The Prime Lens Paradox

I've found a lens that helps me deliver scenes the way I imagine them. It's not always the right tool for the job, but I doubt I'll go to any assignment without it.

After 23 years, I finally succumbed to desire and replaced my 85mm f/1.8 with a new 85mm f/1.4. Now my other lenses are getting jealous, because I rarely take this one off the camera. It’s not just that the lens is fast, which is perfect for the kind of low-light photography I enjoy. It’s also that the lens renders beautiful color, contrast, and bokeh. But at a recent Ojai Storytelling Festival fundraiser featuring Bill Harley, I was reminded why zoom lenses have gotten so popular.

From the second row, 85mm on a DX-sensor camera was probably a little long for storytelling, but it almost worked in vertical compositions.

If you’re going to shoot an event with a prime lens, you’d better be able to zoom with your feet. At this performance, I remained in my second row seat, so the lens was too long to include Bill’s guitar in horizontal compositions. As a result, those images don’t work, because an essential part of the story is missing.

In horizontal compositions, I was just too close to make the photo work. Without the guitar in the frame, a friend noted that this image could also be "the moment of impact." And he didn't mean photographic or emotional impact.

Over the last forty years, I’ve accumulated a pretty nice lens collection. The 85mm f/1.4G is likely the best of the bunch, but that doesn’t mean it’s always the right tool for the job.

I'm bothered by the slightly missed focus in this image, but I'm more bothered by the lack of context. With more of the guitar, this would have been my favorite shot of the night, soft focus or not.

So I guess the moral of the story is that if I’m not willing to disrupt a small venue performance to move around and take pictures (and I’m NOT), I’d best pack a couple more lenses just in case.

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Filed under Camera Gear, Low Light

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