We dream of huge apertures that can give us incredible subject separation and whip up the world’s creamiest bokeh. Imagine my excitement when I was invited to spend an hour playing with the world’s first f/0.35 50mm autofocus prime lens, a lens so secret that I can’t even tell you the mount, never mind who makes it. Check out the amazing images that this lens can produce.
Due for release in 2020, this beast of a lens is being developed in secret by a Japanese manufacturer. Weighing in at an incredible 37 lb (17 kg), its aperture sucks in so much light that rooms get visibly darker when you remove the lens cap. Shooting in daylight at your lowest ISO will require shutter speeds in excess of 1/100,000th of a second, necessitating a new generation of cameras that are yet to hit the market.
With a depth of field slimmer than a gnat’s testicle, trying to grab focus can be a real challenge. Fortunately, this incredible lens has autofocus to help the process, though this comes with a few restrictions. Firstly, the autofocus motor has to do so much work that it requires its own power supply in the shape of a diesel generator. Secondly, autofocusing this amount of glass is a slow process, taking in excess of 30 seconds to slide all of the elements into place. During this time, you will need to ask your model not to breathe as the slightest movement means having to start over. Blinking can also be problematic, as can any low-level seismic activity.
I’m excited to present some of my results. As you can see, the shallow depth of field is spectacular. It’s tricky to get both eyes sharp at the same time but this ability to focus the viewer’s attention on just a single iris really allows you to be creative in how you portray your subject. The eye is truly a window to the soul and being able to isolate it so completely really opens up the possibilities.
This lens is also perfect for those moments when you want to make it difficult to figure out where your subject ends and the background begins, blending it all into one beautifully buttery goop. The shallowness is truly liberating, making backgrounds much less of a concern. No longer do you need to find context — just stand your model wherever you want. Got a telegraph pole or a tree coming out of their head? Not a problem. And thanks to the lens’s 29 aperture blades, bokeh balls are completely round with not an onion skin in sight.
I hope to have more news about this lens in the near future. If you'd like to try and guess the manufacturer, leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Lead image by Riley Bowden.