June 1, 2016 at 2:22 pm #17166
I am looking to buy a fixed 50mm lens to expand deeper into photography, but I’m not sure if I should get f/1.4 or f/1.8. 😉 I currently have a Nikon D3100, an 18-55mm and a 55-200mm lens, but I’ve heard/read that a 50mm would be great to add, especially since I’m into portrait, nature, landscape and product photography. I purchased all of my camera equipment from B & H photo and they have two lenses I’m comparing the aperture number on, although there is quite a price difference between the two! Could you tell me which one you would recommend based on this link? Compare Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.4 vs 50mm f/1.8. Also, I seem to deal with slightly blurry photos and definitely want to get a 50mm lens that will be tack sharp for any project, so if neither of these lenses will do the job for me, could you recommend something else? 🙂
Thank you, Amber NelsonJune 1, 2016 at 6:49 pm #17171
Welcome to the forums, @freedomphotography!
Yes, I think a “fast” 50mm lens would be an excellent addition to what you already have, especially for portraiture and product photography! B&H is one of the best places you can buy camera gear, I also have bought some of my camera gear from them, as well as from Adorama.
As you mentioned, there is quite a large difference in price between the 2 lenses in question, but not a whole lot of specs are different! The main difference is, of course, the maximum aperture, f/1.8 versus f/1.4 It’s actually only 2/3 of a stop difference between them!
One thing that you’ll learn early on in photography, is that the “faster” a lens is, the more expensive it is. The main reason for that is that “fast” lenses are more expensive to produce. They require larger glass elements, have lots of complex mechanics inside, have extra special coatings, etc. It all adds up, and you pay the price for high-quality glass. And of course, for the most part, you get what you pay for. There’s a reason that professionals spend $1,000s on their lenses. There’s also a reason that you never see professionals shooting with 18-55 kit lenses, the quality just isn’t the same. That would be like a race-car driver driving a Hyundai Accent instead of a Porsche. 🙂 Now, don’t let me discourage you from using kit lenses, there’s nothing wrong with that! Just like there’s nothing wrong with driving a Hyundai instead of a Porsche. Keep using the lens you have, until there is a definite need to upgrade. I’m sure just about every pro started out with a kit lens of some sort.
All that to say this; it really boils down to what you want from the lens, and how much you are willing to pay for it. As I said above, the “faster” lens (50mm f/1.4) would have higher quality glass and is 2/3 of a stop faster. The wider aperture means that you can get extra creamy out-of-focus backgrounds, and you can shoot in low-light without having to push your ISO quite so high. (Note that 2/3 of a stop is the difference between ISO 100 and ISO 160, or ISO 800 and ISO 1250)
Theoretically, 2/3 of a stop isn’t a big deal most of the time. I have never owned a f/1.4 lens however, so I can’t tell you for sure that there’s not much of a difference. There is a thread here on the forum about Canon 50mm lenses, and @shilohphotography seemed to believe that there was quite a difference between the f/1.4 and the f/1.8
A couple of things to keep in mind:
- The “faster” lens will likely be harder to focus properly because of it’s very narrow DOF. (In other words, expect to get quite a few out-of-focus shots for a while until you get the hang of it.) Ask @jamesstaddon about his experiences with the 50mm f/1.8 🙂
- Most lenses perform better stopped down a little, so theoretically a f/1.4 lens stopped down to f/1.8 will be better than the f/1.8 lens wide open.
- The 50mm f/1.8 is probably the better choice for a beginner, as it is about 1/2 the price, and should still be a significant upgrade in sharpness and bokeh compared to kit lenses like the 18-55 & 55-200.
For a professional who makes money with photography, it could make sense to get the more expensive, higher-quality glass. I’ve managed so far with a 50mm f/1.8 lens, and so has James, so if you go with the f/1.8 version, you’ll be in good company! 🙂June 2, 2016 at 10:47 am #17197
Thank you so much for your insight!
