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50mm Prime Lens is NOT a Portrait Lens

I've been saying this for years and always needed to show the proof. Well here it is, 50mm lenses are NOT portrait lenses. Watch the video for proof and stop calling 'nifty 50s' a Portrait lens! Keep shooting!

Thanks again to Kim for modeling! You can watch Kim's Cancer Story here.

Kimberly Kimberly by Cazillo, D3s 70-200 2.8 VR1 FX Mode

Kimberly Kimberly by Cazillo, D3s 70-200 2.8 VR1 DX Mode

Kimberly Kimberly by Cazillo, D3s 50mm 1.4D FX Mode

Kimberly Kimberly by Cazillo, D3s 50mm 1.4D DX Mode

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-4 # Dave 2012-12-11 09:56
I have been saying the same thing for ages, yet I get beat down on forums. A 50mm lens is great for a lot of things but not as a dedicated portrait lens - 3/4 length is fine, but my 85mm is far better at portraits.
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-1 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-11 10:03
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+13 # David Stubbs 2012-12-11 10:03
Greg, I'm sorry I don't agree with you. What your saying is, is that it isn't a head-shot lens, which I do agree. I shoot 40 weddings a year and 95% of all my shots, including the bride groom 'portraits' are shot on a 35mm (1.4) or 50mm (1.4), that is on D3s bodies. 50mm or 35 are the perfect portrait lenses to incorporate parts of the person or people's surroundings. I shoot more portraits at 24mm than I do at 8. T Have a look at my photos and tell me what you think...
I'm interested to know your thoughts, David Stubbs, UK
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-4 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-11 10:07
As stated in the video, in order to be a 'portrait' lens it needs to be great throughout its entire range. The 50mm does NOT do so since it can't produce distortion free headshots. You are working at longer distances which is not an issue. 50's are good lenses, just not true 'portrait' lenses.
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+5 # Rachid 2012-12-11 10:15
Yes, but with a crop censor it's around 80. U said it's not working even on crop censors, while reviews say that 85mm is an awesome lens for portrait..!?

Thx for the vid & keep up the good work!
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-9 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-11 10:25
Sensor size has nothing to do with it, just as I showed in the video. 70mm or longer for good headshots with minimal distortion.
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0 # Kenny 2012-12-11 10:45
Hi Greg. I use a D7000, and have most of the pro Nikon lenses. What's your opinion on using the 17-55mm DX or 24-70mm for portraits?. I have a 85mm 1.4, and a 105mm 2.0DC, which are 2 of my favorite lenses, but I have to stand so far back to get a full body shot. And when on location, sometimes you just don't have the room. Also, thanks again for all the videos, I have learned a lot of great info from them.
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-2 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-11 11:08
I will, and have used both of those lenses for portraits. My pet peeve is when people call them 'portrait lenses' of which they are NOT. Any lens can (and should) be used for portraits, but headshots meed to be done with 70mm or longer for minimal distortion. Does that answer your question?
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+4 # Michael 2012-12-11 17:10
How can you say that any lens can be used for portraits, yet a 50mm is "NOT" a portrait lens? You're talking in circles and contradicting yourself.

You are essentially agreeing with David Stubbs. The 50mm is not a good head shot lens, but that does not mean that it can't be used for portraits. You just said that it should.

I think things would be less confusing if a distinction was made between head shots and other portraits.
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+1 # Danny Vasquez 2012-12-11 12:42
Mr C

I would have to agree with you 100%. The nifty 50 is not made for head shot portraits.
Due to the weird effect and distorted look on the image.
Unless you are doing a particular look for your own special project.
I for my personal use of a 50 mm would be for group shots or full body
Thanks for your brief explanation on why not to use the fifty for head shots portraits.


