I’ve used my Nikon 85mm f1.4 prime lens for several years, primarily for weddings and engagement pictures. My other workhorse lens was the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens. This is considered an excellent lens and should be as much as it costs. It focuses very quickly and gives a fantastic range for family pictures. I could shoot the whole group and still get excellent close-up portraits of individuals and kids. The longer I do photography, the pickier I get about wanting a specific look to the pictures. I like that soft Bokeh or out-of-focus background, and there is something special about the clarity and color I get from my 85mm Nikon prime lens. I realized I wasn’t happy with any zoom lens, no matter the quality. So I decided, even for family pictures, that I would move to use all prime lenses such as the 85mm, 50mm, and 35mm.
Moving to all primes, especially on the beach, requires extra work. In normal circumstances, someone could carry one camera body and a couple of lenses and switch between them as needed. Many times after a beach session, my camera is covered in salt spray, which would ruin a camera if it got inside. So switching lenses at the beach is pretty much impossible. So instead, I have to carry a camera body for each lens I want to use. Thanks to my Spider Holster, carrying a couple of cameras is an easy thing to do. I’ve done it for years at weddings. I decided for family pictures to bring one body with the 85mm f1.4 and another with the lightweight 35mm f1.8 lens. (Update, since I’ve made this post, I’ve found I can generally do everything I need with a single camera body and a 50mm f1.4 lens. I now typically carry that. I finally have a 50mm lens I love with the Sigma Art series.) I’ve been doing this for a few weeks now and getting good results. I’ve realized that I hardly even need the 35mm lens unless I want to use it for a specific look, such as getting a good view of the sky at sunset. As long it’s not high tide, I have plenty of room to move around, so I back up more with the 85mm lens if I’m shooting a large group. I’ve realized zoom lenses are just dumb. Your feet can do precisely the same thing without compromising the image quality.
Here are a few things to remember if you switch to all primes. First, an 85mm f1.4 lens has an extremely shallow depth of field. You want this if your subjects are all at the same distance from the camera, such as if you are shooting an individual person or a couple. However, at f1.4, unless your focus is perfect, you could end up with the tip of a nose in focus and blurry eyes. It takes more practice and skill to use a lens like this. I typically shoot at around f/2.0, which still gives a beautiful creamy out-of-focus background while making the acceptable in-focus area a bit wider. You must be especially careful when moving to group shots with an 85mm lens. If you place some people behind others and try to stay at a wide aperture setting, the ones in the background will be significantly out of focus. Make sure to stop the camera down to at least f/4.0 or f/5.6 for group shots at 85mm, or around f/4.0 with a 50mm lens. Using a 35mm lens is okay to stay around f2.0 or so for group pictures. As you can see, it’s just more to keep in mind when you are concentrating on getting a bunch of kids to look at the camera, it takes some practice, but it’s worth it.
I’ll post a few of my pictures from the past few weeks. These were all shot with the Nikon 85mm f1.4G lens except for one (Update: I’ll add a couple of 50mm lens shots as well). Can you figure out which one is shot at 35mm? (Update: I’m going to add lens and f-stop settings in image captions.) If you have any lens questions, let me know in the comments below. I always like talking about geeky photography stuff!