I only have one lens right now. It's the Canon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens. I think this lens is great when the lighting conditions are right but in low light I usually have to resort to flash.

For instance I was taking pictures of people in front of a christmas tree, without flash the tree looked great but since the tree was the light source (and behind the people), the peoples faces were too dark. I had to use flash, which made the tree look not near as good, but you could see the peoples faces better.

I am wondering how I can take better low light pictures like this, especially portraits with the subject in focus and the background blurred with nice bokeh.

I think this means I need a lower aperture. I was looking at these two:

I would rather buy the cheaper 1.8, but only if it's going to give me something much better than what my current lens can do.

Should I fork over the money and get the more expensive one, or am I looking at completely the wrong lenses for what I want?

  • \$\begingroup\$ See Is it worth it to have the 50mm f/1.8 Canon lens? for several answers comparing these two lenses. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Nov 21, 2011 at 22:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ I did not know that people actually bought camera lenses from best buy. \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Nov 21, 2011 at 22:15
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @dpollitt I don't normally but I was given a gift card. \$\endgroup\$
    – JD Isaacks
    Nov 21, 2011 at 22:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suggest asking a new question, and including the tree pictures on ways to improve what you want in that photo. We like photos! \$\endgroup\$
    – dpollitt
    Nov 22, 2011 at 17:15

4 Answers 4


I personally have the 1.8 and my friend the 1.4. Obviously the 1.4 is much better build quality and fairly better optically, but the 1.8 is a bargain and still a good lens as long as you don't plan on throwing it around. Also more easily replaced if it breaks. Both give pleasing pictures and both will be better in low light than your current lens... but..

..in your example you give these lenses would not improve the picture in the way you want. The christmas tree would still be the source of light and the people would still be underexposed in front of it. The lenses would both make the ability for faster shutter speeds or lower ISO's, but the lighting ratio in your picture would still be the same.

To get the picture you are after you would still need some illumination on your subjects to expose them better with the tree. As it is dark a reflector wouldn't be much use, so it's more likely you will need to use some flash, but don't put it on auto. Use your camera (I'd prefer in manual) to expose for the tree, and then use the flash as fill light, probably dialling in some flash exposure compensation of -1 or -2 stops so that the light is mostly only lighting their faces and not affecting the already lit background so much.

It'll likely take some tinkering to get the right ratio of lighting that you want, but using a faster lens is only going to mean more bokeh (which will be nice for the tree potentially) and the ability to shoot faster, it won't magically bring your subjects out of the low light whilst leaving the background as it was.

  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for pointing out that the faster lens won't improve the image as the OP expects. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve Ross
    Nov 22, 2011 at 7:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 The technique you describe in your third paragraph sounds cool, I have never heard of doing something like that. I only know how to have flash on or off. Do you know of a tutorial or something that goes into more detail about how to use flash the way you are describing? \$\endgroup\$
    – JD Isaacks
    Nov 22, 2011 at 13:44

The 50mm f1.8 (or the 'nifty fifty' as both this example and Nikon's version are often known) would be a great step up for portraits from the kit lens, regardless of low-light or not. In other words, it's a good first portrait lens AND works well in low light.

I got one at Christmas last year, and have very much enjoyed learning how to shoot differently with it compared to the kit.

You will notice a huge diffence with the 1.8 compared to your kit lens.


As a former owner of the Canon 50mm/f1.8 lens, and a current owner of the Canon 50mm/f1.4 lens, I can say the most noticeable difference between the two is build quality. I was very pleased with the photos I took with my 50mm/f1.8. I didn't replace it until I dropped it (from about 4 feet onto soft ground), and it broke in two. I then decided to upgrade mainly as a safeguard against future breakage. The 50mm/f1.4 is clearly much more solidly built, but it costs about 2.5x the money. Either one works very well in low light (although the f1.4 obviously has a slight edge here).

If you're starting out, I wouldn't hesitate to buy the 50mm/f1.8 Canon lens.

Whether it's worth the extra price for the f1.4 lens probably has more to do with how gentle you are on your equipment than on the noticeable optical differences.

Update: The EF 50mm f/1.8 STM introduced in 2015 gives you most of the best of both the older EF 50mm f/1.8 II and the EF 50mm f/1.4. It's build quality is much better than the EF 50mm f/1.8 II, the optics are as good as the EF 50mm f/1.4 at f/1.8 and up, and it's as cheap as the EF 50mm f/1.8 II was.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm in the same boat - loved my f1.8 and gave me a good couple of years but one too many bangs and bumps to my camera bag saw it break in two :( I now have my eyes on the f1.4! \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul Dixon
    Nov 22, 2011 at 10:45

I have both.

I regret buying the 50mm f/1.8 after seeing how well built the 50mm f/1.4 is.

Like Flimzy, I dropped my lens together with my camera, the difference is that the one I dropped is the 50mm f/1.4, it did not break. Nothing happened to it, I picked it up and it just work.

On a side note, the bokeh is far better on the 1.4.

The site featured image from November 21, 2011, Jelly Fish, is shot by me, with the 50mm f/1.4 lens.

I think its well worth its price, while the 50mm f/1.8 is cheap, having both I would say I could have saved $100 for something else if I have bought the 50mm f/1.4 the first time.

One thing I would love is IS on this lens.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ You might want to add a link to the image so that it can be viewed once the featured image is changed. Beautiful shot, by the way :-) \$\endgroup\$
    – ab.aditya
    Nov 22, 2011 at 12:02

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