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-4 # Melissa 2012-12-11 14:00
Excellent explanation and examples, Greg! Your point and reasoning are crystal clear to me. Thanks!
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-4 # Eugene 2012-12-11 14:03
great advice. Thanks Greg. I've never noticed that, I guess I haven't done a nice comparison like this. Have been shooting many portraits with 50mm.
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+1 # Jonathan 2012-12-11 14:47

Great video and the topic was in perfect timing with a discussion I had with a co-worker today about this very topic. I feel from reading forums a little confusion about the term "portrait". While one could take a full body portrait with the 50 and be fine it's really the head shot portrait that will suffer from distortion. The other confusion I've seen too is between FOV (field of view) and how that relates to distortion. The distortion will be there regardless of the sensor crop but the FOV will be tighter (FX -> DX).
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+1 # Sherbi S 2012-12-11 16:30
Totally agree Greg. I've been shooting more portraits now
And I use my 70-200 lens and also my 85mm lens. I love the first one because I can zoom in and
Get areal nice tight shot . Thanks fir all the wonderful inf keep it coming
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+1 # peter 2012-12-11 23:48
Hi i have to agree with the 50mm not producing great headshots my best results for any facial portrait i have done has always been wit h my 105mm nikon micro vr f2.8, unfortunately i dont own the 85 1.4 or 1.8 d&g's. Although i find getting nice and tight with my 28mm 1.8g really produces great images in portraits but once again not headshots.
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+1 # Stephen 2012-12-12 02:06
Unless you use a crop body camera (1.6x) and then your 50mm becomes a 85mm lens equivalent which then will be just fine.

I have the 50mm as well as an 85mm for my Canon 60D
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-1 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-12 09:56
As shown in the video that is not the case. 70mm or longer lenses are best for headshots no matter what camera. 50mm produces too much distortion.
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0 # Conny 2012-12-12 13:45
I can agree with you but and there is a but :)

If you got a 50mm for that day and you are out traveling or whatnot.

How would you do to minimize any distortion? If you want do some portraits maybe not headshot but anyway.

Cant you if you use full format step away a few meter to get good lightning and then crop it tight? ; which of course is not maybe optimal but lets play with the idea we have only 50..
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0 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-12 15:11
I wouldn't shoot headshots, only 3/4 length portraits and farther away.
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0 # Conny 2012-12-12 15:26
ok im prob stupid but me not using feet system , for 3/4 length can you be more specific.

If we talk proportions waist to head or shoulder to head ?

Btw your videos rocks so keep them coming :)
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0 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-12 15:29
3/4 of the body or more in the frame.
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+13 # Lefred 2012-12-14 11:57
Hi Greg !
Your video is very interesting, because it brings a lot of questions.

From what I see, when switching from DX to FX mode, you didn't change your distance to the cute Kimberley, and then the perspective didn't change. But the framing changed.
You were actually closer to your model with the 50mm than with the 70-200mm, hence the more flattering perspective with the 70-200mm.

Now, you could compare the 50mm in DX mode to your 70-200mm at 75mm in FX mode with the same framing, which would normally lead to the same distance to your subject. And then I think we would see the same perspective, don't you ?

Perspective, and perspective distortion, are linked to the distance between the photographer and the subject, not the the focal length. This is why zooming and moving are not equivalent, and why a prime lens cannot replace a zoom.
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+1 # Lefred 2012-12-21 17:13
To say it differently, there is no "portrait focal". Wide angle and long tele lenses are totally suitable. It only depends on the distance and the framing you choose.

In addition, the distance between the photographer and the subject is only a matter of intimacy.

I find it refreshing to see a great portrait photographer with such misbeliefs. It shows you make your portraits with your heart, not with all this theoretical shit. ;-)
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-4 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-23 11:32
I did change my distance, you have to in order to shoot the same photo at dx vs fx.
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+4 # Lefred 2012-12-23 13:47
Sorry but you obviously didn't change it when you switched from FX to DX. The framing is different, there is less space around Kimberley's head in DX mode.
You only changed it when switching from your 50mm to your 70-200mm.

Mr. Hohner explains the problem more clearly than I would ever do (see #5 & #8):
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+1 # Mark 2012-12-16 00:26
Thanks, Greg! I've never used the 50mm for close-up head shots, but I'm sure on my zoom lens that I've inadvertently dipped below the 50mm tick in tight spaces. Now that I see the comparison shots, I will certainly be more aware of my lens setting.
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0 # Frank Four 2012-12-19 11:26
. . . "You will never change my mind . . ." Not a good comment to make while you're inviting people to debate a subject with you.

