Reading over the web this morning, I found two separate authors writing about the 50mm equivalent as being the lens to learn with or their favorite lens. The 50mm equivalent is my definitive lens of choice. Pry it out of my hands when I am gone, and it will be so used you won't be able to read the markings on it. I already carry a spare 50mm equivalent on my spare camera body.
I recently did a Lightroom search in my catalog for my favorite lens and was pleasantly surprised by the results. Interestingly one of my favorite photographs appeared, and I noticed that I took it only three days after starting with this lens. Actually there was a clear and significant jump in my work once I started with this lens. The lens in question is Voitlander 25mm f0.95 which I use on a micro four thirds camera (currently an Olympus OMD EM1). After you take into account the crop factor this is a standard 50mm lens. I have recently added an Olympus 25mm f1.8 to my camera bag and this is also a sweet lens, tack sharp, lovely bokeh and is definitely bargain and can be picked up at under $400, this is now my spare 50mm equivalent. I use it when I want to utilize that wonderful eye detect auto focus when I am doing portraits.
Using this lens is the single most important defining moment in my digital photography. Before starting with this lens I hated digital photography and would prefer to drag my 4 x 5 inch view camera out to work with. There is probably a little more to it that just the focal length if I am honest. It is also the fact that it is manual focus, and has a manual aperture ring. These force me to slow down, carefully consider my aperture and focus for every photograph. Yes, my aperture as I have to open it to focus, so for every shot I am considering where I am going to set the aperture. I do this intuitively now as the numbers have worn off this lens and I have a feel for it developed over years of practice.
As I scroll through my photographs taken with this focal length I am immediately surprised by the depth and variety of images I have been able to produce with it. From full face portraits, to full body nudes, from sweeping wide open sand-scapes and majestic views, through to detailed intimate landscapes, and stunning flowers. I would conservatively guess that at least 95% of my selected and published digital photographs have been taken with this lens.
So when people ask me which lens to bring with them to a shoot, tour or workshop my answer is always the same. A standard lens. If they want to know which lens to buy next, I recommend a fast 50mm equivalent. I even recommend Mike Johnston's advice and tell you to put it on your camera and leave it on for at least a year. In my case it was three. You want to know it well enough that you can frame up your shot in your head before you even start bringing your camera to your eye. You can read more about what Mike says about this here. For he also talks at length about the importance of printing out your work. One photograph per day. I have to agree with him. This is the single most important lesson I have given out to people, and one that I have found to be a personal key.
Actually my love affair with the standard lens goes deeper. My second camera, the beautiful Olympus OM-1 had a 50mm f1.4 on it. My Bronica EC had a 80mm on it. As I bought and traded large format lenses I slowly and consistently narrowed my lens choice down to 150mm for 4x5 and 300mm for 8x10. These lens choices were well before I went digital, so I am not surprised that fell in love with my 25mm on my micro four thirds camera. What did surprise me is that I always had access to this length in my standard zoom. But this isn't ever the same. The zoom doesn't force me to be careful, it allows me to be lazy and take short cuts. I frame in the viewfinder more with the zoom and less in my head.
I am not even sure why have so many other lenses. I consider most of them as toys that I use to entertain myself with when I am bored. For me most of them are just that, toys. For the record the next most used and loved lens is my Olympus 75mm f1.8 (150mm equivalent) which I use regularly for portraiture. This little joy, allows me to be further away from my subject, it gives me a lovely blurry background to head shots, and flattens / flatters faces. To be honest the rest really could go.
When ever I start to feel a little lost with what I am doing photographically, I put my 50mm equivalent back on, and start again. It works every time. If I could only ever have one lens, well this would be it.
So if you really want to challenge yourself to take your photography to the next level. This is the challenge you should do. Go buy a fast / sharp 50mm equivalent and put it on your camera and don't take it off for a couple of years. Go on I dare you. And see what happens.
All photographs in the following gallery were taken with this lens.. Actually 95% of the photographs on this website were taken with it.
Enjoy, I know I do.