I know that many of you will have this lens, because it's probably the one that most people go for when upgrading from their kit lens! When I first got this lens a few years ago, I would hear about the quality of it for the price and how tack-sharp my images were going to be, but they weren't, in fact every single one looked downright soft! So the lens got shoved back into my camera bag and forgotten about. But not one to give up on $125 easily, I decided to take the time to figure it out - and I'm so glad I did! So, here's my tips for how to use the 50mm 1.8 and get the sharp images it is capable of!
1) DON'T USE F1.8 JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN!
Firstly, the most important one - Don't go all the way down to just F1.8 because you can!! (as tempting as it is) The depth of field is so narrow at this aperture that it is extremely difficult to get the area you want in focus, so you are going to end up with a ton of out of focus shots. For example, when doing portrait shots at 1.8, you will notice that you will frequently get the eyebrow in sharp focus or the nose - but not the eye which is what you are going for! So, just go a few stops higher (I would use around 2.8) and you will still throw the background out of focus and get lots of nice creamy bokeh, but I guarantee you'll get a lot more of your shots in focus!
If your main purpose for shooting with a super wide aperture was to get that fantastic background blur (bokeh) you see on pro's images, check out these two posts which will help you maximise blur, even if you are stopped down a little more.
2) DIFFUSE YOUR FLASH
The second reason for using a super wide aperture is If you are shooting in low light conditions and need to let more light into the camera. Rather than using too wide an aperture, consider using your pop up flash but ONLY with a diffuser - here's an article I wrote about getting better images with your pop up flash that might help)
3) WATCH YOUR DEPTH OF FIELD
Even at 2.8, you will find the depth of field quite shallow. If you are taking a picture of a person, and their eyes are not both facing you and on the same plane, you will see that the eye closest to the camera is razor sharp, but the eye behind is very soft, even though it is only out of being on the same focal plane by a centimetre or two. To get both eyes in focus, either adjust your aperture to a higher setting or position your subject so that both eyes are the same distance from the camera, or move yourself into a different position. For the same reason, when photographing more than one person, use a higher F-stop number to avoid getting one person in sharp focus, and then rest all blurry!
3) REMEMBER THE MINIMUM FOCUSING DISTANCE
Don't get too close to your subject. This is not a macro lens, and it can only focus at least 45cm away from the subject.
4) WATCH YOUR SHOOTING POSITION
If you are using a cropped body camera (which you most likely are if you are if you are using this lens - only the higher-end cameras are full-frame) remember the view through your camera means everything will look closer than it actually is. Just stand further back than you would to take in the scene by the naked eye. (Remember, it's a fixed lens so you have to zoom with your feet!) If you are used to a zoom it takes a little while to get used to putting yourself in the right position in the first place. The 50mm focal length on a cropped body makes an excellent portrait lens due to your distance from subject, and the pleasing background blur you can get with it!
5) USE A HIGH SHUTTER SPEED
The low aperture numbers enables you to use faster shutter speeds. When it comes to photographing kids, try to get a shutter speed of at least 1/200 - more if they are active. Crank up the ISO to get the shutter speed you want rather than be tempted to stop down to 1.8 unless you are very sure of your focusing skills. If you are worried about introducing noise by using a high ISO, don't be too concerned: it can be better to have an in focus image with a little noise (that is fixable in processing) instead of a soft image due to motion blur (which isn't) The tips in this following article were a life saver for me when I was shooting with a Rebel and the 50mm F1.8 lens, so well worth a read if you think you have a problem with noise:
6) LEARN ABOUT FOCUS
For still subjects, use single point AF and for moving subjects, use Al Servo. I've written two guides to focusing: one for moving subjects and one for still subjects - I strongly suggest you give these a read as brushing up on your focusing skills will have a big impact on how this lens performs.
Also, the depth of field is so narrow when using a low aperture that it's better to know exactly where you are focusing, instead of letting the camera choose the focal points for you!
7) REMEMBER THE LENS IS SHARPER TWO STOPS DOWN
Most lenses, including this one, are slightly sharper when not used at their widest aperture. It can vary from lens to lens, but generally it will be sharper two stops down, so around F2.5 to F2.8 for this lens, but test your own to see what you think.
8) IT'S NOT THE GEAR THAT MATTERS, ITS THE PERSON HOLDING IT
The most important thing to remember is that you can take stunning images with your 50mm F1.8, you just need to learn how to use it! Learning about light and how to expose correctly for it will have a huge impact on how your final images turn out - regardless of which lens or camera they were taken with. Spend some time learning about exposure, light and composition too, so you can create images with that WOW factor. (Taking control of ALL the elements of your images is something we go into in depth in my Auto to Awesome ecourse)
P.S I've since upgraded my lens to the Canon 50mm F.14 - if you are interested in seeing the difference between the two lenses, you can see the comparison between the 50mm F1.4 and the 50mm F1.8 here. If you would like a peek inside my camera bag, you can have a look here.