I'm not going to debate the matter with you for the above reason, but you may want to throw in a "In my view" or "In my opinion" or "In my experience" more often. They are phrases that get rid of the absolutes in your statements and open up a subject for a proper debate.

I don't have clients, I only do portraits of family and friends and in over 45 years of shooting I haven't really used anything shorter than around 80mm for portraits but that's my preference and I wouldn't tell someone their method is wrong, just that "I find my way suits me best".
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+7 # Koxa 2012-12-22 18:15
Here you can read what Steve says about the 45 mm super portrait lens for M4/3 systems.

The pictures taken with the dx crop is much tighter than the full frame shoot. You must step back when you shoot with the crop to get the same field of view. I was out shooting today, using a 9,5 mm focal length with a 4,7x crop sensor. No problems with any distortion or problems with perspective. But for head shots I prefer using 20 mm on this camera (Canon S100). The perspective is in direct correlation with the distance to the subject, which will increase with a 50 mm lens used on a crop body compared to full frame....! If you are shooting with a 50 mm lens on a full frame and you are standing 1 meter away from your subject, then you have to stand 2 meters away from the subject using a 2x crop to frame the same picture. The perspective of your subject has now changed because you have doubled your distance to the subject. It's really not that hard to get.
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-5 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-23 11:34
That camera is a whole other animal, I am speaking of DX/FX and 35mm systems.
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+8 # Koxa 2012-12-23 12:32
What?? You just preached about 50 mm not being a head shot lens. 50 mm focal length is 50 mm on all cameras, the focal length of the lens doesn't change. You say in the video that it doesn't matter if you are using a crop sensor! 2x and 1,6x crop are two of the most sold big crop sensors. 50mm works just fine on 1,6x crop, and it works perfectly fine on a 2x crop. 80 and 100 mm respectively. So when you say that the crop and sensor size doesn't have any effect, you are totally wrong!!! It would be nice if you could say that you are wrong and move on, or you will definitely lose many subscribers to your channel. I have over 30 years of experience as a photographer, and I enjoy scanning through different photo channels on you tube, because you can always learn something new even after 30 years. But sometimes I come across disinformation and I feel that I need to interfere. So in the video you should have said that the 50 mm lens is not the best focal length for head shots on a full frame body. Then I would totally agree with you.
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+5 # Koxa 2012-12-23 16:45
Greg, look at myth 5 and 8 !!! :-)
Look at the pictures in myth 8, and compare the shot taken with the 20 mm (cropped) and the shot taken with 100 mm lens. Here you have real evidence that the 5x crop has the same perspective as the 100 mm.

Perspective is only influenced by your position, and field of view is only influenced by focal length. So when you use the 50 mm on your DX 1,6x crop or micro 4/3 you move back from the subject to get the same field of view (because your 50 mm is acting as a 80 mm) but your 50 mm still have all the same properties of a 50 mm lens. So when you move away from your subject, the perspective will change!!
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-12 # Gregory Cazillo 2012-12-26 15:25
Give me a break, my videos are about DSLRs not micro or others.
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0 # Mike Ramirez 2013-01-09 17:31
Hi Greg,

I have a Canon T1i which is a cropped sensor camera. I also just purchased a Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM, to replace my kit lens as an upgraded “walking around lens.” I belong to a fraternal order and take a lot of picture of our outings which I post on our website for the guys to enjoy. I don’t take pictures for a living and don’t have the bucks to devote to top of the line equipment so this new lens at $650 is a spurge for me. I also own a Canon Speedlite 430EX II, and use it a lot as fill, for night shots and indoor shooting. Probably about 2/3 of what I take I take with flash.

Anyway I get what you’re saying about the issues presented by a 50mm prime lens, but at the same time I would very much like a fast prime that I can use for portraits and other things that doesn’t distort the subject as you’ve demonstrated here. Aside from pleasing bokeh, there is that issue of tack sharpness that comes with more light and faster shutter speeds.