I think I have made a decision to go with the f/1.8 lens based on the information you presented…it just makes more sense at this point. I’m in the process of getting a portrait photography business started and definitely need an upgrade! Three families have come out to our property for their first free session (I’m practicing on them 🙂 ) and I’ve been trying to achieve the desired bokeh with my 55-200mm and the subjects end up too blurry, which is why I want to get a 50mm. It is always so disappointing to capture a great pose, only to zoom up and find that it’s partially blurry! I desperately want to correct that!
I did see the post about the 50mm Canon lenses by Shiloh Photography and it was a very helpful post as I was searching for answers. Her comment on the f/1.4 drove me to ask everyone else what they think about the two lenses, as I was a bit unsure. I didn’t want to spend a bundle if I didn’t really need to.
By the way, I’m very glad to hear that B & H Photo is one of the best places to get camera gear; I just stumbled upon it one day when I was looking for a refurbished camera and ended up getting a really good deal on all of my equipment. It pays to shop around for the best price. 😉
Thanks again for your quick response!June 2, 2016 at 12:01 pm #17198James StaddonKeymaster
I can see the f/1.4 being an excellent choice for product photography, but I do not see it being necessary for portrait photography.
It may be good to discuss the cause of the “blur” you mentioned with your 55-200mm. I do most of my photography with my 70-200mm (photojournalism vs portraiture) and get excellently sharp results at 200mm. If the blur is the result of slow shutter speeds, than yes, the 50mm will definitely help. If the blur is caused due to a slow focusing lens, than yes, the 50mm will help too. But if the blur is from improper focusing, than the 50mm will be just as challenging, if not more so.June 2, 2016 at 1:40 pm #17206
Are you shooting from a tripod? For portraits it can be helpful to slow down, and do it right. (Of course, that’s helpful for just about any genre of photography, actually!) 🙂
Also, watch where your focus points are, you usually want the eye to be in focus, so it makes sense to put the main focus point right over the eye of your subject.
If you’re ready to buy a 50mm f/1.8, I would buy it from Adorama, since they have better refurbished/used prices right now. You can buy one refurbished for $190, or Used in Excellent condition for only $170!June 2, 2016 at 6:09 pm #17211
@jamesstaddon, I’m pretty sure the blur is caused from either camera shake, moving children 🙂 or slow shutter speed…I always make sure to put the focus directly on the subject and if possible, pointing right at the eye (although sometimes I shoot more than one person and have to focus on multiple people). Also, I try to take pictures in the “golden hour”, which can present it’s own challenges, being at the end of the day, so I think a 50mm would be great for these situations. I’m just trying to step it up a notch with the bokeh and the only way I’ve been able to achieve that (at this point) is to use my 55-200mm zoomed in all the way. When I’m paying close attention to my position and make sure I’m not moving at all, then most times I can get a sharp photo with great bokeh…it’s just when I’m conducting a photo session, I’m always nervous, I don’t pay close attention to my movement, and probably press the button down too fast. 🙂 I do not particularly love portrait photography…still objects are much easier to capture. Haha!
I’ve attached the picture I’m referring to as blurry – good pose, but way too blurry to edit, let alone use. I think most of the blur, in this photo, is from camera shake (my problem!), and low light conditions, but some of it is caused by the girls moving.June 2, 2016 at 7:29 pm #17213
Thank you, @buddingphotographer, for the helpful reminders and the link to the refurbished 50mm lens from Adorama – I’m definitely ready to get it and that is the best deal I’ve seen!
Are you shooting from a tripod?
Most times I don’t use a tripod when taking portraits of families because I move from spot to spot to get better angles, backgrounds, etc. and a tripod would really slow me down, although I know it would help out a lot with the blurriness. I try to get the session done as quickly as possible for the sake of everyone involved, especially when the children will not sit in one place for more than 30 seconds! 🙂 In between setting up, I look at the photos (on the back of my camera) to see what adjustments need to be made, what poses would be better, or if any are blurry. At that point, I slow down, think carefully, and do what is necessary to make the photo look good.
