An essential lens to have for water shooting or any type of photography is no other than the 50mm focal length. Its the “must have lens” to carry your camera bag.“Why you say?” The “nifty 50” is the most equivalent to what we see naturally eyes, has a pleasing bokeh, are smaller in size than zooms lens, majority of camera manufacturers (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Fuji, etc) as well as third-party manufacturers have a great 50mm in its arsenal of lens that's affordable, and to top it of, it fits in most water housing ports, either fisheye or flat ports. So it only makes sense as the “why not” have this lens as part of camera bag.
The 50mm focal range is closely relative to what we see with our eyes without any kind of distortion on the edges and nearly every camera manufacturer has their own unique version, bokeh, with multiple aperture’s in there respective 50mm arsenal. With surf photography also been high-action sports shooting, the 50mm gives just enough room between the surfer and photographer to compose the shot and allows enough time to get out of the waves path when a big set rolls in.
Devon Howard, South Shore Hawaii. Canon 50mm f1.2- 1/4000 @f4.5
Jack Ho, Waikiki, Queens. Canon 50mm f1.2 1/1000 @f3.5
Some would say, “why would I want a photo that looks like what I see daily?” The reason is when limiting yourself to one focal length, you tend to look at moments more creatively and with a shallow depth of field (available in most prime lens) the more emotion to an image one can instill than shooting at f2.8 and above. Unlike zoom lens that have a multitude of focal lengths, which is ideal for travel and all-around photography, are usually bigger that its prime cousin, cost a bit more, and a drag to pull one of these in a water housing due to their accompanying hefty lens port.
What makes the 50mm focal length also great is that nearly every camera manufacturer has their own unique version, bokeh, price, and with multiple aperture’s in their 50mm arsenal. With so many options available including third-party manufactures like Sigma and Tamron, its pretty hard to come across a bad 50mm. For example, Canon’s 50mm f1.8 has the same optics as its premium f1.2 version, that is affordable ($125 new/used $100), has fast AF capabilities for water shooting, and the only difference between shelling out over $1k for the premium version is the build quality and more aperture blades.
Augusto Olinto, Mexico. Can 50mm f1.2- 1/500 @f9
Mason Ho, John John Florence, The Eddie 2016. Canon 50mm f1.2- 1/1250 @f8
When I first started shooting in the water in 2010, I wanted to get a housing and port system that would fit multiple lens in each port so I would save money in the long run. That led me to purchase a water housing with an 8mm fisheye port that could fit a fisheye lens, 50mm, and a 85mm. I soon figured a dome port to shoot a prime isn’t ideal due to the amount of space between the lens and port where the autofocus tends to search more due to water spots and debris on the port. After a couple of years of trying to get a hold of fisheye angles and struggling with a dome port for primes, I wanted a different, more easy on the eye look. So I started using the 50mm focal length and man, the journey of my creativity is now happily based off of it. It is my go-to lens because the ease shooting with a prime without having to deal with a zoom in the water and its deems to have less drag while swimming. I finally switched to a proper flat port for the 50mm lens which helped wonders on the AF system especially shooting backlit subjects.
Flat and Fisheye Lens Ports
My first 50mm lens was the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM which I bought off of Craigslist that cost me $80. I used it daily for about 5 months and got pretty comfortable with it both in and out of the water. Then after that I went all in and got the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM version, which I thought was outrageous at the time, but noticed the difference right away and kept that lens for over 6 years before switching systems. The bokeh was creamier and more pleasing, the AF is much faster and accurate, weather sealing, and while shooting backlit waves, focus seemed to stick a little better. It was worth every premium penny and I had a harder time letting it go than I did acquiring it.
Today, I have switched from Canon system to the Fujifilm Mirrorless system where Fuji’s XF 35mm f/2 R WR lens (APS-C) cost about the same as Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.4, is relatively sharper, has better AF in both well lit and low lit areas, and is joy to swim with because of less drag in the water housing. The downside to this lens is that its a f/2 lens but I have barely or never shot wide-open for surf action and have no intention too due to how fast athletes move on a wave. Almost all of my shots are focused on water drops and not close to what I want to portray with my subjects.
Having a trusty 50mm amongst your lens quiver is very well needed. Its a very simple lens to use without much overthinking thus relying on your own creativity to create your own look. I tend to use a 50mm when I want to get back basics, something where I think is the hub for creative expression. Throughout the years, there have been moments where shooting the same content could unintentionally flow you into a creative rut, so when that happens for myself, I tend to fall back on my 50mm to break that train of thought to excel me back into that mind set of shooting something new or a different angle.
Rosie Jaffurs...Canon 1DX + Canon 50mm1.2- 1/4000 @ f/4
Ross Williams...Fujifilm XT3 w/ 35mm f2- 1/20 @ f4
Nini Narvaez, Canon 50mm f1.2 - 1/320 @ f8
James Culhane, Mexico. Canon 50mm f1.2- 1/320 @f8