Hands down, no doubt about it, my most commonly asked question… “What’s your favorite lens?”
So, here it is… a blog entry dedicated to my favorite lenses!
disclaimer: I’m far from the authority on lenses, I’m simply sharing things I’ve learned along the way.
I’m going to focus this entry on portraits only (as opposed to photojournalistic images).
I use only prime (or fixed focal length) lenses…. for those who aren’t photographers, that means the lens doesn’t zoom. When I tell our subjects that I zoom with my feet I can almost always see their brain thinking, “HUH?! My $200 point and shoot camera can zoom… why the hell can’t that big ol’ thing zoom?!” 😉 To read more about that, click here.
My “go to” lenses: 35mm 1.4L, 50mm 1.2L and the 85mm 1.2L. For portrait sessions, my assistant’s “go to” is the 70-200mm 2.8L… as it gives them the most versatility as a “second shooter.” After all, working around my big ol’ red head isn’t the easiest! On occasion, they’ll use the 135mm 2.0L as their main lens…. mmmmm….. butter!
You’re about to find out that all of my lenses have nick names. You might make fun of me for it, but whatever… I’m a weirdo and don’t care. 😉
Soooo, here we go!
Starting off with our personal favorite….
35mm 1.4L (AKA, “In it to Win it”)
I call it that because to shoot the way that I love to shoot with it, I’m usually sitting/laying/standing very close to my subject…. Sometimes being that close is a little dangerous… so naturally, “in it to win it” came about when I was photographing two people swinging…. and I nearly died 😉 (I’m also a weeee bit dramatic….).
I LOVE everything about that focal length. For me, it feels like the equivalent to how our eyes see. It feels intimate.
I rarely photograph just one person with it, but every once in a while it feels right. Oh, and another reason I love this lens is because I like being close to my subjects so that it doesn’t feel so impersonal.I especially love it for families. For family sessions, it’s my most used lens. 🙂It’s great for the groomsmen photo. I love symmetry… shooting with a wide lens helps with that. I love how this lens, when shooting really close, shows so much, yet feels like there’s nothing else in the image but what really matters. In the image below, I’m probably sitting a foot away from him…For me, it wasn’t the easiest lens to figure out…. I have to be really careful not to put my subject compositionally too close to the left or right edges as the lens has a bit of a pull. I especially have to watch for arms… put an arm too close to the left or right edge and boom, distorted chubby arms!
I rarely shoot with the 35 vertically. Though I’ve seen many photographers shoot it that way beautifully! Just not something I’ve mastered yet. 😉Did I mention that I love how intimate it feels? 😉 OH how I love this image!
50mm 1.2L (AKA, “Goldilocks”)
This is probably one of the most popular lenses in the world of today’s portrait photographers (at least in my observations). Many of my favorite images were taken with this lens. Though, of my three “go to” lenses… it’s my least used. Weird, huh? I’ve never really thought about that until I wrote this entry…. hmmmm….
I use the 50mm when the 35mm feels too wide or when the 85mm feels too tight. You know… like Goldilocks and her too hot/too cold porridge. It’s often jusssst right! Get it now? 🙂 You’re judging me now, aren’t you? 😉
Photographers often ask us what their first lens purchase should be…. my answer is always the 50mm as, in my opinion, the focal length is OH SO versatile! Not the mention the 1.8 version is super inexpensive ($120).I remember originally taking this image with the 35mm…. but it stretched Jason’s head, so I switched over to the 50….badaboom, badabing, perfecto! See what I mean? Goldilocks!Gorgeous!
And the last of my go to lenses…
85mm 1.2L (AKA “guaranteed money”)
Why “guaranteed money”? I use that term, “money” not to describe something as being rich or expensive, but instead to describe something as being awesome. If you’ve never heard it used that way, watch the movie “Swingers.” Or, I found a good definition on Urban Dictionary. 😀
This focal length takes amazing images… whenever, wherever!
The 85mm is a traditional portrait lens…. as opposed to say the 35mm which, traditionally, is used more as a photojournalistic lens.
If I’m on a major time constraint, and need guaranteed timeless images… it’s the 85mm lens on my camera! And for that reason, it’s my most used lens for portrait time on a wedding day.I shoot almost all of my bridesmaid images with the 85mm. As I mentioned before… I don’t love the distortion on the edges of the 35mm and what it does to arms (the 50mm has a bit of distortion, too). However, the 85 has zilcho distortion!Oh?! And the bokeh! DONE AND DONE! It’s a timeless focal length… and well… it’s guaranteed money!”
And two bonus lenses:
135mm 2.0L (AKA “butter”)
This lens I call “butter” because the images are just so creamy and well…. buttery!
