January of 2016, I shot exclusively with two canon lenses: a simple 50mm 1.8mm and 24-105mm 4.0. These are fine lenses-the 50mm 1.8 is a very inexpensive lens and a great upgrade from the kit lens for hobbyists! I recommend it to anyone wanting to up their photography game: shoot manual and buy a 50mm 1.8. The investment is minimal and you will see your skill build immediately. When I snapped on my first professional, or L series, lens, I was blown away. The 24-105mm was so much sharper! The quality of the images, the sharpness, color, and depth of field, were worlds better than my humble nifty fifty. So much so, that I completely stopped using the 50. It’s still in my gear bag as a back-up lens. But it doesn’t see much action these days.
However, I use it more than the 24-105! After shooting my first wedding with the lens, I decided I needed a lens that would allow more light into the frame. The 24-105mm gave me sufficient range, and was sharp enough, but that maximum aperture of f/4 was a deal breaker. I sold the lens to a very happy enthusiast and traded up to a Sigma ART 35mm 1.4 and the mega-beast of a lens, the 70-200mm 2.8 II IS.
And I LOVE these lenses. They were big investments for my business, but I feel they have been worth every penny. The pair created a super sharp and versatile duo with which I comfortably shot entire weddings. When the light is low, the 1.4 of the 35 is everything. I use it for getting ready shots, details, receptions, anything where I need to be close to the action. For everything else, I used the 70-200mm, weighing in at 3.3 pounds, because of the incredible compression the lens renders. Yes, it’s crazy heavy, but it was worth the aching wrist! Ceremonies, portraits, candid shots, anything where I had the luxury of standing off a little ways, I was using that beast. Family and Portrait sessions, I whipped out my “overkill lens” as soon as I felt the client could handle me shouting a bit because I just loved being able to create that background you can only get with a long focal length.
But now, I have a new baby in the lens bag. Ladies and Gentlemen, for your consideration, the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art.
You may be wondering to yourself, why would you duplicate a focal length- especially when you aren’t using the 50mm sweetheart focal length? (90% of photographers use that lens 90% of the time!) Well, I struggled with that question for MONTHS when deciding what lens to get next. But here’s the deal, the 35 and the 50, are pretty similar. Yes, I would choose a 50mm focal length over the 35mm when making a closer portrait because it is more flattering, but the 85 can do that with so much more compression. The 85 is a focal length covered in the 70-200 but the difference here is a wider aperture. I can let a fair amount more light fall onto my sensor with the 1.4 aperture as well as blur out the background if I so choose. Even in situations where the background is not ideal (think parked cars, a distracting sign, or dumpster) the 85mm 1.4 can blur those items so they do not draw the viewers eye away from the subject of the image. In wedding photography, these kinds of tools allow you to work anywhere. Not to mention, this lens will allow me to use one of my favorite focal lengths without hauling 3+ pounds in lens alone. The Sigma 85mm Art is still very heavy, especially for a prime, weighing in at 2.5 pounds. Honestly, it’s heavy in my hand than I expected, but there is a difference. Especially at the end of an 8, 10, 12 hour day. But the shape and length of the barrel those is a bit more manageable than the 70-200. I was also surprised that even mattered to me.
There will still be cases where I won’t be able to use the 85mm where a 50mm may have been more versatile. If a bride is getting ready in a small hotel room, I won’t be able to back up enough to get wide shots with an 85mm, but know that my 35mm can handle it. And of course, I always have that little 50mm 1.8 for backup!
Anyway, for you photographers out there in the same predicament, “what lens do I buy next? 50mm vs. 85mm,” hopefully this post will help you through the thought process in choosing.
Focusing on relationships, real moments, and story-telling, Claire Watson specializes in photography that captures true beauty and feels genuine and authentic. Claire Watson is a West Virginia Wedding Photographer based in Martinsburg, WV. She joyfully serves clients in West Virginia, Northern Virginia, and Maryland.