Jasper Bath Pictures and the Longwinded Story of my New Lens

Here are some bath pictures taken with my new lens!

So here’s where most of you who like looking at pictures more than taken them will want to stop reading.. what follows is long and fairly technical (boring?) but may be of interest to some of you so I will post it anyway!

I have often raved about/recommended my Canon 50mm 1.8 lens. It is simply put the best bargain out there for how much lens you get for the money. It is so far superior to the canon kit lens and will allow you to capture pictures in low light situations that you may have otherwise missed, and for that it is priceless!

But, I began to notice that a very high percentage of the pictures I took with this lens were out of focus.

Here is where it gets tricky because shooting in low light means you have to have the aperture wide open and wide open means softer focus overall.

It also means extremely shallow depth of field so for example you may find that the eye you focused on is in focus but the other eye is blurry! That is how shallow a depth of field you can get with this lens.. which can actually be desirable.. if the auto focus focuses on the right thing that is!

In my case, it seemed to often focus on something in front of my focus point (which is always one of Jasper’s eyes as it should be, you want the eyes in focus at the very least) or sometimes even behind my focus point.

For a long time I attributed it to user error, but as I began to read more about front and back focus (that’s what it is called when it picks up an object in back of or in front of the intended focus point) I began to also wonder if my copy of the lens suffered from it.

There are numerous focus test charts available online with instructions on how to use them. These are hotly debated and I include a shot or two of the test charts just to back up the results of what I found in real life shooting situations (by examining my images) which is what really matters after all.

As they say, a picture is worth 1,000 words, so here are a few examples of what I’m talking about.

This is a picture of Jasper in the tub. There was very low light, so the lens is open to 2.0, one stop down from the max aperture of 1.8:

A little soft overall, which I would expect at 2.0, but here is a closer crop that shows how the eyes are much softer than the little green toy and the corner of his mouth:

The problem is that I placed the center focus point on his back eye not the toy, so the lens in this case is front focusing which seems to be what happens most often. I have an occasional back focus problem with it like in the next picture:

You don’t even need a close crop to see that Jasper is out of focus while the bear behind him is in focus. I KNOW I was aiming the center focus point on his eye, so it should be the other way around, Jasper should be in focus and the bear should not.

There are so many people that will say that with such a shallow DOF focusing is soft etc, and it’s true except in this case the focus is there, it’s just in the wrong place.  I read so much of this that I truly believed maybe it was just me, or the nature of shooting wide open.

That’s when I decided to shoot a picture of the test chart with my lens and compare it with my friend Jason’s canon 50mm 1.4.

Here is my shot:

I put the center focus point on the text that says “Focus here” and you can see that even though that text should be perfectly clear it is completely blurry. Only at about 20mm does it come into good focus. (taken at 1.8)

Now this is the shot taken with the cannon 50mm 1.4 with aperture open all the way to 1.4:

It’s hard to tell without seeing it closer up, but even from this distance you can tell that it is much clearer where it is supposed to be.

So, by now I was convinced that my lens has an autofocus issue, luckily it is still under warrantee so I can send it to cannon to recalibrate. The thing is, this lens is AMAZINGLY sharp when it does lock focus correctly, see how clear the right eye is at 2.0 (straight out of camera, no sharpening)?

That’s what this lens is capable of, just not my copy on a consistent basis.

So what to do? I needed to send it in to canon but I didn’t want to be without a good lens for a week or two, so I took the opportunity to buy the Sigma 30mm 1.4 I’d been researching. I wanted to try something with a wider angle than the 50mm (nifty fifty as it’s known) because on a crop body camera like my Rebel Xsi, a 50mm focal length is the equivalent of about 80mm.

What that gobledegook translates into is that if you look into a 50mm lens on a full frame canon (like the 5D Mark II that I’d love to get my hands on – like when pigs fly!) It looks about how you see things in real life. But if you do the same on a crop sensor camera it is actually zoomed in, so when you look into the view finder you are seeing things CLOSER than they are in real life.

