The Classic “Nifty Fifty” Lens! – Incredibly Sharp Disney Photos on a Slim Budget!
Over the last few months I’ve really tried to share some things here that mean so much to me in odd ways. From life, to unique Disney memories, to far more photography posts that I’ve ever shared before, it’s been all about sharing things that mean something to me personally. Today will be no different and quite honestly this is one of those articles that I try to write in hopes of helping someone try something new. Even if it’s not parks related, one of the greatest things in life you can do is try something new and give a dream a chance or a new hobby an opportunity to develop, or anything new you’ve considered trying an attempt at the very least. It may not be the perfect end result but five years down the road you can say you tried something new and never have to say “What if I would have tried that?”
In all reality that question in and of itself is one of my greatest fears in life. Some may call it the fear of missing out but to me its more of a disappointment in myself looking back at something that could have changed my life or somebody else’s life for the better. I’m a firm believer in the fact that taking one small step today can change your life tomorrow. Give yourself a chance and you may be surprised at what you can achieve. If you would have told me four years ago I’d be writing on this site and would have met the incredible people I’ve met along the way doing this I would have never believed you!
So what does all of this have to do with a camera lens review you may be asking. As I’ve shared in the past, I started Disney photography to theoretically up my “content sharing game.” I had absolutely no idea what I was doing starting out and there’s so many things I still know nothing about, but photographing the Disney parks is something that has really exceeded my wildest expectations. If I can encourage just one person to try it and in turn join the incredible online community of Disney photographers (that are so incredibly helpful), this article was well worth it!
At this point, if you’re not interested in photography, I highly recommend you check out one of our other articles here on the site. The technical aspect of this may not appeal to everyone but if you’re a fan of the photos or type of photos taken in this post, this lens is a worthy addition to your photography set up no matter if you’re an entry level photo personor a seasoned professional (but if you’re a professional you’re probably already well aware of this lens and its incredible value for the money).
So What’s The Lens?
The “Nifty Fifty,” as it’s been nick named over the years, is perhaps the most well known lens in all of the photography world. Every camera manufacturer makes a lens like this and any lens you see on the market listed by a major manufacturer is pretty optically similar when it comes right down to it. The “fifty” refers to the focal length of the lens which is 50mm and in most cases the aperture of the lens will be f/1.8 (but we’ll talk about that more in a minute).
For reference, a standard kit lens that comes with most cameras is an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6. While there’s nothing wrong with that stock lens (and I still use mine pretty frequently), it’s not the sharpest lens in the world, it isn’t great for dark rides or low light, and performance is invariably going to suffer in comparison to the “nifty fifty.” In essence, if you were to lock that standard “zoom lens” that came with you camera at 50mm of the 18-55mm zoom range, that’s essentially what you get out of this lens. There’s no zoom and while that seems restrictive it is quite the opposite. As a result of the fixed zoom, it allows the manufacturers to make a lens that lets in far more light that a standard zoom lens at a reasonable price.
That light gathering capability is essentially what that f/1.8 refers to. The smaller the number, the more light the camera can gather in low light environments. That same factor increases the subject separation in images creating a fantastic creamy background photo folks refer to as bokeh. There’s no real standard of “good bokeh” vs. “bad bokeh” but it’s a unique sensation and a neat aspect of photography that you cant get with a standard kit zoom lens.
Additionally, the greatest strength of this type of a lens is that they tend to be incredibly sharp at a budget price when compared to far more expensive gear. Their light gathering capability makes the challenge of dark ride photography far easier as well when you start to understand or apply the basics of the three factors effecting correct exposure. It sounds complicated but it really isn’t!
One of these days I need to do an in depth walk through of some of these various techniques and tactics for taking photos but if you’re new to all of this youtube is your friend and feel free to message me any time and I’ll help where I can!
There Are Limitations
Every camera lens has its strengths and weaknesses and this one is no exception. Perhaps the greatest weakness on paper is the fixed “zoom.” In real world application and use in the parks it can be frustrating at times but it also forces you to get a bit more creative. In the photo world, this lens is synonymous with getting creative but in all reality it’s such a diverse lens in the realm of actual uses you can find for it that this slight drawback actually tends to be a benefit in real world application. It helps you capture the little things in the parks and it helps you look for unique things to take photos of that most guests tend to overlook.
