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5 minute read

Using Large Aperture Lenses in Low Light

The most basic way to overcome blur from camera shake is to let in more light by using a large aperture lens. There are lots to choose from in the X Series, and they can transform your photography

Before the days of image stabilization and high ISO sensitivities, photographers really only had one option if they wanted to make images handheld in low light: using a lens with a large maximum aperture.

By photographing with a large aperture – like F1.4 or F2 – more light is let into the camera, which means the shutter doesn’t have to stay open as long. And shorter shutter speeds mean less chance of blur from camera shake, which can spoil images.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Using Large Aperture Lenses in Low Light

To put things into perspective, creating images with a lens like the FUJINON XF56mmF1.2 R allows you to use an aperture that’s 3.5 stops wider than an XF18-55mmF2.8-4 R LM OIS lens used at 55mm. In other words, it lets in 3.5 times more light, which is enough to transform a troublesome 1/10 sec into very usable 1/125 sec. This is why photographers sometimes call large aperture lenses ‘fast aperture lenses’, reflecting their ability to give fast shutter speeds even in low-light conditions.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Using Large Aperture Lenses in Low Light

Fast aperture lenses score over image stabilizers by not only helping to freeze camera shake, but also the movement of subjects, too. In contrast, OIS and IBIS systems prevent blur from accidental camera movements, but not from moving subjects. They also let you photograph with a shallower depth-of-field, which is great when you want to emphasize a pin-sharp subject against a soft, blurry background.

Learn photography with Fujifilm, Using Large Aperture Lenses in Low Light

Photo © Dianne Falcone

Choosing a Fast Aperture Lens

If you think a wide aperture lens might be useful in your approach to low-light photography, there are plenty of options in the X Series for you to choose from. Some of our zooms have a widest aperture of F2.8 throughout their zoom range, like the XF16-55mmF2.8 R LM WR and XF50-140mmF2.8 R LM OIS WR. Although, to get seriously big apertures, you need to look towards prime lenses. Here are a few to consider:

Making images at wide apertures is much the same as making images with normal camera settings, although there are a few things we need to be aware of if we’re going to get the most from these superb lenses. 

Face and Eye Detection

Depth-of-field is shallow at large apertures and while this can be used to fantastic creative effect, it also means we have to be very accurate with focusing. When creating portraits, for example, it’s easy to get sharp focus on a subject’s chin or nose rather than on their eyes. Avoid this by using Eye Detection autofocus. By default, this will detect and focus on the closest eye to the camera. It can also be set to R and L to force the system to detect right or left eyes.

Critical Focusing

With so little room for error when focusing and photographing with wide apertures, it pays to use a smaller AF point so you can be precise about where you are focusing. Do this by pressing your camera’s Focus Lever and turning the rear command dial.

If you’re focusing manually, you may want to use focus peaking to nail critical focus at a specific point in the scene.

Get a Grip

Large aperture lenses usually weigh more than the compact standard zooms that you might be used to, and are bigger in size, too, so make sure you hold your camera correctly and take care not to shake when you’re photographing. A larger opening for light to pass through means larger pieces of glass and a larger lens barrel, but we think the extra size is worth it for the amazing creative versatility these lenses provide.

Check out our video below to learn more about aperture: