I was recently asked by a client what my one go-to piece of equipment is (other than my camera of course!). The answer for me was a no-brainer. By far one of the best investments I made in my business was the purchase of a Canon 50mm f1.2 lens.
As a portraits photographer I often shoot families at home, and often indoors. I prefer to shoot with natural light so I was looking for a lens that would be great in low light conditions. It seemed that all roads were pointing to the 50mm 1.2.
There are a ton of technical reviews out there and I read loads of them, deciding that this was going to be the lens for me. Until I started researching the price! By all accounts, the 1.2 is not a cheap lens, and I'd all but given up hope of adding one to my arsenal. There were versions that did not open as wide, and were considerably less expensive. But I knew that I wanted to take my photography in a new direction and I knew I wanted the 1.2. When I spotted one for sale second hand* a few months later, I jumped at the opportunity to purchase.
I've always tended to shoot with zoom lenses - even when I was studying photography I very rarely, if ever, used prime lenses. In fact, once I had put the lens onto my 5D MK II for the first time, I sat staring through the viewfinder thinking "what now?!". Had I made a very expensive mistake?
I needn't have worried. The 50mm 1.2 soon became the lens that was permanently fixed to my camera body. Having the lens has made me a better photographer - not because it's an expensive piece of high end equipment, but because I pay more attention to the way I shoot when I'm using it.
Shooting wide open makes for beautiful portraits
All those beautiful, dreamy-looking bridal shots on Pinterest? Yup, I love them too. And my 50mm helps me achieve that look. How? When you shoot wide open on the 1.2 the depth of field is really narrow, which is great for softening lines and wrinkles when it comes to portraits. Plus, you get soft backgrounds and that gorgeous bokeh behind your subject.
Using a prime lens forces me to think about composition
I have to admit, I was becoming a "lazy" photographer. When I worked in a studio, we would shoot with a fair amount of space around our subjects and then crop in to achieve the results we wanted. We used creative cropping, panoramics and squares and all sorts of unusual angles. I used to apply the same techniques when shooting lifestyle. I'd become lazy in my framing, as I would always re-crop my images in post-production.
When I started shooting with the 50mm, I forced myself to compose correctly in camera. It was a challenge at first to move myself as opposed to just zooming in or out. The more I got used to it though, the easier it became - and I was saving myself time when it came to editing.
The ability to shoot in low light without always having to resort to flash
When I first moved away from using flash in my portraits I was terrified of having a grainy or "noisy" image. Fortunately my camera already handles low light fairly well and so the addition of the 50mm 1.2 has meant I am able to shoot in some less than ideal locations and still get the images I want. That ability to shoot wide (wide!) open on the 1.2 means that I can set a lower ISO and reduce much of the noise.
The above behind-the-scenes image was taken by my client on her iPhone. Here are two of the images I captured on the day in the same room, with just the window light.
Both are an ISO of 1600, aperture of f2.2 and a shutter speed of 1/160. I could have gone to f1.2 but the depth of field is so narrow and children tend to move around a lot so I stopped down a bit to give myself more chance of keeping the image crisp where I wanted it to be.
The 50mm is just so versatile
What do these below images have in common? I took them all using my 50mm 1.2.
If you haven't already tried shooting with a 50mm prime, I would absolutely recommend renting one to get a feel for the lens. If your photography doesn't require you shoot wide open at f1.2, the 50mm 1.4 or 50 mm 1.8 are both excellent options to consider. The 1.8 isn't called the "Nifty-Fifty" for nothing.
From weddings to corporate portraits to food to boudoir this lens allows me to capture it all. I absolutely wouldn't be without it!
Do you have an experience with the Canon 50mm 1.2 that you would like to share? What is your go-to lens for portraits? Comment on the Leigh Benson Photography Facebook page, I'd love to hear from you!
*I get my second-hand gear from Kameraz in Rosebank, Johannesburg. Pop in, they're fantastic!