A 50mm prime lens has been the universal standard view for many years, providing a more or less “as we see it with the human eye” perspective. It’s also generally a very compact lens, meaning if you don’t own any other piece of glass, either a prime or a zoom, choosing one of the best 50mm lenses currently available is a good option for any photographer.
Because this focal length is so widely used, there are plenty of options on the market to fit everybody’s pocket, both for third-party makers and same make camera brands. Therefore, in our upcoming list we will feature some of the best offerings from the most popular camera makers, plus third-party 50mm lenses, which also provide great image quality and functionality.
1. Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA (Overall Winner)
This lens is costly and a heavyweight at 780g, but for sheer quality you can’t beat the Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA. The lens centers around 12 elements in nine groups, with one Advanced Aspherical (AA), one aspherical and one extra-low dispersion element, plus the renowned ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating.
A larger than normal 11-blade rounded diaphragm is included, which produces excellent levels of bokeh, with some very nice rounded highlight balls. Lens anomalies are extremely low across the aperture range and you can’t fault the sharpness and level of detail which comes from this lens. It may be an expensive offering, but this level of quality will last for years and produce professional results every time.
Fuji’s offering in the 50mm world comes in the form of the FUJINON XF 50mm f/2 R WR. Built specifically for the X-series mirrorless cameras, the focal length comes in at an equivalent 76mm and has a wide and bright f/2 aperture.
A Super EBC coating reduces the effects of flaring and ghosting, while the aspherical extra-low dispersion element increases sharpness, while also improving clarity. Fully weather-resistant with a simple layout, this lens produces super sharp images and is also fast to focus. For the Fuji owners out there, this is an excellent lens which provides crisp quality along with lovely bokeh effects.
The Canon TS-E 50mm f/2.8L MACRO is far from being a regular 50mm lens with simple workings. Canon also offers other 50mm optics if you want a more straightforward approach. But, if you want a 50mm lens with macro abilities and is tilt shift, then this is possibly your only option.
You’re not short of features with this lens, with a +/- 8.5 degrees of tilt and +/- 12mm of shift available, with a close focusing distance of 27cm and a macro reproduction ratio of 1:2. This lens is also rather weighty coming in at 945g, with 12 elements arranged in a groups, two ultra-low dispersion and one aspherical element, plus Air Sphere and SubWavelength structure coating.
This Canon lens ticks almost every box for a top of the line 50mm lens, with fantastic image quality, but the downside is that it’s rather expensive. Meaning that if you don’t have a regularly use for the tilt shift or macro functions, then you will get more bang for your buck with a regular Canon L series lens. Still, if you can afford this one, it’s a great solution to have in your lens arsenal. As another top-end 50mm from Canon, you could try the EF 50mm f/1.2L USM.
The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens comes as a premium offering, but is still great value considering its optical quality and the fact that it can fit the most popular of camera mounts. It features 13 elements arranged in eight groups, with a super multi-layer coating and a floating optical system.
At the widest aperture, images are very sharp, but really hit the optimum at f/2, where sharpness across the frame comes into fine detail. The aperture of f/1.4 works extremely well for portraits and while some may argue that f/1.2 is the ultimate aperture width at 50mm, in reality it can be just a bit too shallow for many uses.
Considering the price point and overall image quality, this lens would take the top spot if it wasn’t for the pristine overall quality of the Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA.
Nikon has always offered a good quality 50mm lens in their lineup, with the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 50mm f/1.8G being a great example. Very reasonably priced considering the optical quality, this lens has a wide f/1.8 aperture with an aspherical element to reduce lens aberrations and to improve clarity and sharpness.
Sharpness comes into its own on this lens by f/2 across the frame, with flaring and ghosting being kept well in check. On the down side, the lens can show quite a bit of vignetting when the aperture is wide open and with small amounts of barrel distortion, needing to be stopped down past f/5.6 to clear up matters.
As a general all-purpose 50mm lens for the Nikon platform the cost justifies the quality, making the 50mm f/1.8G a good quality, versatile lens.
When it comes to cost-effective 50mm lenses, the Samyang AF 50mm f/1.4 FE provides a good deal of optical quality for money. It provides a nice wide f/1.4 aperture consisting of nine elements in eight groups, with three aspherical elements and an Ultra Multi Coating.
The lens isn’t exactly small for a 50mm and weighs in at 585g, but it does offer excellent image quality for the price, with low levels of distortion and lens anomalies. The f/1.4 aperture can also produce extremely good-looking bokeh, with good subject to background separation. As a medium priced lens which is available for many camera mounts, the Samyang is a very good middle-of-the-road option.
7. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM (Budget Winner)
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM may not deliver the best quality optics on this list and it is rather plasticky-feeling, but as a cost-effective solution that has better image quality than the price suggests, you can’t go wrong with this offering.
At around $100, the lens has six elements arranged in eight groups, with a Super Spectra Coating and reasonably fast STM stepping AF motor with manual override. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM has a simple layout, with only a AF/MF switch and manual focus ring which is quite narrow, but at only 160g, this lens is also the lightest on the list.
Image quality is very good considering the price, and with the aperture at f/1.8, background blur looks very nice, even though the edges do suffer from some softness. This is obviously a cheaper lens offering, but the reason why it is so popular is because the image quality is far better than the price would normally allow. It’s just a shame that other camera makers don’t have an equal entry-level 50mm lens.
Summary of the Best 50mm Lenses
With plenty of 50mm lenses on the market, there is no excuse to not have one of these standard lenses for general photography purposes. A 50mm lens also serves as a great starting point when you are dipping your toe into prime lenses and makes for a great practice tool, from which you can specialize later in the more wide-angle or telephoto prime lenses available.