In the comments on Who, or what, is an "Uncle Bob"?:

... it does have a place amongst the terms and slang used by photographers (nifty-fifty is another example, if you're versed in photography you know what it means, but everyone else gives you a strange look).

Googling seems to indicate that it's a 50mm prime lens. This highly-voted question indicates it's either a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 AF (1986-2001) or a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II.

I have never used a prime lens - budget, space and weight constraints mean that I go for a range of focal lengths at the expense of lens quality. So I'm stumped: What's so nifty about a nifty-fifty?

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The "link" in the referenced highly voted question is actually two links. "Nifty" links to a review of the Nikon 50mm f/1.8, "fifties" links to a review of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 21, 2017 at 8:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ My first reaction to seeing this would be to indicate the cheap 50mm f/1.8 lenses you get. I know them from canon, but i'm sure there's multiple, as indicated in the answers below. But I wanted to add: around here they're sometimes called "plastic fantastic" :D ( google.com/search?q=plastic+fantastic+lens ) \$\endgroup\$
    – Nanne
    Nov 21, 2017 at 10:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Nanne The current Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM has a metal bayonet mount ring, unlike the old EF 50mm f/1.8 II and the even older EF 50mm f/1.8. A lot of other manufacturer's 'nifty fifty' offerings also use metal, rather than plastic, for the flange ring. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 23, 2017 at 0:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark ow sure, and I don't think the 50 was ever all plastic (there was at least some glass involved ;P ). That doesn't change the fact that it is still referred to as 'plastic fantastic' (at least around here) so I thought it helpful to add that to this topic about 'slang' for these lenses, nothing more :) \$\endgroup\$
    – Nanne
    Nov 23, 2017 at 8:21

3 Answers 3


What's a nifty-fifty?

It's a budget level 50mm prime lens. Pretty much all of the various camera makers offer one. There are several reasons that make them so nifty.

  • Price - They're some of the most inexpensive prime lenses¹ available for most systems.
  • Performance - They can compete optically at 50mm with zoom lenses costing much more.
  • Maximum aperture - most 'nifty fifties' have a maximum aperture of around f/1.8. In comparison to most cheap consumer zoom lenses, that's about three stops wider/faster than a typical 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 when set at 50mm.
  • Mature optical design - The 'nifty fifty' is not new. It's been around for a long time. The design of 50mm lenses for cameras with diagonals of around 44mm (please see note ²) is quite mature.
  • Simple optical design - 45-50mm is an optimal focal length for 35mm cameras with 44mm diagonal frame sizes and registration distances of around 44mm. That makes it what is known as a normal lens. Designing such a lens for such a camera system is much simpler than designing wider angle lenses or telephoto lenses for the same film/sensor size and registration distance³. As the focal length moves in either direction away from the diagonal of the format, lenses with the same optical quality as the normal lens become harder to design and more expensive to make.
  • Relatively compact design - They're small and lightweight compared to many other lenses. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM (Canon's current nifty fifty) is 5.6 ounces and about two inches long. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L is 19.2 ounces and almost three inches long.
  • Value - For the price it is hard to beat the optical quality provided by most 'nifty fifties'. In terms of image quality "bang for the buck" most 'nifty fifty' lenses from the various manufacturer are some of the best values around. But they are far from some of the best prime lenses around. Perhaps one reason so many photographers claim the 'nifty fifty' lenses are super sharp is because they're the only prime lenses they've ever used and they are usually better optically than their consumer grade zoom lenses set at 50mm.

¹ A prime lens is a lens with only one focal length. No zoom.
² 35mm film has a width of 36mm and a height of 24mm for a diagonal of between 43mm and 44mm.
³ The distance from the image plane to the lens mounting flange. Sometimes called the flange focal distance.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ It's amusing to me that, with the Yongnuo EF 50mm f/1.8 version, the Nifty Fifty can now be had for Fifty bucks. Nifty-Fifty. Literally. \$\endgroup\$
    – OnBreak.
    Nov 21, 2017 at 19:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Corey And from what I've heard, only about 50% of those Yongnuos work as they should! \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 22, 2017 at 0:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd also add that 50mm is close to the what a human eye sees - making the image more "natural" photo.stackexchange.com/q/34640/2321 \$\endgroup\$
    – Peter M
    Nov 22, 2017 at 13:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @PeterM Except it isn't (As the details in the answers to the question you linked point out). With a typical late 20th century SLR the size of an image in the viewfinder was very close to the magnification of an object when viewed by a bare human eye. But with the difference in viewfinder sizes and crop factors that's really no longer the case with the vast majority of digital interchangeable lens cameras. Even most FF cameras have smaller viewfinders than their older film counterparts. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 22, 2017 at 14:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ Please see How to capture the scene exactly as my eyes can see? for more. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Nov 22, 2017 at 14:50

There are several things :

  • They are typically (but not always) small lenses. Compact, easy to carry.
  • They are typically a good focal length either on full frame or crop frame cameras. On crop frame they make good head-and-shoulders or head portrait lenses. On full frame the field of view is wider, and but still offers good portrait lens angles, or street photography angles.
  • They are wide aperture lenses, making them useful for low light or shallow depth of field photography - the later being again useful for portraits.
  • Many systems have relatively cheap entry level f/1.8 50mm lenses, making them a popular entry into wide aperture photography.

The small size means they're easy to carry around with another lens, making them really handy to keep around for photo opportunities that pop up. Personally I'd be loath to travel without one if at all possible, particularly to a social event.

Nifty-fifties exist for most DSLR and MILC platforms. On the 4/3 and micro 4/3 systems they would be slightly longer for field of view, but still offer a lot of possible options, but fewer social shooting opportunities.

  • \$\begingroup\$ It might be worth also mentioning that the "entry level" 50s offer optical quality that would be unavailable at that price point in other focal lengths, being the "sweet spot" design-wise, and that the original full-frame use was a "normal" perspective, considered to have a high degree of utility... \$\endgroup\$ Nov 21, 2017 at 6:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ @junkyardsparkle I'd not really agree with that statement about "optical quality". Modern kit lenses are really quite good optically at their optimum aperture settings. Sure at peak a nifty fifty will often have a huge theoretical resolution, but this can often be limited to the central region and is, in any case, academic in typical use - e.g. wide aperture portrait, where the region of the scene actually in precise focus is quite small. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 21, 2017 at 6:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ But the term originated prior to those "modern kit lenses". :) \$\endgroup\$ Nov 21, 2017 at 6:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think what I'm getting at is that this answer is somewhat light on historical context about what made the 50 "nifty", while it does a good job of explaining the current role of these lenses. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 21, 2017 at 6:25
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ When I was at school in the 70s, a nifty fifty was a moped or 50cc engined motor bike. I think the origin came simply from the fact that the words rhyme. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tetsujin
    Nov 21, 2017 at 7:46

It is ( a typically low priced) 50mm prime lens sold in a prosumer camera kit. The choice of 50mm is because this is considered the "normal" focal length lens for a 35mm camera. This was often the focal length lens used in portraiture photography when using a 35mm film camera.

  • \$\begingroup\$ A nifty 50 has nothing to do with camera kits and whether or not to buy kits has absolutely no relevance to this question. \$\endgroup\$
    – AJ Henderson
    Nov 23, 2017 at 19:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ It didn't originally have that meaning, but it certainly dors today. \$\endgroup\$ Nov 24, 2017 at 6:50

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