Lenses for darkness

Glass and metal -  a concerto in 3 parts -  M42 f1.4 Takumars

Ahh, the darkness, my photographic companion. My artistic soul cries out to shoot in the dark, to share what I see.

So, what makes it possible? High ISO ratings? Slow shutter speeds? Added light? Or perhaps high aperture lenses. The age of the ubiquitous zoom lens has made people numb to the possibilities that come from using a genuinely fast piece of glass, and so perhaps it is time to re-think possibilities over convenience?

My own arsenal shows I am no purist as I have plenty of zooms, a few of which are genuinely fast in their own right. Take for example the venerable Canon 20-35 mm f2.8 L lens – as fast a lens of this type as has been made. But it is slow when compared to a truly wide prime, such as the Canon 35mm f1.4 L – yes, f1.4. At full aperture, the prime lets in 4 times as much light, and also has far better IQ than the zoom, even at this outrageous speed. This means shots are possible at 1/30 sec – hand-holdable, instead of 1/8 sec @ f2.8, or worse still, 1/4 sec @ f4 on the typical kit zoom, which just about guarantees camera shale and ruined pictures.

If you are into the night, try out the 50mm f1.4, or perhaps the 50mm f1.2 (or if you are rich, the legendary f1 model), or how about the 85mm f1.4? And then what about the 135mm f2 prime, perhaps the sharpest lens Canon makes? My own holy trinity of fast glass is the glorious trio of the 35mm f1.4; the 50mm f1.4, and the 135mm f2. It works for me.

If you don’t want to spend too much, then buy a cheap adapter for your camera and try out some of these stellar lenses – any of the screw mount Super Takumar 50mm f1.4 series; the fabled 55mm f1.2 Tomioka (the “poor man’s Noctilux”); any of the older Canon / Nikon / Minolta f1.4 or even better f1.2 primes, or perhaps a Zeiss Planar f1.4 or a Summilux R (f1.4).


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