When I was growing up a nifty fifty was a small motor scooter – usually a Honda with a 50cc motor, and naturally red – the type of motorbike any newbie-rider could handle.
Now, in the photography world at least, nifty fifty refers to a 50mm lens; a prime lens many photographers recommend as a “must-have“.
But of course those in the know will understand that nifty fifty (or nifty 50) refers to a 50mm lens on a either a 35mm film camera or a full frame DSLR. On cameras with a crop factor the actual focal length of the lens must vary to make it to create the same width of view as a true nifty fifty. For example, on a Nikon DX format camera the lens focal length needs to be 50mm divided by the cameras’ crop factor i.e about 31mm; and on a MFT (micro four-thirds) camera the 2 x crop factor gives the nifty fifty effect on a 25mm lens.
But first let’s look at the main features of nifty fifty lenses which make them so popular:
The current crop of nifty fifty lenses all seem to have the same set of features:
- Nifty fifty lenses “mimic” the field of view of our eyes;
- They are relatively cheap;
- Generally they are compact and lightweight;
- Optically they are very simply designed compared with zoom lenses which helps them to be sharp and relatively distortion-free; and
- They tend to feature fast apertures (low f-number).
Enough of the technicalities – Mr Google will be able to tell you more than I ever could.
I’m more interested in the actual results – what my photographs look like when captured using the MFT equivalent of a nifty fifty – in my case the bonus 25mm f1.7 Lumix G lens I received when I purchased my Lumix G95.
So here is a small selection of photographs I have taken recently.
I had cycled past this sign on a fence outside a house in Greymouth several times – each time intending to stop and capture an image. There is nothing special about it – I just like it.
If you’ve seen some of my other stories you will probably have noticed that I have a liking for things old weathered, worn, rusty and grungy. Here is another example which shows how close the Lumix 25mm lens will focus, and also shows the level of detail it can capture.
One thing that I did learn from shooting my nifty fifty is that it is not the best lens to use for landscapes. That is rather a sweeping statement. There is nothing wrong with the lens’s ability to capture a good landscape, it’s just that without a zoom facility you have to walk around to get the shot you want, and this is not always possible especially when following a formed path like the one at Punakaiki’s famous Pancake Rocks.
It’s good for sunset scenes too!
On the vine is a one-off photo I took for a DPS Challenge. The theme was, as I recall, something around the house. This shows the lens’s ability to produce a pretty smooth out-of-focus area in front of, and behind the subject, when using a wide aperture.
Starting out as a low level view along the low sand mounds on Warrington Beach, it wasn’t until I converted this image to black and white in Nik Silver Efex Pro, then cropped some distant waves off the horizon that I spotted our dog Sam in the top right hand corner. I like this one too.
Again an example of nice smooth out of focus areas front and back. And notice – a bit weathered and worn too!
I have to admit that I am still struggling to nail manual focus with the 25mm Lumix lens even using the cameras focus peaking system. I’m not sure if it is my shaky handling, poor eyesight or the “focus-by-wire” system used in the lens, but this poor old rose, almost past its use-by-date, just seemed to drift in and out of sharp focus. Maybe next time I’ll use a tripod!