So my problem is, given the cropped sensor, what focal length makes sense for me if I want a practical prime that isn’t just going to sit in my bag? Does the fact that I’m working with a cropped sensor reduce distortion issues that go along with a 50mm? And wouldn’t it mean standing farther away from my subject to get the same shot than if I had a full sized sensor body like one from the Canon EOS D series?

I was looking at the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM, at $360 as a possibility. It fits my price range (Canon’s L-glass version is over $2,000), and it fits both styles of Canon bodies. Does this make sense as a portrait lens?
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0 # Mike Ramirez 2013-01-09 17:59
Sorry Greg,

I'm new to the forum and didn't see the discussion until I scrolled down after posting. You answered most of my questions, But the biggie is still: If I have the bucks for only one prime (or two?)which prime would fill the bill? Until I started watching your videos I had assumed that having a fast "Nifty 50" was the way to go.
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0 # rpavich 2013-01-12 05:48
I hope you don't mind me answering.

A nifty 50 IS a good lens to's a great bargain in lenses, both the 1.8 version and the 1.4 version...just be aware of the "less than 3/4 length portrait" issues that Greg illustrated.

Other great lens' that won't break the bank are the 24mm or the 28mm primes.

The focal length you purchased has all these focal lengths covered though so duplicating it might not be the best solution unless you are looking for faster lenses than your 3.5 minimum aperture. In that case the 50mm or the 85mm (or both :) are really good lenses.
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0 # Gregory Cazillo 2013-01-12 12:17
85, 105 and 135 lenses are great lenses for to which one to buy it depends what you are using it for.
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0 # Niko 2013-04-07 09:12
Mike, You might want to consider the 85mm f1.4 manual focus lens made by Samyang aka Rokinon, Vivitar and others branded names. I have it and it is absolutely beautiful.
It sells for around $300 .. manual focusing can work for portraits.
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0 # rpavich 2013-01-12 05:44
That 85mm f/1.8 is a great lens, it really is. It's a good focal length for portraits and it's pretty dang sharp. For the price, it's a great value in lenses.

Sure, the L version is amazing but this will do it for you.
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+1 # Gregory Cazillo 2013-01-12 12:22
I think this gets into an interesting discussion and spurs some thoughts for a video. 50mm doesn't give you much bokeh until you get relatively close up. I use my 50 when I need more light. Choosing the right lens depends on a lot of factors such as how much of the background you want to show, type of image and your own creativity. Make sense?

I'm going to keep your comment for a future video, thanks.
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0 # rpavich 2013-01-12 15:09
I have the 50mm 1.2L and the 135mm f/2 (which I LOVE)...

I'm seriously thinking about getting the 85mm f/1.2L also...I tend to take head shot portraits or head chest portraits...har dly every full length.

The 85mm is good for head/chest type right?
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0 # Gregory Cazillo 2013-01-14 09:44
yes 85's are great for headshots.
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0 # Mike Ramirez 2013-01-14 13:07
Thanks, Guys.

I think what I'm going to do is take my new zoom lens out for a spin, maybe even for a couple of outings and see which focal length works best for me in most circumstances. I can then prioritize and buy accordingly. Sounds like the 24,50,85 and 135 are alll good candidates to consider.

Here's a question. Greg you have a video on night shooting where there is a group of women gathered under artificial lighting. I do some of that at outings. I know the power of my flash (distance) and the dynamic range of my DSLR's sensor (f stops) affect how much of a scene I can get in a picture using a given ISO, in that situation are there any additonal benefits to using a faster lens like an f/1.4 or 1.8?
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+2 # rpavich 2013-01-14 16:57
Wanna hear something funny?

I've heard my pro photog friend tell me this before but until I saw these shots next to each just didn't hit home.

I went to him this morning and told him about this video and he said "I'VE BEEN TRYING TO TELL YOU THAT FOR YEARS!!! YOU WOULDN'T LISTEN TO ME!!!!"

