I'm on a $500 budget and I'm thinking of getting one of these two lenses for low light conditions (e.g. small venue concerts):

Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX DG DF Macro Canon-ef

50mm f/1.4 USM

I think I prefer the 28mm focal length than the 50mm, so I'd go straight for the Sigma, BUT I wonder if 1.8 vs 1.4 would make much of a difference in low light. Also, I have no idea, in general terms, if any of these lens is better than the other.

What do you think?

  • wow, thanks, I'll take a look at that question later.
    – Ignacio
    Dec 21, 2011 at 15:00

4 Answers 4


First off, I don't own, nor have I ever owned the sigma 28/1.8. But I do own the Canon 50/1.4 and it's a pretty nice lens. However, it is rather soft at larger apertures and the build quality is just so-so. The build quality of sigma EX lenses (a couple of which I own) tend to be quite good. I was able to find a nice review of the sigma 28/1.8. It appears to be a decent lens, perhaps better suited for a body with a cropped sensor if edge to edge sharpness is a primary concern.

Speaking of crop sensor cameras. If that's the type of camera that you're working with, it might be worthwhile to look at the sigma 30/1.4. Another large aperture wide angle in your price range is the Canon 28/1.8 (which also works on full frame bodies). I've owned both of these lenses, but kept the sigma and got rid of the canon (the sigma was a sharper and produces less purple fringing).

  • 1
    Yes, the Sigma 30/1.4 is definitely the obvious solution if he wants 1.4 at a focal length close to 28 mm. Dec 21, 2011 at 9:42
  • That's great, I wasn't aware of that Sigma 30/1.4. I'm a bit tight on my budget but that's got everything I'm looking for. Thanks!
    – Ignacio
    Dec 21, 2011 at 15:03
  • I'm marking this as the correct answer, just 'cause it made me discover about the perfect lens, but I got really great advice from all of them. Thanks.
    – Ignacio
    Dec 21, 2011 at 15:04

For reasons I will explain, I recommend the 50 1.4, but that is without knowing what kinds of pictures you'd like to take and how easy it will be to move around during a show :-) I suggest renting/borrowing both lenses from a local store, a friend, or a place like lensrentals.com and trying them out on a few shows before buying. You might come to prefer the shots you get from one lens vs. the shots you can get with the other.

But here are my thoughts:

f/1.4 vs. f/1.8

Under the same lighting conditions, the 1.4 lens will let you use a faster shutter speed than the f/1.8, allowing you to freeze onstage motion better. The usefulness of this feature will depend on how much your subjects are moving -- a little movement (singer/songwriter) will not require this fast shutter speed, but a lot of movement (heavy metal band) will. But my opinion is that having the option is always better than not having it :-)

The 1.4 aperture also gives you more creative possibilities due to the shallower depth of field. Depending on the sizes at which you post or print, you may not care about this aspect. But it's something to think about, and again, having the option is nice.

The Shots you Can Get at Each Focal Length

You say you like the 28mm focal length better, but each focal length is good for different kinds of shots. I'm assuming here you're on a crop camera (my experiences are with a 1.6x crop Canon 60D).

50mm is good for framing the head & torso (and part of a guitar) of a single person onstage. To do this, you will have to be at the very edge of the stage. In small venues this might not be difficult, but sometimes getting that close & and staying there w/out annoying other patrons is a concern.

Here is a picture I took at 55mm on a Canon 60D (so, 88mm effective focal length): enter image description here

I was in the photo pit right against the stage. The singer was close to the edge but a few feet to my left. 50mm would be slightly wider than this, maybe necessitating some cropping to focus on the subject more, but still very good.

At 28mm, framing a single person's head & shoulders will be difficult, probably impossible at most places, unless you are OK with cropping. Whether you are OK with it or not depends on the megapixels your camera has and the final image size you're looking for.

28mm is good for shots of multiple people, maybe two guitarists jamming together, a singer closing their eyes while a guitarist solos, etc. In portrait orientation, you can also get good shots of a person's full body from head to toe, for example, a guitarist getting into a groove, a singer dancing at the mic, etc.

Final Word

Without knowing a whole lot about what kinds of pictures you want, I recommend the 50 1.4. You have the option of using faster shutter speeds and can get close-up shots of single people when required, then move further back in the crowd to get a 'whole-band' shot -- although you will have to move pretty far back.

You don't have the single-person option with the 28mm, and the 1.8 aperture will require a slower shutter speed, leaving you open to motion blur.

These are just my thoughts. Again, nothing will help you out like trying these lenses out for yourself.

  • Very useful feedback. Believe me, I'd try both lenses out if I could, but there are not rental stores around here :S
    – Ignacio
    Dec 21, 2011 at 5:05
  • To give you some more info on the kind of shots I'll be taking, I'm almost always really close to the stage, and venues here tend to be really dark. 1.4 seems great, but 50mm seems too long from what you describe.
    – Ignacio
    Dec 21, 2011 at 5:07
  • Are you not allowed to use flash? If the real problem is not enough light then there are other ways around it than just buying a wide lens.
    – user7226
    Dec 21, 2011 at 8:05
  • 2
    Flash is a really, really bad idea if performers are moving near the edge of a stage in a darkened venue. Even if the performer isn't injured, you're likely to find yourself undergoing a mic-stand-ectomy in hospital rather soon after the first picture is taken. As for the focal length choice, it's an easy and quick check with a kit zoom lens to see which focal length is best for your purposes.
    – user2719
    Dec 21, 2011 at 8:38
  • 1
    The Canon 50mm f1.8 is so cheap you could probably buy it for not much more than a rental, especially used. Sharp too.
    – Simon
    Dec 23, 2011 at 14:36

The difference between f/1.4 and f/1.8 isn't all that great in practical terms, and anyway it is nullified by the difference in handholdability of the focal lengths in question. Ie you can handhold a 28mm a bit longer than you can a 50 before camera shake becomes equally visible. So in my book these two lenses are a wash in practical terms when it comes to letting in light. Please note that you can probably handhold both of these lenses past the point where subject movement, not camera shake, becomes your main limiting factor.

One point though: Check out that the Sigma is actually useable at f/1.8. I had a Sigma 20mm that most certainly was not, it was so hazy and dreamy and noncontrasty wide open that it was for most useful purposes really a 20mm f/2.8 rather than the 20 f/1.8 that it claimed to be.


Well, f1.8 would be close to 2/3 of a stop darker than f1.4 if I have done my maths right.

However you seem to consider only how much light the lens lets in. There are other factors to consider, for example depth of field - will you be shooting at f1.4 or f1.8? If you stop down, a wider aperture lens will often be optically superior to a smaller aperture lens.

Lastly, you are comparing two very unequal lenses, 50mm vs. 28mm which will give you very different viewing angles. Even the widest aperture lens will not help you if it is a, to you, useless focal length. Chose the lens that suits your requirements.

If you think that 28mm will be better for your use, then that is the lens to go for. If you need 50mm as a focal length, chose that lens.

Photography is about a combination of factors and not just one feature. In many cases you need to accept a disadvantage in one category for an advantage in another.

  • I agree with everything you said. My ideal lens would be one with shortest focal lenght with as much aperture as possible. Aperture being priority 1. I hadn't seen the Sigma 30/1.4 before, so 50mm was my closest option with 1.4. Thanks for your feedback.
    – Ignacio
    Dec 22, 2011 at 17:37

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