Let's cut to the chase - you're here because you want the best possible gear for the lowest possible cost. I get it.
You're looking for a new lens and every online blog, website, youtube channel review, etc. are telling you that the new lenses from [insert any camera company here] are the best lens ever and you definitely need to spend hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to buy that new piece of gear. It's totally worth it and will instantly transform you into a professional grade photographer. Just spend a little money and all your dreams will come true. Right?
Yeah, maybe not. That's what these companies want you to think. Sure - their lenses might be amazing... but other than zooms, most lens designs are well over 100 years old. That "nifty fifty" you've been looking at - probably based on the double gauss design from the late 1800s. I'm not going to get into specifics like that in this post, but I'm saying that lenses have been great for decades. You don't need the newest of the new to have great image quality - especially when using primes.
Zoom lenses and wide angle lenses have gotten much better over the years. So this post doesn't necessarily apply to those of you who need modern zoom lenses with fast autofocus or great edge-to-edge sharpness rectilinear wide angle lenses - especially wide angle zooms. You know who you are and I'm sorry to say, I don't really have any advice for you...
But! to everybody else - those who shoot portraits, landscapes, street photography, or just general family stuff, I can help.
The secret: use old lenses. Wow. That's it. What's the difference between a modern 50mm f/1.4 lens for hundreds of dollars and a 50 year old 50mm f/1.4 lens? Practically nothing - other than autofocus / auto aperature, but manually focusing isn't that hard once you get used to it. I'll have a future blog post about manual focusing tips.
The biggest difference with the actual optics is in the coatings. Modern anti-reflective coatings are much better now - which increase contrast and reduce flair.
Protip: Use a $3 lens hood and it'll fix the problem with older lens coating.
Depending on the camera you have (or are looking into), there are a wide variety of old lenses you can adapt for use with your camera. I'll go into the specifics in a future post - but just know that mirrorless cameras can use more lenses than dslrs. If you go the DSLR route - Nikon can't adapt as many as Canon, but Nikon can adapt every old nikon lens ever without an adapter. .. .but again, we'll go into these details later.
The point of this post is to let you know that there are other options out there - especially if you're looking into getting a prime lens. Instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a modern lens - look into the same focal length / aperture lens from decades ago. You'll save a ton of money and get great image quality. Some of these older lenses are even far better than the modern counterparts - both optically (more character) and build quality (all metal - no plastic).
I'll have many posts about specific lenses and vintage lens comparisons in the future.