One of the things that I always like to emphasize is that lens selection is an extremely important decision for any given scene and knowing how to leverage your lenses to support your artistic vision makes all the difference in the final look and feel of your scene. It’s right up there with having the right camera for the shoot… lenses are that important! It is our job at Picture and Color Media to know our lenses intimately and know how they can help us shape a story.
One of my favorite — and most important — lenses is the Canon 50mm F1.2L. And one of the questions I get asked most frequently about this lens is ‘why’?
After all, Canon produces no less than 3 seemingly identical 50mm focal length prime lenses in their current lineup and this F1.2L version happens to be the biggest and most expensive. They start with the small but flimsy 50mm 1.8 ($120), followed by its bigger and better built brother the 50mm 1.4 ($399) and ending with the big and impressive 50mm 1.2L I use here ($1,619).
So why pay over 13x the price difference when the basic 1.8 does the job and is still a very decent lens?
The short answer is that the F1.2 goes the widest and is the sharpest and most usable wide open.
Especially on a full frame camera, this opens up creative possibilities not inherent to its slower siblings. The depth of field is exceedingly shallow, thin as a sliver in fact. This forces you to focus better and really mean business about what you are trying to say with your picture. As a story teller you are given MORE creative control by being able to pull your subject further out from your frame (if that is what you so desire).
50mm is also a very interesting focal length in terms of perspective. It is not for landscapes or wide shots, or for ordinary shots of ordinary things. It is for getting close and personal from a short distance. It’s about getting close to your subjects and being in the moment with their actions and emotions. And at F1.2, this turns even ordinary actions into extraordinary ones.
And unlike shooting shallow with an 85mm or longer focal length, the 50 does not compress the background into meaningless oblivion. Even at F1.2, you often get distinguishable background which establishes the picture’s context. This again contributes to its usefulness as a storytelling tool! This is why we love it!
Here are a few such shots of ordinary actions, made much less ordinary by use of the Canon 50mm 1.2L lens.