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Gear & Apps

When To Buy a 1.8 Lens Over a ‘Better’ 1.4 Lens

By Kishore Sawh on April 29th 2018

On the editorial side of photography publishing, pushing the latest, greatest and most expensive lenses is easy, because typically, price is reflective of quality, and those units are arguably more beneficial to the publications – they generally drive excitement which brings traffic and possibly some manner of financial return (however minimal), that helps to alleviate the rather meager margins of this type of business.

However, as with everything, recommendations are contextually dependent, and when you dive into context for the majority of people it’s hard to turn a blind eye to the fact that when it comes to lenses anyway, perhaps the best choice isn’t the most expensive. Especially in 2018.

One of the most pervasive pieces of advice for budding photographers has always been to invest in lenses and less in the camera bodies, and the thought process behind that has been sound, but perhaps it’s time to question just how valid that is as cameras become so much more capable, and lenses in the mid-range are such high performers. So, when it comes time to purchase a new lens, should you go for the 1.8 or the 1.4? The video herein by Darren Miles looks to address just that.

Of course, this type of subject matter is bound to be contentious to some degree, as camera users get quite passionate about their equipment and such, but all of his points are worth consideration, especially when the cost of a first party 1.4 lens can often be 3 times the cost of a 1.8. Take for example, the following:


Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM $419

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM $1,599


Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G $476

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.4G $1,596


Sony FE 85mm f/1.8 $598

Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM $1,798

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But price is but one factor, and others like, size, weight, durability, sharpness, CA, and distortion are all other things to consider. In fact, there are reasons to get the 1.8 varieties for some people, even if money is absolutely no object.

Miles takes a pragmatic look at many of these points, and it’s a very good and short watch for anyone looking to get into photography, or for those who are constantly being asked about which lens they recommend – this is a good video to offer up, even if much of the time lens choice is also a bit emotional.

Find more from Miles here.

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A photographer and writer based in Miami, he can often be found at dog parks, and airports in London and Toronto. He is also a tremendous fan of flossing and the happiest guy around when the company’s good.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Black Z Eddie

    I used to be all about bokeh.  Nowadays, I like having the subject with sharp detail and the surroundings more distinguished.   I normally shoot my Sony FE 85 1.8 @ f2 or f2.2.  And, I love how light and inexpensive it is (compared to the GM model).  Not to mention the quality of the images.

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  2. Stephen Jennings

    The greatest visual difference will be in the bokeh – the more my career advanced the pickier I got with bokeh, and ended up using mostly all 1.4 primes in my photography. Then I got bored and felt most of my photography was distinguishable from say, an iphone, simply because of the bokeh, not necessarily that I was a good photographer. Since I mostly use Fuji now, where even 1.4 lenses are equivalent to 2.0 lenses as far as DOF goes, it forces you to rely on capturing an actual good image to make it interesting, versus relying so much on the fact that if the only thing in focus is one tiny bit of the photo, that’s where people look. There are still some very fast primes I saved with my Nikon kit because of the way they render an image, like the 105 1.4, or 135 f2, they’re mostly used for portraits these days. I think at some point most photographers come to the realization that all that GAS they suffered through really didn’t help them much at all, and might have even caused them to drift off course artistically. 

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