Do You Really Need That Fast, Expensive Lens?

We all love to drool over those beautiful, fast (and oh so expensive) f/1.2 and f/1.4 lenses. But do you really need that top shelf glass, or would you be better served by saving your money and investing in a cheaper version? This great video talks about some of the more intangible facets of lenses and why it's about more than just the widest apertures. 

Coming to you from Daniel Norton, this great video talks about some of the factors that go into lenses and things you should consider beyond just the widest aperture of a lens. While there definitely are a lot of great intermediate and budget lenses out there, you can expect certain things out of professional level lenses, such as faster and more reliable autofocus, more rugged and weather-proof builds, and more. Similarly, while you may not need an ultra-wide aperture like f/1.2, one thing to consider is that if you shoot an f/1.2 and f/1.8 lens both at f/1.8, the f/1.2 lens will almost always be sharper than the f/1.8. If you're planning on making a career of photography, it's certainly worth considering a professional option. Check out the video above for Norton's full thoughts. 

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David Pavlich's picture

As long as it's in the budget, why not? A great lens remains a great lens well beyond the 'life' of a camera body. Canon's new RF/L lenses are arguably the best autofocus lenses on the market. Spendy, for sure, but they will remain excellent lenses for a LONG time. And, there's that resolving thing with the high MP count bodies.

Jaap Venhovens's picture

Indeed, top lenses are generally better investments then cameras if you can afford them. My only problem with fast primes is often their weight, since I like to travel a lot.

Peter Symes's picture

I agree. Often I would rather have the best quality where price vs actual need doesn’t make it completely silly. But in most cases I opt for the lighter versions, say a 70-200 f4 rather than f2.8 because of weight savings. One lens may not make such a great different but when schlepping 5-6 lenses on a trip the difference really ads up.

Wanting it is OK too

David Pavlich's picture

Ayup!! If I suddenly had a butt load of money, I get the Canon R just so I could access the new lenses. Eventually, Canon will make a pro body/bodies that will really compliment those excellent lenses.

Well, I'd probably get that 100MP beast from Fuji just because. :-)

EL PIC's picture

Not going to do that much difference.
It will do more for manufacturers revenue than yours ..

If you think a 11 minute video of a guy in a PONG T-shirt is your justification.. go for it !!

You might also need 80 + MP ..

Joe Van Wyk's picture

That thumbnail image of the Canon 85 1.2 put a smile on my face. I am a Sony shooter, and I have most of the Sony fast primes, including the 85 1.4 GM. That said, when I bought my first Sony a7 series camera, I rented and adapted both the canon 85 1.2 and the 50 1.2. Man, those lenses are magic. I have never looked back about my choice to go with the Sony platform, but those two 1.2s from Canon have always made me jealous. They render such an abstract, painterly background. Something really special about them.

Sometimes I think the "fast glass is overkill" crowd just doesn't get it. I shoot tons of street photography and street portraits wide open. Oh wait! You're not supposed to shoot with a shallow DOF on the streets. Huh?

When I first got serious about professional work and my street shooting, I latched on to gurus out there who preached their own way. All I was trying to do was mimic their style. While I don't have regrets per se, I am thankful that I have been searching more for that unique style inside me, trying to wiggle its way past my ego.

I love the super fast glass look. Like how my new Sony 24 1.4 GM can accomplish a wide shot while still isolating the subject. Oh- and I love it for portraits! But wait! You aren't supposed to shoot portraits with anything less than an 85, right? Ugh.

I have a little youtube channel, and I soon hope to be making videos on helping people find their own inner photography voice. Like shooting on your iPhone? Go with it! Prefer shooting mirrorless with vintage glass? Hallelujah! Want to shoot polaroid and then photographing the print? Rock on!

Own your style. Listen to that voice. And remember, opinions (including mine) are like, uh, well, you know the rest of the saying.


Alex Cooke's picture

What's your YouTube channel? I'd love to see your videos!

Edison Wrzosek's picture

I think the headline question "Do You Really Need That Fast, Expensive Lens?", is the wrong question...

The appropriate one should be, IMHO, "What lens is best suited for what you shoot?"

Photography blends so many facets together, from artistic and creative visions, to technical challenges and requirements, that there is no one-size-fits-all that would work here...

Quick example, as I do environmental portrait work, my lens of choice in the field is the Sony FE 70-300mm 4.5-5.6 G OSS, a very slow lens by comparison to the prime's discussed in this article.

But, because I'm out in the open, I have the option of controlling my DoF with both the far-reaching focal lengths, and by just backing up or getting closer to the subject. And the bokeh from this lens is surprisingly good at 100mm f/5.0 when you are doing headshots or upper-body shots. And the price couldn't be beat. I wanted this one because it has the 300mm if I ever need it, and it gives me a single lens to take with me for tighter shots, with a 28-70mm for wider shots.

I got this lens because it's several prime lens' in one; 85mm, 100mm, 135mm, albeit with much slower apertures. But, since I don't like having one eye blurry when my subject turns their head, f4.5-5.0 is more than enough.

For in-studio work, I do have the 85mm f/1.8, as that is a better match to that type of work.

So for some who have a creative vision of that buttery smooth bokeh, or for low light performance, an f/1.4 or faster lens might be the way to go, it all depends on what it is you are doing with your craft.


Jerome Brill's picture

Well, the site wouldn't be called fstoppers if the amount of light able to reach the sensor wasn't important. So half the answer is yes. We all try to work around the expense part though.

Black Z Eddie .'s picture

A while back, I've decided to go back to why I bought a mirrorless in the first place. Size and weight. I've stopped looking at f1.4's and started buying f1.8's instead, so long as they've received great reviews, such as the Sony 85 f1.8. The only f1.4 I plan on keeping is my "right hand man", Sigma 35 f1.4 Art.

With that said, damn, the Sony 24 f1.4 is looking good though. Small, light and great IQ. :)

Broken Canon Art & Photography's picture

I have a dream, To some day own that Zeiss Lens I've always wanted..

As a landscape photographer, when I want to go light and use 35mm, I just go with a 24mm f2.8 prime (tiny), 35-70mm f2.8 (tiny as a push-pull) and a push-pull 70-210mm zoom f4-5.6 or 80-200mm f4.5 (again both tiny).

Because they aren't fast, I can save a lot of weight. Same goes for my 500mm f8 prime for ultra telephoto landscapes, it weighs less and smaller than a Sigma 18-35mm f1.8.

But my main camera is medium format where I use a 50mm f4.5 and 180mm f4.5 again not very fast in order to save weight.

Marcus Joyce's picture

Take my money

I'm still in love with my Tokina 11-16mm for indoor/ourdoor photos even with f/2.8. Took at lot of great photos for my Totally agree with the video tho.