Reasons to Consider f/1.8 Over f/1.4 Lens Options

Many photographers own or are mapping out a path to own the largest aperture lenses available in their system's catalog, skipping past the more utilitarian, lower priced options.  Perhaps defaulting to the f/1.4 versus the f/1.8 option deserves this moment's pause.

Light-guzzling lenses that open all the way to f/1.4 to an extent live up to the mantra that you get what you pay for. There are certainly clear and impressive advantages to them. Technically speaking, gaining two-thirds of a stop could be well worth spending more than double the price of the lesser option. But unless you have clear and definable reasoning behind the high-end purchase, who out there will honestly notice the real-world difference more than double the price spent makes on the quality of the images you produce?

In the video above, sunny southwest Florida Photographer Darren Miles puts together a nice compilation, showcasing five reasons why depending on the situation, you should consider the many viable f/1.8 lens options that exist today. When hitting the lens market, assess your photography needs appropriately. Do you need the higher level of build quality and refinement? Is weathersealing a primary concern in the environment you take your equipment to? Looking back at your image catalog, how often do you opt to shoot your primes wide open versus f/2.0 and above? These are just a few questions to ask yourself prior to defaulting to the undeniable lure of a f/1.4 prime lens.

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95 Comments

Tony Clark's picture

I make my living shooting and I chose the L lenses. I want to know that I’m delivering the highest quality images, capturing the cleanest files with the least amount of post processing and the brightest viewfinder. I never use AF and that L lens makes a difference to whether or not I capture the image. I don’t care if my clients know gear or not, I only care that the gear works as it should and makes my job easier. It’s like the difference between a PocketWizard set and a cheap radio set. You get what you pay for.

Why don't you use auto focus?

Tony Clark's picture

Because I shoot nearly wide open and the subject or my framing changes throughout the set.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

Edit :
I just wanna make things very clear. I *never* said "using autofocus is lazy" and I never though that.
I said that, *in a studio situation when you have complete control over the lighting and you are shooting at fast aperture and your eyesight is right*, using autofocus seems lazy to me *in those conditions only*.
I have my autofocus lenses which I use regularly, and me choosing to focus manually is personal, and as a way to challenge myself.
I have to apologize since it seems like I sounded like a snot-nosed kid.

So only people with great vision need apply? Also, when people had to focus manually, there were optical aids for that purpose. I don't think they wanted to manually focus, they had to. While AF may not be needed, to call those who use it lazy is a sign of arrogance which is probably fitting for a snot-nosed kid. :-/

Eric Mazzone's picture

He looks like a snot nosed kid.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

Hi Eric,
See, you can talk to me personally, to my face, because we are two adults. I have my opinion and this opinion is, I admit, pretty radical. I also invested in Auto-Focus lenses because I know that my limits shows and that my photos are not tack sharp. Having said that, it's more of a personal challenge.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

I didn't wanted to sound arrogant at all, and if you have vision problems, then of course that is completely different. I said that you shouldn't use autofocus unless you have mastered manual focus, and that using it in the studio when you *don't have vision problems of course*, at fast aperture for product shots and portraits, is kinda lazy. I never said it was lazy to use it as a whole, ever.

Daniel Medley's picture

You sound more ignorant than arrogant because your opinion is based on a serious misunderstanding of the basics. Therefor, your opinion is not a valid one; kind of like those who have an opinion that the earth is flat.

There are plenty of good reasons to use AF that have nothing to do with laziness. It's more about leveraging available technology. It's like saying those who write emails to people rather than handwritten letters are "lazy" when in fact email is a much more efficient way of communicating than snail mail.

Poor eyesight aside, one good reason to leverage AF is for the very reasons that Tony Clark says he doesn't use it; shooting wide open.

When shooting wide open or nearly wide open the DOF can be so shallow that the smallest of movements can be a killer when shooting non static subjects like models. Or, worse yet, models who are not professional models. I don't care how awesome one's MF skills are, using an 85mm wide open 6 feet from a model and trying to keep an eye/eyes in focus is almost impossible.