As an added bonus, once you nail a shot with this lens you’ll be hooked. The image quality is incredible for the price and truthfully it’s one of the best lens investments you can make. If you’re looking for stellar family photos this makes for an excellent portrait style lens on crop sensor DSLR’s as well! The subject separation is stunning.
What Does It Cost
I know quite a few of you probably jumped right to this section and I don’t blame you one bit for doing so. I shoot with a Nikon camera. Nikon currently offers this lens from their refurbished site (I buy almost all my gear refurbished for cost savings and have never had a problem) for $169. If you buy it on the right day when they frequently offer a 10% discount for refurbished gear you can even get it cheaper that that. If you buy it brand new from Amazon or other sites you may get it a bit cheaper but my copy looked completely unused when it arrived and came with every original accessory from the factory like every brand new Nikon lens would. The only thing different was the external cardboard box.
Prices do vary by manufacturer and if you shoot Canon or Sony you may pay more (or little less) depending on how you buy it but the main thing is to make sure you buy a lens that is compatible with your personal camera. The lens I currently use is the Nikon 50mm f/1.8G. It is compatible with both full frame and corp sensor Nikon cameras and works on basically every modern production Nikon camera on the market flawlessly. The lens is an absolute steal at the price that it can be found new, used, and refurbished. If you ever upgrade cameras and make the jump to a full frame camera it can even go with you as you leave the usual “crop sensor” format of the majority of DSLR cameras.
Am I Getting Paid To Say This?
This is a 100% fair and reasonable question to ask. The simple answer is no. I’m not getting paid a dime from Nikon for writing this (even though that would be cool lol). I didn’t ask them to send me a lens or anything of the sort and I say that just to show that this is my honest opinion of the lens. It’s one that truly opens up possibilities for photos and frees up certain limitations of kit lenses while doing so at an incredibly affordable price. Sure, a 30mm lens may be the better option for dark rides, and don’t get me wrong, there are far sharper lenses out there, but at this price point you’re not going to find a sharper and more versatile lens.
After saying all of this, I do have to note that no matter if you’re shooting with the best lens in the world or the worst lens you could imagine, nothing matters and no lens will make a substantial difference in your photography without first learning the basics of shutter speed, aperture, and iso. Learn those relatively simple things and how to use them and it will do more for your photography that any lens purchase.
If you’re going to use your camera in auto mode all the time, you’re better off just using your kit lens or even possibly your iPhone because you’re not going to reap the immense benefits of this lens until you learn those basic principles. That sounds a little blunt but it’s the reality of photography. However, if you do need help or want help getting started or have questions, message me on Facebook any time and I’ll try to walk you through it! One of my ultimate tips is to shoot every photo you can in RAW file format. If you have an editing software like Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop the RAW file type is unquestionably more helpful in the editing process because it retains more information that a typical jpeg format. The only real downside is every raw file needs to be edited for color adjustments, etc. before they’re really used for anything or you’ll have a pretty bland photo. Lightroom is my editing platform of choice 90% percent of the time but I do use Affinity photo for Macs on occasion as well. Both are excellent programs but Lightroom is far more user friendly.
The Wrap Up
As I’ve mentioned in great detail, this is about as budget friendly of a camera lens as you can find. In my opinion it’s one of the first lenses you should buy if you’re looking to get into photography. My only other recommendation that might get ranked above this is the Tokina 11-16mm dxii f/2.8 which I talked about in depth in my The Best Budget Friendly Lens for Disney Parks Photography – Getting a New Perspective post. That lens is still my favorite lens for the money to use at WDW. It’s the classic “wide shot” perspective changing lens that made me fall in love with ultra wide angle photography in the parks. Nothing compares to that lens for the price, but I still think the “Nifty Fifty” is a more versatile lens (as much as I hate to admit that).
Long story made short, the Tokina is my favorite lens at the moment that I own but if you’re looking to improve your photography immensely on “the cheap,” learn the basics and pick up this lens on Nikon’s refurbished website. Just type “Nikon Refurbished” in Google and the first link should get you to the official site. I wont leave a link here to show that I really am not trying make money off of this post with affiliate commission, but I really do love this lens! If you like the photos in this post, every single photo was shot with this lens. Some images in this group show the bokeh capability while others show the real sharpness of this lens. Everything is compressed so you’re better off seeing the higher quality images on Facebook or Instagram but nonetheless if you click on them it’ll give you a good idea of what to expect!