Saturday 27 June 2009

One lens to do one job really well!

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I had a great question from a reader yesterday.

Hi David,

I hope you don’t mind me emailing you out of the blue, I always enjoy reading your blog and thought I would push my luck with the following question. Anyway, I have an interesting event coming up and if you can spare the time I would really appreciate any thoughts you may care to offer as you are without doubt the most qualified person I can think of on the matter!

My brother Rob is getting married next April and I'm hoping to get some nice pictures. I should stress that I’m only a keen amateur. I will be using a Canon 450D which has a cropped sensor, the lenses I have at present are the Canon 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 and Tamron 70-300mm f4.5-4.6 (this may change to Nikon kit in due course but the principle of the question doesn't really change).

I know that there is nothing especially poor with my lenses, however I’m thinking that as it’s going to be such a special day I might hire a top-notch lens to firstly increase my enjoyment of the day and secondly to hopefully obtain some better pictures!

My thoughts are that I would only wish to carry the camera with lens attached as I don’t want the hassle of changing lenses nor do I fancy spending the whole day with the unused lens in my pocket or carrying a separate bag with it inside. Just a camera and lens seems right. I’m guessing at this stage your bracing yourself for the inevitable 'which lens to take' question however there is a bit of a twist! ….

I'm probably going to be concentrating on taking candid portraits and especially so of my 3 year old nephew and so I’m not interested in taking pictures of the same thing that everybody else captures. Things like the the wedding vows, speeches, aisle walk etc are not important as they will be well documented by others, plus it’s my brothers wedding and I want to watch the important bits with my eyes and not through a lens!

I’d rather come home with only a few pictures that stood out rather than 100s of pictures of the usual quality. Question is how do I achieve it!! Obviously an f2.8L zoom would seem to fit the bill for a great all rounder but I’m thinking one step ahead of that (or at least I think I am!). I'd rather have a lens that absolutely excelled at one particular type of picture than having a jack of all trades, master of none type lens and so I’m thinking of specialising in portraits with good bokeh on the basis that nobody else apart from the professional will have an f1.2 lens in their bag to achieve it and he she wont be pointing hers where I’m pointing mine. Therefore my plan should result in me producing portraits with unique characteristics, i.e. bokeh.

I think my plan a good one, at least in theory!!!

My thoughts are that the following lenses would fit the bill:

50mm f1.2L USM (80mm on cropped sensor)
(small, compact, light, inconspicuous, great for leaving camera with other people for moments I can’t hold it and comfortable when the camera is around my neck).


85mm f1.2L II USM (136mm on cropped sensor)

I know that you must get hundreds of which lens questions but I really have tried to work it out myself, I’m just stuck on the last bit and interested on whether you think an amateur (and the AF) could handle an f1.4 with a 50mph kid or would I be better off with an f2.8 zoom.

Any thoughts you might have on a lens choice would be very much appreciated and obviously I appreciate that you are a busy man so there is absolutely no rush for any response you may care to give.

Best regards


Hi Andy,

Many thanks for your positive feedback.

I love receiving questions - particularly when they're as well-thought out and eloquently written as yours is.

I think your analysis is absolutely spot on. One lens to do one job really well.

However, rather than hiring a 50mm f/1.2 I would suggest you buy a 50mm f/1.8 - they're about £80 at the moment.

It's not an L-series lens but the optical quality is absolutely stunning. In terms of value-for-money it's Canon's best lens. You'll be able to have a good go with it before the wedding - shooting at wide aperture close-up to a subject requires a bit of practice - and you'll be able to enjoy it after the wedding too. You may need to start using focusing points other than the centre - focus-recompose can leave your subject out of focus.

Keep me posted with what you do.

All the best,


Any other suggestions for Andy?

3 comments: said...

I would only add that you need a good amount of practise to use f/1.2 lenses. So if you want to rent one, make sure you have had prior experience using and looking at the results.

These are great lenses, but they can be slow to focus and the depth of field so tiny that it is very easy to get shots that are out of focus. Weddings can be quite fast paced and your subjects may not be standing still.

Buying the 1.8 or the 1.4 seems like a really good idea. Renting would be nice, but just make sure you have enough time to practise.

Good luck and have fun!

Anonymous said...

The f/1.4 is a better lens than the 1.8, faster focussing and a little bit more sturdy. 3 times the cost but still a lot cheaper than the 1.2. Personally I'd also be making sure that I have at least one spare battery, multiple spare cards (4GB cards are my favourite compromise of cost, size and reliability at the moment) and ideally a second body, borrow or rent but don't get something that you are not familiar with, another 450D would be ideal. I never take on any project like this without a back-up.

Kristin said...

I would suggest looking at Sigma's fantastic 30 1.4 - it's awesome value (I can't remember the price bu it's really inexpensive!), tack sharp, great in low light/low contrast and fast to focus. It's also quite small and so it's very easy to carry around. If I had to attend a wedding with only one body and lens it would be my 40D and Sigma 30 1.4 :)