Using the back focus button, keeping it held down in continuous with the focus point over the eye can help mitigate that challenge. Combine that with shooting, say, a burst of 3 or 4 frames can be particularly useful in capturing subtle expressions that may otherwise be missed.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

I *do know what shallow DOF is*. I *choose to use it with manual focus to obtain images with an important amount of bokeh*.
I assume that my images are *not* thank sharp.

Photography is an art and I'm free to do it my way.
I'm the one being shamed here, and you assume I don't know anything because I shoot in a different way than most, aiming at a different result.

Daniel Medley's picture

I didn't say that you don't know what shallow DOF is. I'm basing your ignorance on your original, now edited, post in which you said that using AF was lazy and should only be used in sports, quick moving subjects, etc.That's not me. That's you.

Also, saying that AF shouldn't be used until you have "mastered MF" is a display of ignorance as well. It just is. Going down the road of absolutes is generally an ignorant approach.

MF and AF are simply tools; two different approaches that one can use to achieve the goal they're after. Nothing more, nothing less.

What no one has mentioned her is that phase AF on a lot of DSLRs isn't good enough for really narrow dof shots. That can be a reason to use manual focus or live view (which focusses on the sensor) -

https://www.lensrentals.com/blog/2012/07/autofocus-reality-part-1-center...

...Or just buy a mirrorless.

Jim German's picture

I've spent too much money on camera gear to afford to get my eyeglass prescription updated. My camera sees better than I do at the moment, so thanks to AF and Focus Peaking for when I use MF, I can still get shots. OH, you'd better not be using focus peaking, or EVF, or ….

Jasmin Bataille's picture

Never said that? I said you better know how to use manual focus before you use autofocus. Re-read my post.

Stepping back for a moment, I think it's unrealistic to expect a beginner with a camera equipped with AF to try to learn manual focus first. I agree, though, everyone should learn how to manually focus. Either order is fine, though, if it gets you to the same place.

Anonymous's picture

I won't go so far as to say that autofocus is required, but having a good autofocus system makes life a LOT easier even for portraits. When you're shooting wide open, even the slightest tremble of your subject can put you out of critical focus. I don't care how fast and good you've gotten at manually focusing, but a well tuned AF system will be faster than you in such a situation.

Manually focusing with older cameras was reasonably easy to do quickly because the focusing screens in those cameras were designed for it. Focusing screens in modern DSLR's don't help you at all, which means you're either looking for that confirmation dot out of frame or zooming in via live view to achieve critical focus which means that you're often losing sight of your framing. If you're trying to claim that you're just nailing focus consistently at 1.2 or 1.4 on a stock DSLR focusing screen without any aid, you're either full of BS or you have ridiculously good eyesight and I'm jealous. If you're shooting mirrorless and using an EVF, I would understand because focus peaking helps a lot here.

Also, the other thing to consider is the lens design. If you're shooting vintage glass or modern lenses specifically designed for manual focus such as Zeiss lenses, manually focusing would be more reasonable. With even high end lenses from manufacturers that were designed with autofocus in mind, however, manually focusing is often more trouble than it's worth because of the short throw on those lenses combined with the lack of good feedback. It's really hard to make fine focus adjustments manually with the vast majority of AF lenses. So while you say that autofocus will not give you the control you want, I would very much argue that most modern lenses are not designed to really give you control while manually focusing with them either (I won't even get started on the "focus by wire" lenses here).

I will manually focus my Zeiss lenses (because I have to and they're designed for it) when I am doing landscapes or some sort of shooting where it makes sense (generally when I'm zone focusing, working with a tripod or when I'm shooting with deep DOF), but if you think for a second that I'm going to try to manually focus my 105mm 1.4E at f/1.4 while shooting portraits handheld (even despite the fact that I've found the D850's confirmation dot to be very accurate), you're out of your mind.

