Oh, dear. I'm about to offend someone again. Someone, somewhere has said something similar to what I'm about to quote, and that person will think I'm directing my disapprobation smack-dab at them, personally, and they will take great umbrage at my remarks and send me an outraged email announcing their intention never ever to visit TOP again. Thus will I eventually alienate the entire world, and be left here amidst the blowing tumbleweeds, talking to myself.
But a quest is a quest and I must do what I must do, and do it I hereby do. For a fake truism has continued to gain circulation courtesy of the internet, one I have raised my lance against before.
It's that "the only reason to buy an ƒ/1.4 lens is to shoot it at ƒ/1.4 as much as possible" or words to that effect.
Of course, that's an opinion, and everyone's got one, and I don't mean to be impolite to those whose opinions differ from mine, but here's mine: that is so wrong. Wrong, erroneous, fallacious, and false. (Opinions: got 'em here, too.)
You can shoot any lens any way you want to. To me, the reasons to shoot an ƒ/1.4 lens might be:
- It might* make the [D]SLR viewfinder image brighter and the plane of best focus easier to see in said viewfinder. Depending on the viewfinder.
- The fast stop is available for those rare occasions when you really need it.
- The "first good stop" is sometimes a wider aperture on a fast lens (for instance, an ƒ/1.4 lens might be better two stops down than an ƒ/2.8 lens is wide open).
- ƒ/1.4 lenses tend to be more elaborate and expensive to produce, hence a greater number of professionals are among the customer base for them, hence the lenses are better-built and have higher QC than amateur lenses. No judgment rendered here re carts vs. horses, chickens vs. eggs.
- Some combination of the above.
All fast camera lenses are worse wide open than they are stopped down. All. As in, every one. Unless you've discovered a diffraction-limited fast camera lens that has somehow escaped the notice of optical science.
Here's another factoid from the Walrus: with most fast lenses (although maybe not literally all), bokeh improves on stopping down, too. You might not get as much of it, but it tends to be qualitatively better.
Here's how I usually shoot with a fast lens: I find out where the first good stop is and seldom shoot wider than that. The exception being: when I need or want to.
I'm not saying you shouldn't shoot wide open any time you want to, either. You can make all your pictures standing on your head if it's what you like to do—fine with me. It's the implicit prescriptiveness I object to—the idea that just because someone has a fast lens, it's a good idea to use it wide open all the time.
I would certainly never do anything like wander around shooting everything at ƒ/1.4 regardless of the light and the subject just because the lens I own opens to that aperture. That's [opinion deleted for the sake of politeness to those whose opinion differs from mine].
Mike, fighting the tide 24/7 with lance, steed, and trusty sidekick
ADDENDUM: This whole post could probably have been written much more succinctly, as follows: "What's wrong with buying an ƒ/1.4 lens in order to shoot wide open occasionally?"
*Emendation added after much disputation.
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by Nikhil Ramkarran: "People who need to be right will no doubt be offended. I'm not. I shoot my fast fifty at ƒ/1.4 because I love the way it does everything badly; its 'badness' is endearing (for the same reason people love their Dianas I guess). But I would never argue that wide open is optimal, although it works for me. An example (might not be great, but I love it):
Mike replies: Ah, there's the right spirit.