50mm vs 55-200mm for newbie general use

edited May 2018 Posted in » Nikon D3300 Forum
I have played around with photography for years using a Canon Powershot SX1 IS that doesn't have the ability to change lenses at all, and I recently took (what feels like a big step) and bought a D3300 that came with the AF-P DX 18-55mm VR kit lens. I want to get another lens, but am so lost in the world of lenses! I have narrowed my choices down to Nikon AF-S FX 50mm f/1.8G and the Nikon AF-S DX 55-200mm f/4-5.6G ED VR II mostly based on affordability since I don't have the time to immerse myself completely in learning photography yet.
I am looking to take mostly candid shots of people, with some posed portrait type photos. I have a large active family and want to be able to capture memories and the beauty of the world as we hike/bike/ect.
I tend to lean towards the 50mm, but I'm wondering if the 55-200mm can do the same basic job of capturing the subjects with more versatility? Since I plan on having both lenses in the future I bought Moose's cheat sheets for the 18-55mm, 50mm, and 55-200mmin hopes that would help me decide... but it didn't really. I'm just not sure which lens would be the best to add to the kit lens, to "cut my teeth on" :)


  • I think for portraits and the like, the 50 may well be the better choice. A prime lens has good habits, is sharp and contrasty, and a 50 makes a nice portrait lens on this format. It is of course not as versatile in some ways as the 55-200, and you won't be able to get closeups from far away, wildlife and whatnot. I'd certainly recommend that you get a longer lens when you can. If eventually you can afford to go up to a 55-300 it gives you a lot of reach.

    For the immediate future I would suggest you wait before buying anything, and see what you like in the range of the kit lens.

    The 18-55 lens covers the focal length of a 50 already, so you can experiment with the kind of coverage it gives. Try setting your kit lens at 50, and not touching the zoom, and see how it behaves as you walk around for a day or a weekend, taking lots of pictures (remember you can erase them, don't be shy!). That's what a 50 prime lens will do, except that it will likely be a little sharper, a little more contrasty, and also lacking VR a little harder to hold steady at slow shutterspeeds, but enough faster in aperture that slow shutter speeds will occur less often. It will also be compact and a little better made - all in all a relatively inexpensive lens but very well executed and easy to like.

    A prime lens, aside from being very good in quality, is believed by many to encourage better shooting habits and more careful looking at the environment because you cannot change framing or content without moving yourself or changing your idea of what to put in the picture.

    Remember that on the DX format a 50 is a slight telephoto, and its viewpoint may be a little narrow for overall use, though it's grand for portraits. While trying out prime focal lengths, try also setting your zoom at 35 mm. and leaving it there for a day or more. If you like that better than the 50, there's a very fine 35/1.8DX lens similar in price to the 50.

    Some of the preference for focal length really ends up as a personal issue, for which there is no right or wrong. Some people like things a bit wider, some a little closer and narrower. My wife and I will stand in the same place and shoot the same subjects, and come out with completely different takes - usually I'm wide and she's narrow. Much of the time I'm horizontal and she's vertical too. Sometimes her shots are better, sometimes mine. We just see things a little differently.

    If you have already made a lot of pictures with the kit lens, you might look through them using either the replay setting in the camera or a computer program that can show the EXIF information, which will include the focal length at which the image was shot. That can tell you without any preconception what your preference has been so far.

  • Thanks @bruto!! Your advice is excellent, bringing up points I hadn't thought about. I really appreciate your input and will try out fixing my kit lens to 50 and seeing how it feels all weekend.
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