There is an innate sense of satisfaction in using simple gear. At the present I am happiest when I have a fast prime attached to my camera. In saying this, I do not mean an exotic prime, but the lowly 50mm f/1.8 or the 35mm f/1.8. Why? The answer is simple, with a fast, inexpensive prime I can enjoy all the benefits of my large, heavy, expensive f/2.8 lenses in a package that is not a pain to carry around. I have sharpness equal to professional zooms, I have great depth of field control and all in a tiny package that no one runs away from.
So what primes? I have mentioned two lenses, one that has been in my kit longer than any other lens, and the other an addition that I have found hard to remove from my cameras.
The first is the traditional 50mm f/1.8 (aka “fast fifty”, “nifty fifty”), a lens that is cheap to make, superbly sharp and regardless of the manufacturer always one of the best. These lenses were traditionally the lenses sold in kits with film SLR’s. The lowly 50mm f/1.8 is
what is termed a “normal” lens, meaning it gives us a field of view similar to that of what we see, however digital throws a curve ball at us as the field of view is cropped. This leaves us with a 50mm f/1.8 that has the field of view of a traditional 75mm (but not the same compression though). So on APS-C (DX in Nikon terms) the 50mm f/1.8 has proven to be a bit too “long” to be a useful walk around, this has not stopped many from buying and loving this lens (and it’s f/1.4 and even f/1.2 brothers). For me, the AF Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D represents the first extra lens I bought, and since the day I picked it up it has been in the kit bag even though I had to focus it manually on the D40x. It proves to be a great low light lens and due to the crop a fairly good portrait lens.
The 2nd lens in question here is the AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G. I bought this lens on a whim, when I was woken by a very good friend who happened to be in New York and wanted to ask me which lens to buy (the 35mm or the 50mm mentioned earlier), I advised the 35mm and was quickly asked if I wanted one as well…the rest is history. Since I received my lens it has not really left the camera body. Traditionally the 35mm focal length is a bit wider than normal but not very wide, however on APS-C (or DX) 35mm provides a 52.5mm field of view….maybe you can see something here. For those who have not worked it out, 35mm is the digital 50mm, the normal field of view! Like a traditional 50mm f/1.8, Nikon’s DX 35mm f/1.8 is a small, lightweight package that offers supreme sharpness and depth of field control. I have found that this lens has just enough width of most everyday candid and street photography, therefore it has been constantly on one of my cameras (usually the D60).
Between the 50mm and the 35mm (or digital 50mm) we have two simple lenses that are both fulfilling to use and inexpensive. For those of you who are not using Nikon: 4/3rds have the 25mm pancake, and Canon sounds to be making a cheap 35mm f/1.8 as well, not to mention the 35mm primes (also available for Pentax). Everyone should try a “fast 50″ of some description. It is these basics that make photography fun and you’ll be surprised with what they can teach you!
For added versatility, consider coupling one of these lenses with a set of extension tubes, or even close up filters, (available here) for a handy macro solution!