I get asked decently often what camera I use. It’s a fair question and I always respond with the same answer. I use the Canon Rebel t3i, buuutttt the lens is the only bit that really matters! For simple beauty photography the lens is infinitely more important than the camera it’s mounted on. It’s what determines how bright your photos can be, how soft focus the background can get, and how distorted the shape is. For the past few years I’ve been using the cheap and cheerful Canon f1.8 50mm lens. It’s a fabulous lens for my purposes, but I recently purchased the more expensive Sigma f1.4 30mm lens and I thought it might be helpful to run you guys through the difference.
Canon f1.8 50mm
Price: This lens retails for $125USD on Amazon, which is extremely affordable as far as lenses go.
F-stop/Aperture: The f-stop goes as low as 1.8 on this camera, which is pretty darn low. What that means is you can get a lot of light in your photos and you can also get that soft blurry background. The lower you go with your f-stop the more prevalent those two things will be.
Focal Length: The focal length is 50mm. What this means that you have you be pretty far away from your subject to get them in the shot. The lens appears very zoomed in. That can be annoying if you want to take a flat lay and you have to stand on a stool to get the shot. It also means it’s not great for taking interior design or outfit shots for example, where you need a wider view.
Overall quality: It’s cheap lens and you can tell in the details. It’s slow to focus and quite noisy. It’s also made of plastic, instead of glass. Professional photographers would probably cringe at this, but I don’t mind it as it means that the lens is lightweight and can take a good amount of abuse.
Price: This lens retails for $500USD on Amazon. It’s a substantial price increase. I purchased mine second hand off of Craigslist for this reason.
F-stop/Aperture: The f-stop goes even lower on this lens – 1.4. That means you’re going to get even more light into your photos and even more of a soft focus effect. Basically it’s easy to get a professional looking photo without trying too hard.
Focal Length: I’d say this is one of the biggest differences in the lenses. The focal length in 30mm. Thus you can get much closer to the subject when shooting. You won’t have to stand on a stool to take a flat lay shot, and back up into the farthest corner of the room to take a body shot. It’s also very helpful if you want to film Youtube videos. However, the trade off is that your images will appear more distorted, or bloated. If you’re incredibly anal about your lines looking perfectly straight like I am, then this may bother you. If you’re confused about what I mean by “distorted” then take a look at this detailed post on focal lengths from A Beautiful Mess.
Overall quality: The Sigma lens is obviously much higher quality. It’s made of glass, rather than plastic, and it’s significantly weightier. It’s also a bit faster and less noisy when focusing. Truth be told, I’m not bothered by details like this. Unless you had a keen eye I think you’d have a hard time telling the difference between the cheaper lens and the more expensive one, in terms of finished results.
Which lens is the reigning champion?
I wouldn’t say one is better than the other. I use the two lenses for different reasons. If I’m doing flat lays that focus on clean, geometric shapes, then I’ll use the Canon lens. If I’m taking photos straight on where I want a lot of light and a blurred background (or if I’m filming) then I’ll use the Sigma lens. It really depends on what kind of images you like to create. Honestly, it also boils down to how much money you’re willing to drop on a lens, because they are definitely an investment.
If you’re looking for some basic information on photography – aperture, ISO, shutter speed – I’ve got a really simple post that you can take a look through. Photography: Brushing Up On The Basics.