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How-to's Lens Reviews

What a lens can teach you: A beginner's guide

Jan Stimel (photocyan)

Keywords: slr, prime, fixed, carl_zeiss_tessar, bokeh, nikkor, nikon, sigma

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A normal prime

I suggest you try one of these lenses on your photographic journey. They are called normal lenses because they have a field of view that looks natural through the viewfinder. Usually the focal length is 50mm on 35mm film or a full frame sensor, but you may find a 40 or a 55mm lens to be also considered as normal. A normal lens is also a prime or fixed lens that means it has a fixed focal length as opposed to a zoom lens.


AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 G

AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 G

AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 G

AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.4 G


Nikon offers two main choices for full-frame cameras at this time, the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G and the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.4G. Both are about the same size and weight, though the 50mm 1:1.4 does weigh a little more because of more glass elements inside, it has a rounded 9-blade diaphragm, a really fast autofocus and one step faster aperture.

The more blades in a diaphragm, the more pleasant the bokeh. Users of a DX camera, be aware of the fact that a smaller sensor will change a 50mm lens to a 75mm, therefore you should look for a wider lens, a good choice is a 35mm lens available in both 1:1.4 and 1:1.8 version.


AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.4 G

AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.4 G

AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8 G

AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8 G

AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8 G DX

AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8 G DX


For the cameras with smaller sensors a 35mm lens is the prime lens. Mathematically correct it is a 33mm (33 x 1.5 ≅ 50), but Nikon doesn't offer a lens with this focal length (FYI: Sigma does a decent 30mm 1:1.4 DC lens). I recommend the AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8 G DX for a beginner, because it's cheap, very sharp and fast. You may experience that the optical performance of a prime lens is way better then of a zoom because it captures only a single field of view. A normal prime lens has nearly always a much faster aperture; most of them have an aperture from 1.2 to 2.8 whereas the zoom lenses begin mostly at 2.8 or even at 3.5. A fast aperture lets more light in, it is very useful in low light conditions and you can benefit from the possibility of a shallow depth of field by staying with a low ISO setting for noise-free images. Also you don't have to use a strobe flash frequently, because it can handle complicated indoor light situations. A shallow depth of field gives you the possibility to understand the basic composition rules, and play with that depth of field to get the desired objects into focus.



My personal experience is that photographers with meager equipment can experience many advantages, notably the users with smaller cameras. Men and women tend to act more straightforward when you point a small camera at them. In the moment they see a photographer with a huge glass eye mounted on a giant Nikon D4, it is the nature of people to over control their posture, alter their expressions and act unnaturally. Looking into a big lens is like staring into a deep abyss. I am glad I own a Nikon D3200, a small camera I can shoot barely noticed. People think of me as an ordinary amateur photo-guy who does some funny pictures for himself. It makes them act more open and patient. You might have better chances to capture unique moments and naturally acting people with a small Nikon, compared to photographers with their expensive equipment, professionals or not.

(Although Nikonians founder Bo Stahlbrandt pointed out, that a larger camera might give you a free pass to take pictures together with professional photographers on special events. Well, I have to try that on the next occasion, thanks for the tip, Bo.)

The good news is a normal prime lens isn’t that expensive, some of them are relatively cheap because of a simpler construction. The AF-S Nikkor 35mm 1:1.8 G DX or the AF-S Nikkor 50mm 1:1.8 G are a bargain. 

(27 Votes )
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Originally written on April 7, 2014

Last updated on March 23, 2016

Jan Stimel Jan Stimel (photocyan)

Bratislava, Slovakia
Basic, 19 posts


Anthony Alston (aa69) on January 17, 2015

Many thanks Jan, A good article well written, and one I will remember and refer to this practice every so often.

Jan Stimel (photocyan) on June 20, 2014

Hi Suman, thank you and good light!

User on June 10, 2014

I just picked up the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX Lens, and it is a wicked sharp lens despite being a newbie to a DSLR .

Phillip M. Jones (pjonesCET) on April 21, 2014

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

Excellent Article

Suman Das (sumankdas) on April 21, 2014

Dear Jan, I have only one lens, the 35mm f1.8 DX on a D7000. This fast lens works really well in low light, I hardly ever use flash. Although the D7000 is a bigger body than the D3200, the camera does not look very big with this 35mm lens on. Travelling is great too, lightweight and good for most occasions. Many thanks for your article, enjoyed reading it. Suman

Tom Myrick (tmyrick) on April 20, 2014

Actually I don't think this is just for beginners. This has given me the idea to start carrying around just my old 35 F2 on my old Nikon D70S for a while with nothing else and see what happens. Sometimes it's good to uncomplicate things and get back to basics.

Harry Chen (charry3892) on April 17, 2014

Hi Jan, WOW nice article to read (3 pages) and add more knowledge for me. I'm new beginner with DLSR Nikon D7100(3 months)and a few days ago got/bought old lens 50mm Nikkor-S Auto 1:1.4 f=50mm and tried once to shot stars and came out was not sharp enough. I used manual mode, 8 sec and infinity on lens a bit better image than others setting. I don't know if the lens that I got compatible to my D7100 because I don't how to read the chart of lens compatibility. After read your article, I'll try more often to gain my ability and hopefully work well. Thanks for wonderful share.

Jan Stimel (photocyan) on April 16, 2014

Hi Mervyn, I never had the opportunity to use the Meyer Domitar lens on my camera, I think it is a lens of a very simple construction. I understand it is a terrible quality? Maybe I should have been more specific in the article - "most of the time" would be a more appropriate formulation, because some exceptions to the rule apparently exist. It's safe to stick with Nikkor lenses :)

Robert K. Howe (GatorBoy) on April 16, 2014

Great article! I am new to the Nikon community & just bought a 50mm 1.8 Nikon prime lens because people told me that it is a great macro & landscape lens.

Jan Stimel (photocyan) on April 16, 2014

Thank you, George.

Jan Stimel (photocyan) on April 16, 2014

Veronika :) :)

User on April 14, 2014

I'm not sure that I agree that the image a fixed focus lens is always sharper than a zoom can ever deliver. Did you ever try the Meyer Domiplan 50mm f2.8??!!

George Chapman (Icemann) on April 13, 2014

Donor Ribbon awarded for his support to the Fundraising Campaign 2014

Very good article and very helpful thanks

Veronika Dullova (Ronny89) on April 7, 2014

Thank you, Jan, I will remember this next time I will be thinking about purchasing a lens :)

John R Bertotti (John Bertotti) on April 7, 2014

In my meager kit I will not be without my dx35mm. Love that lens. I have found that because I have to move round more I also find more to shoot, different angles, different subjects I wouldn't have noticed with a tele or such. Your points are something every beginner should be aware of.