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0 # Max 2013-01-23 15:07
that is funny
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0 # Tamara Hawkins 2013-01-26 13:01
Wow, my camera buddy will be shocked when I tell her what you are saying here because she loves her new 50mm lens. She was told by multiple sources that she needed a portrait lens to blur out background and focus more on subject. Actually we both have been told that, but she just happens to be more able right now to purchase than I was, or we both would have one by now. Neither her; nor I, have enough training or time to take classes, so we have been at the mercy of other professionals to help us with this. We take a lot of pictures and she is better at portraits than I am, because she takes more time to get the better shots than I am willing to do. I like landscapes and nature shots more, but we both love to capture beautiful images, so we need coaching for sure. Thank you for your tutorial of the 50mm is not a portrait lens, I will show her, and we may get with you on some other stuff later; depending on time allowances for us. Thanks again, this is Tamara in Texas!
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0 # Elizabeth 2013-02-20 14:12
Hi from London,
Love all your videos. Real professional help not just pushing your own itinery - makes a refreshing change from some.
I am a real amateur but even I instinctively found I worked better and achieved far better portrait shots with my 70-200 - and not just with human portraits - animals too. The bokah is tremendous with zoo shots taken from a long distance.
However, that said, I love my 50 mm - it feels like an extension of my brain when I'm doing walkabout shots!
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0 # nsterken 2013-03-02 15:36
hey greg:

nice vid. i only have one lens, the one that came with my D90, a AF-S DX Nikkor 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G. Is this then properly known as a 105mm lens? And if so, that should be great for head shots, yes?

Also, for shooting weddings, what is another lens I should pick up? Will the 105 lens be a great lens for a wedding? Will I need a second lens?

Thank you,

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0 # Mike Ramirez 2013-03-04 19:46
Hi Greg,

Just ordered an 85mm prime from B&H based on your recommendations . I have a Canon T1i, which has the cropped sensor. On my budget it was a choice beteen the "nifty 50" f/1.4 and the 85mm f/1.8. Everything's a compromise. I was looking for something I could use in low light and with a narrow depth of focus. The bocah on these two is very much alike as they have the same number of fins. As for fifty, I guess there's always next Christmas. Thanks for the discussion.
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0 # Niko 2013-04-07 08:58
Hi Greg, Thanks in advance for the wonderful website.
I have a question?
You explained to us that a 50mm lens sucks for portrait shots like the example you gave. You also say that regardless of regardless of sensor size a 50mm has the same distorted parallax because it is still a 50mm lens.
What confuses me is that parallax also has to do with distance from the subject .. so vs a full frame camera, using a crop sensor camera means you would have to back away from the subject to get the same shot. Would this not help with the facial distortion you demonstrated? Thanks again for the fantastic website.
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+2 # Peter Moeller 2013-07-15 23:15
I guess people want it easy.

They want a lens to be a portrait lens - or not.

Just that life isn't always simple like that.

Instead of giving people simple recipes, understand the ins and outs, the whys and how’s.

The issue with distortion is not the focal lengths of the lens, but the distance lens to subject. (Others pointed that out.)

The other issue is the opening angle of the lens. This has impact on how the background is captured.

Once you get the hang of this, you understand why many wedding photographers love their 50mm's for portraits in situations where they want the larger angle of the 50 to capture the background. They put the portrait into context.

For a head shot where you want to reduce impact from a “noisy” background, you probably prefer a longer focal length.

By the way I’m with Greg, a 50mm is *not* a portrait lens. Why? Because a 50mm is an all-round lens. To say a 50mm is a portrait lens is simply not right.

How comes people can shoot good portraits with a non-portrait lens then? Maybe we can agree that a 50mm is not a specialized portrait lens… because it is an all-rounder.
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0 # Anil 2014-09-27 17:11
Hi. I have a canon 5d and using a 50mm f1,4. I agree that 85mm and 100mm focal lengths are better for portraits. So do you think that a 70-200mm f2,8 a good purchase for portrait photography. What are the powerful sides of the 50mm f1,4 you think are that are not included in other lenses? Thanks alot.
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-2 # Gregory Cazillo 2014-09-29 09:20
Extended answer coming in today's show...not a fan of the 50mm lens at all. I have two but rarely use them. 70-200 2.8 lenses are the most flexible lens you can buy, period.
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