24mm 1.4L (AKA, the “Jesh” lens)
Jesh deRox uses this lens (last I knew) almost exclusively… and he creates magic with it every time! I have a friend who isn’t a photographer but knows a lot about various photographers… he’d see an image we’d take and would say, “is that with the Jesh lens?” 😉 Said friend was almost always right 😀
Sometimes the 35mm just can’t squeeze everything I want it to squeeze into my frame… or I can’t back up any more (as was the case with the image below)… that’s when I go for the 24mm.
I often shoot the “big sky, little people” with this lens. I also love shooting this lens symmetrically (just like with the 35mm).
Okay… that’s it from me…. for now anyway… 😉
Much love friends!
Thank you so much for this post. You’ve shared so much about these lenses in a way that was so simple to understand. With that said, you must have been standing so far away to get those lovely images with your 85mm. I would be curious to see what aperture all the shots on this post were shot at.
love seeing our pics on your post!! We can’t wait for our session in July! 😉
apart from the macro debate 😉 … I’ve also been toying with either the 85 1.2 or 135 2.0. Always varying opinions on those 2 lenses so once again, thank YOU for sharing. 🙂
I lubaluba you guys!
LOVE you guys!! That EXACT chocolate donut picture is hanging big in our dining room. 🙂 Brody points to it and laughs to this day, this morning at breakfast in fact! Can’t wait to see you again sometime soon!!!!
well said. i think i’ll just copy and paste this link for when i get asked about my lenses next. 🙂
Thanks so much for this great post! I haven’t gone full frame yet and I keep waffling about getting the 35mm to make it more of a 50 on my camera — but I worried that I wouldn’t use it when I eventually upgrade to full frame because I read so much about “distortion” on the full frame. Your shots with it are amazing! Maybe I should just bite the bullet and get it. Right now I feel like I have to back up to Texas when I try to include structure or shoot multiple people and I hate being that far away. . .
I neeeeeeed the 35mm. NEED.
Cheers for this post Bobbi. Been a big fan for a while. Good to hear what & why 🙂
I can’t tell you how much I love your blog. I’ve been following it for a few months now. I’ve been wanting to invest in some new lenses and this post was SO helpful. I wish I lived a little closer to you because I would love to go to one of your conferences or to book a session with you!
I just started my business and still work with a crop camera (50D). I love the 35mm wide angle on a full frame but on my camera it wouldn’t be wide enough. My kitlens is a 17-55mm which is not too bad quality wise but the aperture just doesn’t cut it in lots of situations. I’m in the process of upgrading to full frame… right now would be a good time, right?! Thanks for this post – good to know when you guys use specific lenses.
I need to attend your workshop! I couldn’t make the April/May dates, I SO hope you post more dates this year!
GREAT post and PERFECT timing!! I am really wanting to invest in a new lens. Whichever one I choose, I’ll be sure to name it the “bobbi”! Heck, maybe I’ll get 2 and name the other one the “mike!”
Thanks for this post! I always shoot with the 35mm but I’ll consider trying the 24mm. And I looooove the 85mm for portraits!!!
This is so helpful! Thanks so much for sharing! It really helps to see the shots with the lenses you used!
My fav is the 35mm but mine is a 1.8, I tend to use it most of the time!
Love your blog and photos!
Oh goodness! I just fell in love with you (not in a creepy way)!! You’re hilarious and easy to read. I LOVE MY 35mm!! Every thing you said about it is spot on. It’s “right there” and personal and I’d shoot a wedding using that lens 90% of the time! I’m trading my 16-35 2.8 for the 24mm and I CAN’T WAIT! Someday soon hopefully before the year ends we’re buying an 85 1.2mm. Canon let us borrow it for two weeks and it’s LIKE BUTTAH!
Love this post! Thank you for sharing – I just got a 50mm lens and I’m doing my best to learn what works best. Thank you for your tips!
Soo bummed I bought the 24-70mm zoom over the 35mm. That’s my next purchase though! Thanks for this post, the valuable information, and the beautiful pictures!
Thanks for sharing. I always love seeing your photos (your art)
Thanks for this Bobbi! I was wanting to purchase a fixed lens. I have the 24-70L and the 70-200L, but haven’t bought a fixed yet. I was thinking the 85 1.8 L.
Love this! I always love to guess which lens you used for each photo 🙂
Awesome post! Loved it!
You guys are simply amazing – I just loved all those images. Each and every one.
Love love LOVE this post!!! I have everything but the 135 and the 24. So fun to see what images you shot with which lens! You are amazing for sharing this! Thank you! Oh and Miss you tons.
Wow!! Gave me a whole new perspective on which lenses I should use when and why. And also which lens I need to purchase!!
