If you’ve ever worked with us or keep up with our ever expanding arsenal of camera goodies, you may have noticed that we are (er, were) exclusively die hard Canon users when it comes to glass and digital cameras. With the exception of adding the Sony FS700 to our roster of digital bodies, and my exploration into a Hasselblad film body (but honestly, that doesn’t really count against Canon), we are dedicated to that brand. I shot a Nikon once, it was weird and I assume they
use voodoo demon magic to make their images are a very nice company to be behind as well. Over this past Memorial Day weekend, I shot two weddings and finally got around to using the holy grail of L Series lenses, in my opinion of course, the 50mm f/1.2.
I like my set up simple when I go out on a shoot, because I know what works for me and I know I can get everything with just a messenger bag full of gear. The 50mm prime lens series has been my go-to since just a few weeks into learning photography. I’ve used my fair share of lenses now, but nothing could be more simple yet so versatile to me then one camera body with a 50mm lens on it. When doing portrait work and my early gigs of shooting concert photography in next to pitch black rooms, I needed a lens that was long enough to get medium-close to my subjects and fast enough to shoot wide open and get great shots (this is where the f-stop becomes the key factor for me). A lens that might only open as wide as f/4, like say the very popular Canon 24-105 L, is gonna limit me well over two full stops which can be crippling in some situations. Your trade off at this point of course, is a very ‘narrow’ depth of field, meaning that even if you hit your focus point just right you might only get the eyes tact sharp and everything else will be out of focus. Lets be honest though, who doesn’t like a healthy dose of blur and bokeh in a portrait?
The 50mm is the perfect all around lens if you ask me. It stays on my camera 90% of the time when I’m out shooting. There are three lenses in the Canon 50mm family; the f/1.8 (also commonly referred to as the ‘Nifty Fifty’), the f/1.4 (my workhorse thus far) and finally the f/1.2 L. I’ve never personally owned the 1.8 but clocking in brand new at $100, you would be foolish not to pick one up just to give it a try. The 1.4 has gotten me to where I am thus far in my career and I would highly recommend it for a significantly better build and great optic quality over the 1.8. However, the 1.2 L was such a beast that I can’t see myself going back to anything else. From the solid, weather sealed body that just feels like it can take a beating, to the absolutely stunning and sharp as glass image quality paired with the killer auto-focus, this is the one for anyone serious about portrait work. The 1.2L will set you back about $1,500 new, but if you are serious about your image quality being top notch then it’s an essential investment.
I should take a quick second to advise against going fully wide open on these lenses unless truly needed. All of my example shots above were done at f/2, and mostly for the reason I touched on that by opening up more than that you run into a very, very narrow depth of field with minimal wiggle room for error. I’ve found that the f/2 to f/2.8 range is ideal for that extremely sharp point of focus with great fall off to that milky soft bokeh you see everywhere else. By opening up to f/1.8, f/1.4, or even f/1.2 you run the risk of having an image so soft that it may not be usable. If you need the extra full stop or two in order to get the image, however, then open it up cause nothing is worse then missing the shot all together. With all that being said, this is a dream lens to me. If you have never tried one out, I couldn’t recommend any other lens higher then this bad boy right here. Go track one down, slap it on whatever body of choice, and get to shooting.