of the surroundings and better reflected the cheerful sunny day.

“That Magic Moment” – Outdoor and Landscapes

An early morning drive north of the 45th parallel in Northern Michigan gave way to a magical, misty moment. Just after sunrise, the light fog covered an old farm field of purple and blue flowers. The sun peaking through the trees was a short-lived moment. The 50mm lens allowed for a quick response time to a quickly fading fog.

Settings used: ISO 1000, f/5.0, 1/2000sec.

“Beautiful Girl” – Portraits, People and Candid Captures

A 50mm Prime lens review would not be complete without the perspective of how it captures portraits, people and candid moments. While the 85mm focal length may be preferable to many for more pure portrait photography, the 50mm 1.8 can flow with the mood, perspective and imagery that is planned, or just happens in the moment.

The Dream of Flowers
Photo by Camilla Soares

A prime lens encourages photographers to consider different subjects, perspectives and composition.

We are all in different mindsets with our photography and subjects. As someone who waited too long to add the 50mm to their arsenal, I would easily recommend this as a must-have lens sooner versus later. At the very reasonable price point of $219.95 on the Nikon site and $216.95 on Amazon and B&H Photo, it's a relatively painless addition from a cost standpoint.

The Nikon 50mm 1.8G is a photographer's friend, offering speed, fun, creativity and awesome quality images. This lens is a versatile, quick reach companion for any photographer's lens collection.


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About the author

Sheen Watkins

Sheen Watkins is a bird, nature, wildlife photographer and photography writer. You can follow her photography on Facebook, Instagram and her website. A long term birder and nature enthusiast she is Vice President of Saving Birds Thru Habitat, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating others about the importance of protecting our natural habitat for migrating birds. She also has a travel and photography blog.

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