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Optimal Primes: How NYCC Made Me Love My 50mm

by Chris Gampat on 11/03/2010

I’ve already explained how a 50mm F/1.8 lens has changed my shooting after years of using zoom lenses, but after New York Comic-Con a little while back, I feel the need to expand upon it. On my first day at the con, I shot cosplayers with a Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USMlens because I felt I needed the wide angle to get the best shots on the crowded floor. The second day, I used my 50mm F/1.8. The difference was night and day, both in how I shot and how the pictures turned out.

This posting was originally written by Will Greenwald

When you have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail, and when you have a dremel tool, every problem looks like it should be ground, sanded, drilled, and polished. I found myself pulling back on the zoom to capture the full body of every subject, simply because I had the range. I wanted to get everything in the frame, and while I could, it didn’t produce the best effect. The wider angle loses any sense of intimacy or connection with the subject, and while it has more in frame, it drops a lot of the fine detail you’d get from pushing in close.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 IIforced me to work with what I had, framing only the most important parts of the subject and ignoring the urge to capture everything. Photos became actual portraits, and while few photos had any legs, they showed off much more of the subject’s face and torso.

Similarly, the narrower focal plane and wider aperture of the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 IIlens’s setting not only let me get brighter, sharper exposures than the zoom lens’s F/4.0 aperture, but it made the subjects pop out much more. With a deep focal plane, you pull in much more of the background, and in crowds that means getting more faces cluttering your shot. The narrow depth of field ensured that only the subject stood out, and at conventions that’s vital.

The brightness of the wider aperture is a great bonus, but the most important aspects of my prime lens was how it limited my options and forced me to not only adapt to, but take advantage of those limitations. I got better shots, because I couldn’t rely on my lens’s wide angle or powerful zoom; I had to actually work with the frame I had to get the shots.

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