I absolutely agree with with these three lenses. For now I can only speak about the 50mm lens, the other two are still on my wishlist. I love the 50mm but I hate the front focus problem when using the outer focus points 🙁
This was a very good read! 🙂
Perfect timing on this one Bobbi! I have been creating my wish-list of lenses to purchase this year, and was going back and forth between the 50 and 85… while it didn’t help my decision (I want BOTH) it was super helpful to see how you used them. I had always wondered what you used for your “little head – big sky” images – now I know! Thanks for this post, I really enjoyed it. Sending appreciation from Vermont! Cheers, j
I literally came over here to find this info today! You ROCK.
This totally confirmed my lens shopping list! Thank you so much! If i learned this much from one blog … I can’t WAIT to see what I walk away with in May!!! 🙂
Nice Post Bobbi! I have seen a few of your behind the scenes photos and have wondered what your most used lenses were and this is a cool way to show it. Beautiful shots. I find myself using 50mm focal alot (on FF) and 85 when its a single person in the shot.
I’ll have to mix it up a bit 🙂
Love this post! Thank you for sharing and I am glad to know that I am not the only person who has names for the lenses.
So happy you posted this!! I was just at the camera store today making my list…I’ll check these out too 🙂
Ddduuuude + Duuuuddette! Thanks for posting this! Perfect examples to show what each lens can do and just like many of us other photogs, I’m hittin’ the store for a couple news lenses.. now I know exactly what I want! Muchos Gracias!!
Thank You! After our talk I feel like this blog was directed to me even though it’s obviously not 🙂
Love this! Thanks for sharing! I love the 85 focal length too – it’s my fave!
Thanks for all the information. Love the photos and helps clear things up. I have the 50mm 1.4 and love it but I am still trying to get it right.
This is a great resource and does a great job at explaining all the details and ins and outs of the different lenses. I have been just starting out, and only have the 50 1.8, but rent other lenses for weddings and other projects. Its always so hard for me to decide which ones to get. I didn’t see it, but can I assume that you are shooting on a full frame camera (MK II)? I have a 7d and would just need to do the math. ie: I use the 50mm much like an 85mm although I used an 85mm at my last wedding and the images are amazing.
Love this post Bobbi. Brilliant idea to have a go-to spot for that question!
I love this post! Thanks for sharing it is good to see the difference in what you use and why you love what each one does 🙂
I adore you, Bobbi & Mike!
As soon as I have a ring, I’ll be in contact to beg for a wedding consult. I think your photographic prowess is unmatched!
Thanks for this post! I always wonder what lenses you use! Great to know, I agree with a lot of what you said!!!
Hi Bobbi! Thank you so very much for this post!!! I recently bought a new Canon, and was puzzled about lenses. I did buy the 1.8 50mm, and I adore it. Love. You ave educated me much more about what my next lens purchases should be…
How do you feel about using flash? Does it depend on your location or do you try to use more natural light?
For portrait sessions, I never use flash. Ever. 🙂
Thanks so much for this post. I found it to be very helpful. Oh and by the way I LOVE your work. I am either almost crying or laughing when I look at any of your sessions. Your work is absolutely wonderful.
I love your pictures. To put your post inrelation, it would be good to know your sensor size …
… I’m presuming it’s FX/35mm?
Really nice post-processing, and super images with emotions! I am going to buy 24 1.4) I like your colors!
I totally agree with your first two favorite lenses, canon 1.4L as the first choice bar second to none. I have many other more expensive lenses but the canon 1.4L lens just rocks. Based on your review, I’m going to look into the 85mm 1.2 lens. Thanks for a great review!
Brilliant! So helpful – I’ve been building up my kit and this is exactly what I’ve been putting together, in terms of lenses and range. I’ve been figuring it out for myself but looking at what you use and what you achieve is both inspiring and reassuring.
Hi thank you SO much for this post. Its exactly what I’ve been looking for!!!!
So for someone who’s wanting to get into exactly what you’re doing, you’d recommend starting off with the 50mm f1.2?
Because I’ve just upgraded to a Canon 5d markii, Im tight on budget for lenses. but I want to make sure that I’m not going to skimp out on them but still be financially smart. With that said, would you still start with the 50mm? And then go for the 35 or 85?
Please let me know. Also, what do you guys mainly use for editing? I love your work! Keep it up!
P.S. where are you located???
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This is the most comprehensive lens information I have found to date. It lays everything out so clearly and has the images to perfectly describe each description. It is EXACTLY what I’ve been looking for! Thank you SO much!!
Wow, your photographs are beautiful!
I use the 50mm 1.8 lens mostly because I’m a beginner…
You make me want to get the 35mm lens!