Photo Gear – 35mm f1.4 Lens Options For Canon Nikon and Sigma

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Photo Gear – 35mm f1.4 Lens Options For Canon Nikon and Sigma

| by JP Danko | blurMEDIA Photography | Toronto Commercial Photographer |

For my personal work, I absolutely love photographing people with a Nikon D800 or a Canon 5D Mark III.  It is just so easy to crank up the ISO and shoot ambient light, hand held, pretty much anywhere – from bright sunny days, to indoor birthday parties (or you know moonlight if you really want to push it).

Of course, I do add strobes once in a while, but the freedom to capture high quality photos with just ambient light is very liberating, especially when you’re trying to photograph people (read -kids) who don’t wait for you to go set up a couple of strobes.

I mean, before I started using a Nikon D800, to capture good quality, evenly lit, photos of people indoors, I used to set up a couple of strobes across from each other in a room, and bounce them off the ceiling to light the whole room with high quality, pretty, even light.

Now, I usually just crank up the ISO and shoot ambient.

Of course, shooting low light (ie indoor) ambient is not always ideal.

The ambient light isn’t always the best quality, or from the right direction (especially noticeable because it is often too dark in the eyes), and there are all sorts of white balance problems – but overall, for quick and dirty snapshots – its just so easy.


Full Frame Prime Lens Options for Low Light Photography

My favorite lens for the Nikon D800 is the Nikon 50mm f1.4 G AF-S.

A 50mm prime lens is perfect for almost all situations.  Its small and light.  And its also cheap at only $439 (from Adorama).

I bet 90% of the photos I take are somewhere between f/1.4 and f/2.8 – low light and really shallow depth of field – which the Nikon 50mm f1.4 is perfect for.

I love the Nikon D800 – Nikon 50mm f1.4 G combination so much, I almost never bother to change the lens.

However, on the occasions where I do want a different focal length, I almost always want a wider angle photo.

Examples of Full Frame Prime Lens Low Light Photography

Low Light Photography Example 1:

Nikon D800 50mm f1.4 Low Light Example

This photo is a great example of how low light photography can look completely different than flash photography.

I snapped this photo in a dim banquet hall using only ambient lighting with a Nikon D800 at ISO 6400 at 1/125 and a Nikon 50mm f1.4 G lens wide open (at f/1.4).

The purple glow is from the stage lights, the key light is the overhead dim room lighting, which is conveniently bounced off of the white table cloth for a nice fill light (although I still had to manually brighten her eyes in post).

I did have to manually adjust the white balance because auto white balance had no idea of what to make white with all of the varying light sources in this photo.

Low Light Photography Example 2:

Nikon D800 and Nikon 50mm f/1.4 G Lens Combination Low Light Photography Example

Here is another example of low light full frame prime lens photography.

This photo was taken with a Nikon D800 at ISO 3200 at 1/60 and a Nikon 50mm f1.4 G lens at f/1.4.

The only light source is the ambient lighting in the room.  I love the bright, colorful stage lights in the background, and the killer bokeh from shooting the Nikon 50mm f1.4 G wide open.

Again, I did have to manually adjust the white balance and I brightened her eyes in post.

Low Light Photography Example 3:

Cellphone camera low light photo example

As an example of just how dim the banquet hall was, here is the same scene taken with a cellphone camera.

I think this also shows a pretty obvious difference between photographing low light scenes with a cellphone camera versus a full frame DSLR camera and a fast prime lens.

I don’t care what kind of “artistic” Instagram filter you try to throw on that photo – its still going to look like a crappy cellphone snapshot.

Wide Angle Prime Lens Options for Low Light Photography

Besides 50mm, I find that 35mm is by far the most usable focal length.

If I look through my Lightroom catalog, the huge majority of my photos are taken at a focal range between 24mm and 50mm.  Whether I’m shooting with a prime or a zoom, I kind of always end up shooting wide to normal.

Occasionally, I get up to 85mm for portraits, but I almost never shoot with a telephoto longer than that.

If you think about it, that makes sense.  Most of my photos are of people.  And most of the time, I’m pretty close to them, with no opportunity to back up and shoot telephoto, even if I wanted to.

When I shoot wide angle, I tend to be indoors, where space is limited and I need to shoot wide to frame the scene.

Knowing that I use a wide angle lens primarily indoors is also helpful to confirm that I need a really fast wide angle prime lens, specifically for shooting low light indoor photos.

The option is there to go down to a 24mm prime, but really 24mm is getting a touch too far into the murky waters of wide angle distortion – 35mm is really the sweet spot.

35mm f/1.4 Full Frame Prime Lens Options For Canon Nikon and Sigma

Ok – so – a 50mm f/1.4 costs somewhere around $500.  But, a Canon 35mm f1.4 Lens is $1,500 – and a Nikon 35mm f1.4 Lens is $1600!

That is a big difference in cost!

Then, there is the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Lens – a professional quality 35mm f1.4 full frame prime lens for $900.

That is a pretty substantial savings.

Sigma 35mm f1.4 DG HSM AF Full Frame Prime Lens

As a pro photographer, I learned a long time ago that it is a bad idea to make photo gear decisions based on cost – its just better to by the best equipment for the job.

But in this case, its pretty hard to argue with a lens that costs that much less than its competitors.

And even better than just the price point – the Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens has been getting fabulous reviews.

Here are a couple:

Canon Rumors – Review – Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM by Justin VanLeeuwen

DPReview – Review – Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM by Andy Westlake

Sigma vs Canon and Nikon?

I’m still sitting on the fence.  As a professional photographer, cost is not the most important factor – especially for a lens.

At the same time, the cost differential is pretty substantial – so its hard to ignore the Sigma.

What Would You Buy

Any preference?  Are you dedicated to Nikkor or Canon lenses – of do you think the Sigma 35mm f1.4 lens is a serious competitor?

Leave a comment below!



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JP Danko


JP Danko is an active lifestyle photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.


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