50mm vs 200mm

(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:
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.
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:
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):
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:
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.
Here are two example from the Wells Family Photo shoot:
I LOVE what the 200mm does to trees in the background. Look at how much bigger it makes them seem than with the 50mm.
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:
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:
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!
  • Snapshots By Jolene - Nice post, I now have something on my xmas list! I shoot mostly with the 50mm and I have a 70-300 but I'm loving the bokeh your getting! I think the last one was shot with the 50… am I right?ReplyCancel

  • Cindy - Love this post! These are the two lenses I shoot with. I have others, but these two go with me everywhere!ReplyCancel

  • Maryam - This is a post I've been needing and the photos, especially the last, are gorgeous.

    I think the photo of the bride on the beach was shot with a 50.ReplyCancel

  • Obiwanhavanese - Great post Nate. I love the 70-200 myself. One of my favorite lenses is the 105 2.8 Micro. Very sharp lens.ReplyCancel

  • John Lewis Photography - Nice post Nate, love your work and it's great to see how you are developing as a photographer. Keep up the good work.


  • Brian Perkes - Very nice post! I'm a 200 man I guess, for the most part the 200's are my favorite shots, The 70-200 is on my Christmas list but not sure what year!ReplyCancel

  • Aunt Tea - oh, i could just hug you. i love this post. almost in every case i liked both and would want to mix the two in a shoot. i currently have a 35 1.8, 50 1.8 and 85 1.8 and and 18-70 that is great because of it's versatility on the fly and the images are pretty decent.
    i'm afraid of the fast 70-200 because of the weight tho i'm tempted. but i'm also a 51 year old woman and the weight is a factor. still pondering the possibilities. ÜReplyCancel

  • Jeff Heinz - HI Nate, Great job at explaining and showing examples of the comparison. The biggest take away for me, is that there is not one magic lens and you know how to get a completely different look by simply changing lens and move your feet. I personally shoot my 70-200 for all my people and baby shoots. Even indoors on white seamless it gives me distance and versitility without invading that all important personal space comfort zone.
    Great post, keep up the fabulous work!ReplyCancel

  • Robert Lowry - Nice post Nate. Two more parts of the equation for you to ponder:
    Sensor size.
    Subject to background distance.

    And the last shot looks like the 70-200 @ about 70 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Nate Perkes - Hi Everyone! Thanks so much for your comments. I'm glad you enjoyed the post. The shot is actually taken with a 50mm @1.4.ReplyCancel

  • R and J Studios - this post is awesome. i think im going to go through my own photos and compare, as i do usually use both lenses…ive just never really thought about looking at them side by side.ReplyCancel

  • Astrid - Hi Nate, Great post! I think the last one is shot with a 50mm.
    For portrets I love the look with the 200mm, I to love what that does with backgrounds.

    My favorite portret lens is the 135mm 2.0, if you can, you should try it sometime.

    grtz from the NetherlandsReplyCancel

  • Jackie - Thanks for a great post! I'm a visual learner and that was so helpful. I just set my 70-200 aside to lighten my travel load, I think I'll add it back in.ReplyCancel

  • Leigh - 16-35 all the way 😉ReplyCancel

  • Tonia - Thanks for doing the comparison. I used to always shoot with my 50 when I first purchased it and now I rarely use it. I do however appreciate your 50mm examples a little mmore than some of the 200mm it’s always nice to see why one would prefer one of the other and it is definitely a case by case basis. Thanks again!ReplyCancel

  • Adriana Morett - Wow Nate excellent post! THANK YOU sooo much for this, I have never truly seen the “compress” effect of a long lens, you rock! Thanks 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Mike - Cool post man, I quite enjoy shooting portraits at 200mm. Just love the lens compression.ReplyCancel

  • Denise Nicole - Before I read any comments, I am going to say that last shot was with a 50mm! I use the 50mm 1.2 95% of the time. I only use the 70-200 for the ceremony and when I am 2nd shooting. It’s so heavy to carry around to a lifestyle session that it always gets left behind. I spent so much money on it and don’t use it like I should. After this post I am really going to bring it out more often and think of it as toning up my arms!!! 🙂 Thanks for the great post! You have just inspired me to invest more in my investment! Hugs!ReplyCancel

  • Britsnap - Fantastic post, I guessed the last image at 50mm but not 1.4. I love the 3 dimensional aspect, I need to shoot 1.4 more. Just started using sigma 70-200 and online the results. Cheers for sharingReplyCancel

  • Wonderful Wednesday – Photography Inspiration from Michael Levin and Brad Kremer » Alex Beadon Photography - […] 50mm vs 200mm lens : side by side! – What an amazingly interesting blog post – fell in looove with it! […]ReplyCancel

  • Alex - AMAZING POST! Love it, thank you thank you thank you!ReplyCancel

  • Dallas Curow - Awesome post! It’s so great to see side-by-side comparisons instead of just reading a review of the two lenses. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us so we can all learn from you 🙂ReplyCancel

  • JAY Photographic Images - Great blog post Nate….I love both of those lenses two, for each of their special attributes.

    I’m going to say 50mm, for the last image…the background isn’t compressed enough to be from the 70-200mmReplyCancel

  • Adam Johnson - Superb post. There’s also a big difference in the way people connect to the camera depending on whether you’re 10 feet away or 30 feet away. People relax more if you’re a bit further away (they know they can whisper to each other without you hearing!). I love the 70-200. I’ve been told the 135mm is THE lens so I’ll be trying this out soon!ReplyCancel

  • Sherine Harding Smith - Thank you thank you! I’ve searched all over for a good comparison!ReplyCancel

  • Roj Smith - Great post.ReplyCancel

  • Ginny Gibbons - Great post! I think you took the last photo with the nifty fifty.ReplyCancel

  • Gloria - Great post! I’m so thankful you shared this was everyone. I’ve been researching the 70-200 for a couple of weeks, I’ve even fallen asleep thinking about it. I just upgraded to a full frame and only have the 50 1.4. I have no doubts that the 70-200 will be my next lens. Thanks!!ReplyCancel

  • Braden Storrs - Great article Nate. Just randomly came across it doing some research. Hope you’re doing well!ReplyCancel

  • Crystal H - I needed to hear this! I use a crop sensor camera though. What equivalent do you think would work on my camera? I currently use the 35 mm and think it compares to a 50 on a full frame. Thanks!ReplyCancel

  • Dave Barnes - I love the comparisons. They certainly give some differing looks and makes me start thinking. Thought is always a good thing! Thanks for you work.ReplyCancel

  • Ramon Acosta - Thanks a lot ! It is a great comparison!ReplyCancel

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