The 50mm f1.4 USM Lens is almost universally owned by wedding photographers. However, before singing its praises, I wanted to start off by discussing the lens’ few shortcomings.
First, the inability to zoom in and out makes being in the right place at the right time and knowing the lens very well imperative to capturing every moment. This makes it difficult, but not impossible, to use if you’re the lead photographer. If you plan on using it frequently throughout the day, we recommend you know the schedule backwards, plan ahead and be prepared (hey, isn’t that the Boy Scouts motto?)
Secondly, the maximum sharpness for the lens is not at f/1.4, but somewhere between f/3.5-f/5.6. At f/1.4, the edges lose their sharpness and even the center is not at its maximum sharpness.
Lastly, using f/1.4 can be risky, as it requires the utmost focus precision since your focal plan is extremely small (less than 1″ at times depending on distance from the lens). Slightly missing your target or taking an image of two people slightly on different planes can yield unusable images.
Pros of the 50mm f1.4 Lens
However, that said, every amateur to professional photographer should own this lens! First of all, it’s probably the most affordable lens you can buy. If there were a value per dollar ratio used in this industry, this lens would be at or near the top.
In low light, the 1.4 f/stop gives us incredible versatility. As harsh flash can ruin any photo, the 1.4 allows us to use natural or very soft light and still expose an image properly. Furthermore, the wide aperture allows us to bring out dark backgrounds and capture natural ambient lighting, creating beautiful imagery without having to increase the ISO to unacceptably grainy levels. At 1.4, we’re also able to use higher shutter speeds and still properly expose an image. The number one complaint I’ve heard from clients in regards to “bad” photographers is that “the images came out blurry. With faster shutters, this problem would be significantly reduced.
Even in situations with more light, shooting at f/1.4 gives your images a “pop-off-the-page” look, as everything in front of or behind the subject is blurred. This 1) helps focus the image on your subject, 2) makes the subject seem more crisp (in relation to its surroundings), and 3) allows you to blur out unappealing objects or backgrounds.
So, how much better is the 1.4 than the 1.8? The 50mm f/1.8 lens is cheap, under $100; and to its credit, the f/1.8 is a great started prime lens given its quality to cost. However, its overall design and light feel can only be described as cheap when compared to the f/1.4. Aside from price and feel, overall image quality really is not comparable, especially the bokeh (blur). Comparing image quality from the f/1.4 to the f/1.8 is like comparing an L lens to a standard EF-S lens. Lastly, and this one matters for us wedding photographers, the auto focus is quite loud compared to the f/1.4. Loud enough that it can actually be a distraction during quiet moments in a ceremony.
Article written by:
Lead Photographer | Partner
Lin and Jirsa Wedding Photography