Wednesday, March 31, 2010

PhotoFavs Wednesday: The Case Against Fast Glass; Follow My Twitterview Tomorrow

Good Morning Everybody,

We landed safe and sound yesterday, unpacked the bags, checked in with the team, and called it a day about 6:00 p.m.  Today it’s back to a normal routine around here which is a good thing.

CAnon Printer We are prepping the space in our production area for next week’s install of the new Canon iPF 8100 printer.  It’s about 2 inches wider than the Epson 9880 it’s replacing.  The problem is that the space is about 1 inch too small to make everything fit.  Don’t you love when that happens.  We’ve got a few work-a-rounds in mind so I’m sure everything will work out just fine.

Follow My Peachpit Twitterview Tomorrow At 2:00p.m. EDT

Peachpit Tomorrow I will answer your most pressing questions (photographywise), in easy-to-manage 140-character bites via Twitter! This grand event will take place tomorrow on Thursday, April 1, at 11 am PST.

To tune in, just follow @Peachpit and @DigitalProTalk. You can even set up a Tweetdeck group with just those 2 tweeps and follow along or search for this hashtag: #CBTL.

Twitterview So here's your chance! What wedding tips have you been dying to know? What should you do on your next wedding shoot?  Check out all the info about my Twitterview right here.  Don’t forget to watch the short 2 minute video too.  We shot it at PSW last week.  Hope to “see” you there - It should be fun.

OK, time to get on with today’s post and I think I’ve got a good one for you, especially if you are considering purchasing any new lenses soon.  So, let’s get right to it.  Here we go…

The Case Against Fast Glass

No Fast GlassDid the title get your attention;~) I thought this post title might really fire up the large F-stop prime lens shooters but here goes anyway. 

You know, all the time, I'm asked why I don't shoot lens with those big fat F-stops. Look at any of my "Image of the Day" posts and you will see I'm usually (like never) at the maximum aperture of the lens I'm shooting. In most cases I’m never using “L-Series” lenses – Canon’s really high priced spread.

OK, why do I shy away from that "big boy" glass?  Here's why…… I just don't need them. 

Hit the “Read More…” link below for the rest of my story.

Now the rest of the story is this.  I really don't need them for my style of shooting.  How often am I shooting with just the available light.

In reality, it is very seldom. Sure, Jeff Ascough [link] gets away with it every weekend – but, it’s his STYLE of shooting.  That’s why he is such a big fan of fast glass.  By the way, Jeff, congrats on you being named as an upcoming Lens & Light Honoree at

Those that know me, know that my “gig” is lighting – lot’s of creative on-camera and off-camera flash.  This is true for most of my wedding/portrait photography.  Is that a bad thing?  Of course not – it’s just my style.

An Elegant Afternoon I love the challenge of placing that light, or more accurately stated, the “tonal values” of the scene right where I want them.  That’s how I create those dramatic images.  For me it’s about MAKING the lighting exciting!

That is not to say that some lighting is NOT exciting all by itself - any self respecting sunset knows that’s some exciting lighting.

Let’s look how often I shoot without flash.  I begin the wedding coverage with two cameras – one with a flash mounted on it, and the other with that rare gem, a 50mm F1.4 lens attached.  The second lens is the one I use for those truly candid shots.  But even with that lens on the camera, I still shoot it at mostly F2.0.  Why, it’s about the depth of field.  F1.4 is just too shallow a depth of field for me.  Frankly, too many of my images are too far out of focus for my tastes when using the lens wide open.

50mm F1.4 That easily explains why I would NEVER pick up a 85mm F1.2 lens for the whopping price of $1,800!  Heck, Zack Arias suggested a 85mm F 1.8 lens as a great starter lens for new photographers.  Hey, I can’t disagree with that.  I would never hang out at that F1.2 range anyway.  My gosh, the depth of field of the 85mm at F1.2 on a Canon 7D is less than 2.5 inches at 10 feet!!!

OK, I know a few folks are going to disagree with me.  They are going to contend that the fast glass opens up a brand new set of shooting possibilities for the wedding/portrait photographer.  I don’t disagree with this either. Remember, I do take a few images with my wider aperture 50mm F1.4 lens.  But stylistically, it’s just not my thing.

Of course I shoot the entire wedding ceremony without flash.  In fact the only time a flash SHOULD fire during the ceremony is during the procession and recession only – NO FLASH during the ceremony EVER!!!

Little Ringbearer Don’t I want fat F-stops for those shots? Not necessarily.  I like to shoot my 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens at F3.5 because of the slightly extra depth of field. For most of my ceremony shots, I prefer my 70-300mm F3.5-5.6 DO IS lens on my Canon 7D.  With that lens “racked out” to 300mm on the 7D camera body you have an effective 480mm focal length.  Now you can really shoot those “reach out and touch somebody” candids.

Toast Rider I  also do some “available light” shooting at the wedding reception, but not a great deal.  My 50mm F1.4 and 70-200mm IS lenses work just fine for those candid shots.

Am I putting down those that love their fast glass – of course not.  Go for it.  I would rather spend my money on more intermediate priced lenses, for example, the 24-105mm IS lens at only $1100.  This is one of my favorite lenses. It’s fast enough for many “available light” shots but still gives me a good range of zoom focal length that helps me avoid the “lens changing juggle” at a wedding.

For me too, it’s about getting the expressions quickly and efficiently.  That’s what the 24-105mm IS lens allows me to accomplish easily.

High ISOs Let’s talk a bit more about the F4.0 or even F5.6 maximum apertures on some of the lenses I use.  OK, What has become the great equalizer of the slower vs. faster glass in recent years?  It’s clearly the new crop of high ISO cameras from both Canon and Nikon.  Couple that with the new noise cancelling capabilities of Lightroom 3 and lots of the advantages of shooting fast glass is falling by the wayside.

