Prime Suspect: my plastic fantastic
By David Moore
16 Aug 2007
It's cheap, plastic and it wheezes. But it's by far my favorite lens. My precious is the Canon 50mm f/1.8 II lens.
Eschewing such luxury developments as USM focusing or full-time manual (and don't even think about image stabilization), this $70 lens - known variously as the 'nifty fifty'. 'thrifty fifty' or 'plastic fantastic' - produces amazing results.
It's in no way a pro-grade 'L' lens, but Canon have been working on this classic for decades - 50mm is seen as the standard focal length for 35mm film cameras - and it does one thing very well.
Bought on the strength of the recommendations (Amazon reviewers in their hundreds sing its praises, and even the picky crowd over at Fred Miranda can't say enough good things about it), I was anxious to see how it compared to the competent but not amazing 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 consumer zoom that I'd transferred from my old film SLR to my new Canon Rebel XT.
The nifty fifty felt like a toy, with its plastic mount and worrying lack of heft. But when I looked at the first shots I took, I was amazed.
They were murderously sharp with faithful color rendition and an overall feel so much better than you've a right to expect for $70. If this was what it meant to use primes, I was hooked.
It's small and unobtrusive, while also fast enough for low-light shots of my constantly moving 2-year old daughter. And the necessity of zooming with your feet makes me think harder about framing and composition.
With the 1.6 crop factor, it's a reasonably long 85mm, so it works well as a walkaround lens outdoors. But its real strength is in portraiture, where its sharpness and creamy bokeh production really shine.
The autofocus is slow and grinding, and you wouldn't want to shake it too hard, but when it finally breaks (or if I lose down the back of the couch), I'll run out and by another one instantly.