If you find that your autofocus is unreliable with a well-lit subject on a modern high end DSLR, it's often just a calibration issue that can be solved with AFMA.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

You are absolutely right, and I do not find my autofocus unreliable - I choose not to use it. It's a personal choice. Again have to apologize since my tone was not positive. Thanks for the informations!

Lee Christiansen's picture

Jasmin - Absolute tosh...

It is not lazy to use auto focus, it is sensible. Modern DSLRs don't have that convenient focus assist in the viewfinder, so now to get accurate focus we would have to make a best guess based on a small viewfinder area.

I'll use auto focus because it is better and more accurate than me. It is more accurate than most people. I'm guessing it is better than you think you are.

But then, if you can make your judgements on a tint viewfinder - you'll never need to check at 100% on a monitor... ah, and then you'll never know....

Tip for being on a forum - don't assume that because people don't do it your way, that they're lazy. We've just found a better way.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

I never assumed that the people not doing it my way were lazy. I think that pretty much everyone misunderstood me, and my way of expressing my opinion was wrong. Alright?
Basically, I said that in the studio, for product shots and portraits at low-aperture, when you don't have vision problems, not using manual focus seems lazy to me.
I never said "using autofocus is lazy"...! And you guys all mastered MF, right? Then my message don't apply to you.

Lee Christiansen's picture

If you say not using manual focus is lazy - then you're wrong. In any circumstances, whether it be studio, location, product...

And to say it on a forum invites ridicule because it assumes a workflow that is incomplete or slap dash.

I shoot in the studio and I use auto focus. I am anything but lazy.

I shoot product and I use auto focus. I am anything but lazy.

I shoot on location and I use auto focus. I am anything but lazy.

Better that you just appologise rather than digging your hole deeper by putting provisos on your erronous statement.

Mastering MF... ha... Manual focus is the simple act of turning a knob. If you're eyes can see better than my caibrated system, if you can adjust, (and frame perfectly, and anticiplate to a millisecond every move of the subject, and all at razor DoF @f1.4, then buy a cape and adopt your superhero status.

But for me, forget the challenge of badly focussed shots. The pros need it to be right every time. We don't have the luxury of "feeling good" about our craft when the focus is missed on that otherwise perfect frame.

So feel free to apologise, and we'll consider you to be just over enthusiastic and not over opinionated.

>> I never assumed that the people not doing it my way were lazy. I think that pretty much everyone misunderstood me, and my way of expressing my opinion was wrong. Alright?
Basically, I said that in the studio, for product shots and portraits at low-aperture, when you don't have vision problems, not using manual focus seems lazy to me.<<

This is a distinction without a difference. If your AF system can do a job, why not let it?

(And I say this as someone who has decided to shoot entirely manual focus for the next year because I want to use vintage lenses and make sure I'm in practice for changing to a TLR...)

Do you develop your film yourself?

Jasmin Bataille's picture

I do not shoot film... not because I focus manually, that I'm shooting film. And not because I shoot manually in certain condition, that I don't use autofocus. Again, I have to apologize as my comment had a nosy tone.

Eric Mazzone's picture

If you can't develop your own film you're lazy, if you can't leave your post unedited and instead edit to hide your arrogance, you're arrogant.

Snot nosed little brat.

>> If you can't develop your own film you're lazy

He's shooting digital. The correct version of what you want to say is "If you're not processing your raws from the command line using dcraw..."

Eric Robinson's picture

Utter tosh. Anything that removes thinking about your camera while taking the shot, in my mind is invaluable, the more time spent pulling focus or even thinking about it is a distraction. I’m my opinion the greater the transparency of gear the better. Yet another piece speaking about ‘kit’ rather than the art of taking an image. Who cares if your lens is f1.8 or f1.2 and as for how you choose to focus.....totally irrelevant. The most important aspect of any kind of photography is what’s going on inside your head, not what your holding in your hand!

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