Tuesday, June 27, 2017

The Right Lens for the Job

by Kelly

I have a confession to make...this is not the post I thought I was going to be writing today.

I guess I should back up.

So this past week I was chatting with my friend and FOL sister, Dotti, about gear. She reached out to me wanting to know what I thought about my new Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L lens that I had received from Santa this past Christmas. So I gave her my two cents worth which was, for the most part, very high praise due to its large aperture and overall sharpness.

In addition to my conversation with Dotti, I also had the chance recently to visit with another photog friend who happened to make a point of asking my about my gear - she had spotted another "red stripe girl" and wanted to know what I thought of my "L" glass. To which I gave the same high praise I had given to Dotti.

At any rate, it got me to thinking about gear and my new lens - my third 50mm lens (I literally wore out my f/2.8 compact macro) - and it made me wonder how my fancy new lens actually compares to all of my other lenses. So I decided to do a little experiment on the dahlias that have started blooming in my garden.

For the purpose of this comparison, I shot the same basic scene with the following lenses:

  • Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.8
  • Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro
  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L
To try to reduce the variability as much as possible, I shot in manual mode with an aperture setting of f/2.8, 400 ISO, and 1/640 shutter speed. I tried, as best as possible, to stand in the exact same location (except with the 100mm macro) and focus on the upper portion of the large, open bloom near the center.

Here are my individual shots.

At first glance there isn't a remarkable difference between my shots, however after a little closer inspection there are some subtle differences, mostly in the size and shape of the background bokeh.
  1. Notice the shape of the bokeh in the first 50mm ("Nifty-Fifty") - do you see how the background bokeh has sort of a rough, pentagonal shape? It's a function of having fewer blades in the lens - a tradeoff which is, in part, what makes the Nifty-Fifty so affordable. 
  2. With the 100mm macro lens, I had to step back a few feet in order to get about the same framing as the others. But what I love is how smooth and dreamy the bokeh is. I actually purchased this lens a couple of years ago from Terri and I am always happy with the quality of photos this lens produces.
  3. In my shot taken with the 50mm L series lens, you might notice a deeper teal outline around some of the individual 'bubbles'.  This is what is known as chromatic aberration and it is my only minor complaint about my new lens.
OK. So we've established now that all of these lenses produce good photos, but what I really wanted to know is how they compare in sharpness. Because that's what L glass is known for - impeccably sharp images. So to test for sharpness, I cropped each of my shots in tight around the main flower that I focused on. 

Here they are side-by-side.

I betcha can't tell which one is which.

This is what I meant when I said this wasn't the post I had planned. 

I really expected the 50mm L image to jump off the screen in terms of sharpness and it just didn't. So what I learned from this experiment is that being mindful and intentional with exposure and having a sufficiently steady hand (or something steady to lean against) is the key to producing nice, sharp images.

That being said, however, I do believe that each of these lenses serves a unique function (outside of producing sharp images). I love my 24-70mm lens for giving me a wider focal length and a little more breathing room in my shots. And I love my 100mm macro for being able to get up-close and personal to my subjects. I also love my new 50mm lens because (like Dotti) I love the framing of 50mm as it most closely matches our natural view with our eyes. Plus having the option to shoot with a super wide aperture allows me to capture scenes with lower light.

So I guess the moral to this story is to decide how and what you love to capture, and choose the lens that best serves the function and your wallet. Then let your heart, your head, and your hands do the rest.

Until next time,



Jennifer Carr said...

Excellent comparison, Kelly! Thanks for sharing ♥

Cathy H. said...

This just emphasizes once more time that we need to know our gear. I'm guilty of not knowing and just keeping one lens on must of the time. I'm going to try this experiment and make a pledge to learn my lens!

Dotti said...

First of all, your dahlias are beautiful! But then I'm not surprised. And thank you for this little lens study. The Tamron 24-70 did a nice job, too. I have the Tamron 29-75 which preceeded the 24-70. I haven't used it in a long time. I wish you'd had my 50mm f/1.4 to compare as well. I'm trying to decide if the difference(s) between the 1.4 and the 1.2L are worth the extra money - or not. In fact, what I've thought about doing is renting the 1.2 and doing my own comparison. I may just do that!

My really big dilemma is that I have three Canon 50mm lenses already, the Nifty Fifty, the compact macro and the aforementioned 1.4. It's hard to justify having four 50mm lenses! Anybody want to buy a Canon 50mm lens? I'll cut you a deal.

CarolHart said...

Hi Kelly! Great article. One of the things I take into consideration when comparing lenses for sharpness is how I plan to use my resulting images. Are they simply online posts? Will they be printed and if so, how large? If they are online posts, the sharpness of the lens generally won't be as noticeable as when an image is printed...especially if it's going to be a large image for the living room gallery.
I just love these kinds of comparisons and you did a great job Kelly. Oh, by the way, great shot of the dahlias!

terriporter said...

Love, love, love your dahlias and the same goes for this post! I always love seeing these types of comparisons. I had the 50mm 1.4 for quite awhile and then bought the 50mm compact macro but I ended up selling that to a friend when I bought my 100mm 2.8 macro which, as you know I sold to you! Now I have the newer version of the 100mm macro lens and it is rarely off my camera. I think it's one of those things I'd grab if I were running from a burning building! I bought the 50mm 1.2 a couple of years ago because there were times where I had low light (Christmas morning!) and I have been very happy with it for that. It is a beast as far as its weight but performs like a champ. I'm now considering a long telephoto because we have been having quite a bit of wildlife around here lately and I need to get closer! Downside is that they are expensive! You're right, the sharpness difference between lenses is impossible to see! Carol Hart makes a good point about what you are shooting for, online or print, but I think we always want to try to get the sharpest images we can. Now I think I'm off to Trader Joe's for some dahlias!

Sandra said...

What an interesting comparison between these four lenses. I do love my 50mm which goes down to f/1.2, but I find the sweet spot is around f/2.0, I also love my 100mm Canon macro lens, though I find it very heavy and the shots aren't always as sharp as I would like. I know I should use a tripod, but I mostly don't!
My favourite shot above was taken with the 100mm lens!
Thank you for sharing your experiences!

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