The 50mm focal length has always been one of my favorites. On a full frame or Super 35mm camera a 50mm lens will act as a beautiful ‘normal’ length lens, closely resembling the field of view of the human eye, while on crop sensor cameras (such as Micro Four Thirds) they become excellent telephoto or portrait style lenses. I really wanted to share some of my favorite affordable 50mm lenses with all of you readers out there, so be sure to read on to see my top 5 picks.
Why 50mm Lenses Are So Great
Put simply, many 50mm lenses offer superb image quality, a fast aperture and a low price point. Certain focal lengths are more challenging to design and manufacture than others, which is why there are fewer lens choices when you get to the extreme wide angle or extreme telephoto side of the spectrum… And they are usually a whole lot more expensive too. Without getting into the science of how lenses are created, it’s safe to say that certain focal lengths (50mm and 85mm in particular) usually offer the highest performance to cost ratio. That’s why you might be able to find a 50mm lens for under $200 that outperforms a far more expensive lens in terms of sharpness, color accuracy and distortion, if the other lens happens to be a wide angle or telephoto. There are certainly exceptions to this rule, but for the most part 50mm lenses offer a tremendous amount of bang for your buck and are most definitely conducive to the cinematic look.
A few things to note before I jump into my top 5 list…
As stated in the title of this article, the lenses on this list are intended to be budget friendly. In other words, I am not including Zeiss Superspeeds, Cookes or any other very high end cinema lenses as they are simply far too expensive for most filmmakers to afford. Instead, I want to share with you some 50mm lenses that will deliver results not too far off from much more expensive glass, but at a price point that is affordable to the indie filmmaker. As such, not all of these lenses are ‘cinema housed’ – meaning that they don’t necessarily have a manual aperture, follow focus gears, or hard stops on the focus ring. However, they can be used in a filmmaking environment easily with the usual workarounds.
Also – I’ve decided to base this list on full frame EF lenses, as each one on the list can be adapted to different camera mounts, including MFT.
Canon 50mm f/1.4
Why it made the list: This lens is truly a workhorse and offers a lot of value for your money. While it isn’t as cheap as the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lens or as fast as it’s bigger brother, the Canon f/1.2 L-Series lens, it is the ideal 50mm for filmmakers on a budget. It is an extremely sharp lens, the colors are beautifully, and at f/1.4 it is very fast. While the L-series lens is slightly faster and has a bit of a better build quality, I wouldn’t recommend spending the extra money unless you are a more seasoned shooter and really need the extra speed.
Canon 50mm f/1.4 – $399 at B & H
Zeiss 50mm f/1.4
Why it made the list: I mentioned up top that I wouldn’t be including Zeiss Superspeeds on this list (since they are far too expensive), but this 50mm photo lens from Zeiss is much more affordable and delivers the gorgeous quality that we all expect of Zeiss. While it is by no means the cheapest lens on this list, at $725 it really is a bargain considering the quality of the optics, not to mention the build of the lens body, which is designed to last a very long time.
Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 ZE Planar T – $725 at B & H
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art Lens
Why it made the list: Sigma has been releasing some incredible lenses over the last couple of years, some of which are falling into their ‘Art Lens’ category. This is actually the most expensive lens on the list, and almost didn’t make the cut (as I wanted to keep all of the lenses under $1000), but if you have some extra cash to spend, it is well worth it. I have shot with this lens twice now and have been very impressed with the sharpness, detail and skintones that it produces, and for anyone already invested in Sigma glass it is a no brainer.
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens – $949 at B & H
Sigma 50mm f/2.8
Why it made the list: If you own some Sigma glass already and are looking to cover your 50mm focal range, but don’t want to spend almost $1000 for the Art Lens – this is a great alternative. The physical build and overall feel of the lens is excellent, and the image quality it produces is nothing to scoff at. The big consideration with this lens is that it’s not as fast as the other lenses on this list as it only opens up to f/2.8, but not everyone requires an extremely fast lens. Personally speaking, I usually set my lenses to f/2.8 or above anyways in order to achieve the sharpest image possible.
Sigma Normal 50mm f/2.8 – $349 at B & H
Rokinon 50mm T1.5 Cine Lens
Why it made the list: First are foremost this is the only cinema housed lens on the list, which is a big consideration for some shooters. I also love that this lens is part of a bigger kit, so if you are looking to invest in an affordable cinema lens package, this 50mm could be an excellent starting point. It is very fast at T1.5 (which is about an f/1.4 equivalent on this lens) and when stopped down just slightly it is quite sharp as well. Other lenses on this list may give you a slightly sharper or more accurate image, but this Rokinon 50mm is the only that will offer a true cinema lens experience.
