Photography 101 Fast Lenses

PHOTOGRAPHY 101 – What is a fast lens?

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Starting out in photography can be daunting.  What camera should I buy?  Should I use Canon or Nikon?  What lens should I get with it?  What about a mirrorless camera?  These are several of the many, many questions fielded by new students and their eager parents.

Quiet often, photography students will receive their first camera without any say in the matter – a birthday or christmas present.  Once the wrapping has been tidied, and the camera has taken its first few hundred shots, new photographers can become disheartened.  Statements like “My photographs don’t look professional”, or “I didn’t get the right camera” ring in the air.  In lots of cases, more understanding is needed in the lens, focal length and apertures.

There are many posts on the internet, many contradicting each other – you should / shouldn’t use 18-55mm, you should / shouldn’t use crop sensor cameras etc.  It is important to understand how to get the most out of your camera and your lens, using shutters, apertures, ISO and focal length all together with composition – your images will continue to improve.  The way you capture an image is crucial, making a stunning photograph out of an every day situation.  However, if you shout that image at around 22mm and an aperture of between f5.6 – f8, these are around what the human eye sees!  Your image will appear no different to what we see every day, or to what amateur photographers may achieve.  If you are looking for a change in your images, it is worth trying a “fast lens”.

So, what do we mean by a “fast lens” (also known as “fast glass”)?

The “fast” refers to the maximum (widest) aperture of the lens.  The wider the aperture – the faster the lens.

Many camera brands have their own 50mm f1.8 at around £90 brand new, and they can be picked up for £50 second hand.  With the focal length and aperture, images are changed dramatically instantly.  When shooting music photography, at least initially when stage lighting is practically non existent, a fast lens can be a life saver.  An aperture of f1.8 will let in more light, meaning the photographer can use a faster shutter speed compared to an 18-55mm with f5.6.

It is also good to remember – the wider the aperture, the shallower the depth of field in the image, which can help make a musician or singer stand out from the background.


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