Testing my new 24mm and 50mm primes and why I bought them

by Luther Photographer June. 08, 2017 810 views

Recently, I have made some changes to my photo equipment. The basic idea was to only have primes, except for my 70-200 which I need for sport and animals. I have had the Canon EF 85 1.8 for a very long time and am very pleased with it. I also still have the Canon EF 50 1.8 II. Many people complain about its build quality but what bothers me most with this lens is the unreliable autofocus. The Canon EF 50 1.4 USM resided very shortly with me as it was way more pricy but optically not any better (even less sharper) than the aforementioned lens. Apart from them, there were always zooms.

View from my balcony | EOS 6D | EF 50mm 1.8 STM | 1/640s | F2.8 | ISO 100

View from my balcony | EOS 6D | EF 50mm 1.8 STM | 1/640s | F2.8 | ISO 100

So why primes? In my opinion, there are seven reasons. Compared to zooms, primes (usually) are:

  1. sharper
  2. faster
  3. smaller
  4. lighter
  5. cheaper
  6. cooler
  7. different to use.

The last point sounds quite obvious. In fact, it covers many basic aspects of photography. Of course it it less convenient if you have to walk to frame your image properly instead of turning the zoom ring. On the other hand, it forces you to think and learn about composition and the effect of different angles. E.g. an impressive building on a big square might not look that great anymore if you zoom it into your frame as opposed to approaching and fully framing it with a wide angle prime.

Streets of Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 24mm 2.8 | 1/50s | F13 | ISO 100

Streets of Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 24mm 2.8 | 1/50s | F13 | ISO 100

So what primes? I learned how to use a camera with my dad's Pentax SLR from the 1970s. He had to primes, a 28mm 2.8 for landscapes etc. and a 50mm 1.7 for portraits and general purpose. That is almost all you need.

A couple of years ago, I got tired of carrying my DSLR and zoom lens around on every occasion and trip. I bought a used Fuji X100 and was very happy with it. This camera has a built-in 23mm F2.0 prime and a APS-C sensor, which makes it field of view equivalent to that of a 35mm lens on 35 mm film or full frame. Since I got my EOS 6D, I have not taken the Fuji with me on trips anymore. That is because the 6D has WIFI and GPS and I realised that I need a proper camera in my hand. I paired it with the EF 35 2.0 IS USM and hence had a bigger and heavier, but still quite light option to the Fuji, plus more functions and better image quality.

Wall at a centre of culture, Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 24mm 2.8 | 1/60s | F2.8 | ISO 100

Wall at a centre of culture, Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 24mm 2.8 | 1/60s | F2.8 | ISO 100

Despite being very pleased with the results and flexibility of that body and lens combination, I was looking for a wide angle lens as sometimes 35mm was not wide enough for me. It should be as wide as 20mm or even wider, I thought. No lens in that focal length area proved useful for what I had in mind and/or in my wallet. At one point I came across the old EF 24 2.8 from 1988, read some positive reviews and bought it. As most standard zooms start at either 24 or 28mm, I figured that 24mm could be wide enough for most purposes.

Centre of culture, Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 24mm 2.8 | 1/100s | F5.6 | ISO 100

Centre of culture, Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 24mm 2.8 | 1/100s | F5.6 | ISO 100

Equipped with 24 and 85mm primes, I was looking for another prime to fill the gap between them. This lens should be used for half/full body portraits, streetlife and general purpose. I could have kept the EF 35 2.0 IS USM as it serves very well in all the mentioned domains. However, it should also be a lens to be carried around with the 24mm all the time. For that aim, I considered the 35mm too close to the 24mm in terms of focal length and it would have made the set a bit too big and heavy. So I sold the 35mm and was planning on buying either the EF 40 2.8 STM or the EF 50 1.8 STM. After reading lots of reviews and comparisons, I came to the conclusion that the decision should not be made on the basis of image quality as the lenses are said to perform rather equally well.

Art installation at a centre of culture, Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 50mm 1.8 STM | 1/160s | F2.0 | ISO 100

Art installation at a centre of culture, Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 50mm 1.8 STM | 1/160s | F2.0 | ISO 100

My arguments:

pro EF 40 2.8 STM:

  • smaller
  • lighter
  • closer to the normal focal length of 43mm or the very useful 35mm

pro EF 50 1.8 STM:

  • cheaper
  • faster autofocus
  • looks like a real lens rather than a lens cap
  • better compliment to the 24mm as 24 and 40mm might be too close to each other
  • faster

In my opinion, the last argument is the only really substantual one. 1 1/3 stops is a lot. So I bought the 50mm lens and went on a little walk with my two new lenses.

Street scene in Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 50mm 1.8 STM | 1/100s | F2.2 | ISO 100

Street scene in Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 50mm 1.8 STM | 1/100s | F2.2 | ISO 100

I much prefer the look and feel of the 50 1.8 STM compared to that of the 50 1.8 II. The manual zoom is electronic, not mechanic, which is a little uncool, but works well. I still need to figure out whether I really need a lens cap on this one as the front lens is quite far inside the objective construction.

Night at the Maschsee lake, Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 50mm 1.8 STM | 1/50s | F2.0 | ISO 5000

Night at the Maschsee lake, Hannover | EOS 6D | EF 50mm 1.8 STM | 1/50s | F2.0 | ISO 5000

Both lenses and the 6D fit quite well in my small camera bag, so that I am now perfectly armed for city tours and holiday trips. I consider this set the perfect compromise between weight, price, optical quality and usefulness for the named photographic purposes.

What do you think about this? How does your equipment look like? Feel fee to leave a comment.

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