(In New Hampshire right now. This blog post was supposed to go up yesterday while on my flight form Boise to NH, but due to the worst flight I’ve ever had (more on this tomorrow…all my own fault), I was literally unable to post. Check back tomorrow for the story and photo of the week.)

I have been prepping and wanting to do this blog post for a very long time. When I first started my journey in photography, I tried to find a side by side comparison of shots taken with a 50mm next to shots of the same subject in the same composition taken with the 70-200 at or near 200mm. Problem was, I couldn’t find any. So I set out to create my own, and to discover what happened when I shot a picture at 200mm as opposed to 50mm, or vice versa.

Big important note. This is Photography according to Nate. The difference between these two lenses is a total matter of opinion. I know TONS of photographers that the 50mm is their favorite lens. And there are TONS of photographers that wont hardly shoot a bride at less than 85mm, and even prefer to shoot them at 200mm. Here’s the thing. It’s all up t0 you and your style. Totally fine either way. My goal is to lay out the difference so people can see for themselves. To help people to know when to use a specific lens to get a specific look. The biggest thing I’ve learned from this: (according to me) No single lens can do it all, and get every different look. There are times when I love and crave the look I get from my 50mm. Then there are times when I love the look I get in a particular scenario from my 70-200mm.
But enough jibber-jabber, lets get down to the images. Some of them are far more obvious as to which shot was taken with what. Some are more subtle. Also note that ALL shots were taken at the same angle. I would take a picture with the 50mm, then put on my 70-200, and just back up to get the same composition.
First example from James and Shannon’s Wedding:
NDP 3665 50mm vs 200mm
50mm on the left, 70-200 on the right (at 200mm). First thing I notice with a longer focal length. It does amazing things to the background. It somehow magnifies the background and blows everything up, making the subject really pop and separate from the background. The 50mm on the other hand is obviously wider, and doesn’t expand the background like the 200mm does. It also makes the subject more 3 demension, whereas at 200mm there is less depth to the subject, even though they pop off the background more. Which one do I like more? Here…probably the 200mm. But it’s totally personal preference.
NDP 6318 50mm vs 200mm
NDP 6308 50mm vs 200mm
Here I probably prefer the 50. I like that it captures the alleyway and the light coming through. The 200 makes the background so big that you lose that sense of the alleyway. Again, these were taken at almost the exact same angle, just one further back from the other. notice again that the 50mm seams a bit more 3 dimensional, like there is some depth to the image.
Example three is what really blew me away. I was shooting Larry and Katie at 200mm and was loving what I was getting, but wanted to try my 50mm. Here’s my shot at 200mm:
NDP 6522 50mm vs 200mm
I pulled up close, with the same angle and composition and shot this with my 50mm (Larry and Katie did not move any further or closer to the tunnel):
NDP 6443 50mm vs 200mm
Here, I prefer my 200mm. I love how it expands the background and creates this really dramatic backdrop. Notice how much bigger the tunnel is with the 200mm than with the 50mm. I feel like there is too much going on with the 50mm. Too distracting. They’re both fun for their own reason, but I prefer the 200mm.
Fourth example is from Jeff and Blu’s shoot:
NDP 0954 50mm vs 200mm
NDP 0938 1 50mm vs 200mm
Look at the size of the trees in the background, specifically the one right behind Jeff’s head. Look at how the 200mm just magnifies the trees and creates this gorgeous background. LOVE it!
The next four example are all similar. The 50mm is always first (or on the left), followed by the 200mm.
NDP 1376 50mm vs 200mm
NDP 0990 50mm vs 200mm
NDP 1044 50mm vs 200mm
NDP 0998 50mm vs 200mm
NDP 1391 50mm vs 200mm
NDP 1436 50mm vs 200mm
Here are two example from the Wells Family Photo shoot:
NDP 8182 1 50mm vs 200mm
I LOVE what the 200mm does to trees in the background. Look at how much bigger it makes them seem than with the 50mm.
NDP 8359 50mm vs 200mm
Again, the 200mm on the right makes the trees so much bigger and dramatic.
Last example from my most recent shoot with Jaymie and her family:
NDP 4682 50mm vs 200mm
NDP 4691 50mm vs 200mm
I just love how the 200mm separates the subject from the background.
And there you have it! I feel like I could write enough to fill a book about this subject, so I’ll try to refrain from doing so here on the blog. I have LOVED studying this. Luisa and I have a very fun game (at least I think so. I don’t think she’s as fond of it as I am). But I’ll show her a picture and say, “50 or 200?”. She’s amazes me as she gets it right 99% of the time, so it’s been fun to learn this together.
So here’s the thing. I learned photography on a 50mm and became even obsessive over my 50mm. It took me a while to warm up to my 70-200mm, but now that I have I LOVE it too. I honestly couldn’t pick a favorite. They both achieve a very different look at different times. I’ve been unfair to my 50mm in this post, making it seem like the 200mm wins every time hands down. Not so. There are so many pictures that I would only take with my 50mm, because I know it would out perform my 200mm in the situation. Anytime I want VERY shallow depth of field close up to the face, I put on my 50mm at 1.4. The important thing is to know when to use each lens (and this is only TWO lenses. I haven’t even talked about wide angle, which I also love. Maybe the 85mm 1.4 is the magic sweet spot between the two lenses).
I have also learned a lot about bokeh. It seems everyone always talks about how bokeh is affected by your aperture. The lower the f/stop the shallower your depth of field. True. But it’s only 1/3 of the equation. (Blog post on this in the future) But your depth of field is determined by a combination of your f/stop, your distance to the subject, and your focal length.
Anywho…this is turning into a book. Somebody stop me now! I hope you enjoyed. I’m going to finish with this last image:
NDP 9917 1 50mm vs 200mm
And my question is, what lens do YOU think I took this with, nifty fifty, or 70-200? I would also love to hear what people’s favorite lenses are. Have a great evening!