Advantages of Wide Apertures
What’s the advantage of f/1.2 over f/1.4, over f/1.8? Is it worth the price?
Answer by: Santosh Saligram, Wildlife Photographer
Having the largest aperture possible is an undeniable asset. It’s like the power of the engine in your car—you may not always use it fully, but when you need it, it helps to have it.
A large aperture lets you photograph in lower light, with reduced need for a tripod or additional lighting, at a lower ISO or a faster shutterspeed, which is critical when you’re photographing a night scene or sky, and with greater subject isolation, when you want those portraits and abstracts to pop (although the difference in depth between f/1.4 and f/1.8 isn’t what I would call significant). If you have an f/1.2 or f/1.4 lens, you can usually achieve better sharpness by stopping it down to f/1.8, than by using an f/1.8 lens wide open. So the advantages are sharper, shallower, and more natural-looking images, which are quite convenient to make. Now, none of these benefits may be worth the extra money on their own, but taken together, they add up. So I would say that an f/1.2 or f/1.4 lens is worth the higher price, especially if you tend to photograph a lot in dimly lit situations, and can afford it.
If you cannot, simply buy an f/1.8 lens and enjoy the weight savings. Some of the f/1.8 lenses such as Nikon’s 85mm f/1.8 AF-S, are light, sharp, and have a tremendous value for money. Whichever lens you get, remember the first rule of photography—the biggest asset is not the size of the aperture, but the depth and breadth of your vision.
This article originally appeared in the June 2019 issue of Better Photography.