The Lens We Love for Photographers on a Budget

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We're Amy & Jordan
We're here to help you take amazing photos, build a successful business and live a beautiful life. We're high school sweethearts, parents of three and teachers at heart. 
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We’re in the middle of a series on the lenses we love. We’re explaining all of the lenses we own, why we decided to purchase them, and how we use them on wedding days (and on portrait sessions). You can catch up on this series here:

“Invest in glass that lasts,” our photography mentor told us, as he showed us how to screw on a lens for the very first time. “You’ll never make a profit in this business if you’re gear poor, if you’re always buying the latest and greatest.” We didn’t forget it. Lenses are the most valuable part of our arsenal. It’s one of the few places we recommend going “all in.” Cameras and flashes have life expectancies, but like desert tortoises, good lenses can even outlive their owners.

When we started our business, we wanted the best equipment “like everyone else,” but we’re Dave Ramsey followers, so we had to be patient, save up, and pay cash. And we did. That’s why the first lens we purchased has such a special place in our heart. It was ours. The Canon 50mm 1.4 is our bargain baby. For the price, it can’t be beat. It’s better than any kit lens that comes with those oh-so-tempting retail specials, and it’s the first lens we recommend for beginning photographers looking to take the next step. We opted for a 50mm lens for three reasons:

1. It’s a great teacher.

50mm lenses see the world exactly like you do. Lenses with focal lengths shorter than 50mm see the world wider than the naked eye. Lenses with focal lengths longer than 50mm see the world tighter than the naked eye. This is a “prime” lens, which means it doesn’t zoom in or out. What you see is what you get, and that’s an advantage for new photographers. 50mm lenses force you to improve as a photographer by moving and adapting to the environment around you to create the look you want. If you want a wider look, you have to step back. If you want a tighter look, you have to step forward. We recommend that beginning photographers use prime lenses as much as possible because prime lenses force you to establish your own photographic style, and get up-close-and-personal with your subjects.

2. It allows for a beautifully shallow depth of field.

Our first professional lens offered us a whole new world of “depth of field” for the first time, the effect created by focusing on the subject and blurring the background. The number at the end of every lens is its lowest aperture (1.4 in this case). The lower the aperture, the wider the hole opens. The wider the hole opens, the shallower the depth of field and the more blurred the background will be. The higher the aperture, the less depth of field and the more focused the background will be. When you hear people say “We’re shooting ‘wide open’ right now,” it simply means the aperture is as low (or as wide) as it will go, creating that beautiful shallow depth of field. We shoot almost everything at wide apertures (1.2 – 2.8) to draw out our subjects and give the background a nice, creamy look.

3. You can’t beat the price

Generally speaking, the wider the aperture of a prime lens, the steeper the price tag. This little nugget is a steal of a deal, and the best bang for your buck. When you’re stretching every dollar, there isn’t a better value out there.

Although we don’t use this lens anymore (you’ll read about it’s bigger, badder sister later on) we keep it in our bag as a reminder of where we started. It’s there to humble us, and help us celebrate how far we’ve come. And let’s face it, it was our first love. The 50 1.4 is our oldest teddy bear, our old, yellowed  love note, our dried flowers from prom. If you’re just getting started, it might just be time to invest in some glass. This would be a great place to start. Have a great week, and let’s make each other better.

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  1. Sara Williams Ackman says:

    I have a question. I see that there is a 50mm 1.8 that is somewhat less expensive. What is your opinion between the 1.4 and 1.8? Is it worth it to save the few extra dollars to get the 1.4, or is the difference not enough and just get the 1.8?

    • Amy & Jordan says:

      Hi Sara! We’ve never used the 50mm 1.8 so we can’t speak from a place of experience on that, but we loved our 50mm 1.4 and, from other photographers we’ve talked with who’ve used both, it’s been a better buy for a little bit more money. Hope that helps!

      • Sara Williams Ackman says:

        Thank you!

        • Emily says:

          I’m sure you’ve already made your decision, but I just thought I’d drop a note to say the 1.8 has a bit of a reputation for having focus issues, which has been true in my own experience with it. I would recommend the 1.4 if you have just a little extra cash.

  2. patricia says:

    I have the 1.8 and I love it!! I bought it second hand for next to nothing and the previous owner hardly used it so it was as good as new. the people I have spoken to only refer to the outside as a huge plus for the 1.4. but if you don’t mind plastic then I would say go plastic fantastic and get the 1.8 you won’t be sorry! maybe you can borrow the 1.8 and 1.4 from a friend or rent it from a store and try it out first.

  3. Valeri says:

    Thank you for the article! Which camera do you use? I have 7D. I have concerns whether it’s better to buy Canon 35mm 1.2 IS USM (as 50mm equivalent for the crop) or 50mm 1.4 is good choice for the crop too?

  4. Ahmed says:

    Hi . Please can you advise me wich lens should i buy ( standerd prime lens ) . I have nikon d5300 and it is croup frame . And the lenses that i can buy either nikkir 35mm fx , or nikkor 50mm but it isnt wrote on it ( fx) is this will give me 75mm real focal lengths ? And i already have 18-55mm and 18-140mm
    Thank you vary vary much. And i will waitting your answer ..

  5. Samantha says:

    Have you ever had a problem with the autofocus with the 50mm 1.4? I have heard a lot of great things about this lens, and the price is fantastic, but I have also heard that the autofocus can be tricky, which makes me hesitant to buy. (I am a children and family photographer, so my clients are always moving, hence the reliance on autofocus!)

  6. Katy Hulten says:

    I have a cropped sensor camera and am borrowing a 50 mm. Do you recommend I get the 35 mm instead for my first lens? I am finding all my photos too cropped on the 50. Thank you! And apreciate all the advice

    • Amy & Jordan says:

      Hi Katy! Yep! Your crop sensor will treat a 50mm lens like an 85mm lens, so we’d recommend borrowing a 35mm lens if you want that 50mm look with a crop sensor. Hope that helps!

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