That is no problem at all unless like me you live in a very old house. A very old house with teeny tiny rooms and you can’t actually back up enough to get Jasper and that whole giant bear into the frame without chopping off it’s head! So a 30-35mm is considered “wide angle” on a full frame camera, but on the rebel or any other crop body camera it is actually closer to what a 50mm is on a full frame (ie ‘normal”).

So that’s the reason why the 30mm.. and of course 1.4 is great because all lenses are sharper when NOT open all the way, which means if I normally shoot at about 2.0, that’s close to wide open on my canon 1.8 lens, but farther away from wide open by two stops on the Sigma. Plus, you CAN shoot at 1.4 if you need to, which is amazing!

Now the downside: The Sigma doesn’t have the best reviews on amazon because there seems to be a bit of a QC issue, some copies of the lens are not very sharp and a few customers had to send it back to Amazon up to three times to get a sharp copy.  But when you do get one it is supposedly very very sharp.

So I decided that I would throw the dice and order the lens just to have while my beloved 1.8 is at the Canon hospital. If I got a great sharp copy of the Sigma and liked the 30mm angle I’d keep it. If not, I’d return it when my canon gets sent back.

Well, the results are in, I believe I got a very sharp copy! Shooting with this lens has also confirmed for me that my focus issues where NOT entirely user error because the same shots that would have caused my canon much confusion are right in focus with the sigma.

Here are some examples:

Wide open at 1.4 my center focus point was on Jasper’s eye:

There was plenty of stuff in the foreground of this image that the lens could have mistakenly locked focus on, but it was right on. Here’s a closer crop:

Granted it’s not the sharpest image in the world at 1.4, but at 1.4 you can’t expect razor sharp. The point is that it focused where it was supposed to!

Another example:

Again, it could have easily front focused on Jeff’s arm, but Jasper’s eyes are quite clear (it is really grainy though because of the high ISO, but that is to be expected and no fault of the lens!):

PHEW! Are you still with me? If you are, you probably are someone who thinks they might also have a bad copy of a lens because that was a lot to read through!

If you just skimmed to the bottom, here are some takeaway points I want to emphasize:

1) The canon 1.8 is NOT A BAD LENS, in fact it is a GREAT lens.  It is almost universally loved (read the amazon reviews) and I have rarely heard a complaint about front focusing or any autofocus issues so I’m pretty sure I’m in the minority here.

2) The Sigma 1.4 is a fantastic lens if you can get your hands on a sharp copy. But at $409 retail compared to the Canon 1.8 it SHOULD be a bit of an upgrade. If not, that’s a waste of over $300 :)

3) Trust your instincts. If you have a focusing problem with a lens it very may well be user error. But if you research on how to focus better and you are still not seeing improved results try borrowing a friend’s lens and using it at the same aperture and see if maybe you are not crazy after all.

This story is to be continued when my lens returns from Canon…

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Judy N says:

Hi, I came across your blog recently and can relate so much to your first-time mommy stories (I have a 5.5 month old boy right now!). I was wondering (this is a bit off topic)…but what kind of baby bath tub do you have? It looks so spacious…the one we have for our little one makes him look squished and he’s got no space to move in it anymore and I can’t seem to find one that looks bigger!

ariana says:

Hi Judy!
It’s the primo Eurobath. It’s on sale here from Amazon but is also available at BRU:

Meghan says:

Thanks for the rec to the photo forum, I’ll check it out.

I also wanted to say that I have the Tamron 17-50 you listed on your wish list and I LOVE It. It’s been a go to lens for me for a few years. I love the wide angle in our tiny house.

ariana says:

Kelsey, I hope you love your new lens!

You remind me that I should have emphasized more in this post that wide open it’s extremely important to make sure one of your focus points is over an eye whether you are using manual focus point select or auto focus point select.. if not, all bets are off focus wise ;)

ariana says:

Anne marie,
You return it to canon unless you bought it within the return period to amazon in which case you could exchange rather than repair.

You go online to canon’s website and fill out a repair request and they send you an email with your authorization # and instructions on how to send it.

You pay to send it whatever UPS or fedex charges to send it to the repair center nearest you. That’s all!

