Sometimes we obsess over gear and can easily fall into the trap of spending a ton of money on more expensive gear, thinking it this way we instantly better ourselves, rather than focusing on craft. This, in itself, is a whole different topic, but today we’ll look into something at a rather interesting budget lens option for photographers and video makers. Over the past few years, Chinese photography equipment manufacturer Yongnuo has been building a reputation for putting out photo gear that performs like the established brands of the industry, while staying below $100 in cost. They’ve successfully “cloned” speedlites, ringlites, triggers, transceivers and teleconverters, from the name brands. Now, they’ve released their take on one of the most popular prime lenses on the market today: the “nifty” 50mm f/1.8. And the questions remains – does more expensive gear always equal better quality?
The 50mm f/1.8 is a common first purchase for those looking to get a prime or a faster lens than their kit came with, as it’s already far-and-away the least expensive option on the market at $125. Despite it’s low cost, it’s a lens that can hit focus quickly and create an attractive “bokeh” when opened up. The optics themselves perform generally well, aside from the bits of softness and CA that are to be expected from a “bargain” lens.
So what does a $40 lens look and perform like? According to recent tests by Jay Leavitt of PetaPixel, despite a slightly larger body and completely different innards, the end result is a damn fine impersonation of its inspiration. He took the lens out for a night of street photography, and his posted examples (taken on a Rebel T3i) match what I’ve seen from Canon’s offering: clean focus and attractive color rendition, delivered with the intimate frame provided by short telephotos (and 50s on crop censor cameras).
Having a lens priced under $50 new from the manufacturer opens up the market past those looking to make investments in their gear, and provides a great option for those who are only curious in working with primes. The first lens I purchased for my Canon 60D outside of it’s kit was a 50mm, and shooting sharp and fast immediately appealed to me.
It also taught me a level of discipline that comes with leaving the zoom behind, one that helped me grow as a photographer. My Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 was $400 when I purchased it three years ago. Had there been an option that was 1/10th that price, I would have gotten it the day I purchased my camera, no question.
Until recently Yongnuo was only keeping stock of their gear through eBay and Amazon, however the coming of the new year has seen a large portion of their inventory added to the B&H store, complete with a limited 1-year warranty. More than a cheap knockoff, their new “Nifty Fifty” offering is a truly affordable alternative to an already affordable go-to lens.
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