Friday, October 10, 2008

Another Gear Bag Friday: The Rarest Lens Of All - Reviewing The Rare 50mm F 1.4 Lens

Good Morning Everybody,
Well, after all this "gloom and doom" Business Day Thursday talk and the stock market in free fall, let's talk about something we can all enjoy - more camera gear:~)

The Rare of the Rarest Lenses
That's what it's been for years - the lens that used to come with every film 35mm SLR, the lens you took off the camera and stashed in a a drawer somewhere, the lens that hardly ever found it's way back on the camera once it was removed - the rare 50mm lens :~) That really has been the case for years, but digital has changed all that making one of the least favored optics now one of the fair haired boys in the ol' gear bag.

I remember, my buddy Denis Reggie singing the praises of Canon's 85mm F1.2 lens back in the film days - super fast, shallow depth of field, and super sharp - and the cost....about $1900 by the way, enough to give your wallet a hernia. Now digital rolls around and a lot of us start making the migration, for me it was 12/30/00, just about eight years ago.

I get thinking about the 85mm F1.2 lens and say, "No way!" With my digital camera's 1.6x multiplication factor, that conveniently makes my 50mm lens an 80mm optic and only 1/2 stop slower than that super pricey 85mm and for the cost of only $325 - not bad!! I'll take the $1500 savings and pick up another camera body. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how my poor forlorn 50mm lens become one of my favorites for use on the candid side of the weddings I shoot.

Here is the set up for me on the wedding day. Camera #1 fitted with 17-85mm, 580EX II flash in place in my hands ready to go. Camera #2 around my neck and fitted with the "rare" 50mm F 1.4, camera set to aperture priority at F2.0, ISO 1600, Kelvin 2800, and Spot Metering - I'm ready for the candid action.

Here are the quick reasons for the Camera#2 settings:

50mm; Because it's really an 80mm lens and perfect for those "reach out and touch somebody" candids without being in their face. It's perfect for a great low light, natural light portrait.

Aperture Priority; Because I like F 2.0 the best - see below - but there are times when I like to cruise the F-stop ring for a different effect.

F2.0; Because I prefer not to open up more than that if I don't have to. I just get to many missed focused shots at the wider openings. F2.0 works CONSISTENTLY better for me. That doesn't mean I wouldn't go to F 1.4 if I needed too. I really like f 1.4 to capture those low light images at the wedding reception - Wow! What a cool flavor of images you get at the wedding reception when shooting wide open at a high ISO - very cool!

ISO 1600; Because I need a high enough ISO to stop the action. My "tractor beam" camera add-on is not operational yet. Most often these action candids taken at ISO 1600 or even 800 are only going to be smaller images in the wedding album. If by chance they are larger images within the album NIK Dfine 2.1 or Noise Ninja knocks the noise right out of those high ISO images anyway so I'm not very concerned about the higher ISO's.

Kelvin 2800; This is my preferred color temperature for tungsten flavoured images. I don't like the Tungsten setting on the Canon Cameras at all. It's useless in ALL of my shooting situations, but their 2800 Kelvin setting saves the day. It's beautiful. By the way, I like the Nikon tungsten setting - it looks just fine to me, go figure??

Spot Metering; This setting has taken me a little while to settle into, but it's my preferred choice now. Too many times I was shooting in situations where the light was so weird that I got a decent exposure only about half the time. I'm shooting the bride getting ready, the windows in the hotel suite or even her home are all around my perimeter. If my vantage point was including the window in the least bit, the shot would be under-exposed. The bright light of the window would be the culprit. It was happening too many times, so I decided that spot metering was the exposure solution way to go. As long as I hit the subject with that center spot, held the exposure, I could shoot away and know I got the properly exposed shot every time. Adios lousy silhouettes, hello beautiful exposed spontaneous candids.

That pretty much explains why I like the 50mm so much. It is perfect for the spontaneous P/J (photo-journalistic) wedding day images. We used to call these same images candids in the old days and since I'm a little older, been around a while, I still prefer this term.

Wait there's more - want to save about $215? Then op for the 50mm F1.8. You lose another 1/2 stop but pocket $215 dollars. Rumor has it that the F1.8 is sharper that the F 1.4 lens, too. Hey, just a little food for thought if your budget is tight. Thought you would like to know. Here is the link right here with a most thorough comparison between the two lenses (Canon).

More On The 24-70mm and the 17-85mm IS lenses;
Before I wrap for today, I want to re-visit for just a moment last week's post of the 17-85mm IS lens. A lot of you were opting for the 24-70mm as a better choice - you know, it's that fast glass thing again. Here was my answer to an email I received on just that subject and further food for thought;

"Thanks for the nice comments about the blog. Re: lens choices - the 24-70mm is sharp as a tack, but only goes down to 24mm. I sometimes put my 24-105mm IS lens on my 40D, but always change back to the 17-85mm - it's that 17mm setting that's the magic number for me. Also 24-70mm is not IS. I know it is a favorite lens for many shooters, but I still prefer the 17-85mm range with the IS - it's always about the range for me - call me lazy. Re: sharpness - my guess would be that one could not see the difference between the lenses when presented with an 8x10 print printed luster paper. The paper surface would also disguise some of the 24-70mm lens sharpness - on glossy paper, that may be a different story, but most of us don't deliver wedding images on glossy paper. So the 24-70mm and 17-85mm would be too close to call in my opinion..."

Hey gang, That's it for me today. We've got a busy weekend including a wedding this evening. My buddy, Mark, who was my assistant for a number of years, is getting married. It should be a kick. I'll see everybody next week. -David


  1. I get the feeling you prefer your 40D to a full frame sensor camera for weddings. While I only do 6-8 weddings a year by choice, I've been happier with a full frame camera than a 1.6x body. It's nice to have a real wide angle lens with my trusty old 17-40. The 24-105 seems more versatile on a full frame sensor body. And since I always have my 70-200 close at hand, I guess your right in that the old 50 is relegated to a back-up of the back-up role.

  2. I just discovered your blog a few days ago and have been reading and learning for a couple of hours a night. Thanks for all the work you put into it.

    I like the fact that you are practical about selecting equipment that gets the job done that you want to do without worrying about the cache of shooting with only L lenses or whipping out your 5D just because you have one. What matters is how you compose, light, and capture the shot, much more than knowing that it would still be tack sharp if you decided to enlarge it to 400% just because you could.

    Congratulations to Mark. I believe he was your assistant when you photographed our wedding in October 2002. When I make my husband act as my light stand or otherwise assist me, we refer to him as "Mark."

  3. Very interesting post, is funny but for me 50mm has been my weapon of choice for some time now. Would love to see some of your wedding candids.

    So I've been wondering why they were relegated to the drawer in the SLR era, I think that part of it was that film was a bit more permissive with lightning conditions so versatility was number one priority over fast small lens.