Some photo instructors advocate using only a fifty millimeter fixed focal length lens as a creative exercise. A nice idea for an exercise, but I really did not want to do this while on an extended trip along the Alaskan and British Columbia coast by boat.
I did not get a choice in the matter.
Looking to pack light I had taken only three lenses to accompany the Canon 60D that would travel with me. This set included a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens, a 70-200mm f/4 L series telephoto, and a 50mm f/1.8. The 50mm was almost left behind, I grabbed it on a whim while packing realizing that it took up very little room.
It was a few days into the trip when trouble appeared. I began to get occasional errors when using the 17-85mm, the camera complaining about a lens communication error. After a day this became a serious issue, the camera refusing to take photos with the lens. The other lenses worked fine, thus I was sure the trouble was in the lens, not the camera.
Sitting down and experimenting, I discovered that the issue only occurred if I was attempting to stop down the lens, used wide open I had no problem. During a series of gray and dark days, this proved little issue, I just set for aperture priority and continued to shoot, with some loss of creative control.
A couple more days and even that solution failed, the lens just jammed up entirely, with the aperture stop about halfway closed.
I was down to the the telephoto and the 50mm… Time to get creative.
The 50mm lens is interesting. It is small. It feels like you have forgotten to put a lens on the camera. It is sharp! The lens may be the cheapest lens Canon sells, just over $100, but there is nothing to complain about in the performance, crisp and sharp photos from corner to corner. It is fast. The very fast f/1.8 ratio allows for photos in low light conditions as well as providing a wonderfully shallow depth of field when you want it.
I really missed the flexibility of a zoom and the 17mm wide angle in the close confines of the boat. The ability to go from wide to a moderate 85mm telephoto in a flash was a major issue when something popped up unexpectedly, something that happens on a boat in the wilds of Alaska.
I did have my little Canon G11 along, giving me some capability with a zoom lens. But I really wanted to shoot with the DSLR and the higher photo quality offered by the big lens and larger sensor when the photo really mattered.
On an APS-C camera like the Canon 60D there is a 60% crop factor, converting a 50mm to a mild telephoto. With a fixed focus I had to control the field through positioning myself instead of adjusting the camera. I do wonder if I got better shots as I had to become more involved and plan the shot?
I did take some great shots with the 50mm. Going through the 1,800+ photographs from the cruise I am quite happy with a number of them. An unintentional creative exercise, but a successful one.