Do you need the Canon 50mm f1.8 II lens? Yes.
It’s so [relatively] inexpensive that it could almost be considered disposable in the world of camera equipment. I bought mine in July 2011 for $119 off Amazon. The same lens, 3 years later, is still only $125 and can be found under $100 on eBay or Craigslist! (at the time I’m writing this anyway)
The 50mm focal length is a great walk around and inspiring perspective for both crop and full frame sensors.
What does the money get you?
The nifty fifty is an EF mount lens, which means it will work on any crop-sensor or full frame Canon dSLR camera. Due to the plastic construction, it’s barely noticeable at less than five ounces and small enough to comfortably fit in a jacket pocket. Manual or
tedious automatic external focusing (it tends to search a lot unless there is a lot of light)… but at least the filter mount doesn’t rotate so polarized filters can still be conveniently used.
“So what’s the big deal? My camera came with a lens that goes from 28mm to 135mm… isn’t 50 between 28 and 135?” Answer: f1.8 – which makes this lens worth it’s weight in silver (again, at the time of writing this.. silver is ~$20/ounce)
Few non-L Canon lenses have apertures under a ratio of 1:2.0 for less than $400 and the lens that comes with the camera kit packages generally range from f3.5 to f5.6 depending on the zoom, making the “nifty fifty” by far the best value fast lens in the Canon line-up.
When would this lens be a good choice?
Generally speaking, fast lenses are the top choice for low-light shooting but in practice this particular lens spends too much time focus searching to be effective in low light situations where fast focus speed is necessary. Personally, this lens is taken out of the holster for one of two situations.
The first is for situations where high levels of detail are desired such as skin texture, sharp eyes, or hair texture for close-up portrait type shots. It’s [very] sharp in the f8-f11 range.
The second situation on the softer side of the spectrum by taking advantage of the bokeh produced when shooting wide open or close to it. Although some sharpness at the focus point is compromised when shooting at such low f-stops, the dream-like softness and isolation of the subject is usually worth it.
In conclusion, anyone who decides to add this lens to their camera bag will not be disappointed.