Our Newest Family Member – the 85mm

Today’s blog is about the newest addition to the family here at the Gray house. After lots of nudging from me (Zach) to my lovely but unfortunately penny pinching but financially smart wife ;), we finally broke down and bought this bad boy about a month or so ago. Welcome to the Gray family, my little 85mm sweetie pie. No, I have not let her into bed with us.

canon 85mm L


After being a zoom shooter for a long time because of how practical they are, Jody and I have really started seeing how much it can add to your look if you invest in a lens like this. Today we want to show you some of the pluses and minuses of shooting with an 85mmL 1.2. We love this lens a ton and have noticed its strengths, and also want talk about the possible problems one can encounter while using it.

The Good:

This lens has the most beautiful color and really great looking bokeh (which is how the blur looks that the lens produces). The lens also focuses really well (although the speed of the focusing is fairly slow compared to many other lenses) and is very accurate, especially considering that the lens opens up so big on the inside and is as heavy as it is. Check out some background blur and color on this puppy!

All these are shot at f/1.2

Nashville, TN Wedding Photography

Nashville, TN Wedding Photography

The colors are so rich and everything looks so crisp and smooth. Also you notice that the background has a very nice blur that is textured very nicely.

This lens is also really great for cutting your subject out of a shot because the depth of field at 1.2 is soooo shallow. This can be a really good thing, or a really bad thing depending on the story your telling and the camera your using.

Nashville, TN Wedding Photography

It also helps make your subjects skin look smoother since it is slightly out of focus.

Nashville, TN Wedding Photography

The Bad:

So the problem you can run into with this lens when shooting at 1.2, is that you have to be very careful on how and on what you focus. You’ll notice in the shot above, that there are three eyes in focus (which is fine) but any time someone is looking at the camera, you always want the eyes to be in focus. It works in this shot since the bride is the focal point and we do have the right eye of the groom in focus, but you really have to watch that closely when shooting.

The other problem you can have is that you have to be super careful when you focus on something and then recompose your shot, because what you initially focused on will now be out of focus. That means that you have to rely on all of your other focus points in your camera, and depending on what camera you have, that can be a major problem. My biggest complaint with Canon is that the only cameras that have really good focusing on all the focus points is the 1D series bodies. The Canon 5D series (which is what we use) only have one focus point (the center one) that uses vertical and horizontal lines of contrast to focus. All the rest of the focus points (the ones you actually need most of the time to shoot creatively) only use one line of contrast and are therefore very weak and are hit and miss when trying to focus even if you are in bright light. So either become a Nikon shooter or send emails to Canon until they produce a mid-level camera that has some serious focusing power!

The last thing to be careful of with shooting shallow depth of field, is there seems to be a tendency to love the look so much, that you end up shooting EVERYTHING at 1.2. While it looks neato to shoot that way, if you are a wedding photographer, you need to keep in mind that you are telling a story of the wedding day. If you shoot every single shot at 1.2 and the bride walk down the isle and you frame her half way down and then have mom in the foreground tearing up in the front row, then you will miss the story. One of them will be so out of focus that you will not see the entire story unfolding in your images. That shot may need to be taken at f/8 even though it does not have that super shallow depth that you love. You need to know when to shoot shallow and when to shoot with depth to help tell the story properly. Something to think about, especially for those photojournalist shooters out there.

Nashville, TN Wedding Photography

This lens can also shoot some cool details, but you can’t focus any closer than 37.4 inches so don’t plan on getting too close to anything.

Nashville, TN Wedding Photography

This lens is also really great for group shots, but you have to get WAY back to get em. When you can though it does look really great.

Nashville, TN Wedding Photography

This lens also creates a very intimate feeling and is great for those up-close moments between the bride and groom.

Nashville, TN Wedding Photography

This lens is really awesome for portraits and the length of the lens being at 85mm is considered one of the traditional portrait lengths. Any length over 50mm starts to compress an image and make your shots feel like they are all about your subject, and around 85mm is where you sort of hit the sweet spot. Lots of shooters use the 50mm 1.2 for shooting portraits maybe because it is light and focuses faster, but that lens really is not a portrait lens. That lens makes everything look much more natural (like what your eye sees) and this 85mm lens makes everything more compressed and is much better suited for portrait shots.

Well, we hope that you have enjoyed our little journey with our new baby!

To view the 85mm lens go here!

Is there something that you want us to blog about in our Tips and Tricks? Is there a question you want us to talk about? Send us an email at tips@grayphotograph.com and we may just blog about it!