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 keep hearing about the quality of the lens 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 - because the Canon 50mm is truly an amazing lens, you just have to know how to get the best out of it.
So, here's my tips for how to use the 50mm 1.8 and get the sharp, awesome 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 use a slightly higher F number (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, then be sure to check out this step by step post on how to get a blurred background!)
2) Watch your depth of field
Even at F2.8, you will find the depth of field quite shallow, so be careful.
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 mere 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!
(If you’d like to get a better idea of which aperture, ISO and shutter speed to use when, make sure you download the FREE manual mode cheat sheet, and you’ll get suggested numbers for all your settings!) Click on the image below to download:
3) Keep in mind 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.
The solution is simple - just stand further back than you would to take in the scene by the naked eye.
Also keep in mind that it's a fixed lens so you have to zoom with your feet! If you are used to a using a zoom lens it takes a little while to get used to putting yourself in the right position in the first place.
As a side note, 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
One of the benefits of being able to use low aperture numbers such as F2.8, is that it 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.
You will be much better off cranking up the ISO to get the shutter speed you need, rather than being tempted to use F1.8 unless you are very sure of your focusing skills and working out your depth of field.
I get it - you might be worried about introducing noise by using a high ISO, but 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)
(Pssst! Don’t forget to download the free manual settings cheat sheet that will help you know which “numbers” to use for diffferent things!)
6) Learn about Focus (Toggle Your Focus Points)
For still subjects, use single point AF and for moving subjects, use Al Servo.
Also, as 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!
This way you will get much sharper images, and get exactly what you want in focus.
7) 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, and how your particular lens performs.
8) It's not the gear that matters, it's 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 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.