I’ve know folks who eschew their humble 50mm ‘normal’ lens in favor of zoom lenses – the poor normal lens gets pushed to the bottom of their camera bags, and is never ever used except in rare instances when they remember that its good for low light indoors photography – but then again, since most cameras have an on board flash that kicks in automatically when the light levels are low, most take the easy way out. In fact, the manual Zuiko 50mm f/1.8 is so ubiquitous and pathetically cheap on Ebay, it’s almost treated as a paperweight in spite of its superb performance.

So, I beg to differ. The “normal” is the cheapest prime that one can buy, and the 50mm is usually the fastest lens in a lens manufacturers’ line-up, opening up to f/1.7 or f/1.8. A comparable mid-range zoom that encompasses the normal range, such as a short zoom, say 35-70mm or 28-80mm usually has an aperture of f/4 – f/5.6. If one were to look for something in the f/2-f2.8 range, it would run into several hundred dollars, putting it beyond the reach of most amateur photographers. Professionals, of course can always write off the cost of fancy equipment as a business expense. 🙂 Not being so lucky, we need to do the most with what’s available.

Consider what you can do with this lens in landscape photography, especially in the pre-dawn or twilight hours. In the wide open spaces, the 50mm acts like a wide angle – for that matter, even a 200mm telephoto becomes a wide-angle when encompassing large landscapes! I used this lens to good effect in Colorado – I was at the 4 Eagle Ranch about 45 minutes west of Vail, and I shot with my Minolta Dynax 800si and Maxxum AF 28-80mm f/4-5.6 lens with Fuji Superia 400 film all evening when the light was good. After the sunset, I switched to the 50mm f1.7 because of the rapidly failing light, and took a horse-drawn cart ride down a dirt trail. The lens allowed me to shoot without shake in spite of the bumpy ride, and I was very pleased with the results. The first 4 pictures in the sequence show the progressive fall-off in light – the 4th was really in dusk conditions and I was not at all sure that I had a shot.

4 Eagle Ranch #1
4 Eagle Ranch #2
4 Eagle Ranch #3
4 Eagle Ranch #4
4 Eagle Ranch #5

Photographed with a Minolta Dynax 800s using Maxxum AF 50mm f/1.7 lens and Fuji Superia 400 film

text and images © 2007 ajoy muralidhar. all names, websites, brands and technical data referenced are the copyright or trademark of their respective owners.