Rokinon 50mm T1.5 AS UMC Cine DS
All of the lenses on this list are capable of delivering great results. Choosing between them largely comes down to what lenses you already own in your kit, your budget, and what your needs are as a filmmaker. If you own a ton of Sigma or Canon glass, then complimenting your kit with a lens that will match well is always a good idea. But if you are starting completely from scratch, or are more of an eclectic lens buyer, the Zeiss or Rokinon might be best for you.
For more tips on cine-style shooting, be sure to check out My Guide For Capturing Cinematic Images With Your DSLR.
Great article. I have the Rokinon Cine series- 14, 24, 35, 85 but no 50mm. I am going to add my Sigma 50mm 1.4 to this cine kit! Thoughts?
(Shooting on BMPC6k)
It’s a great lens! Why not go Rokinon though to keep it all consistent?
Would you recommend the 50-100mm Sigma for my ursa mini 4.6k? Looking for something to compliment my 18-35 but worry that I would not be able to hand hold the 50-100 with out IS
Hey Chris – Great question. I use the 50-100 handheld on my Ursa Mini 4.6K, but generally need to keep it at 50mm (or close to it) if I want it to be stable. At 100mm, it’s pretty bumpy, but if you have a smooth hand you might be okay with it. That said, I typically find stabilized lenses can look a little funky when shot handheld at long focal lengths… Sometimes it causes some unwanted jitters and artifacts in the footage. Just some food for thought…
Which 50 would you recommend for the Blackmagic Pocket Camera? Thanks!
Are you looking for a true 50mm lens? Or 50mm equivalent on the pocket?
Noam, bmpcc with metabones speed booster for cannon. 50mm equivalent with the above set.
Hey Daniel! A 35mm lens will give you approximated a 50mm FOV on BMPCC with the Speed Booster (which reduces crop to 1.75). Hope this answers your question!
I do have some problems with infinity focus with the Minolta Rokkor, but these week I got the Nikkor 50mm 1.4 and is a great, great lens!!! I will do some comparisons between Rokkor and Nikkor and post the results!
Awesome – please do! I love the Nikkor 50mm. So crisp.
Hi Noam! I have just buy a Minolta Rokkor-x (1969) 50mm f/1.4 for mi G6 for US30!!! Paired with Metabones, amazing results.
Awesome! Thanks for letting me know. Glad it’s working out for you.
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When it comes to sharp primes for filming you should definitely talk about some vintage lenses. There are several great ones that you can get in good condition on ebay for less than $100. id say there are probably even better than some of your 5 picks, because their focus rings can be extremely smooth and most of the time have aperture control built in.
Great point Pietz. I would love to do a post at some point in the future specifically looking at vintage glass, so thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.
A 50mm Nikkor manual lens + EF adapter is a good, dirt cheap alternative to Canon EOS fifties. You can get the 1.8 AFD + adapter from around $80. The 1.4 Ai-S is about $200 with adapter, still cheaper than the EF equivalent. Or 50mm 1.8 Nikon-E if you want one that’s very light and compact.
With Nikkor lenses on EF mount, you lose auto-focus, but who really needs them for video. You gain a far better “pro”: physical aperture rings (which run “the wrong way, unfortunately, but still faster to operate when out in the field).
Great point. I absolutely love that lens and just used it yesterday myself. Thanks for the comment.
No mention of Nikon 50 1.4? How come?
That’s actually one of my favorite lenses, but for this article I wanted to keep everything to EF mount lenses for consistency. It definitely deserves an honorable mention though!
Like many film makers, I want the film look. I know getting the highest quality lens is important to the look of a film. Which would you get? A couple of standard ziess (declicked) lenses…or lower priced Cinema lenses like Rokinon? I can’t afford the Cinema ziess and don’t want to rent. So should I go for ziess quality versus Cinema type lenses?
Hi Evan – I would personally make that decision based on your rig (or lack thereof). In other words, if you have a full cinema style rig with rails, matte box, follow focus, etc. I think a cinema-style lens like the Rokinon will be your best bet. It’s not a Zeiss, but it’ll still look really great. That said, if you mainly shoot on sticks and without a rig, you might want to opt for the higher quality optics of the Zeiss…