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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91 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.

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.

Deleted Account's picture

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.

David Mawson's picture

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 ….

Deleted Account's picture

:-)

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.

Deleted Account's picture

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.

David Mawson'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.<<

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...)

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.

David Mawson's picture

>> 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!

Pieter Batenburg's picture

@Jasmin Bataille I used to use manual focus back in the day when there was no auto-focus. Looking back at scanned images of those days, most pictures weren't really that tack sharp. But because we mostly printed not too big formats, nobody ever noticed. If you have a modern camera with more than 400 AF points all over the frame and eye-AF, you tend to rely on that. It does a better and mostly more reliable job, than mf. There are exceptions.

In your case, you use a camera with a measly amount of af points, mostly in the centre of the frame. So I can understand that AF won't work in most cases.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

Gosh, I didn't wanted to spark such a polemic. It really is such a personal choice... I prefer manual focus, and my photos aren't tack sharp at all - in fact, I like bokeh and I like the so very slightly off-focus, better than AF in many cases, and that's just my way I guess. I realized that, my God, I sounded like a snot-nosed kid. xD

Lee Christiansen's picture

Ok... further to my earlier request - I'll take that as a hearty apology.

Forgiven. :)

Eric Robinson's picture

I think the reason why people reacted, was your statement regarding use of auto focus as though it was some inferior and less sack cloth and ashes approach to photography is pretty silly. In an article about lenses f1.n which are all pretty expensive regardless of the value of the n......why then after spending all that cash would one then choose to opt for a style that produced soft out of focus images?
Having said that manual focus sure has a place. When shooting macro images for stacking the combo of manual plus focus peaking sure beats auto every time. If the tech produces better results than me with my iffy eyes the tech will always win.

Jonathan Brady's picture

Guess I'm lazy, then.
Also guessing you're a DSLR shooter with an out-of-whack AF module.
I shot a wedding this weekend with a Canon DSLR shooter and a former Canon DSLR shooter who's now shooting Nikon. We spent about 2 minutes going through the features of my A9 and both of them left sad because of the AF prowess of the A9. Neither could believe the sharpness and accuracy on the eye and both were mind-blown over the image review through the viewfinder.
When you don't have ANY experience with something, others tend to notice. That's why I'm guessing you're a DSLR shooter, Jasmin.

Deleted Account's picture

"Guess I'm lazy, then."
Well, you DO shoot with a mirrorless camera! ;-)

Jasmin Bataille's picture

...Pardon me? Being a DSLR shooter means I "don't have any experience"? Really? ... wow, I'm baffled. The A9 is a fantastic camera, and again, I said that using autofocus *in the studio and under certain conditions using a fast aperture lens and when your eyesight is good* seems lazy to me.
I never said - or wanted to implied - that autofocus as a whole was lazy and I realized I wasn't expressing myself correctly about that.

Deleted Account's picture

Are your posts coming in out of order? You're replying to me but commenting to Jonathan Brady's comments.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

Yes it was. Sorry about that

Peter Moeller's picture

Jasmin Brady. He said from your comments he thinks you have no experience shooting mirrorless. Don't be so touchy.

I just bought myself a Fuji X-T20 and with the face/eye recognition on, it's amazing how reliably the camera can put a focus point on a face or even an eye. I've been told Sony is superior to Fuji in this area. This is something my Nikon DSLR's cannot do... but I still prefer them in some shooting situations.

Your statement that "using AF is lazy" is your personal opinion. Anyway, it is a negative statement and negative statement do not help anyone. Or does it help you if people feel bad about not using manual focus, even if AF works fine for their style of shooting?

The article is about stepping back an evaluating. That is a great approach. You should try it.

Jasmin Bataille's picture

...Pardon me? Being a DSLR shooter means I "don't have any experience"? Really? ... wow, I'm baffled. The A9 is a fantastic camera, and again, I said that using autofocus *in the studio and under certain conditions using a fast aperture lens and when your eyesight is good* seems lazy to me.
I never said - or wanted to implied - that autofocus as a whole was lazy and I realized I wasn't expressing myself correctly about that.

Deleted Account's picture

I wouldn't edit a post that had so many down votes. It makes it sound like people are p*ssed at your revised comments. :-)

Jasmin Bataille's picture

Congratulation. If to you, excusing yourself for your tone is a sign that I'm pissed-off, goodbye. Yes, I'm pretty pissed-off after I clearly excused myself about my tone, and after I clarified everything, that you come to me and say that.
Have a good one.

Deleted Account's picture

English isn't your first language, is it? I think what we have here is a failure to communicate. :-(

stir photos's picture

some men you just can't reach... so, you get what we had here today.

Eric Mazzone's picture

YOU don't get to excuse YOURSELF, YOU get to apologize, and the BETTER edit to an existing comment is to add an update clarifying where YOU went wrong. Hiding your error then crying that people are being mean to you, for RIGHTLY calling you out, IS YOU being a coward thus proving that you ARE a snot nosed brat.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

@Jasmin Bataille If look like manual focus, you should try an old film camera, prior to the af systems. Their OVF is much better suited to mf than the ovf of the present day.

Jeff Gillisroy's picture

100% studio or posed shoots, correct?

Deleted Account's picture

Go to his site. All but a few examples are food/product photography.

Tony Clark's picture

If you're commenting about me, I have separate websites targeted toward different clients. My Fashion website is www.tcphoto.org.

Deleted Account's picture

Yes, I was. I think Jeff was thinking you must be shooting relatively stationary subjects to shoot manual focus. I was curious too, so I looked up the site listed in your profile. While I can certainly understand manually focusing product shots, I would never try that with people, even posed, but then I'm a bit older than you and my eyes just aren't up to it. :-(

Darren Miles's picture

Tony Clark - I went to your site - beautiful work man, great stuff! And all of those portraits were manually focused? I'm impressed!

Tony Clark's picture

I appreciate the comment. My father bought me a used Nikon FM to get me started. Then, I tried AF when I upgraded to an 8008s and then an F4s but shooting wide open was hit and miss. I trust my own eyes and framing is always changing so MF works best for me. Besides, some of those images were shot with an RZProII and those are MF only.

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