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Here's a camera lens question from a n00b on a Sunday morning...I've had a Canon Eos SLR for about 5 years and am thinking about getting a second lens. (The first is the standard zoom.) I mainly use the camera for family photos, so I'm thinking about getting a 50mm since I'm told (e.g., by +David Sifry) that it'll be great, and I've seen some beautiful photos my nephew's been taking with his Canon + 50mm (1.8). So, I'm thinking about paying about $100 for Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens.

Another friend whose camera advice I trust has suggested that I instead get a zoom that starts at 50mm, e.g., Sigma 50-200mm f/4.0-5.6 DC IF SLD Optical Stabilized (OS) Lens with Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM), for $170. He says that although the fstop is higher, I'm unlikely to notice any difference in clarity, that it won't matter for the flash except in lower light than I'm likely to be in, and that the zoom is obviously more versatile.

Given that I am a hobbyist, viewing my photos on computer screens, and would rather not be switching lenses often, which lens (or neither) do you recommend?
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Geez... if David Sifry is on it, WTF am I gonna add? lolz

Years ago, I did a lot of photography, including all my own darkroom work (back when that was a real thing you could do, with film and all ;-).

One practical factor I wrestled with across lenses (more than "clarity," per se) was depth of field -- the area within which subjects appear to be in focus.  Maybe that's what "clarity" means here?

The actual depth increases with fstop; that you'll grok pretty fast when you're trying for certain sorts of impact in selective portraits or nature shots. 

However, the ~center~ of that field changes with focal length.  The shortest possible lens, theoretically, puts all the depth of field beyond the focal point.  The longest possible lens, theoretically, puts exactly half the depth of field on each side of the focal point.

Tons of pages about it... but this one actually has a table on the latter effect:  http://www.cambridgeincolour.com/tutorials/depth-of-field.htm

Yeah, who cares? Maybe not you, and maybe not most people.  I say this mostly to point out that you won't know about details like this until you try.  Seriously.  I'm sure there's also some difference in color rendering through the two lenses.  You won't ever know that, unless you test both on the same subject, in controlled conditions.

What's your standard lens now?  If it's already a 50mm f2.8 or some such, dropping to f1.8 won't add much except a few low light opportunities.  In that case, I'd choose the longer zoom.  Or... get a much shorter, even lower fstop lens, or something macro capable.

What do you want to take pictures of?  Why doesn't someone more competent and informed arrive to answer your actual question?!? ;-)
 
I have a Canon EOS and bought the 50mm f1.8 and love it. It is great for indoor shots, especially candid portraits and narrow depth of field, indoor or out. Although it is fixed focal length, a lot of people talk about how that forces you to be more creative in framing your shots.
 
Well, first: What's the range of the standard zoom?
 
The 1.8 50mm is ideal to shoot available light photos indoors or outdoors. Unless you do many telephoto shots, the extra speed and compact, high quality of the 50mm lens is a big benefit. I personally never use flash if possible - available light is much more natural.

You can use Photoshop elements or simpler editing tools to correct color balance for indoor lighting, bring up shadows etc.
 
This is the exact setup that I have, and I strongly recommend the 50mm/1.8, especially if you don't have a flash. Getting photos indoors is almost impossible with the stock lens, unless you bump the ISO up to 1600 or so. Shooting with a lower F-stop (like at 2.0 or 2.2) will let you shoot at a much lower ISO.

Plus, this lower F-stop means that you will get the great depth of field that really makes photos "pop", where the subject is really distinct from the background.

I use my 50mm almost exclusively now, and leave the 18-55 packed away.
 
You might look at a zoom that ranges from shorter than 50mm to around 120mm. It gives you a lot of range for a variety of shots. Longer lens zooms are great, but have limited flexibility, especially indoors and at closer distances. 
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