Also, I do my best to keep the focal points directly on the eye[s] whenever I can, although that’s not always possible…I pay close attention to the background and my subjects and make sure that they are the main focus in the photo.June 2, 2016 at 8:16 pm #17214
Yep, motion blur is definitely the major problem there. There are a couple of causes, or rather, contributers…
- The focal length. (A longer focal length serves to amplify any camera shake that is present.)
- The slow-ish shutter speed. (There is a photography rule that says, “To eliminate motion blur, use a shutter speed equal to or greater than your focal length.”) So, if your focal length is set to 200mm, use a shutter speed of at least 1/200 sec, or more, (1/250, 1/320, or higher)
One thing that will help with getting a fast enough shutter speed and give you better OOF backgrounds, is to open up your aperture to your lens’s maximum of f/5.6 instead of stopping down to f/8. That will let you kill 2 birds with one stone! Less motion blur, and nicer, blurrier backgrounds!
As @JamesStaddon said, the 50mm will help with your slow shutter speed/motion blur problem, because you only need a shutter speed of 1/50 sec. Note that the focal length/shutter speed rule doesn’t take subject movement into consideration, so I would still keep it up around 1/100 just to be safe.June 2, 2016 at 9:20 pm #17217
Most times I don’t use a tripod when taking portraits of families because I move from spot to spot to get better angles, backgrounds, etc. and a tripod would really slow me down, although I know it would help out a lot with the blurriness. I try to get the session done as quickly as possible for the sake of everyone involved, especially when the children will not sit in one place for more than 30 seconds! In between setting up, I look at the photos (on the back of my camera) to see what adjustments need to be made, what poses would be better, or if any are blurry. At that point, I slow down, think carefully, and do what is necessary to make the photo look good.
Also, I do my best to keep the focal points directly on the eye[s] whenever I can, although that’s not always possible…I pay close attention to the background and my subjects and make sure that they are the main focus in the photo.
Ok, I can understand that. 🙂 I have done family portraits both ways, (with & without a tripod), and I can see [dis]advantages to each.
Sounds like you’re on the right track! If you get the motion blur problem taken care of, you’ll be well on your way to “picture perfect portraits”! 🙂June 2, 2016 at 9:46 pm #17218
Wow! That’s a very helpful photography rule – one I’ve never heard before! I’ll be keeping that in mind as I go forward now, and I can’t wait to try it out! 😉 I’m curious – if I was using my 55-200mm lens, zoomed in all the way, maximum aperture, in low light situations (like after the golden hour), would I want to just crank the ISO up high enough to compensate for the fading daylight, rather than slow the shutter speed?June 2, 2016 at 9:54 pm #17219
YES, I plan to take care of that blurriness right away and I hope the 50mm does a good job of helping me to prevent that problem whenever possible! Thanks for the encouragement!June 3, 2016 at 4:13 pm #17228James StaddonKeymaster
if I was using my 55-200mm lens, zoomed in all the way, maximum aperture, in low light situations (like after the golden hour), would I want to just crank the ISO up high enough to compensate for the fading daylight, rather than slow the shutter speed?
You got it. A grainy picture is more salvageable than a blurry picture. (And now you can see why folks will invest in more expensive cameras that produce less grain at higher ISOs….)
I think with the implementation of the info that’s been discussed here you’ll begin to see a marked difference in your photos. And with this, confidence to help with nervousness.June 3, 2016 at 5:06 pm #17229June 3, 2016 at 5:18 pm #17230
Thank you for the tips, @jamesstaddon! This forum has been so helpful for me to learn from, and I’ll be practicing everything discussed here!June 3, 2016 at 6:36 pm #17231
Sorry to ask another question, but I was taking a look at Adorama and found a 35mm lens + a Nikon kit for just a few dollars more than the 50mm… Would you still recommend me getting the 50mm or the 35mm? Is the 35mm any better than the 50mm or not?
I think in terms of image quality, they would be quite similar… It’s mainly a difference of focal length! 35mm is quite a bit wider, so you can get more into the frame. It might be good for group family portraits, but I imagine it’s a little too wide for individual shots. Remember also, that wide-angle lenses tend to distort faces in a way that is not at all flattering… 🙂
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