The “fast glass” advantage before revolved around the ability to shoot at faster shutter speeds to stop the action and reduce camera shake.  The other advantage rested in the stylistic rendition of the image with an extremely shallow depth of field.  High ISO cameras remove all the fast glass advantages except shallow depth of field.

Think about it.  Shooting at F2.0 at 1/60 second at ISO 400 was a good thing in low light situations.  But, heck, now I can shoot F4.0 at 1/250 second at a perfectly respectable ISO 6400.  Add a little noise reduction and I’m' home free.

The bottom line for me is this:

1. My style let’s me shoot at higher ISO’s and consequently smaller F-stops.

2.  I’m a “light guy” and light using my strobes creatively.  Fast glass is inconsequential to my results.

3. For shooting quickly, I like the longer range of focal lengths of the slower glass (offset by the higher ISO cameras).

4. My shooting style is not predominately available light only so I really don’t need a heavy (literally) fast glass.

5. I prefer flattering my subjects with “flattering” light that I can bring to the shoot and I do that at my favorite F 5.6 aperture.

6. I prefer the versatility of shooting with “room lights” at the wedding reception.  I typically shoot my reception candids at F6.3. with three lights firing at a wedding reception, one on camera ( fill-light only), one held by my assistant (main light), and the third on a light stand in the corner of the room. I can come up with some great spontaneous shots that would be completely missed by the fast glass shooters.

7.  I mix my flash shots with my available light shots which gives me a wider range of image options for my clients – photographically speaking at least.

8. And, I’m cheap and don’t want to spend the giant sized bucks on a 85mm or 50mm F1.2 lens.

Anyway, it takes more that one style of photography to make the photographic world go ‘round and my photographic style finds no compromise when choosing not to use fast fat glass.

Hey, just my opinion.  But, you know in your hearts, that I’m right :~) 


Hey gang, on that note I’m out of here.  It’s back to my real job today.  Why don’t you drop your own thoughts in the “Comments” section below and become part of the “fast glass – no fast glass” conversation.

I’ll plan to see everyone tomorrow for another profit building episode of Business Day Thursday - “How To Make A Little Add Up To A Lot.”

See ya’ then,  -David


  1. In the "fast glass - no fast glass" argument I couldn't agree more. As a macro shooter I could never understand the purpose of a f2.8 macro lens. I could see more utility in a f4 macro lens that doesn't double in length when focusing close to my subject. Insects hate that.

  2. While I'm not disagreeing with your points, David, here are the three advantages I see in fast glass (I don't like primes so I'm talking specifically about f/2.8 zooms ):

    1, brighter viewfinder and 2, easier focus in low light when not using the AF-assist lamps:

    Both of these are becuase, when looking through the viewfinder of a modern DSLR you are looking through the lens at it's maximum aperture and the camera stops this down to your chosen aperture before the shot is taken.

    and 3, it's generally accepted that lenses are sharpest a few stops from their maximum aperture. Shoot at f/5.6 at 300mm on the 70-300 and you are wide open. Shoot at f/5.6 on the 70-200 and you are not wide-open and get the benefits to sharpness that entails.

  3. While I tend to use the fastest glass I can get because my theatrical photography requires that I work in dim light without any flash, I completely agree that the best choice for a person is not always the "best" thing available. Often times, the most expensive items are a waste of money.

    What I do find interesting about this article is how quickly it came after the posts talking about how you should use "Pro" level bodies to be a Professional, but apparently you don't need "Pro" level glass.

  4. David, I understand your points however, there is yet another very good reason to consider fast glass, and that has to do with focus. This is especially true at the reception which is usually very dark. TTL relies on good focus and certainly this can become an issue at f4.0 or 5.6 in a dark setting. The faster glass will give the user a more accurate focus under the same conditions.

  5. I agree with your post, David! Tho I do own fast glass I rarely shoot at 1.2. I use the 85 1.2 for my bride/groom portraits and for dramatic shots for seniors. Other than that I had to buy another 24-105 f4 because my wife I were always wanting to use it at weddings.

    I will say that when a shot is nailed with the 1.2 lenseit is astounding to look at.

  6. This is not really an argument for or against fast glass, but one of personal photographic style.

    Mr. Ziser's style just happens to work well with zoom lenses.

  7. Hello David,
    thanks for another great post.
    I agree with you on the shallow depth of field at f/1.4. I got my 50 mm f/1.4 last year, and, as beginner, I just couldn't take a decent picture with it wide open. I did it gradually, and when my technique progressed, now I can take a shot at f/1.4. Fast glass takes time for rookies.

  8. Okay, not to tell an obviously very successful photographer what kind of equipment to use, but you cannot replace the qualities of fast glass in the slower models. First, on the occasion you want it (maybe 5% of the time) it is available. I find myself in the wide extreme far more often than I do the small extreme regardless of the range. My experiences with comparing fast and slow glass is the manufacturer simply makes the faster, more expensive lenses better. They have been sharper in the corners and the distortion is less noticeable.

  9. Dear Skippy,

    You are sooo correct. In fact I had a Canon rep tell me that as a wedding photographer, that I should get the 85 1.8 over the 85 1.4 lens due to the slower focus of the lens with all of that heavy glass. Faster focus and a lot less coin. Made sense to me.


  10. A little while ago, I decided to byte the bullet and put out over 1k for a 17-55 2.8 Nikon glass. Home tests were great. took the lens on the job only to realize that it focuses SLOWER then "crappy" 18-105 of mine. So I switched the bodies on the job (when had some free time) and same result. After exchanging this glass 3 times at B&H, on 4th time I just returned it.
    As for primes, after bronika, as much as i miss med-format film, I DO NOT MISS PRIMES.