Sunday, January 8, 2012

Power of Primes

Late this summer I decided to take some of my photography earnings and invest in some new lenses. Since getting my 5D MK II I've become acutely aware of the need for good quality lenses, however, my pockets aren't deep enough to always seek out that illustrious "L" and the red ring that accompanies it. There is a way to cheat this a little though and that is through the power of primes. If you read the reviews on most prime lenses and see their output is often compared to L glass. Rather than being a jack of all trades but a master of none the prime lenses focus their efforts (accidental pun) on being great at just one focal length all while remaining decently affordable.

Knowing my main intent with these lenses would be portraiture I opted for the Canon EF 35mm f/2.0, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4, and finally the Canon EF 85mm f1.8. The 85mm was initially what got me cruising the B&H site, I'd heard good things about this lens and knew the wide aperture would be great for melting the backgrounds away. I already owned the practically disposable "nifty fifty" but I wanted to upgrade more for build quality than the extra 0.4 of a stop that the 1.4 offered. The 35mm was more of an afterthought, I had emailed a friend needing some help to justify my purchase and while giving me the push I needed also suggested the 35mm.

My first order of business with the new primes was to test them out by doing some maternity portraits of a friend of mine. I decided to revisit a location I'd relied on heavily when I first started out doing portraiture, Kinsmen Park in Saskatoon. I grew up in a nearby neighbourhood and this park has a lot of interesting angles. Already being familiar with it let me focus on shooting rather than scouting for places to setup etc.

2011 Maternity Shoot Highlights 1
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 - Shot at 1/640 @ f1.4

2011 Maternity Shoot Highlights 5
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 - Shot at 1/200 @ f2.2

2011 Maternity Shoot Highlights 3
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 - Shot at 1/500 @ f1.8

I tried shots with all 3 lenses but quickly found that the 35mm was not my favourite choice. Whether it was just my shooting style or the fact that being outside allowed for use of wider lenses I wound up just putting it back in my bag. I'm thinking that where the 35mm will really shine is in my basement studio where space is limited and I'll be shooting in close quarters.

A few weeks later I found myself back at this park with another friend's family to further put the lenses through their paces. This time the 50mm got more use than the 85 just because I was shooting 3 people instead of just 1. By this time the golden hues of autumn had taken hold and with apertures down around 1.8 the backgrounds became a sea of orange and yellows.

Family Portrait Shoot Highlights 4
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 - Shot at 1/200 @ f1.4

Family Portrait Shoot Highlights Variety B
Various exposures

By the time I got around to doing one of my last summer shoots, again of friends, I was pretty comfortable with these lenses and was feeling confident that they were indeed a great investment. For this shoot I was pointing the lens at another photographer so I knew I had to be at the top of my game :) His wife was a week away from her due date and at times I was worried we might have to stop the shoot and just head to the nearest hospital. Luckily I was shooting at the University of Saskatchewan which has a hospital right on the grounds, though fortunately we made it through the shoot without anyone's water breaking.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 - Shot at 1/200 @ f1.8

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 - Shot at 1/250 @ f1.8

I did wind up using the 35mm for a few shots during this shoot, the shot below wouldn't have been possible with the 50 or 85mm unless I had a lift of some kind.

Canon EF 35mm f/2.0 - Shot at 1/160 @ f2.0

Now I should point out a few things to anyone reading this, especially those newer to digital SLR cameras that might be shooting with cropped sensors. [I explain crop sensors in another post here] All of the entry and mid level cameras have sensors that are not equivalent to a full 35mm frame, most are 1.5 or 1.6 times smaller or "cropped" as they call them. If you use an EF lens on a cropped frame sensor two things will happen: 1) The effective "zoom" of the lens will increase by the crop factor and 2) the dept of field will increase a little. This means that a 35mm lens will behave more like a 50mm and a 50mm will behave more like an 80mm. Shooting at 1.8 on a crop sensor will result in a slightly less blurry background (aka less Bokeh) than if shot on a full frame sensor. Don't let this deter you however, the loss of Bokeh is fairly minimal and if you plan ahead the amount of zoom you get won't matter at all. There is the added bonus that if you ever upgrade to a full frame camera you'll be able to use these lenses whereas your EFs lenses will be useless.

I also want to mention that I bought my lenses online through B&H Photo at a significant savings compared to my local camera stores. I'm not affiliated with B&H at all and I'd actually rather have put money into my local economy but in the end even with shipping I saved a few hundred dollars by ordering through B&H. One aspect I was quite happy with was the shipping, being in Canada online shopping can be a real pain because people forget about brokerage and duty fess which can be ridiculous. Most of the time these insane fees can even be avoided if the US merchant would take the time to fill out an extra form when shipping. B&H apparently does take the time and uses Purolator to get you your stuff within a few days. On a $1200+ order I worked out the duty I paid and it wound up being exactly equivalent to the GST which is what its supposed to be, and the best part is there was no brokerage! I just wanted to point this out because gear is expensive and you shouldn't get gouged on shipping if you don't have to. Also hopefully some of the local stores in Saskatoon will see this and realize how insane it is that I can order stuff from New York and have it shipped while still saving 20% on their inflated prices.

1 comment:

The Geeks said...

Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
thank you :)