A Lens for all Seasons – part deux

After the last post, my portrait lens got kinda jealous that my zoom could do (almost) the same job that it does, so it decided to join me and Carline on a walk through City Walk and take some “candid” shots of unsuspecting people.

First, let me show you what City Walk looked like during this time.

City Walk

Now for the purpose of this exercise, I will be using the 85mm f/1.2L II lens on a Canon 5D Mk II at f/1.2 at all times. ISO may vary. I’m keeping the aperture fixed because, according to Kai Wong, the lens “begs” to be used at f/1.2. So, we’ll see how that goes.

* * *

On a very bright day, the shutter speed necessary to get a correct exposure is usually faster than 1/8000 sec. This is because there is so much light coming into the lens that the scene will be overly exposed. Luckily, our day was a bit overcast so we didn’t have that problem.

The type of photography I intended to do is called “street photography”. This style of taking pictures, involves capturing moments “on the street” of people doing or looking interesting with or without their knowledge. In the US, UK and other countries where people like their privacy, taking pictures of strangers either requires you ask permission or you take the photo unbeknownst to them. At least, you hope that you’re not caught. If you do get caught, simply smile, wave and say “Thanks!” and quickly walk the other way. Some people won’t mind. Others will simply be too shocked to say anything. And then others will like to put their fists through your camera. So to accomplish this task, you should use equipment that is very unobtrusive or be very inconspicuous. This was NOT the case with this camera/lens combination. This lens is so huge and wide that every time I put the camera to my eye it yells at the subject “Hey! Look at me! I’m going to take your picture! But you’re not supposed to know about it!” Let’s see how I faired.

This first picture didn’t need to be taken inconspicuously.


Jump Rope

Taking this photo wasn’t that bad. Actually, I got lucky because I didn’t intend to take this shot. What happened was I was going for a previous “decisive moment”, but the 85mm f/1.2L is SLOOOOOOOW with its auto focus (it only applies to this lens). Yes. I know. This lens is known as a “fast prime”, but that designation is about the shutter speed. Because the aperture is so wide, the shutter speeds are fast even in low light. Hence “fast prime”. Anyway, I got a pretty interesting shot.

One other factor in this shot is the focal length. Since this is a medium telephoto lens, I had to stand a bit of a distance from the action. That’s not a concern if I have a clear line of sight, but the place was crowded and people would walk in front of me because a) there is a big space between me and the subject and b) (because of (a)) they didn’t notice I was trying to take a picture (which is the point of street photography anyway). The solution to this is to have a telephoto lens with a faster autofocus (to capture the decisive moment *when* you want to), shorter focal lengths (50mm or less to get closer to the subject) or block the passer-bys from getting in front of you.

This next image is an example of a “decisive moment”.

"Tattoo" - Emeril agreeing with my choice of subject

Here, I was going for a much tighter shot of the tattoo, but the subject was moving away at a good pace. The auto focus started to “hunt” so I decided to stop walking myself, let the lens focus and then take the shot. The subject was still moving so you can see that it’s a bit blurred. Not necessarily because of motion, but because of distance. However, Emeril thinks that it was a good shot anyway! I could have taken a sharper image if I had stopped down the aperture to probably f/4 or f/5.6. This would have given me a larger focal plane which would have put the subject in focus (see Bokeh. ¿Por qué?).

This next shot was, yet, another decisive moment which was foiled by the blinding speed of the auto focus.

Couple having an intimate moment

Know how “fast” my lens was, I tried to anticipate when this couple would show affection for each other. Well, they did and this is AFTER the fact. They gave each other a peck on the lips so quickly that my lens was, like, “I’m sorry, was I supposed to capture something?” This is not to say that I couldn’t have gotten the shot that I wanted. I just need to be a little more alert and more patient, though sometimes, that’s not good enough.

So what kind of “street photography” can this lens handle? Answer: casual settings. Especially where your subjects are not moving much. Though I would have been a lot more conspicuous with the zoom lens (because it kinda sticks out like a sore thumb), I would have gotten the shot that I actually anticipated. Perhaps with more practice I could have achieved it with the portrait lens. Who knows? For good reportage, I would use the Canon 50mm f/1.2L or even the Canon 35mm f/1.4L. This will give you the flexibility with varying lighting conditions, the speed to focus quickly on the subject, the ability to get close to the subject if needed and still get you fairly “bokehlicious” images.

Well things weren’t THAT bad taking photos with the portrait lens. This next shot was actually intended:

Guy too excited to jump rope

* * *

In conclusion, though both lenses (zoom and portrait) yield sharp and vibrant photos, their each shine in their respective areas, even though it’s possible to get away with using only one of them. This next shot would not have been possible with the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS lens (this was taken with friends of ours the following day).

Gayle and the Fish Tank

There was hardly any light here. Though the zoom lens has Image Stabilization and would have given me correct exposure, it would mean that the shutter speed would be about 1 second at f/4 (its widest aperture and at ISO 3200!). One second is too long to have a subject be still. Especially one who doesn’t know you’re taking her picture. This is where the wide aperture shines. This photo was taken at f/1.2 which yielded a shutter speed of 1/60 sec at ISO 3200. The light was a bit too low for the auto focus to lock so I had to manually focus the subject. Luckily, she stayed in that spot long enough for me to do so! Here’s my favorite shot of the day:

Carline and Gayle

Gayle’s expression as Carline speaks to her during a break is absolutely captivating. Also, Gayle’s stance shows a bit of maturity even though she’s barely six years old at the time of this photo! Here it is crop in a 7×5 aspect to show the expression better:

Carline and Gayle (cropped)