I’m going to try to send mine tomorrow. Will keep everyone posted.

you know. i am so glad you posted this because i think my canon 50mm 1.4 has a soft focus. sometimes it’s sharp sometimes it isn’t. i will have to do the focus test. i bought my lens off amazon but from B&H on amazon. when you return your lens to be re calibrated or whatever they do with it. do you just send it to canon or back to the place you got it? mine is still in warranty too. how much did you have to pay to send it etc? (we just bought a house so i am low on funds at this point. it would be nice to get an avg for what you paid. if you paid). oh and post about how much better it is when you get it back :o)

Kelsey says:

I just can’t get over how adorable your son is. His eyes just make me swoon every time I come to your blog!

Thanks for the long-winded story about the lenses. My nifty fifty is set to be delivered on Saturday and now I know something to watch out for!

ariana says:

Jenn, glad I could help! Let me know if you send it in if it’s better when it comes back.

Sarah, you should definitely upgrade, and sooner rather than later. If I knew then (when Jasper was born) what I know now I would have so many wonderful newborn pictures. There’s a learning curve with this stuff and it’s better to be ready for baby than just learning like I did. Re the Ikea dresser: it’s awesome. Totally worth the trip!

Sarah T. says:

As always, I love the photos of Jasper. I keep trying to convince Alex that I need to upgrade my camera (I’m currently only using a point and shoot..and it’s just not going to cut it come August).

Oh, and on a side note. I’m getting ready to start working on the nursery…and I know you ended up purchasing a dresser from Ikea for Jasper’s room. How do you like the dresser? I’m trying to decide if it’s worth the drive to got pick one up (the nearest Ikea is almost 4 hours away…but we can kill two birds with one stone and stop by to visit the in-laws on the way). I looked at shipping costs, but it more than doubles the price!

jenn says:

ariana –
i think i have the same proble with my canon 50mm 1.4. i think i need to have it sent in for repair! as always, jasper is adorable and thanks for taking the time to explain lenses to us!!

ariana says:

HamiHarri, I’ll pass the compliment onto Jeff!

Glad you find the info somewhat useful. Most of these lenses are also available in the nikon mount as well. Just do a search under Sigma 1.4 nikon. I think Nikon/Nikkor also just released a 35mm 1.8 for really cheap! Maybe you have an olympus or something else entirely.. in which case I am fresh out of ideas :)

HamiHarri says:

Wow – you really have a wealth of knowledge – thanks for sharing. Hubby and I are wanting to invest in a few new lenes…although we don’t have a canon, this info is very useful :)

I don’t comment much, but have I mentioned how HAWT your hubby is? lol :)

And as always, super cute pics of your LO

ariana says:

Meghan, I hope I have similar luck!! I hear you about the full sensor dream.. I have the same dream. I have found though that lenses hold their value pretty well. I think I could sell this lens and get *most* of my money back if I ever get a full frame. I haven’t been to that site yet, will check it out!

I’ve mostly been lurking and posting a tiny bit here:

those women know their stuff.

I love your store, am going to also browse around in there when I get back from feeding Jasper at daycare :)

Jbhat, I can’t believe you made it! I posted the gallery mostly for you keeping in mind what you said the other day. You are a huge trooper.

It is funny that Jasper is such a ham. He totally freezes and looks when the camera comes out, which is great for stills but horrible for videos..he pretty much stops doing whatever cute thing he was doing before the video camera started rolling!

jbhat says:

I made it through! Gee, you are a really good photographer. You know your stuff.

And Jasper is so cute the way he looks towards you as you snap him. Our kiddo would NEVER look at the camera. I can’t even count how many pictures I have of the top of his head.

Meghan says:

I had the same problem with my 50mm 1.4 – and canon sent it back PERFECT. So, I hope you have similar results.

I was *this close* to buying the sigma last month, but I bit the bullet and sent the extra $50 to get the canon 28mm 1.8. I just can’t let go of my dream of someday getting a full sensor camera, and the sigma wouldn’t jive with the full sensor.

Love your pictures by the way! I tend to lurk and not comment, but I love seeing your shots. Have you played around on http://www.photography-on-the.net?