Photographers are a fiercely loyal lot – loyal to our clients, our vision, and of course… our gear. Everyone has certain preferences – and who isn’t sick of the Nikon vs. Canon debate. (Let’s get it out of the way: I’m a Nikon girl.) One thing I am always interested to hear when I meet another photographer is what their favorite lens is, and why they prefer a certain focal length. I loved talking to people at WPPI about their lens preferences, and was not at all surprised to hear just about everyone’s favorite lens was their nifty fifty: 50mm 1.4 (or 1.2 for Canon shooters).
The 50mm is a solid, dependable, work horse of a lens. I shoot everything with two cameras at once – so I have to change lenses less frequently – and the 50mm 1.4 is typically always on one of my cameras. It was the very first non-kit lens I bought way back when I started out. And I completely understand why people love it – you get reliable results with a 50mm. And if someone was just getting into photography and wanted to buy their first lens, I would tell them to get a 50mm 1.8 – you can’t go wrong with the 50mm. (Plus the 1.8 is suuuuuper affordable. Ok, Public Service Announcement: even if you’re not a pro photographer, you should get rid of the kit lens that came with your SLR and get a 50mm instead.)
But the 50mm 1.4 is not my favorite lens. And not even my most used lens. My favorite, most used, the most beloved item in my camera bag is my 24mm 1.4. That lens… oh baby, what that lens can do is just spectacular. I think people were very surprised to hear that the 24mm was my favorite, and I found myself defending that choice a lot over the week.
I understand the arguments against the 24mm – it’s not a look for everyone. It’s a very wide angle, and if you put someone’s head in the corner, you get an unflattering conehead look – you have to keep people toward the middle of the frame. But I like the challenge of the 24mm. I think part of the reason that people elope in New York City is to capture the beauty and feel of this amazing place – and I can do that with the 24mm in a way I just can’t do with any other lens. I can have a close up portrait, while still capturing everything else that’s going on around my couple.
And it is SHARP. Sharper than any other lens I own – even at 1.4. (And yes, I pretty much only shoot at 1.4, which is another post for another time! Look for that one in a few weeks.)
For environmental shots, it just cannot be beat. And that’s the look I love – I prefer portraits that have something going on around them, usually. I want to capture the feel of the entire scene because I think it sets a certain mood. That’s just my style. And that’s why I love the 24mm above everything else. Of course, that wasn’t always my style. My early work is a little tighter, a little closer – back then my favorite lens was my 105 2.8. (And yes, I still love that lens and use it during ceremonies, but I never pull it out for portraits anymore.)
The 24mm takes a little practice to use exclusively for portraits, but I think once you figure out all its quirks, it can be an absolute dream of a portrait lens, and I’d challenge you to give your 24mm a second look. I know some people who only pull it out at receptions for dancing shots or for wide shots of a ceremony. I think the 24mm can do so much more than that, and give a whole new feel to your portraits.
I just wanted to share why I love my 24mm. It took my photography to a whole new level when I began to think of it as more than just a lens for capturing an overview of something. I think shaking up your preconceived notions about what certain lenses can and cannot do, can really change your photography for the better. I’m not saying everyone should start shooting portraits all the time with a 24mm – it’s definitely not a look for everyone – but this is what works for me. The 24mm gave a whole new life to my artwork. My 50mm always delivers solid results – my 24mm makes me work a little harder for the results I want, and I think that’s why I kind of love it.
What’s your favorite lens? Why do you use what you use? Like I said, I love hearing everyone’s preferences – there’s no right or wrong way to make art!
Some of my favorite shots from the 24mm 1.4: