"Normal" lens buying guide

If one way to overcome problems associated with low light is to shoot at a wide aperture, then you need a wide-aperture ("fast") lens. Most kit zoom lenses only open to around f/3.5 or f/4, and fast zooms that maintain a maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout the zoom range cost a mint.

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So, how do you get a fast lens without parting with large amounts of cash? The answer is to buy a normal lens. There's a 50mm lens for every DSLR mount. You can get an f/1.4, but the most common and least expensive is the f/1.8, which is plenty fast. They're small and light, and the optics are outstanding. You can buy them new, but used normal lenses are plentiful and affordable.

Typical normal: A real bargain, a 50mm f/1.8 lens may cost in the $80-120 range. This Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is around $85.
Fast normal: A 50mm f/1.4 model will cost $200-300. This Nikon 50mm f/1.4D Nikkor is $285.
Normal, digital style: This 30mm f/1.4 Sigma is being marketed as the new normal for most DSLRs and costs $390-430.

Why is it called normal? On a 35mm film camera 50mm was the focal length that most closely represented the human eye. On a DSLR with an APSD sensor, it becomes the equivalent to 75mm, a modest telephoto; to get a normal lens on an APS-sensor, you need a lens around 30mm.


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