Exposed! :: The Power of 1.8 ::

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1.8 is a powerfully big, small number!

Light bulbs went off this weekend as my Natural Light Portrait students recognized the benefits of large apertures for low light portraits. In this month's Exposed! we visit the many wonders of f1.8 to shine light on sports and portrait photography.

Let there be light!

Good things come in small packages and f1.8 is a very small package. F1.8 allows more light to reach the film or digital sensor in the demanding disciplines of sport and photojournalistic portraiture. The big aperture allows you to shoot with a higher shutter speed for given light conditions. Popular, inexpensive zooms with much smaller big apertures (ie f5.6) will limit your shooting possibilities and fun. A large apertured lens is a smart choice for "available light portraits" or fast-paced sports. F1.8 or other large aperture lenses let any dim light shine! F1.8 can make you shine, too!

Prints at

Buddy Guy at Ottawa Bluesfest

F1.8 is your friend

If you want to play with limited depth-of-field you will also benefit from the huge aperture of f1.8. The isolating focus of f1.8 is massive when teamed up with either a long telephoto lens (200mm +) or extreme proximity to your subject (0.3-2 metres). Do you want to isolate a distinct element of your subject with focus? Then f1.8 is your friend!

Buying a Lens

When you buy a lens consider the power of f1.8 or other large apertured lenses. Fixed focal length lenses (ie 50mm, 85mm) with a large f1.8 aperture are widely available. These are fine lenses favoured by portraitists or available light photojournalists. They benefit from the power of f1.8 and are relatively inexpensive!

Premium mid-range zoom lenses have large apertures such as f2.8. An 80-200mm f2.8 lens is an attractive lens for sports shooters because it allows them to get close to the action while using fast shutter speeds in relatively low light. Hone your sport shooting skills and test your lenses at my pro hockey photography workshop! Large apertured lenses will cost you more dollars than the more common, inexpensive zooms with small maximum apertures such as f4 or f5.6. If sports photography is your passion, the extra light made available by the large aperture will make you smile.

Pro Perspective

I have chosen fixed focal length lenses with large apertures as well as tripods, monopods and Manfrotto Superclamps for my photo work. I have one fine zoom - an f2.8 80-200mm non-VR lens to help me cover events like Ottawa's Bluesfest. The photo, above, of the iconic Buddy Guy was made better by a big aperture.

While I am often limited to specific focal length lenses I benefit from greater light availabilty through the larger apertures. I often carry different camera bodies mounted with different lenses to replace the need for zooms. These powerfully big apertured lenses allow me the ability to get the shot I need for the work I do, such as, low light concert portraits, sports, etc. The photo above right was shot at Ottawa?s Bluefest with the help of a big aperture to accomodate for the low stage lighting!


An 'image stabilization' or 'vibration reduction' lens is another quite expensive option on some zoom lenses. While I do not have much experience with these lenses, I am not convinced of the benefits for the average shooter given the significant extra expense of the pro-quality VR lenses.

Interested in one of these lenses? Your homework, then, is to research some independent review and forum sites such as:

It is important to check independent reviews and evaluate the biases of the reviewer - what will they gain from their review?!

Final Frame

The power of 1.8 is significant. I encourage you to keep at least one of these big apertured lenses in your bag. Let the light shine in!

Take photos. Have fun!

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