I have quite a few lenses for my Canon EOS-5D Mark III. But because many of my shoots are on the road, space and weight are critical. This means I have to be selective in which lenses I bring with me. Over time, I have narrowed things down to what I think are three three best camera lenses to have for most shoots. (Although I will talk about Canon lenses, the ideas herein can apply to most brands.)
The three are prime lenses (they are fixed focal length and cannot zoom.). I favor primes over zooms because of their clarity, lighter weight, and lower lens aberration. Most importantly, they are generally faster than many zooms. In fact two of the primes I carry can shoot as wide as f/1.2. This makes them great for low light situations. For fashion and glamour photography (but applicable to most genres), it also means I can blur the background (bokeh) to draw the viewer’s eyes to the subject. These three lenses combined provide sufficient range from wide angle to telephoto and satisfy the requirements of most of our photographic needs.
In order of my adoration, here they are:
EF 85 mm f/1.2 L II USM
I call this lens “a model’s best friend”. Canon nailed this lens. It is heavier than the f/1.4 version (and much pricier!); however, it is one of my “secret weapons”. This lens can make most women (or anyone for that matter!) look fabulous. Although it is very sharp, at lower f-stops it can make skin look so smooth that very little, if any, skin retouching is needed. I use this lens mainly for head-to-waist shots or tighter; however, if I have enough space I use it for full body shots too.
At f/1.2, the bokeh is fantastic. When shooting very close for a tight headshot there is no distortion. If the subject’s face is turned away from the camera, just be careful to focus on her front eye, as the one farther away will be slightly blurred. Some will not like that but I think it is a very nice effect!
EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM
This is a great “all around” lens I use mainly for full body shots and wider. I can shoot closer with it with limited distortion but I do not use it for headshots. This is because if one is too close to the subject, distortion can start appearing. There is nothing worse than making your favorite aunt look like Pinocchio because her nose appears larger than life!
Like the 85 mm lens, the wide aperture allows for wonderful bokeh. With a full frame sensor camera, the resolution is so great that one can crop down to a tight headshot. In sum, this lens is a good “walk around” if one can only carry one prime lens.
EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
I use this for what I call “epic” shots; images where I want to put the model or subject in the context of a larger environment to tell a story. One simply has to be careful and watch for unwanted distortion of the model, as that is very possible. Usually, the trick is to simply keep the subject dead center in the picture.
Although with prime lenses one must change lenses during a shoot and use one’s feet to “zoom” for composition, I have not found this to be too much of a problem. Even during fast-paced fashion shoots, I have been able to change lenses on the fly. With these three lenses I have been able to complete a shoot without feeling like I missed something.
In a future blog, I will discuss the use and strengths of zoom lenses, as they do have their own advantages under various circumstances.
That is what I do! What kind of lenses do you take with you on a shoot and why? I would love to hear different perspectives!