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A number of dPS readers have recently been asking about the Canon 24mm EF-S pancake lens, and how it compares to a 50mm lenses for photographing people. Both are great options, given the price point, but they do have slightly different strengths when it comes to people photography. In this article, I’ll show you several different images of the same model, location, and posing, photographed with both a 24mm and a 50mm lens. This will provide a good visual of the difference between the two lenses, as well as give you insight as to when you might want to reach for each one.
For continuity, all images in this post were taken with a Canon 60D, and either the Canon 24mm f/2.8 or the Canon 50mm f/1.8 lenses. The 60D is an APS-C sensor (cropped sensor) camera, so first you need to multiply the focal length of each of your lenses by 1.6x in order to determine the functioning focal length of them on this camera (if you use Nikon it may be 1.5x, check your manual). So on a cropped sensor camera, the 24mm lens functions roughly as a 38mm lens, and the 50mm lens functions as an 80mm lens. In other words, the 50mm lens is great for head-and-shoulders portraits, while the 24mm lens is great for photographing people in the context of their surroundings. In the above example, you can see that the 50mm lens provided a tight shot of these two sisters, with a blurred background that keeps all the attention on their faces.
However, the context for this session is also important, in that it took place at a family vineyard, and the clients wanted to be sure that the grapes were also visible in the background of some of the images. As you can see above, the grapes really weren’t visible in the portrait taken with the 50mm lens, nor would closing down the aperture really give the perspective of the vineyard that my clients were looking for. So, after taking a few portraits with the 50mm, I switched over to my 24mm lens in order to capture a few wider shots.
Same girls, same exact location, very similar pose. The only real difference here is that with the switch to the 24mm lens, you can see more of the girls and the the area around them. In some instances, you may want to minimize the area around your subject, in which case the 24mm lens would not be ideal. However, in this case it allowed for the images that highlighted both the girls and the vineyard, which was what the clients were after.
Bonus tip: Photographing sibling sets with a 24mm lens also allows you to see the height differences between siblings more easily with the wider angle shot, which is something that a lot of parents really enjoy.
Another thing to consider, besides the contents of the background in your images, is the coloring of the background. In the image above, the deep colored wood background brings a moodiness to the image that could be appropriate for a musician. However, the interesting thing is that the overall feeling of the image changes quite a bit when you look at it from the 24mm angle of view.
The second image, though in the same location, feels a lot less moody and dramatic than the first. The lighter stonework around the door brings a sense of balance to the image that just wouldn’t be achieved as well with the 50mm lens in this location. In my experience, this balance is especially important when it comes to converting images to black and white.
As you can see in the left image, the lighter stonework, around the darker door, serves as a frame for the subject, and naturally draws your eye in towards him. In addition, the increased contrast and texture provide some of the key ingredients for black and white images, which makes the image more aesthetically pleasing than the image on the right.
Overall, while there may be instances in which the content or coloring of your background may cause you to reach for one of these two lenses over the other, I’m very much in favor of using both of them whenever possible. Here’s a quick example from my own life to explain why both are so great for their own reasons. I recently photographed my girls in their Halloween costumes. I started with the 50mm lens because it’s my favorite.
I love this image of both girls (above) – the 50mm lens really lets you see their faces and expressions well, and the bokeh of the 50mm f/1.8 helped soften the literal construction site in the background of the image. However, the closer crop also means that only a small portion of their costumes were visible.
So, I switched over to my 24mm lens to take a full-length photo (below) of my little monkey and my lion as well. Now, I can really see them from head to toe. I can see the little fake feet of the monkey costume that freaked my youngest daughter out so much that she begged her sister to switch costumes with her. I can see the height difference between the two of them. I can see the black flats that my oldest daughter is so proud of, and wears to any event that she deems remotely “fancy”. Those are all things that I want to look back on, and remember. I love both images for different reasons, and am so happy to have them both, thanks to my trusty 24mm and 50mm lenses.
I hope this has given you a good idea of how these two focal lengths compare when photographing people.
Have you tried the Canon 24mm EF-S lens? How do you use it? Do you have a nifty-fifty and do you use it for people photography? Which is your favorite? Please share your comments and images below.