Shooting Wide Open Close Up

I feel like making trouble today. If I had to admit it, making trouble is my favorite hobby. Don't ever ask me to participate in anything like golf unless you want some trouble – that's the only way golf interests me at all… pissing off other golfers with goofy antics and stupid golf cart mayhem. The inspiration for this trouble making today just happens to be my buddy LaRoque and the linked post articulating the wonders and magical properties of the new Fuji sorta 85mm equivalent lens.

I say sorta because it's a 56mm lens and not an 85mm. No matter what the current Illuminati have to say, that 135 film angle of view reference will probably never go away. You do know what that means right… it means it's exactly as hard to focus close up and wide open as a 56mm lens at 1.2 on any camera no matter what sensor size you've got. It just so happens that for whatever image crop you want it has more depth of field than that same focal length on a bigger sensor focused closer to get the same image crop. Get it. In simple terms it's easier to use from a paper thin DOF point of view on an APS-C sensor than it its on a full-frame sensor with the same apparent subject size. Why? 'Cause you are farther away.

So let's move up to full frame where you are standing at the same distance to get the same image crop on an APS-C with the 56mm - you are going to need an 85mm… ta-da… even at f/1.8 that is going to have a thinner depth of field if you are focusing at the same distance than a cropped 56… 'cause it's a longer focal length and 1.2 doesn't quite get you there. Almost – ah the hell with it let's just say they're about the same. Okay that way there won't be arguing over nits…

Here's the trouble that I'm going to make… I'm calling it out so you don't mistake it for anything else. I posted a comment on LaRoque's post demonstrating the prowess of the new all-powerful Fuji 56mm. Specifically I poked fun at all the disclaimers he managed to put into effect at the same time. I poked fun because anyone in the market for a close focusing short tele of any sort with a large aperture on any real sensor real estate should probably already have an idea that it's challenging to shoot people that are still alive with that setup – close up. If they don't I think no amount of words will prepare those that haven't done this for themselves. I thought it funny so I poked fun at the disclaimers but they did have a point… Ready for the trouble making? The above was just the pre-trouble-making. Your own technique will absolutely, positively trump lens sharpness and capability no matter what, when participating in the sport of shooting people that are alive close up wide open with any normal or short tele lens… let's say 3-5 feet for an 85mm and how about 2-4 feet for a 50-ish.

Forget the lens capability – forget the lens resolution – forget all of it. How you manage to cobble together a technique for making this happen consistently is about 1000x more important than what particular hunk of glass you will use. Don't believe me? Then why all the disclaimers from the usually artsy eloquent LaRoque? Heck he was even shooting with a strobe (eliminate slow shutter speed variables - trust me with live people the closer you are the higher the transverse angular velocity for any movement). I'll bet he wasn't even trying to shoot while the model was moving either… now there's some disclaimers.

Let's talk about technique for a moment – the important part of this close up, short tele, wide aperture sport. I can't tell you which technique will serve your needs the best. Even if I knew your needs I couldn't say which one would work best for you. I can say a few general things that will serve everyone well that gravitates towards this insanity…

  • Serious time behind the camera doing it. Not on still life – that just doesn't even quality as minor league and does not translate at all to the endeavor. We'll maybe something does but not much.
  • Controlling your own back-forth micro motion is pretty critical and will serve anyone well that ventures to do this thing hand held…
  • A good sense of back-forth subject motion to even idiotically tiny degrees. You can only get this by paying attention and the experience of doing not reading.
  • A good sense of camera film plane to subject plane relationship in semi-realtime.

The rest of it is highly camera dependent, situation dependent, and personal; what works for you dependent. If what you are doing is not working – you have to try a different strategy not just keep banging on something that's not working. I called this thing a sport and in some ways it is. The thing with people is expression timing. Especially close up. The variables in focus plane that have changed while you are micro timing the expression for shutter release are huge at large apertures, close up with anything remotely long. Going to depend on the AF system being super fast and just nailing things when they are in focus? Good luck grabbing the expression you want – especially if you are directing a set to increase the variables in expression. For me that doesn't work at all. I learned this through the school of hard knocks and bloody noses when figuring out how to do the close up large aperture thing with my kids. I actually switched back from a Nikon Pro AF body to my F2 cameras and AIS 85mm f/1.4. More productive for what I wanted and my process. Want to do it with a Leica - you are going to have to adjust your technique a bit. A different camera - probably yet a different set of strategies too.

So let's get back at poking fun at LaRoque. Let's see what caffeine fueled RB can do with a real 85mm wide open and close up while fooling around with Carly with both of us yammering on over each other… Here's my set of disclaimers:

  • Sorry for the 100% pixel peeping views Carly but hey it's all in the name of science.
  • My mo-megapixel camera is showing higher magnification than that wimpy less-megapixel camera. More pixels = bigger microscope at 100% pixel peeping view.
  • I was in don't give a hoot mode seeing what exposure was like on a dark day so it looked like I knew what I was doing when I showed up the next day…
  • My lens only cost $325 new and is like 20 years old.
  • I was hand holding at normal-ish shutter speeds.
  • Ummm, other shit I forgot that puts me at a crazy disadvantage… Oh I remember I am using Aperture which has less aggressive sharpening on import and I have one of those shitty cameras with the useless AA filters… Okay that should do it.

You can open these in a new window if you wish… and see all the pixels. No cheating on eye lashes you know… So here's another one…

Look ma - I can even manage it through glasses. Now that's a trick…

It's almost like I did this thing before (kids are tough – typically very unwilling subjects that are nearly impossible to predict – harder than cats) oooops I screwed one up. I mis-managed the focus plane and subject distance a bit so now I have the glasses frame and eyebrow in focus instead of the eyelashes behind the lens…

Here's the point - the "sharpness" v. DOF is comparable using my shitty-ass 20 year old crappy $325 Nikon (Hyperbole) to state of the art Fuji uber-glass (also hyperbole). Under what were a set of more challenging circumstances. I chose these due to being something I didn't care about while I was making them – the most challenging condition possible – to ensure that. Here's the point and the take away… Getting the sharpness plane exactly where you want it on live subjects is way more you than it is your glass. Patrick's images look great because he's great at making them more so than any property of the Fuji 56mm. I would certainly not expect it to be anything other than fantastic at $1000. I mean how hard is it to make a 50mm-100mm prime that's fantastic? They have been for at least 50 years.

Also, I did wise up after the first six shots and shot the rest of the rooms at f/2.8 and a bump up in ISO that day… all of them are crazy shallow.


Ps. The reason for the hyperbole notes is that there are quite a few readers that stumble across this dark corner of the web that don't know I am making fun of the human condition (myself included) more than I am crapping on Fuji or anyone else.

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