BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: Questions with Sample Photos

Photography Question 
Michael w. Reid

50mm lens

My Mamiya/sekor 35mm came with a 50mm lens. What considerations to shutter speed, aperture settings, and film ASA should I know? And what is its best application?

To love this question, log in above

Jeff K. Files   Hi Michael,
Of course your 50mm lens will work at any shutter speed that your camera has and any aperture that your lens is capable of.
The only thing I can think of pertaining to shutter speed is the old rule of thumb that says for hand holding the camera use a shutter speed that is the reciprocal of the lens focal length. For instance with your 50 mm you would want to use at least 1/60 of a second or faster. For slower speeds use a tripod.
As for aperture I would say that for best image sharpness you would probably want to avoid the widest apertures. In other words, you will probably notice that your photos are sharper at f4 than they are at f 1.4 .
Film? The focal length of the lens has no bearing on film choice. The speed of the lens could dictate the speed of film chosen at times. If I had to suggest an all around film for the average photographer it would be 400 ISO. While a slower film might have a slight advantage in sharpness, the 400 allows faster shutter speeds and/or smaller apertures. Camera shake and wide apertures accounts for more fuzzy photos than does fast film. Even 800 ISO film can make great photos.
What is a 50 mm good for? Anything you want. It would be easier to say what it's not good for. It obviously won't get close-ups of the players at a football game but it will get good photos of the players on the sidelines. It isn't good for close-up shots of a person's face but it will make great photos of people and their environment. Try this. Over the next 12 months shoot 50-100 rolls of film and then come tell me what it's good for. It's a good lens.
You have a nice day.

To love this comment, log in above

Michael w. Reid   Thanks a million, Jeff. All that info is exactly what I needed. I'll take your advice, shoot a load of film and get back to you. YOU have a nice day too. MR

To love this comment, log in above

John A. Lind
BetterPhoto Member Since: 9/27/2001
  The Blacksmith's Apprentice
The Blacksmith's Apprentice
In trouble with a slow film speed (ISO 100) inside the dimly lit blacksmith shop. Shot at about 1/4 second with camera body braced against a doorway. The slight blur of the arms lends a sense of motion. Kodak Elitechrome 100.
© John A. Lind
Jeff covered almost all the bases. For 35mm format, the 50mm focal length is the "standard" one. It is the workhorse for general purpose photography. Why? Because its angle of view is almost the same as the primary field of human vision. It will likely be the fastest too (with widest aperture). I always recommend that beginners in 35mm photography start with a standard 50mm lens, and never part with it (unless replacing it with another 50mm).

My opinion differs from Jeff's about film speed. As Jeff mentions, it's not determined by lens focal length. It should be determined by how much light you have, the combinations of aperture and shutter speed you can set, and the combinations of aperture and shutter speed you want for the type of photography you plan to do.

I use ISO 64, 100 and 160 films almost exclusively. The reason? The bulk of my work is outdoors during the day. Film speeds in this range give me the greatest latitude in selecting an aperture to control depth of field. ISO 400 and 800 film can get you into trouble on a bright sunny day. The rule of thumb is 1/ISO at f/16 in bright sunlight. Most standard lenses only stop down to f/16. With ISO 400 on an older camera, you can use 1/500 @ f/16 or 1/1000 @ f/11. Not much of a choice, and you cannot stop open to shorten the depth of field for sharp close-up subject against a blurred distant background. With ISO 800, you're pretty much left with 1/1000 @ f/16.

With a slower film at ISO 64, you can run from 1/60 @ f/16 to 1/1000 @ f/4 allowing you five combinations of shutter speed and aperture, and with ISO 100 you have four, but won't get into trouble as fast at dusk (about a half hour after sunset). ISO works pretty well for outdoor daytime general photography. Exceptions might stop-action scenes with very fast moving objects where you might want fastest possible shutter speeds and smaller apertures. For some benchmarks, I've found that 1/125th will stop most people's normal motions; 1/250th will almost stop a swinging baseball bat, and 1/500 will almost stop a pitched fastball.

One of the advantages of the slower films is the grain is smaller meaning better sharpness in larger enlargements. As you gain experience, you will learn tricks in how to cope when you're stuck with slow film in low light, such as bracing against a door frame or against a tree, or on a railing. I'm uploading a photo shot probably around 1/4 second, camera body braced against a doorframe, inside a dimly lit blacksmith shop to show you how this can work.

As you start shooting the 50-100 rolls of film Jeff suggested (a good one too), don't discount trying several different film speeds. After a while you will settle on what works best for you under the lighting levels you normally have and the type of photography you are normally doing. The speeds Jeff suggested might be what you need, but you may also discover the slower film speeds give you some options wouldn't have with the faster ones.

-- John

To love this comment, log in above

Log in to respond or ask your own question.