Using fire for light with the brightest lens in our lab


posted Monday, November 16, 2015 at 6:57 AM EDT


Wake up with IR! Here's today's dose of Caffeine Priority...

It's fall here in the northern hemisphere, and at our house that means lots of outdoor fires. Kids love them, and adults become kids around them, so I try and get one going as often as the weather allows on the weekends.

The perfect time for me is when the temps are in the 40's or the 50's and the wind is fairly light, and that's just what we had last night. I love getting shots of kids around the fire (or anyone for that matter), but firelight is extremely dim compared to most common lighting. Plus, flash is out of the question in this situation, even fill-flash, as it spoils both the mood and the shots to me.

I'm not concerned about freezing the flames of the fire, as the shallow depth of field needed usually blurs them anyway, but I do want the subjects to be fairly sharp. They don't need to be tack-sharp, but I generally find I need at least a 1/30s shutter speed, and that's assuming the kids are being fairly still. In order to do this using only firelight, you need a lens that can really gobble up the available light (assuming you're not a fan of high ISO noise) and the Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 is some light gobbler.

1/30s / f/1.2 / -0.33 EV / ISO 500
(Classic Chrome film simulation mode)

Actually, it's the only f/1.2 lens we currently have on our lab shelves for APS-C or larger sensors that I'm aware of. There are a few f/1.4's down there, including Fuji's excellent 35mm f/1.4, and the excellent Panasonic Nocticron for the Micro Four Thirds world, but for that rare f/1.2 aperture this is the one lens we have at our current disposal for APS-C cameras. It's important to note that we also have the 56mm f/1.2 APD version in our lab, which was developed with specialized bokeh for portraits in mind (for more on that please see our review), but at the brightest apertures, you give up some light as a trade-off. So while f/1.2 on that lens offers the same shallow depth of field, it only offers f/1.7 in terms or light due to having a higher t-stop.

For most portrait situations where there's either ample outdoor light or plenty of controlled lighting this is fine, and barely noticed, but for working with only firelight I needed the full f/1.2 treatment. I could have gone to a faster shutter speed on some of these, and caught a bit more of the flames, but keeping it at 1/30s in this case helped make "fire trails" in some of them which lent a bit of dramatic flair. There's really no right or wrong with that type decision, just an artistic call one way or the other.

1/30s / f/1.2 / -0.67 EV / ISO 800
(Classic Chrome film simulation mode)

(I needed a faster shutter speed in the shot above, and should have traded it for higher ISO.
The fire was nice and bright though, and provided plenty of light for this bright lens to gobble up.)

1/30s / f/1.2 / -0.33 EV / ISO 1600
(Classic Chrome film simulation mode)

(On this shot I'm glad I kept it at 1/30s in order to get the fire trails for effect.)

These were all shot using the Fuji X-T10 with Classic Chrome film simulation mode, which has become one of my favorite settings for portraits. I haven't been able to transfer the full resolution images to the Fuji X-T10 gallery yet, but will do so shortly -- so check back in soon for the full res files. Please see our full review of this (non-APD) version of the Fuji 56mm f/1.2 for more!

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Caffeine Priority is a new series of short photo-tidbits to ease you into your day, and give us a chance to share a bit more of what life’s like here at IR. We're more like a group of friends testing and talking about cameras and lenses than the buttoned-down, big-corporation world that some of our photo-friends at other companies work in; hopefully these little snippets will share some of that. So... grab another coffee and join in the conversation with us down below!

1/30s / f/1.4 / -0.3 EV / ISO 800