I’ve become a little put off lately by some recent comments made on the web show The Grid. This is a weekly online photography show put on by the folks over at NAPP. I’m a NAPP member and I’m normally on the same page with most of the opinions they present. However recently they’ve done a few different shows where they’ve talked about the 85mm f1.4 lens (be it for Canon or Nikon). The comment that they continue to make is why spend the money for an 85mm lens with 1.4 when you could spend similar for a 70-200mm 2.8 – the reason being that the 1.4 is such a narrow depth of field that it limit’s it’s usefulness (saying that this is a one trick pony of a lens). They’ve been suggesting that if you’ve got a 1.4 lens, that the only way to use it is wide open at 1.4. This is where I’d like to disagree. I know that there will always be debate over the pros/cons of a zoom vs a prime lens, but suggesting that a lens only be used on one f-stop is like saying you’re only allowed to drive your car in first gear.
I believe that we use a lens for the aesthetic options it provides to us – and there are many looks that we can get from our lenses, be it the angle of view, the visual compression it affords, the bokeh, and the sharpness that lens provides. I’ve been exceptionally happy with my 85mm lens (so much that you could practically weld it to my camera body). I enjoy having a field of view just slightly tighter that what the eye normally sees. Yes I do use it wide open at f1.4 for the beautiful bokeh this lens is capable of, but I also will stop it down, using it at 5.6 or 8 to really capitalize on the sharpness and contrast that I can get from a prime lens. I’ve come to enjoy the challenges presented with shooting with prime lenses. I quite enjoy having to move myself around to find the framing that I’m looking for in my images. I also enjoy that my 85 when on my camera body is rather compact compared to my zooms and quite light. It makes for carrying the camera on the streets much more comfortable.
I’d hate to think that we as photographers are only willing to use our lenses wide open – if that’s what we’re doing then we’re really restricting ourselves, and our lenses. Let’s challenge ourselves and use our lenses for all the different advantages that that lens provides, not just for a single aesthetic.